Why Personal Sustainability is Crucial to A Sustainable Future
We are living in a strained and exploited world.
The foundational elements that allow our society to flourish—a healthy environment and capable people—are being threatened by a blatant disregard for the livelihood of our people and the health of our environment. People across the country are having to work multiple jobs to barely scrape by. Meanwhile, we are spurring on the greatest mass-extinction event in human history and the ecosystems that we depend upon are being threatened by climate change. Our very livelihoods are threatened—you, me, and everyone on the planet.
These aren't social and environmental problems that exist separately from each other—they are human problems driven by human actions. Global capitalism in its current state exploits our workers and our resources for a profit, and the little checks and balances that exist barely enable any change. While a handful of oligarchs make enormous profits, our “democratic” system allows this inequity to proliferate. We're destroying our planet and devastating large swaths of our population to make an extra dollar. Politics have become a money game, politicians and agendas are bought, and the entire cycle reinforces itself as more profits are made from said exploitation.
Many policymakers point to industry as the culprit, asserting that the only way to solve these issues are to legislate and enforce stricter government regulations on businesses and their practices. While this is partially true, it is often some of these policymakers who are influenced by corporations and high-net-worth individuals that ultimately prevent any effective legislation from being passed.
Because industry and high net worth individuals have corrupted our “democratic” system, legislation and regulations are not proving effective. As I write this, lobbyists are working hard to have any policies that are successful in restricting industries abolished and prevent new ones from being written into law. Under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic, environmental and worker protections are being scaled back (Plastic Bag Ban Lifted, Weakened Controls On Mercury and Coal, Weakened Auto Emissions Standards). We're actively stripping away years and years of work to allow big industries to maintain their profits. I can't be the only one who's disgusted.
I'd like to shed light on another root cause of our problem—consumers who actively participate in the economy that these industries operate in.
We're key players in the game, but we don't like to admit it. Don't believe me? Think about how much is spent on advertising every year—$240+ billion—as companies demand our attention and our dollar. We are the pillar that the whole system stands upon. Without our personal consumption and the continued support of lower-level workers, entire industries would stop dead in their tracks.
Our ceaseless spending on consumer goods contributes far more to climate change than we care to admit. It’s been shown that 60% of CO2 emissions are a direct result of consumer decisions. The same study showed that 80% of total waste creation occurs after consumer use. Yes, you read that right. Our lifestyle decisions, primarily related to what we buy and how we use and dispose of it, are contributing to the issues at hand more than the industries that we so commonly scapegoat.
While these impacts are often ascribed to the cars we drive, the food we eat, and the energy we use at home, new research is suggesting that our lifestyle and consumable goods have significant impacts on the environment as well. In fact, it’s been found that 15% of a consumer's carbon footprint comes only from the lifestyle products they buy.
This may not seem like a lot, but when framing this percentage, consider the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals from 2015. In this extensive dissertation, officials from the UN call for a yearly 15% reduction in global carbon emissions to avoid the most extreme outcomes of climate change.
See a correlation? An equivalent problem and solution? A balanced equation?
This is bigger than any of us can imagine. Our consumption and associated spending have enormous implications, and, in order to create the world we want and make improvements, our participation in the consumer system needs to be thoughtful and deliberate. Although recent years have seen a rise in this kind of intentional living where you "vote with your wallet", these efforts have been greatly hindered by a lack of public access to resources that simplify doing so. Over time, hundreds of businesses and non-profits have been created specifically to serve this unmet need. Few, however, have provided any realistic or actionable solutions to the problem. Now more than ever, we need a solution that allows us to vote with our dollars and our actions.
The American election and political system is rigged. How do we stop the lobbying? Stop giving money to corporations that lobby. Stop buying their products. Focus on purchasing from corporations that enable change for the better.
Why don't more people do this?
Mass extinctions are threatening our global biodiversity. How do we stop this? Stop giving money to corporations that destroy habitats and pollute the environment. Focus on purchasing from corporations that donate to stop these catastrophes.
Why don't more people do this?
It's obvious that the American worker is suffering. The average American citizen cannot afford a $500 emergency! This is bad for all stakeholders, considering that the term has now been extended to every citizen of the country by the CEO Roundtable. How do we stop it? Start supporting companies that pay a livable wage.
Why don't more people do this?
Scientists have already publicly acknowledged that our speed of environmental degradation has nearly pushed us beyond a point of no return, a point past which our societies will suffer greatly. Why do we keep supporting corporations that pollute while simultaneously polluting ourselves? Why not just buy the eco-friendly option or make it yourself?
The answer to the question of why more people aren't taking these simple actions is simple in itself—it is not easy to vote with our wallets or our actions. There is infinite misinformation and options, and it's near impossible for the average citizen to know what’s best.
Now, imagine a world where you, and your neighbors, and your friends, and their families, and your dentists, and everyone else in the community all recognize that they are part of the "we" we so often disassociate with. Imagine how this empowerment, this awakening, this new form of conscious consumption would change our world.
That's why I started The FIG. We're making it easy to be a conscious consumer, focused on our collective impacts through our Individual Impacts, and we're excited to have you along for the ride.