Three Trendy Fallacies of Conscious Consumerism
With almost global realisation that climate change is one of the most important issues facing our generation, innovative ways are being developed to reduce our impact on the environment. While improving the sustainability of our lifestyles is vital for the future of the planet, some of these trends are only re-branded versions of our damaging consumerist habits. Below are examples of popular conscious consumerism trends that are not as environmentally friendly as they seem.
1: Paper bags
As more people are saying “No!” to plastic carrier bags, some shops are switching to paper. However, multiple studies conclude that paper bags could harm the environment more than plastic1. Paper manufacture uses more energy and water, and can contribute more pollution than plastic bag production. Paper cannot be reused or recycled as many times as plastic. If you want to decrease your ecological footprint, reuse plastic bags as much as possible before recycling them.
2: Food labelled as organic
Organic farming practices were developed to counteract the environmentally damaging consequences of intensive farming. However, organic farms usually produce more ammonia and nitrogen emissions, acidification, and eutrophication by overloading waterways with nutrients2. Organic milk, cereals and pork generate more greenhouse gases than their intensively-farmed equivalents3, and permitted pesticides can be more harmful to the environment than those used in intensive farming4. Despite many significant drawbacks 5 , some organic farming techniques are beneficial to the environment, promoting biodiversity and sustainability 6. A fusion of organic and intensive farming techniques might be our best shot at developing more sustainable farming practices for the future.
3: Wood-burning stoves
Sadly, the comforting glow of a log fire comes at a cost to the environment. The soot, methane, and carbon monoxide produced by wood burners massively outweighs the carbon dioxide saved by not burning fossil fuel 7. In the UK alone, one home’s wood burner will contribute more to climate change than six efficient heat pumps8. A better alternative is to insulate your home well and use low-emission or renewable heating methods. If you use a wood burner, make sure it is modern and efficient, and only burn wood that you have seasoned for over twelve months 9.
While the global rise of new eco-solutions is promising for the future of our planet, understanding the potential environmental consequences of misguided eco-trends is vital. Make sure that your good intentions are backed up by scientific evidence, not just popularity!
Edited by Frankie Macpherson and Sara Berent
- https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291023/scho0711buan-e-e.pdf; https://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/57346/0016899.pdf; http://www.niassembly.gov.uk/globalassets/documents/raise/publications/2014/environment/8314.pdf