Sunday March 12, 2017

Buying eco-friendly products won't save the earth

After years of blogging about sustainability and promoting eco-friendly fashion, Brooklyn freelance reporter Alden Wicker has come to the conclusion that the idea of conscious consumerism is a lie — and broader, systemic change is needed instead.

After years of blogging about sustainability and promoting eco-friendly fashion, Brooklyn freelance reporter Alden Wicker has come to the conclusion that the idea of conscious consumerism is a lie — and broader, systemic change is needed instead. (iStock)

Listen 9:38

To all those who recycle, refuse to buy plastic water bottles, and boycott companies who aren't eco-friendly, freelance reporter Alden Wicker has the following message:

You're not saving the earth.

It's a conclusion that the Brooklyn-based journalist has come to after spending years blogging about sustainability on her lifestyle website ecocult.com, trying out non-toxic nail brands and instagramming eco-friendly clothing outfits.

"I was seeing that nothing was advancing," Wicker says, citing her research into plastic water bottles as an example.

Plastic Water Bottles

Through her research, Arden Wicker found that consumption of plastic water bottles was going up, despite her assumption that people had decreased their use as a result of increased environmental awareness. (Eddie Keogh/Reuters)

"I was sure, in my soul and heart, that we must be consuming fewer plastic water bottles because everyone knows that they're bad for the environment … and yet consumption of plastic water bottles has been going up and up and up."

"So if something that is so simple — and also very, very expensive compared to the sustainable option — and that message is not getting through to consumers in any discernable way, what hope do we have for the more complicated topics of fashion, supply chains, climate change?" 

Furthermore she says she realized that, unless a person is a full time, well-funded activist, not everyone has the time or money to research and buy eco-friendly alternatives to everyday products.

"If it's not more expensive it takes more effort and time, because you're DIY-ing everything and running around to get the right products ... and I know that that effort is diverting our money and time away from the most effective ways to make the world and the economy more sustainable." - Alden Wicker

Alden Wicker

Alden Wicker, a freelance reporter and the founder of Ecocult.com, says people need to also put time and money into supporting politicians and non-profit organisations if they really want the world to be more sustainable. (Justin N. Lane)

Wicker says the idea of conscious consumerism is often centred on the idea of voting with one's dollar — influencing companies to make change by what brands one supports.

But she said that, unless there is support from government and pressure from well-funded organizations, many companies have no motivation to become more eco-friendly.

Wicker said that she was spending so much effort researching eco-friendly options, while instead she could have been putting her energy into advocating for larger, systemic changes that she says would be more effective.

"One of my biggest regrets... is that I've turned all of my efforts inward to my own life, because I believed that small changes add up to big change, and then I didn't put as much of that effort into donating to politician campaigns that I agree with, [or] donating to non-profits." - Alden Wicker

"I donate a little bit but not as much a I spend on sustainable fashion, and look what happened? The EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] is about to be dismantled and defunded, so I can do as much as I can, but if the EPA is dismantled, I have no control over the amount of emissions that get put into the atmosphere."

However, she still says that people should still keep up their sustainable practices if they have the means to do so, but says that they should make sure they have time and money to put into making their voices heard in other ways.

"If you're the kind of person who is incredibly busy and you have to make a choice between maybe going to pick up your farm box full of local food on Thursday night, or going to a town hall meeting with your representative, I'd go to the town hall meeting." - Alden Wicker

But will Wicker keep up her sustainability blog?

She says she "absolutely" will, but now when she writes about sustainable products she will also give her readers examples of how they can support "broader, systemic change."