By Sarah Baek
Numerous politicians and corporations have placed the burden of being environmentally friendly on the consumer. However, it is not easy to “go green” when one is living in poverty, on minimum wage, or check-by-check; unlike rich celebrities and social media influencers, many people cannot afford eco-friendly options. Still, politicians, corporations, and rising social media influence try to force many to take environmental responsibility through streamlined campaigns: stop using plastic straws, carry reusable shopping bags, recycle everything.
Of course, we’ve made progress from days when there wasn’t much awareness about the urgency of environmental issues; we now have the resources and attention to prioritize the environment. However, eco-friendly products are more expensive and harder to find than traditional products due to lower demand and higher production costs. For example, Reformation, a sustainable clothing brand, costs hundreds of dollars per clothing item. In the automotive world, Tesla and hybrid cars are more expensive than most gasoline-powered vehicles. Finally, in addition to costing more, plant-based meat alternatives are difficult to find in most areas. Nevertheless, despite this grim reality, there are ways we can still seek to live sustainably.
On an underlying level, there cannot be a social narrative that everyone should live the perfect, green life — being eco-friendly is not always an option. For the 70% of Americans living in poverty or on minimum wage, buying sustainable clothing that costs hundreds of dollars or a car that costs tens of thousands of dollars isn’t possible. However, the media tends to standardize “saving the planet,” implicitly condemning those who are barely just getting by for not living a “green life.” As much as these seemingly perfect portrayals of eco-friendly wealth can have a positive influence, it is not acceptable to shame somebody without understanding their economic situation.
Instead, what we can do is make the best out of our situations. We read the news to educate ourselves, but the true importance lies in how we make the choices in the most crucial moments, even if that gained knowledge cannot be applied to our lives at that exact time. When the opportunity comes for us to make choices offered by government policies and corporation efforts, we can make educated, informed, and rational decisions. This can be as simple as knowing what corporations currently do to take responsibility; for example, after Amazon was harshly criticized for the carbon emissions they release and packaging resources they waste, Jeff Bezos announced Amazon’s Climate Pledge to offer environmentally beneficial options.
Apart from educating ourselves and being more aware of how politicians and corporations take responsibility for their actions, we can observe our surroundings and make minimal changes in any way that we can, perhaps in ways that would not take too much time or money. Thrift stores and online swap shops are two cost-efficient ways to be greener with what we wear. In this way, a person would still be doing the best with what they have, which should be the primary goal in protecting the environment.
In addition, everyone can make sustainable living inexpensive with a simple mindset: be more sustainable with what you already own. Often, the prominence of advertising in our media pressures people into buying new products and compel them to crave what they don’t have. However, if we stopped over-consuming and used only what we needed, the world would be far more sustainable.
Finally, in order for people to be eco-friendly, we must create an environment where eco-conscious choices are accessible to everyone. Regardless of what the media says, making small changes in our own lives will perhaps be the most positive thing we can all do for this planet. Defining successful sustainable living in the context of our day-to-day lives is important so that those small changes create a world where sustainable living becomes the norm for all.