How does sustainable business practice impact climate change, and what can we do as individuals?
Climate change can be considered one of the most prominent world issues to date, consistently taking over the media and inspiring protests against less environmentally responsible businesses. However, even in light of the damage it has caused to our planet, there is a significant deficit in urgency from the world governments and leading corporations in finding a solution. While small steps have been made, these advancements ultimately arise to nothing when compared with the entirety of the issue. The need for change is higher now than it has ever been before. By neglecting our planet through pollution, we are leaving the generations that follow ours in a much less recoverable situation. This issue must be addressed and the gravity of the situation has to be explained before the problem is past solvable.
Large corporations and businesses are responsible for a high volume of the greenhouse gasses emitted to the atmosphere every day with little effort to reduce them. One of the biggest industries that contribute to this is the fashion industry. There are businesses such as Boohoo and Shein, which emerged during the Covid-19 lockdown, selling clothing for very low prices. This is appealing to the consumer but what they don’t realise is how much damage these companies do to the earth, our home. A report on one of Boohoo’s new stores found that:
"Over 80 per cent of East Lancashire online fashion giant Boohoo's clothes are made from environmentally harmful new plastic."
It is essentially impossible for Boohoo to produce their clothing sustainably and ethically without upping their prices significantly yet low prices are the business's main appeal. If Boohoo were to start offering similar prices to other retailers like H&M or Zara, consumers may be less likely shop from there. Consumers have begun to care more about companies becoming more sustainable, which is why clothing brands such as Pangaia and Broken Planet Market have seen such success in recent years.
However, sustainable business practices cost far more than an environmentally damaging one. For example, a sweatshirt from Pangaia or Broken Planet Market would cost upwards of £100, whilst one from Boohoo or Shein may cost only £20 or less. Some consumers may not be able to afford to purchase sustainably, even if they want to, because of the higher costs involved.
As a result of the uptrend in sustainable fashion, Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing have introduced recycled collections. On the surface it seems genuine, however the tags on the items from the collections show that only 20% of the item is made from recycled material, while the other 80% is still harmful plastics. This is considered a form of greenwashing because the consumer is misled into believing that the item they bought was 100% recycled.
What is greenwashing?
As a consumer, it is important to remain educated on the various tactics businesses may use to deceive their consumers. One way in which businesses pull the wool over their consumers eyes is through Greenwashing. Greenwashing involves:
"Making an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly or have a greater positive environmental impact than they actually do."
The idea of purchasing sustainably is appealing to consumers as it makes them feel good about themselves, it achieves a step towards the self-actualisation sector of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs theory. As a result, companies who aren’t practising sustainably may make claims that they are, to boost their sales and revenue. As previously mentioned, fast fashion brands such as Boohoo and PrettyLittleThing use some format of greenwashing. For example, Boohoo’s new “recycled” collection is composed of only 20% recycled material. Furthermore, these companies may tag the items online as “green” or “eco-friendly” but don’t specify how this is true. In this case, a lot of the time it isn’t true. Alternatively businesses such as Pangaia, list how much water is saved and how many carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by purchasing their product over alternatives.
What can YOU do to assist the effort against climate change?
While large corporations are the biggest contributors to carbon emissions, there are still many things we, as individuals, can do to help. Below are some suggestions:
Choose to walk more often
Instead of driving to work every day of the week, try walking (if it's possible), or using public transport. While having the comfort of your own car may seem preferable over using public transport like a bus, cars actually contribute to a huge proportion of the problem. This is mainly because diesel and petrol are huge culprits for the emission of carbon dioxide.
Try to save electricity where possible
The more energy we waste, the more that has to be produced, through burning fossil fuels and emitting carbon dioxide in the process. So, as obvious as it may sound, it can be easy to forget the small things that can build up to save a lot of electricity over time. For example, don't forget to turn off lights in empty rooms, turn off the TV when you're not using it and don't charge your phone overnight. All of these ideas may seem minor but if collectively, we all do our bit for the environment, even in small ways, we fight the battle against climate change.