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The ‘Sustainable Individual’ Myth

With more and more recognition of the climate crisis going on in our world right now, many people have taken it upon themselves to be more sustainable in their everyday lives. This might include using recycling and composts, eating less red meat or buying from sustainable and ethical brands... just to name a few. All of these individual activities are good, and by no means am I trying to tear them down as they’re things I also try to do in my daily life. However, the problem I’ve found with sustainable lifestyle rhetoric is that there is so much onus on the individual to be the change. What I mean by this is that telling people to recycle or shop sustainably doesn’t necessarily mean that large corporations are going to be held responsible for the part they play in climate change. Furthermore, if you are an individual who is unable to do things like shopping sustainable clothing brands (which are often more costly), you might be chastised and made to feel as though you are a bad person for not doing so. 

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The real enemy of climate change isn’t the individual, but corporations who have the money and influence to make huge changes to benefit the environment, yet they don’t. When I was in high school, I worked at Panera Bread. In the store, we had trash cans that were labelled separately as trash and recycling. However, at the end of the night when the store was closing up, these bags of trash would get thrown in the exact same place. In this instance, as the individual throwing out your trash, you may believe you are doing the right thing by separating your garbage. However, the company then completely ruins that individual decision by choosing to lump it all together. This is just one personal example of how individual decisions regarding our planet are completely useless unless corporations step up to the plate with us. 

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This is something that we must remember when trying to advocate for the environment. For example, I have sometimes seen comments on TikTok calling out girls for wearing a fast-fashion brand. While it is important to bring light to the issues of fast fashion, I do not believe calling people out for it is the way to go. We often don’t know people’s personal circumstances, and maybe sustainable brands are just not accessible to them. The real issue is brands that make millions, or even billions, exploiting both the environment and workers to create cheap clothing. The pressure should be on them to make serious changes by producing sustainable clothing that is accessible to a wide variety of consumers and paying workers fair wages. 

Everyone is trying to do their own individual part to the best of their ability. I think it’s important to remember this and be warier when putting pressure on individuals to lead more sustainable lifestyles. There is so little ethical production under capitalism and that is where the huge changes must be made. 

Eirinn Chisholm

Queen's U '21

My name is Eirinn and I'm 21 years old. Thank you for checking out my writing here on Her Campus :)
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