The Price of Sustainability


Taylor Ford

Story Time

September 12, 2021

In a time where climate change is rearing its ugly head, it is more imperative now than ever to put sustainability at the forefront of our society. We’ve already reached a point of no return, meaning no matter what we do from this point forward, there is irreversible damage done to the planet that is directly attributable to human activity. It's a fact that we will continue to have major natural disasters, heat waves, droughts, and pandemics (yes, there WILL be more pandemics in our future and they will be more frequent). The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) recently released their Sixth Assessment Report, which addresses the most up-to-date information on climate change.

This report came up with five possible scenarios for what our future will look like.

Worst case scenario: The planet warms around 4.5 degrees C by 2100 and the world would basically be an apocalyptic movie come true, with food shortages and major weather catastrophes.

The best case scenario: The world reaches net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Ocean levels would still rise by a foot, ice sheets would continue to melt, and extreme weather would become more common, but the worst effects of climate change would be avoided.

It's undeniable. Climate change is real, it’s here, and it’s dangerous. Even in the best case scenario, we will still face devastating effects. If we want to avoid the most intense effects of climate change- we need to do something and we need to do it now.

There are so many companies that have already begun creating net-zero carbon emission goals by 2050 or earlier along with a plethora of other sustainability initiatives. Of course, none of these companies are perfect but there’s one problem that I continue to see across all industries, and that problem is money.

I don’t think anyone is surprised to hear that sustainability is expensive.

Whether it's clean energy, clothing, furniture, or food, the sustainable product is going to cost more than the unsustainable product.

Solar panels can cost up to 15 thousand USD. Yes, renewable energy ends up costing less than traditional fossil fuels, but the fact of the matter is that most people cannot afford that upfront cost, let alone afford to buy a house to put those solar panels on in the first place.

Sustainable food costs around 30 percent more than unsustainable food, assuming one doesn’t live in a food apartheid. What’s a food apartheid you might ask? They’re places where good, nutritious food is not readily available, typically in non-white and low-income areas (but that’s a WHOLE different conversation).

Even in fashion, a brand like Reformation with a Voiz rating of 2.25 planets- which is pretty substantial, costs a ridiculous amount of money (almost every item is over 100 USD) compared to fast fashion brands such as Zara and Shein. Obviously, sustainable clothing is going to cost more as you are paying for sustainable materials, practices, and living wages for workers. But the unfortunate reality is that too many people can’t afford this stuff. Of course, I would love to see every company doing what Reformation is doing and I would love to see renewable energy sources and sustainable food everywhere, but if it’s always going to exclude the majority of the population, it’s not true sustainability.

We can tell people to buy from sustainable companies all we want, but if people can’t afford the hefty price tag, they’re going to turn to unsustainable products, and I don’t blame them! Climate change hurts everyone, but particularly those in low-income areas, and if the people most affected by climate change can’t afford to support the companies trying to help them, there’s clearly a big problem.

Affordability and sustainability don’t have to be mutually exclusive. There are brands able to do both, but they are few and far in between and are inaccessible to large portions of the population. Nobody should have to jump through hoops to access sustainable items, they need to be readily available to EVERYONE.

So to the companies withholding living wages from their workers and keeping product prices high for sustainable goods, I have one thing to say: gatekeeping sustainability is not a good look. The planet isn’t going to wait for us, our time is running out, these problems need to be fixed now.

We need people to invest in genuinely sustainable companies, we need workers to be paid a living wage so they can actually afford the sustainable goods, and maybe it's time for some CEOs to take a pay cut.

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