Going shopping these days is overwhelming, especially if you’re out to buy something somewhat indispensable to sustaining your current life style (and no, chocolate does not qualify). Im talking along the lines of soap, washing detergent, toilet paper, toothpaste…you get the picture. I usually just want to get my product/necessity X and escape the masses of equally frustrated shoppers wondering up and down the aisles of Too Many Choices.
Voting for a better world via my wallet and doing efficient shopping seems to be becoming an increasingly impossible equation. Since when did I need twenty variations of toilet paper? Rows and rows of assuring science about double-ply absorbency rates, “Flush&Go”s and Nordic Swan certificates. Cut the cr*** and give me something sustainable and kind on my behind!
Doing really the right thing and making the (subjectively) best choices becomes painfully time consuming with more and more companies trying to weave green stories and certificates into their products. “Communication is not always in line with the reality of the corporate culture and behavior” as my colleague Andrea rightly points out. She also gives a great example of a (marketing) campaign of Krombacher, a German brewery, promising to donate part of the earnings gained from sold beers to save chunks of rainforest. Customers buying Krombacher beers feel good about supporting rainforest conservation while justifying and feeling better about their own consumption habits…only that Krombacher is going all magician on us and wafting one rainforest clad-hand in our faces while distracting us about the fact that they’re not doing an Amazon ant’s worth of improvement in their actual production methods towards being more sustainable.
Who would’ve ever though making beer-buying decisions would turn out to be so tough one day? (that is obviously assuming that you care about the impact of your purchase decisions)
In our world, you need to buy to live and you live to buy. A fact you can’t run away from in your new squeaky Nikes. Additionally I don’t think we would last very long if we had huge pangs of guilt and distress after every single purchase. This issue was touched upon during some interesting discussion during our lectures: to what extent do feelings and emotions motivate action? (or non-action?) Guilt can definitely sit with you long after swiping your Visa. So how do we internalize certain values and moral responsibility that affect our decisions?
Individual moral responsibility will carry you through daily decisions fairly well but paying a “social” price and losing face for being the only weirdo not conforming to collective expectations of making smart choices will definitely get you squinting at labels more attentively.
Greenwashed products can lull us into a false sense of having done good but showy eco-design and matching messaging can only get companies so far: we can read and we can investigate. We demand more proof, more action. Society at large also seems to be sprouting movements dedicated to see that we do actually try and buy our way into a better future.