Sustainability, Greenwashing, and Consumer Responsibility

Author: Amanda Fiallos

got   April 22nd, 2020 marked the 50th annual Earth Day, continuing a world-wide tradition of environmental activism to raise awareness and slow the effects of climate change. The very first arth Day in 1970 was marked by the efforts of a few in a famous peaceful protest, but since then efforts have evolved, becoming more wide-spread and mundane. Buzzwords like ‘sustainability’ and ‘all-natural’ have become generic and diluted as they have turned into tools for marketing to an eco-conscious crowd rather than being rallying cries to inspire radical change. If those words, and the efforts they represent, are to hold any real power, the public must be educated on what they truly mean and why it is so urgent that we make them a priority.

So what is Sustainability?

          Sustainability refers to the maintenance of a system – an equilibrium that supports both the system’s surroundings and the system itself. In an ecological context, this means that the system is us, humans and the societies and infrastructures that we have created to support our lifestyles. Currently, we are not living sustainably, meaning our systems are not in balance with the Earth. According to National Geographic,

“ Recent research demonstrates that while the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples make up less than five percent of the total human population, they manage or hold tenure over 25 percent of the world’s land surface and support about 80 percent of the global biodiversity.”

          And though we did not always know it, our industrial systems have been harming the Earth for centuries, and scientists tell us that the damage that has been done will be irreversible in just a few years’ time, not only causing problems for the planet, but also for our way of life.

What is Greenwashing and why should you look out for it?

          Greenwashing occurs when companies present consumers with misleading information about how environmentally friendly they really are. Marketers realize that while people are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental crisis, the general understanding is rudimentary at best. Where there is a lack of education, there is room for misinformation and manipulation. Take Exxon Mobile’s advertising as a prime example.          While the commercial boasts about its efforts to combat climate change, the company has had a long history of actively misleading consumers about fossil fuels, climate change, and Exxon Mobile’s role in the matter. Though they continue to air ads like this, their company continues to lobby politicians in order to create legislation that favors the success of the industry over the effects of climate change and the destruction of the biosphere.

          More often than not, big business abuses the environmental movement to promote more sales and production, further damaging the earth and the efforts to defend it. It dilutes important information, lulling consumers into a false sense of security (thinking their purchase is doing more good than it actually is) and makes consumers jaded, letting their efforts and concern fade rather than sift through the endless amount of filler words and misinformation. Businesses must begin making quantifiable changes to better the environment by considering the impact their operations make, every step of the way. But unless consumers attain a better understanding of what their purchases contribute to and how their lifestyles affect the planet, there will be no incentives to make any real change.

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