Sustainability – Does it really matter?

At the beginning of this year, I didn’t know what sustainability meant.  “Vegan leather, what is that? I thought vegan was a diet, not a material”.  “What does organic even mean? Does that even actually mean anything?”

At the beginning of this year, I was also quite politically frustrated, a feeling that many people in the United States shared.  I felt helpless as changes were happening around me, and the threats of things to come loomed in my mind – the majority of this fear was not for myself personally, but for many Americans less fortunate than myself.

I am gainfully employed, I volunteer my time, I am kind to everyone and generally mindful of things happening in the world.  I didn’t know what more to do.  I considered running for office of some sort, I considered sitting on a school board.  I attended rallies, I called my politicians, I signed petitions and I donated my money.  I still felt like I was not in control, not doing enough, like none of it mattered much.

While I was educating myself one day about global warming and some of the changes that have been happening to our environment, I found an Instagram account that had many fun (or perhaps, not-so-fun) facts about the environment.  One of these hit me, hard.

“The fashion industry is the worlds second largest polluter, right behind the oil industry.”

What?? Is this for real?

I was floored.  I dug a little deeper and the information was astounding.  I am a fashion-conscious, 23-year-old working woman.  I shop, often, and I always have.  I had had no idea that this was an environmental issue.

It takes 2,700 liters of water to make one T-shirt. That’s the equivalent of about 900 days of water consumption for one human. The amount of clothing being produced and sold has risen from 1 trillion dollars in 2002, to 1.8 trillion dollars in 2015. Clothing waste has risen at a very similar rate, with people buying 60% more clothing items than they did before the year 2000 and keeping them for half as long. Clothing waste (10.5 million tons/year) ends up in landfills, with only 15% getting donated.

I realized that, in the midst of so much political turmoil, this was something more that I could do.  To personally change my lifestyle, and to share this information with others, who, like myself, probably had no idea that this was a serious problem.  The difference with sustainability is that we don’t have to completely rely on our senators and congressmen to change this issue.

“We The People” hold the power here.

I am an accountant, so I attended business school.  I know that consumer power is one of the largest driving forces of society.  What consumers demand, suppliers will provide.  If we, en masse, show that we will only buy sustainably-sourced clothing, companies are likely shift their practices to retain our business.  If we stop buying from companies that regularly and consciously harm the environment with their manufacturing processes, they are forced to either change practices or lose business. If we raise our children to care, we have effectively altered the world.

Consumer power cannot be underestimated.  I believe that it is the single biggest sway, second only, perhaps, to voting, that the American people hold. 

Millennials are proven to look into a company’s values more than any previous generation, prior to purchase.  So we are purchasing morals and ethics along with our shirts and shoes.  We are purchasing fair trade with our household goods.  We are purchasing a living wage for factory workers with our face wash, and we are planting 10 new trees with our purchase when we buy a hoodie.

I am on a personal journey to be better.  I don’t know it all, I’ve only just begun.  I am going to educate myself about people, practices and products.  I am going to improve my vocabulary.  I can’t change everything at once, so I will go step-by-step.  I am going to continue voting in every election, and I am going to spread what knowledge I gain with my friends, family and peers.  I will help to change the world, one mindful purchase at a time.

I am inviting you to join me on my journey to sustainability.

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