The latest IPCC climate report is out, and it is not pretty. The overall tone is dire, calling for immediate and drastic action to reduce greenhouse gases both at the large level and in our individual ecology.
‘But the IPCC report also states something even more important: many of the most dire effects of climate change can still be avoided if aggressive action is taken now. Every degree of warming matters, says Rojas. “That is a very powerful idea,” she says. “The future is in our hands.”’
Who do you think is the “we” in this statement?
I’ve focused on individual action to drive organizations and businesses for most of my life. I really believe that if we vote with our purchases, so the more I support products and services that are benefiting the planet, the more of these products will be produced. And with each company that transforms, the better the future. I even updated my overall investments to make conscious changes that only support companies aligned with ecological regeneration and ethical business practices.
But is it enough? Is our individual ecology making a dent?
I was listening to a podcast the other day where the expert being interviewed was adamant that individual behavior is not going to put a big enough dent in the system. It needs to start at the corporate and government level.
Since then, I keep asking myself why. And I think I’ve found some answers that I want to share with you. I’m going to be honest, some of these don’t cast me in a very good light, but right now, the planet is more important than my embarrassment. Here is why individual ecology is not enough:
1. If you can’t find ethical alternatives, will you stop buying it?
Where I live, there are no Whole Foods, no bulk buying, and hardly any stores carry ethical options for clothing, shoes, and housewares. Sure, there are lots of things that have green-colored labels, but when you read the label, you can’t find anything about how that influences the manufacturing process used.
In any given week, notwithstanding that I shop at two organic grocery stores and go out of my way to read labels, I generate a monstrous amount of plastic waste and find myself buying or consuming products that I know are harming the planet.
A good example of this is seafood. I’ve watched Seaspiracy and live in an area that is far away from the sea, so I know that my seafood is not coming from an ethical source, and yet I still eat it at restaurants. I try to avoid it at home unless I can verify where it came from and how it was caught, but when I’m in a seafood restaurant, I eat.
I have already given up non-local fruit, do my best to buy from fair companies, but when the car needs a tank full of gas, I pump it, and when my shoes are worn down, I buy what fits nice. There are just some things I have not yet reached the point that I am willing to give up, and for this I have a massive amount of guilt.
So if I am a fairly conscious person and I still purchase many unethical products, can you imagine what the average person is doing?
Because without that change, businesses have no incentive to change. unless their business is in danger of losing all their customers, the damage will continue.
2. Green Washing
This is by far the most insidious, damaging practice to individual effort. You do your best to choose consciously, only to discover that it was all a bluff. You inadvertently supported the same practices you wanted to avoid.
The worst part is that it shakes your confidence. The next time you go to the store, you no longer trust what you read. It is really made better or have they just found an excuse to support destructive manufacturing? You get so frustrated, you probably buy whatever, because you can’t be sure that your choices even make a difference.
I don’t know about you, but I have found myself in this situation so many times. Especially when it comes to fashion. The more I try to make good choices, the more confused I become. After a while, the whole thing feels futile. And since I have to wear something, I just buy what I know fits my body right hoping that I’m making a good decision.
How does one person make a difference in certain industries, when you can’t trust what’s written in the labels and packaging?
3. Ethical Ecology vs Price, can you afford to choose?
For most of my life, I have preferred to have fewer things of higher quality. Mom taught me well, and I see in her home so many examples of things she paid what felt like a fortune for, yet 30 years later still look and work good as new.
The kitchen pots in my family home were purchased at a fair when I was a small child. My mother’s bedroom furniture, the complete living room set, the Vitamix, and many of her shoes and dresses all came from that same era. If you walk into my mother’s home, you would think everything was super modern. Good quality lasts and looks good. It’s easy to refresh with some paint and accessories.
Knowing they would last, she made the investment. Even right now, most of the furniture pieces in my own living room are classic antiques made of sturdy wood that has outlasted at least two generations, and will probably outlast me. As ecological as an Ikea bookshelf may seem, you can’t compare it to the two oak bookshelves made in the early 1900s.
But this only works when one has the money to spend on these items in the first place. And you are taught about the benefits of good quality. What happens when you don’t have either?
In a disposable culture, you gravitate toward the cheap fix. You look at the price tag first, instead of the quality, never taking into consideration that you actually spend less in the long term. And for some families, even if they know this, they still can’t afford it.
Organic food, ethical fashion, sturdy wood… these are all high ticket items out of reach of most. I buy them not just because I can, but also because I hope that by buying them, I eventually contribute to bringing down the price through greater demand. Probably a little naive, but I want to be an optimist.
So how do you help the masses purchase ethical quality when they can’t afford it?
I get really stuck on this one.
Individual Choices AND Corporate Change
Ultimately, I think we need to find ways to empower individuals to make better choices while simultaneously become activists for corporate change. I am not a big believer in regulations on everything. We have to evolve the culture to do the right thing because they truly feel like it’s the right thing to do.
One place to start is by prioritizing quality of life. Quality over quantity, in my experience, is the winning strategy. In nature, we see this example over and over again. Redundancy is only used in select circumstances until expertise and balance is created. After that, specialization takes over. And to be a specialist, you have to be good at what you do.
In general, nature uses modular and nested components to fit multiple units within each other progressively from simple to complex. Maybe this is the approach we need to use with our own sustainable and regenerative activism? To work together to push greater transformation at the corporate level by building up individual practices that require ecological choices.
So how do we do it? How can we help each other get the tools and support to ensure that are choices are aligned with our ethics?
I’m open to your practical ideas and offer my infrastructure, connections, and expertise to manifest them.