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Is Sustainability A Prerogative Of The Rich?

From the moment Sapiens thwarted nature’s balance and made it to the top of the food chain, class hierarchies began to exist. As time went on, the bridge between these partitions widened, leaving behind a bitter taste of resentment in those who ended up on the wrong side of the divide. Economic divisions and income inequalities subsequently throw light on the issue of privilege. Privilege is directly proportional to choice since economic flexibility entails freedom. A person with better financial security and wealth will be at more liberty to do things they like in comparison to those restricted by money or its lack thereof. Sustainability is one such aspect that is directly influenced by economic status, and yet rarely seems to be talked about.


The United Nations defines sustainability as “meeting needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Increasing concern and global attention on environmental preservation have put sustainability in the spotlight these days. While sustainable practices are essentially a step towards a better tomorrow, the question we have to ask is whether theory and practice go hand in hand, or are sustainable practices rife with contradictions and ironies? Ethical fashion, organic fruits and vegetables, and eco-friendly materials are all ideal alternatives that could potentially improve the condition of the environment. The question is whether these products are accessible and affordable to all sections of society. Ethical products are simply not on par with their income or economic reality. This is the reason why a majority of the population regards sustainable practices with suspicion. Take, for instance, the eccentric products Balenciaga launches as part of its ‘eco-friendly’ collection. Let’s not forget their trash pouch that caused quite a stir online. The price of a singular product could feed a low-income family for at least a month. While these efforts toward sustainability are indeed commendable, it becomes futile due to their explicit lack of inclusivity. According to Erwin Lizarondo, a professor of social entrepreneurship, “The people who lead the sustainable program are the elite… the elites are actually funding these projects or social enterprise… the middle class and even the lower socioeconomic status are suspicious of these elites simply because of our politics. It’s the politics of the rich and we continue to see that.”


Globally, we are at a crossroads with several crises. While an economic slowdown is looming large on one side, the environmental question is raging on the other. Thus, it is important to come up with a viable solution. While it is quite possible that the astronomically high prices of these sustainable products might eventually go down with increasing demand, it is not a solution. Although optimism is not entirely pernicious, blind optimism devoid of action is a fool's paradise. Perhaps the first step to solving this inequality would be by developing a holistic view of the world. The world is not solely inhabited by the rich and wealthy. While privilege has the ability to make people oblivious to the realities of those different from them, it might do the planet good if we burst our cozy bubbles. Shelley rightly said that “we can think of nothing which we have not perceived.” Perhaps it's time to indeed try to widen our horizons of understanding so that change will become holistic and not limited to the elite. At the same time, we can take small steps that do not necessarily fall under the category of popular sustainability. A very simple change, such as taking a bag every time you go shopping, can eventually make a big difference. As the saying goes, “Little drops of water,/Little grains of sand,/Make the mighty ocean.”

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Tags: #environment #brands #sustainability #eco-friendly #balenciaga #elite #ethicalfashion


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