Why the Consumption Conundrum Blows Sustainability Out of the Water

Today is ‘Earth Day’. But I’m just going to say it – are we really at the point where the majority are willing to make sacrifices to save the planet? Really and truly?


I’m going to be brutally honest here and admit an uncomfortable truth - that I personally am not there yet. I know I need to make changes, but when push comes to shove, convenience and cost trump sentiment for me in the short term. Especially after the year we’ve just had.


But if I and the majority are not doing enough, how can we expect genuinely environmentally sustainable brands to survive?


How can we, as consumers, redress the balance and turn sentiment into action?


Photo by Katie Barret on Unsplash

The (Thankfully Not Insurmountable) Problem


The sad fact is that consumers don’t want to choose between sustainability and convenience. While the sentiment of environmental sustainability is a noble one, most of us aren’t willing to make any uncomfortable sacrifices, as Getty Images’ “consumption conundrum” report shows:


“81% of us see ourselves as eco-friendly but just 50% of us buy products from brands that try to be eco-friendly.”

And while 92% of us believe the way we treat our planet now will have a large impact on the future, 48% also say that although they know they should care more about the environment through their purchasing habits, convenience takes priority.


Yet brands are scrambling to convince consumers they’re taking sustainability seriously. So are they overestimating its importance to their customers?


Better Consumer Choices...


Having made a personal choice recently to do more to support environmental sustainability, I wanted to take some practical steps to achieve this - but didn’t have a clue where to start. So, this is what I came up with:


Step 1: Join a campaign that means something to you.


For example:


Buglife - Register and join the B-Lines campaign to help create a national bee superhighway!! My family and I are loving this right now.


Greening Campaign - This is an initiative to reduce carbon emissions, save you money and improve local communities. Following a self-assessment you can challenge yourself to do simple things like:

  • Reduce your normal shower time

  • Halve your food waste through more effective meal planning

  • Turn the central heating down a few degrees

  • Draught-proof your house

  • Replace all bulbs with LEDs

  • Boil only the amount of water you need in the kettle (I've been doing at least this one for decades)

  • Wash up using a bowl, instead of running water

  • Line or rack dry clothes

  • Buy less frequently from Amazon, or group together purchases


Step 2: Use your purchasing power for good.


Determine your own 'sustainability criteria' and use your purchasing power for good, making conscious decisions about what you’re going to do differently e.g.


Step 3: Buy from authentically sustainable brands or become one.


Buy from brands who are transparent about precisely how they support environmental sustainability at their price-point.


Some, like Patagonia, who donate 1% of their total sales to environmental groups, have become synonymous with authenticity. Beyond just selling 'stuff' they also take back items in good condition, clean and repair them, and sell them on their "Worn Wear" website.


If you're a business you could join the ranks of Patagonia and become a member of 1% for the planet and / or become B-Corp certified.


As a customer, you could research the brands you regularly purchase from, and make conscious choices to shop elsewhere if they don't meet your sustainability criteria.


But for those of us who don't have time, here's a few ideas to get you started:


  1. Food - Soleshare, FoodCycle, The Pig Idea

  2. Drink - Lemonaid, ChariTea, Whole Earth

  3. Beauty - The Soap Co, Dr. Hauschka, Neal’s Yard

  4. Baby - Kit and Kin, Bambino Mio, Naty

  5. Utilities - Bulb, Octopus Energy and Green Energy UK

  6. Menstrual Products - Wuka, Lunette, Daye

  7. Transport - Hybrid or electric cars

  8. Phones - Fairphone, Teracube or a refurbished smartphone

  9. Footwear - Allbirds, Beyond Skin, Po-Zu

  10. Travel - Responsible Travel, Undiscovered Mountains, Rickshaw Travel


And if all of us use our purchasing power in a similar way, then the brands we buy from might actually be able to make money AND help save the plant at the same time.


Do you think brands can achieve authentic environmental sustainability and be successful? What does environmental sustainability mean to you and your brand?