Sustainable Living - A Superstandard Set by The Rich?
Most conservative and close-minded middle-aged people deem the prospect of sustainability propounded by ‘The Woke’ as ‘a fad’. While sustainable living is the need of the hour, and is recognised as such by Generation Z, do Aunt Melanie’s claims about modern ideals possess any inklings of merit? Offering a comprehensive analysis, here is Perspectoverse’s Founder and CEO Urvi Agarwal.
That Vegan Teacher on TikTok spoke of protecting animal rights through veganism. Fast fashion companies start lines of ‘Sustainable Fashion’. Electronics companies place advertisements in favor of washing machines, dishwashers and water-conserving appliances as ways to reduce consumers’ environmental footprint.
What is evident from these examples, is that today, sustainable living is undoubtedly paramount. The Greenhouse Effect coupled with overconsumption is leading the planet into oblivion. Several ecosystems have already dipped their feet into, what scientists believe is, our future - plagued with shortages, epidemics, misery and strife. Be it Yemen or the United States, the world is finally confronting the shadows of tomorrow.
Conscious consumer behavior is necessary; however, contemporary notions of a sustainable lifestyle are perceptibly biased towards privileged classes. These ideals are inaccessible for financially restricted and economically deprived households.
Veganism, or the practice of abstaining from animal products in food as well as wellness, is often seen as a moral stand against animal cruelty. Today, it washes our social media feeds and restaurant menus. The practice is commendable and important. Yet, it is, more often than not, tilted towards those with larger pools of disposable economic means. Moreover, it can be harmful for some people in terms of health.
Many vegans substitute dairy with substitutes such as that from almond, soybean, oats and cashews. However, store-bought milk substitutes cost significantly more than dairy due to their expensive raw materials. In the United States, the cost of ready-made almond milk is 4 times the price of cow’s milk. Plant-based meat substitutes are at least double the cost of the meat itself - that, too, varies with the kind of meat in question.
For those who can afford it, veganism is a good substitute for animal products (as long as it is verified by a doctor). However, the problem arises when the ‘propaganda’ touches those who cannot afford it. Creators like That Vegan Teacher, and their followers, accuse animal product consumers of cruelty and unsustainable lifestyles. The creators astringently treat the lifestyle as a moral rite of passage. The ‘propaganda’ is widely condemned for “making people feel guilty” and putting forth unscientific claims.
Water consumption is one of the key facets of consumption practices - making it one of the areas in focus for sustainable lifestyle promoters. Today, companies such as Bosch and Whirlpool advertise their washing machines and dishwashers on the principle of water conservation. The principle is valid, since the machines save a relatively large quantity of water compared to traditional methods. However, the starting prices are high, limiting potential consumers.
The modern ideals of sustainable living also pervade the fashion industry. Fast fashion companies that lead only in terms of forced labour, modern slavery and anti-environmental practices are starting “conscious” and “environment-friendly” lines. The system is still quite opaque; hence, breathless climate activists and humanitarian advocates warn households against such companies.
However, the attractive aspect of fast-fashion is that it is cheap and affordable. Companies exploit laborers to drive down the cost of production and market prices. The majority of consumers in modern economies are unable to afford the certifiably-just products put out by ‘luxury brands’. Even within the sustainable lines of fast-fashion companies, the products are markedly expensive as compared to the mainstream stock. These factors make goods inaccessible to financially limited consumers - who continually rely on stores like Primark, H&M, Shein, Urbanic and Zara.
H&M’s ‘Conscious’ products cost 20% more than their regular equivalents. Sustainable brands promoting vegan products, such as Stella McCartney, have obnoxious prices starting at $250. Even Harry Styles’ ‘Pleasing’ cosmetics collection has attracted criticism for high prices (justified by vegan, environmentally-friendly production procedures). Often, those unable to access them are deemed incognizant of today’s needs. While the companies are taking a commendable step towards environmental conservation, they are evidently unviable for financially constrained consumers. The entire structure is innately skewed to wealthier sections of society.
Undeniably, consuming cheap goods at the cost of promoting unsustainable practices is a systemic flaw in the modern economy. Yet, it is the only practical option for the Average Joe. To tackle the paradox, consumers purchasing such goods should use them for as long as possible. Overconsumption of fast-fashion goods is often a result of rapid changes in trends and consequent ‘dumping’ of possessions. Consumers must utilize their possessions to the fullest before disposing them for wear-and-tear. This will force companies to limit the number of lines they put out annually, and reduce the perpetual shortage felt by all economic entities.
Hence, today’s fads related to sustainable living are inherently biased towards the wealthy and economically well-disposed. They estrange the comparatively less-secure, and offer limited opportunity for them to contribute to a greater cause. Those who can afford such lifestyles must adapt to them, while those who cannot must find alternatives. Some of the sustainable alternatives that include several members of society in their ambit are thrifting, minimalism and sustained consumption of possessions. The controversies arise primarily in the tone of the privileged who put forward sustainable ideals - one which reflects the exclusivity of their kind. The Sustainable Lifestyle is today’s need and must be shaped into an inclusive and accessible concept for all.
Written and Illustrated by Urvi Agarwal