Following on from my last post on “Sustainability in tech”, and spurred by a recent circular economy podcast I listened to, I've been thinking about new environmentally-conscious economic models of production and consumption, and the trade-offs that come with them.
As an example, fast fashion results in ridiculous overconsumption with a hefty environmental footprint, exploitation of globally low waged workers in SE Asia to keep costs down... but those who benefit most in the Developed World from these cheap prices are arguably the lowest earners in their societies. Improving the conditions and wages of the workers and reducing environmental footprints will result in increased prices for the buyers, while decreasing fast fashion overall and/or shortening supply chains by moving manufacturing closer to purchasing markets risks taking livelihoods away from the workers in low income countries, unless a proper plan is developed for replacing those jobs with others. Trade-offs, trade-offs.
Contrast fast fashion with the example of MUD Jeans, one of the exemplars of new emerging models of production and consumption highlighted in the podcast I listened to. This great company has short supply chains, pays living wages, is environmentally conscious and even takes back its own product at end of life to reprocess the fibres into new jeans. Fantastic! ...but all of this good stuff comes with a hefty price tag that is out of reach of the most vulnerable in society. MUD Jeans do have a monthly lease option for their products, which is another innovation I like the sound of.
To what degree then is environmentally-conscious consumption still a luxury for those who can afford it? And if we can afford it, should we not be using our purchasing power to do so, sending market signals that these ideals matter, are desirable, and should be adopted more widely? Is this not, after all, the model that Tesla adopted? They first focused on the high end luxury goods markets, making owning an electric vehicle a desirable status symbol rather than a quirk of a green-minded eco-warrior. Without doing more research into it (which I may someday!), I'm not sure how much they are accelerating the adoption of electric cars compared with other societal drivers but they're certainly helping!
Of course, we can all do our part by just consuming less. Or by using any number of emerging apps and web-based platforms that create a buy-and-sell market for secondhand goods. Some of those platforms may have intrusive data privacy policies but again, trade-offs, trade-offs!
So, now that I've lost weight and need new jeans, will I get them from MUD Jeans? I'll certainly consider it but will definitely take at least a little while to look at the environmental and ethical policies of manufacturers before I purchase. Of course, the product needs to fit me as well. For now though, it's the summer so I can push this particular decision down the line a little bit... or just keep wearing a belt!
Entry 91 of my participation in the “100 Days to Offload” challenge – find out more and join in!