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Environmental Responsibility Should Not Fall on Consumers

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

It is no secret that our planet is *not so* slowly being destroyed beyond repair, and hardly any action has yet been taken to stop this from occurring. While there has been a rise in environmental consciousness over the past few years, the rate at which we are killing the earth is still significantly more rapid than the rate at which we are saving it. How is that even possible? Many people have made lifestyle changes in order to reduce their carbon footprint, such as using recyclable bags and non-plastic straws. Moreover, select countries and companies have even taken initiatives to be more eco-friendly by banning single-use plastic bags, switching to recyclable packaging, and so on. Well, the problem is simple: the environmental responsibility and guilt is directed towards consumers rather than the manufacturers.

The Main Issue

The reality of the situation is that about 100 companies are responsible for about 70 percent of the world’s carbon emissions and have been responsible for the past two decades. Just to reiterate, these companies are the direct cause of more than half of Earth’s air pollution. So logically, shouldn’t the environmental responsibility fall on them? Almost every advertisement regarding protecting the planet is directed at ordinary people – donate to save polar bears, stop using plastic, go vegetarian, etc. – barely any advice is directed at the main culprits. Ironically enough, many companies responsible for these ads and shifting the narrative are the same institutions that are harming the planet. Due to the sheer power of capitalist propaganda, the blame has primarily deflected to the buyers since we’re the ones purchasing these goods. This thinking is flawed in many ways, since the buyers aren’t the ones making the products, and we don’t necessarily have the ability to choose more sustainable options.

We cannot be held accountable for something we have no choice but to participate in. This doesn’t mean people should completely go back to their old non-sustainable habits, but the fact that the pressure to save the planet is being put on people who aren’t even the biggest contributors is unproductive and ineffective. Some change is better than no change; however, the most effective adjustments for the environment would be made within corporations’ internal operations.

The Outcome

Pushing environmental responsibility onto the general public makes us feel guilty if we don’t make drastic changes to our lives. Changing your lifestyle dramatically is not easy and not possible for all. As previously mentioned, the working and middle class might not be able to get more sustainable alternatives for a variety of reasons. Sustainable versions of a product are expensive as hell. It’s rightfully so, as sustainable companies pay their labourers liveable wages and sustainably source their raw materials, but it’s outrageous to expect everybody to be able to afford them. Not everybody has endless income, Karen.

Another reason is that sustainability does not equate to accessibility. Single-use items are convenient and hygienic for people who can’t wash and reuse or don’t have running water to do so. Many people with disabilities require single-use products, as it allows them to have independence to be able to do certain tasks without external help. Disregarding this purpose of single-use products within the conversation of environmental sustainability would be ableist and tone-deaf. Sustainable brands also don’t always ship worldwide, and sustainable stores are not always convenient. Switching to a more eco-friendly lifestyle takes a mental and financial effort that not everybody, especially people with low incomes, are able to exude. Not everyone has the time and energy to do hours of research for every single product they use. In a world that is striving to be equal and accommodating to everyone, the environment crisis certainly does not.

The Future

Corporations should be taking responsibility. End of story. Unfortunately, the likelihood of those responsible to have a change of heart is rare. Almost all multibillion corporations are built on exploitation and corruption.  Enough media outrage could make these companies switch, but that is also unlikely. Instead, they are more inclined to hire a PR and marketing team to rebrand the company as “going green” but not actually make any changes.

Personally, I hope karma comes to bite them in the ass. If it’s not from destroying the planet for cash, it’s from their inhumane working conditions and slave labour. But the blame or drive to make the world a better place shouldn’t fall on people who don’t cause a significant impact t. Not only is that not going to yield enough positive results to save our planet, but it is also basically giving the people who are responsible a pass to continue causing havoc to the environment.

Daphne Chen

UWindsor '23

Daphne is majoring in International Relations and Development Studies with an Economics minor in UWindsor. Her hobbies include painting, reading, writing, and learning about niche topics among other things. She hopes to one day be able to make a small difference in this world, but she doesn’t know when, what, and how.