The conscious consumerism lie we love telling ourselves
What now!? Do all social entrepreneurs, corporate social responsibility initiatives, organic and conscious brands need to chuck their business ideas out the window?
The article "Conscious consumerism is a lie. Here’s a better way to help save the world", by Alden Wicker, started a heated lunch conversation between myself and my husband. We try to be careful buying organic, local produce, second hand... we used cloth diapers for our baby, the hubby is a regular sour-dough baker. You get the picture. But what if the path we have chosen towards sustainability isn't working? At all.
Alden Wicker's article refers to Maria Csutora's research paper from 2012, which suggests that there is no meaningful difference between the climate "footprint" of a conventional and a conscious consumer. Yet, we continue making "conscious" purchases thinking we're doing something good. Most of us are unaware of the fact that we're not making things any better.
"Making series of small, ethical purchasing decisions while ignoring the structural incentives for companies’ unsustainable business models won’t change the world as quickly as we want. It just makes us feel better about ourselves. Case in point: A 2012 study compared footprints of “green” consumers who try to make eco-friendly choices to the footprints of regular consumers. And they found no meaningful difference between the two."
Since the market for organic and "conscious" products is huge, but not big enough to shift the system, Alden Wicker suggests we stop buying these expensive products and redirect our resources towards organisations that work for system change. An example, "Instead of buying expensive organic sheets, donate that money to organizations that are fighting to keep agricultural runoff out of our rivers".
Oh, the irony. Back to me and my husband. Last Saturday after debating the article, we found ourselves shopping for sheets (!). We stood there infront of a wall of organic and conventional options. What would we do? Since our resources are limited, ditch the organic sheets, risk (!?) going for the conventional ones and donate the difference to some water protection NGO? We looked at each other in despair, sighed and ended up buying noting. (Which is actually the better solution anyway. Don't buy stuff.)
This makes me so angry. Why do we have a system that forces me to chose between conventional planet damaging goods and (perhaps) a more conscious or sustainable alternative? Unacceptable. Moreover, if the research holds true, most CSR initiatives and social entrepreneurs can chuck their business ideas out the window and get back to the drawing board since they're not really contributing to system change, only a false feeling of doing good.
What is your take on this topic? What would you have done in this situation? Would you take your business idea back to the drawing board? What research in this field do you base your work on? I'm very curious about your thoughts on this. Let me know what you think.
Founder & CEO The Good Tribe
This is an extract from Evelina's bi-weekly newsletter The Change Maker.