A New Era for Environmentalism
The modern environmental movement began as a result of a series of events throughout the 1960s and 1970s that placed the horrors of pollution front and center on the world stage. These events, such as the publication of pesticide toxicity in Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” made consumers aware of the grave dangers of rampant consumerism.
Companies across consumer sectors reacted to the advent of the environmental era by developing environmentally-friendly products. Such goods were made of natural ingredients and materials as opposed to synthetic ones. Many in the consumables industry sought to move away from wasteful single-use products to sustainable ones that people were able to reuse. One prime example was the reusable grocery tote bag trend. Unlike plastic bags, which are made of nonrenewable petroleum and are difficult to recycle, these totes were made to last year after year following their production.
However, the problem with this initial wave of eco-conscious goods is that they often came at a high cost that was inaccessible to people with average means. As a result, the use of these trend-led green products became ascribed with higher societal status – or eco-status.
A Paradigm Shift
Fast-forward to present times, justice for the environment is beyond a trend. Eco-status seems to be fading, and eco-shaming is quickly taking its place. The prestige synonymous with living green has shifted from a marker of wealth to one of moral responsibility. Making an active effort to care for the environment is now seen as an expected societal standard. On the other hand, a lack of regard for the environment is characterized as irresponsible.
There are some key factors in modern times that have been instrumental in this trend in attitude from eco-status to eco-shame.
Trend One: More Ways Than Ever to Be Environmentally-Friendly
Consumers today do not need to search far to find green alternatives to standard consumer goods. From packaging solutions to personal hygiene products, they span a wide variety of products across all sectors. Unlike in the past, where they were viewed as a luxury of the wealthy, environmentally-conscious goods are now competitively-priced relative to their conventional counterparts. This is a result of economies of scale – as product manufacturing is scaled to meet a rapidly-growing demand, the cost to produce them becomes increasingly cheaper. Even more, consumers are becoming aware of the intrinsic benefits, like money saved over time, of making sustainable purchases.
Thanks to a number of innovative companies in the green sector, the ability to make environmentally-friendly decisions extends beyond consumables. The trend of rideshare services provides commuters a mode of transportation that decreases their carbon footprint. There are even consulting services that work with companies large and small in order to help them implement green systems within their organizations.
Trend Two: Increasingly Interconnected World
The ubiquitous nature of social media makes it the perfect vessel for engaging in environmental activism, even in parts of the world where such freedom of expression is not the norm. The barriers to entry are low and accommodate all levels of activists, especially new ones who want to spread awareness about an issue in their immediate communities. All an activist needs to utilize one of the primary networks is an email address for account registration. From there, he or she now has a globally-reaching way to advocate change for that issue.
The key to successful activism is relentless exposure. Once activists plant the seed of change that exposes their cause, many people find it difficult, if not impossible, to follow updates. They may also be inclined to search for more information on that issue and related issues. As this buzz is created, the issue transforms into a trend. Successful activists are known to use a variety of media, such as pictures, status updates, blog posts, and videos, to gain a following. This method of eco-shaming has been successful not only sparking debate about crises in the environment but also in influencing new policy needed to get governments on board with environmentally-motivated causes.
Trend Three: Normalization of Environmental Stewardship
People do not need to search far to see how embedded environmentalism is in our current society. Waste management systems in most municipalities provide residents with trash receptacles for both trash and recyclable materials. Recycling programs in many communities even incentivize people on a per-unit basis when they recycle scrap metal items like aluminum cans.
As regulation related to the environment becomes the standard, people trend toward seeing themselves as stewards of the earth. Consumers today are ever-aware of their consumption patterns, and the vast number of ways they can participate only increases with each passing year. Whether engaging in environmentalism means choosing between walking, using a ride share service, or buying a hybrid vehicle, there are avenues for consumers of all socioeconomic statuses to engage.
Environmentalism is no longer a trend associated with social class, but rather a social contract between people and the world they inhabit. Virtually no part of the globe is untouched by pollution, and activists play an indispensable role in shedding light on new issues year after year, as well as reviving discussion about ones that still persist. The destruction of the environment has an exceptionally disparate effect on communities that are already impoverished. The normalization of social media as a platform for all voices is thus a trend with positive implications for activism. It has empowered such marginalized peoples to make their concerns known, even when their countries do not traditionally permit such freedoms of speech.
Many countries have responded positively by outlawing the exploitation of specific resources and the hunting of endangered animal species. Violation of these laws comes with hefty penalties, not to mention the eco-shaming that comes with breaking a widely-accepted social contract.
However, there are still gaps in educating people in effective stewardship of the environment. Although many search for this knowledge on their own, the trend aspect of environmentalism means that a great number still follow and support it without fully understanding its inner workings. There is a stark difference, after all, between engaging in environmentalism to promote a positive outward self-image and engaging in order to impact real, authentic change to the system.