Responsible Consumerism Comes at a Cost

Divya Mehra

With growing environmental concerns around the globe, the adoption of a sustainable lifestyle has become one of the important measures to deal with environmental crises at the individual level. In simple terms, a sustainable lifestyle is an individual’s or society’s attempt to reduce its consumption of natural resources and minimize its environmental footprint. In doing so, more and more consumers are opting for eco-friendly, organic, green products over conventional alternatives.

As the world economy gradually eased up for international trade, investment, and globalization, the access to resources and markets amplified on a global basis. The buying capacity of an average middle-class consumer increased, resulting in high demand and production of goods and services. According to the neoclassical economic theory on which a market economy is based, consumption growth is strongly related to individuals’ well-being. An improvement in the economy at the national level provides individuals with opportunities to purchase goods and services that create a sense of an enhanced quality of life. (Orecchia & Zoppoli, 2007). However, the increased pattern in consumption is directly and indirectly linked to environmental degradation. Higher consumption implies higher production, which requires larger energy and raw material inputs, eventually leading to increased resource extraction and exploitation, generation of waste, and pollution.

People who have been exposed to conscious consumerism and sustainable living try to make small differences in their lifestyles by choosing products that are eco–friendly. But these eco-friendly/ sustainable products often come with a heavy price tag, making them affordable for a limited section of society and eventually creating elitism. Being an environmentally conscious person myself, I constantly try to choose green products over their conventional counterparts but this is not always easy on the pocket. For instance, a regular pack of eight non-eco-friendly sanitary napkins costs between ₹30-40, while a pack of 10 eco-friendly biodegradable sanitary napkins costs anywhere between ₹250-300; an organic soap can range between ₹450-500 whereas a regular soap would cost around ₹40-50; a plastic bag is generally offered free of cost with the products purchased from the grocery store, whereas a cotton/ jute bag would cost around ₹30-50. 

Eco-friendly products are generally more expensive because of supply chain implications, where the difficulty involved in producing an eco-friendly product often escalates its cost. In other words, adopting sustainable lifestyles comes at a premium. Some of the few reasons for high costs can be associated with low demand, high maintenance, scarce raw material, etc. The concept of sustainable products is very new and is still in the developing stages because of which they are not only limited but sometimes difficult to access by everyone as compared to their less sustainable counterparts. As these products have low demand and limited consumers, their manufacturing units are generally small in capacity, catering to only smaller markets. These products are manufactured with organic/ eco-friendly/responsibly sourced raw materials that are often expensive to produce. For instance, one of the important factors in organic farming is to avoid using harmful chemicals such as pesticides, which help in pest control and weeds. Since there is no use of chemicals in this procedure, the cost of pest control, weed removal, cleaning, etc. surges as the farmer has to employ more labour to complete these tasks, resulting in increased cost of production. Also, because these products are usually made with organic/ green ingredients and limited preservatives, their shelf life reduces, leading to high maintenance. Since eco-friendly farming practices are often expensive, only a few invest in these practices, leading to low production and limited options of green items, and that which come with higher price tags.

Although expensive, the use of sustainable goods should still be promoted because they help in reducing our environmental footprint. If more and more people start using these products, their demand will increase, allowing businesses to grow and produce at lower costs. On the other hand, there will be more options for people to choose from, allowing them to opt for sustainable options over non-sustainable counterparts. Government bodies and local authorities must also promote sustainable products by providing subsidies to the manufacturers and creating awareness among people to use these products. One successful case of the government’s efforts towards sustainability comes from the Indian state of Sikkim. The state was committed to making Sikkim fully organic, and in the year 2018, Sikkim was declared the world’s first 100% organic state. With well-defined targets and implementation plans, the Policy (Sikkim Organic Mission) created mandatory requirements, such as gradually banning chemical fertilizers and pesticides, with providing support and incentives to build a holistic transformation of the Sikkimese agriculture system into organic. Examples such as these point to the value of state-society partnerships to achieve sustainable development goals and reduce adverse impacts on the environment.

References

  • Orecchia, C & Zoppoli, P. (2007). Consumerism” and environment: does consumption behaviour affect environmental quality?. CEIS working paper (261). Retrieved from https://ssrn.com/abstract=1719507

Featured Image by Marco Verch on CCNULL

About the Author
About the Author

Divya is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Urban Ecology and Sustainability. She has been associated with a conservation organisation, working mostly on urbanisation and land-use change and its impact on forested areas.

Leave a Reply