A guide to sustainable living
A search for ‘#sustainability’ on the popular social media platform of Instagram reveals more than 1.8 million public posts. From homemade tooth powder to clay dinnerware and rentable clothing, a quick scroll through the #sustainability gallery and there related hashtags like ‘recycle’ bring out interesting perspectives from around the world about going green.
It’s not just ordinary digital natives and influencers that are documenting their eco-makeover, but also social media-savvy brands who are using these platforms to send a clear message to consumers that they deeply care about how their business affects the environment. As a demographic, the millennials are especially tough to please. While they may power the retail economy, several studies show that millennials are ‘anxious about climate change’, and want to engage with brands and corporates that make a positive impact on the environment or the society.
Sustainability, therefore, is not just a fancy buzzword anymore — it is beginning to define the identity of both brands and individuals. Even if you do not consider yourself an eco-warrior, here are five easy choices you can make to become a more conscious consumer:
Put your wardrobe in the slow fashion lane With fast fashion becoming popular, buying ‘more for less’ has become a shopaholic’s mantra. As brands vie with each other to slash prices, consumers are tempted to engage in ‘use and throw’ behaviour — buying clothes which they may never or hardly ever wear.
A nationwide study in Australia (in 2017) showed that while one in five people tossed out clothing after wearing it only once, 40% of millennials bought nearly half their wardrobe in the last 12 months alone! Have you ever thought about how your wardrobe affects the environment? Sample this — your favourite cotton shirt may have consumed nearly 2,700 litres of water in the making! Ellen McArthur Foundation in its report A New Textiles Economy: Redesigning Fashion’s Future reveals several other hurtful facts about fast fashion’s damaging impact on the environment — for instance, at 1.2 billion tonnes annually, the total greenhouse gas emissions from textiles production, are more than those of all international flights and maritime shipping combined!
Given the negligible rate of recycling — a paltry 1%, rebooting your fashion choices can therefore directly benefit the environment. For starters, drastically reduce your closet size by making the distinction between ‘want and need’. A wise practice is to shop for clothes that fall under the ‘sustainable fashion’ category — with some research, you can discover multiple brands that have made the environment their business priority.
These products may be expensive, but for a good reason. Not only do they tend to last longer because of superior quality, but sustainable brands also focus on ‘designing out’ carbon footprints. Among other measures, they use natural dyes and materials, employ fair labour practices, and ensure that no harmful effluents reach water bodies.
Switch to green cosmetics without falling for the ‘eco-friendly’ trap
With a rise in affluence, the pre-occupation with ‘looking good’ has fuelled the staggering growth of the beauty industry. As hundreds of products flood the market every year, it is easy for the confused consumer to be swept away with the plethora of choices available to be glamorous and photo-ready. Like textiles, however, the cosmetic industry is a heavy polluter.Consider this — your favourite shampoo bottle and its contents probably do not break down and instead act as slow poison for animal and human ecosystems. Dangerous chemicals like dioxane, dibutyl phthalate and triclosan that may be present in shampoos, deodorants, nail polish and lipsticks are capable of causing genetic mutations in aquatic life, alter their reproductive systems or even lead to their death. The toxic cocktail of chemicals in these products, like phthalates, benzoyl peroxide and sodium laureth sulfate have been linked to skin diseases, asthma and even behavioural problems like autism.
In response to the growing sentiment for green cosmetics, people are switching over to herbal products. A strong word of caution is to check the marketing claims —in a what is known as ‘greenwashing’, some companies publicise their products as being ‘natural’ even though natural ingredients make up only a limited amount of the mixture. From sourcing and testing of raw materials to evaluation to label claims, it is better to rely on those brands that voluntarily display verification by independent and credible third-party companies.
Watch how you clean your home
As the ‘city of lakes’, Bengaluru was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Fuelled by high levels of pollution,, the city’s infamous Bellandur Lake was not only frothing, but also went up in flames twice early this year. A study by the Indian Institute of Science last year on a similar wetland, Varthur Lake blamed high concentration of chemical compounds found in household waste like detergents and soaps as one of the main culprits for the pollution, as untreated sewage was often dumped in the lakes.
While making the choice to switch over to plant-based or organic detergents may seem easy, consumers should be wary of falling for misleading labels. An important point to keep in mind is that there are currently no specific government or official standards for terms like ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘eco-safe’. While the term ‘green’ implies a product has some environmental benefit or causes no harm to the environment, the International Standards Organization considers it to be too vague a word to be meaningful. The best route out of this conundrum is to get back to research and find out if the brand has received any verification certificate from a recognised third-party.
Keep a check on e-waste
Here’s something mind-boggling — in 2016, the world produced 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste, enough to build 4,500 Eiffel Towers! While India is the fifth largest e-waste producer in the world, unfortunately, 90% of this waste — whether old computers, lamps, cellular phones, televisions or batteries are dismantled at unorganised centres.
Hundreds of toxic and hazardous substances and chemicals that emanate from these products are not extracted efficiently and safely, putting the workers at risk of contracting deadly diseases. It also leads to high levels of pollution when these harmful substances seep through the ground or water.
With the push for the ‘Digital India’ and the flourishing market for smartphones, India is staring at an e-waste crisis. As a conscious consumer, the first step is to learn about the different categories of e-waste,understand the level of toxicity of each, and identify avenues for safe disposal. From single-use batteries to lamps and unfashionable desktop computers, perhaps you could start a collection drive at your apartment complex or workplace to encourage more people to handle e-waste responsibly.
While the government has to strengthen policy initiatives to increase authorised e-waste collection centres, the good news is that several startups are using their innovative might to transform the e-waste scenario in India, and offer free pick-up at the doorstep in several states. Another option would be to check with the manufacturer about their recycling policies.
Say no to energy guzzlers
When it comes to going green, India seems to be very promising on one front – sustainable buildings. From open architecture that allows ample natural lighting to heat-resistant building material that reduces the need for artificial cooling, green buildings are becoming the favoured form of construction for residential and commercial complexes, thus reducing the energy cost.
While India’s growing green building footprint is great news, with a few simple choices, consumers can switch to greener lifestyles even without major renovations to their existing home or office. For instance, when you opt for the star-rated LED lighting products, you can save up to 75% energy. Since they last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, LED lights are the better choice for the pocket and environment in the long run. Other power-hungry household appliances that need your attention are ACs, refrigerators and ceiling fans.
Companies are now increasingly gearing up to transform into ‘zero waste’ entities by becoming part of the circular economy. Unlike the ‘take, make and dispose’ approach, a circular model involves deliberate efforts to conserve energy, reduce emission and waste. With no need for financial commitment, all it takes is a refreshing attitude and a commitment to prosper without harming the environment. A greater push from the circular economy can come from conscious consumerism, a conscious choice that you, as a consumer, can make to do your part for the environment.
(Author- Peeyush Gupta – Director Sales and Marketing-UL, South Asia)
Source: Deccan Herald