Not a stupid question: Consumers have different priorities, why should saving the planet be one of them?

Can “sustainability” be sold differently… Maybe more selfishly, to appeal to people’s highest priority, themselves?

Another Christmas come and gone, another New Year, and has society changed?

Has the Greta effect worked, or perhaps have we been inspired by the green messages of (globetrotting) celebrities like William Windsor, and David Attenborough?

Do we remain unmoved by the plight of the Earth, or are we slowly starting to change?

The continual uptake of plant-based diets is a significant, sustainable change which many individuals and families have made. But many who follow vegan diets still contribute to greenhouse gas emissions through other purchases such as fuel, energy, and fashion.

Much fewer sustainable alternatives are available to replace car fuel, aeroplane fuel, home energy and fast fashion however, and because of this, and in order to “live sustainably”, consumers need to go out of their way to find eco-alternatives.

But why should they do that?

People have busy lives, difficult lives in many instances. So why should people care about living cleaner, and less wastefully? That would surely be at the bottom of a consumer’s list of priorities.

And it is in most instances.

But maybe people just aren’t being sold “sustainability” suitably?

Perhaps the wrong benefits are being emphasised?

Instead of “saving the planet”, maybe consumers should be encouraged to “save their wallet”…

All that clutter used to be money, and that money used to be time

Anonymous

So, every disposable item we buy and waste is money taken from our purses and dropped straight in the rubbish. But is this entirely accurate?

Money may buy us cheap, poorly-made goods, but it also buys us cheap, reasonably-made goods, and therefore, convenience.

So, whether as a sustainable option may be better made and may save us money in the long run, how many of us are patient enough to even wait “for the long run”?

How many of us instead prefer to replace items more regularly in order to avoid “shabbiness” or to follow new trends?

I recently saw a post on the #sustsinablefashionblogger Instagram hashtag which showed a fashion blogger standing before a pile of vintage clothes and holding a sign which read:

You can buy all the expensive vintage tees, but you can’t buy good vintage style

Instagrammer

You know where you can buy style?

From fast-fashion juggernauts like Shein. And on Shein online, you can buy six items of clothing for the same price as one expensive, vintage tee.

It’s a similar story for other purveyors of fast fashion…

Wanting to be stylish isn’t a behaviour which changes, especially not among younger people (the biggest consumers of fast fashion), so how is it easiest to follow fashion, and remain ‘in style’?

For most people, you remain in some semblance ‘stylish’ by seeking the least expensive and most accessible options available.

If fashion is still important to vintage customers, can fast fashion consumers be blamed for adhering to new trends and their ever-changing rules?

These are the things which are important to consumers; seemingly shallow and unimportant things (in the vast scale of existence) such as popular fashion, something which is still more important than “saving the planet” to most consumers.

So, where does that leave you as a sustainable retailer?

Well, until there’s a shift in consumer priorities, the uphill battle to convince consumers to “live beyond themselves” will continue.

But can “sustainability” be sold differently… Maybe more selfishly, to appeal to people’s highest priority, themselves?

What sustainable goal can be achieved by customers making purchases which primarily, as far as they can see, will benefit themselves or their own?

How can sustainability indeed be made selfish?

Selling personal benefits to the buyer will always be the easiest route to convince a consumer to open their wallet.

So, how can you adapt your marketing to appeal to consumers who buy only to benefit themselves i.e. most people?

And how can you make your product more relevant to the Now and not simply The Future?

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How playing devil’s advocate will help you improve your sustainable business

Because practicing being devil’s advocate means expressing the most challenging sentiments possible – how else do you check your campaign or business messaging is sound?

So, why do I keep asking awkward questions – am I secretly anti-sustainability?

No, but I am actively avoiding preaching to the converted.

Because we can sit here and complain about the same things:

“The planet is dying”

“Various species are doomed”

“More needs to be done”

Or, we can explore together why more people aren’t engaging in simple climate action, such as making better consumer choices.

So, in my previous blog entries, I chose to outline common objections made by many consumers (including myself) such as, “Fast Fashion: If you’re on a modest wage, why should you buy sustainably?”

“One person’s efforts can’t make a difference” is another old, familiar sentiment we hear, and one with no easy answer.

But before we try to engage with these objections, let’s check whether it is our practice to acknowledge different aspects of customer motivations, or whether we dismiss opinions we don’t like as simply selfish or ignorant.

Because practicing being devil’s advocate means expressing the most challenging sentiments possible – how else do you check your campaign or business messaging is sound?

So, let’s get quizzical!

I found the following lesson in ‘How to alienate non-vegans further’ circulating around the internet lately …

Human women on all fours are trapped in cages. A chicken in uniform is collecting their used sanitary towels for market, and the explanation given below?

“Eggs are hen’s menstruations, so eating eggs is like eating used sanitary towels… And you wouldn’t want to do that, would you!”

If chickens laid spoonfuls of uterine tissue-laced blood, only the most experimental of eaters would try it. But what do regular people care if a shell-encased egg is a chicken’s period?

We don’t care if burgers or bacon are made from animal’s flesh, right? So why waste time trying to appeal to our sense of squeamishness?

Or is this image only intended as an internal, anti-meat-eater joke?

If that’s so, is an attempt at humiliation of those seen as ‘the enemy’ helpful to the pro-vegan movement?

I venture that such an image and description are an own goal to the vegan cause. Not least because such a comparison between period blood and chicken eggs is ridiculous and betrays a relinquishment of rational thinking (maybe due to exasperation?) from some animal rights campaigners.

So, what’s next? How about trying to answer the question, “What’s the point, what can one person do?”

As devil’s advocate, I proffer that there’s no point answering this question with, “You’re not just one person, you’ll be one of many who –”

No.

As far as most customers or any given individual is concerned, we make decisions based on what is beneficial to us as individuals, not what may be beneficial to the world at large should many more people make a similar decision or compromise.

If you can’t sell your product or way of thinking as immediately beneficial to any given customer, then you need to improve your offer.

In a previous blog entry, I indicated that regarding veganism, selling an ethical eating lifestyle “for health” might be the quickest way to connect with new customers.

“For health” means customers will gain an immediate benefit from adopting a safe and healthy, vegan (or plant based) diet, as opposed to adopting veganism “for the environment” or “for the animals”, two benefits which can only be effective if large numbers of others make purchases with similar intentions.

These examples briefly demonstrate why a “devil’s advocate” role is so important for understanding your customers priorities –

Ask every awkward question you can imagine about your product and your intentions as a sustainable retailer.

Because “It’s an ethical alternative” doesn’t work for most customers still happy to forgo ethics in favour of price and convenience.

“What can one person do?”

One person (you) CAN build a business campaign based on acknowledgement and understanding of all points of view (All Plants did this with their vegan meal delivery service and message “We’re all plants, but you don’t have to be!”)

This important step will help you better understand the motives and priorities of potential, new customers. And in doing so, it will expand your brand’s influence and increase your customer base.

So, whilst it might be easy to openly judge the ethical standards of others, or even to laugh at them and accuse them of eating chicken periods, such an approach is not good for sustainable living campaigns, and it is not good for sustainable business.

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Fast Fashion: If you’re on a modest wage, why should you shop sustainably?

Not all fast fashion is poor quality. In fact, it’s usually reasonable or decent-enough quality.


I love vintage clothes! Not that I’ve been able to afford them in years gone by –

I live in Sheffield and we have so, so many vintage stores here but since forever, they’ve been out of my price range.

Most the items I own are “fast fashion”, and most of them are actually older or even plenty older than one year.

I certainly don’t treat my clothes as dispensable and most of them have been relatively long lasting, especially my #Primani jeans and chinos.

So, I’ll start this post by stating that Not all fast fashion is poor quality. In fact, it’s usually reasonable or decent-enough quality.

Sometimes, fast fashion is even decent quality.

With this in mind, sustainable fashion vendors and retailers won’t easily connect with new customers by telling them that cheap clothes are all cr*p.

Secondly, eco-friendly retailers will all do well to remember that sustainable shopping is a privilege.

No matter how environmentally damaging, unethical and unsustainable the fast fashion industry is, many customers only want to buy what they can reasonably afford.

Just like a meat-eater regretting the animal abuses involved in producing their favourite foods, fast fashion shoppers may regret the working conditions of garment workers in foreign lands.

But what should they do?

Spend £55 on one, nice top sourced sustainably. Or spend £50 on two pairs of jeans, four shirts and a jumper sourced through exploitation.

To someone on a tight budget, only one of those options is reasonable, and justifiable.

And even though a higher price tag on sustainable clothes pays for decent wages and working conditions for workers, and more eco-friendly textiles and manufacturing, ultimately, why will your average consumer be concerned over such things?

If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on clothes, then why shouldn’t you invest in what is best value for money –

“Value for money”, this usually means how much you can get for as little spends as possible.

And as I’ve said, longevity isn’t only a characteristic of ethical, sustainable clothing.

It’s easy for anyone with plenty of disposable income to declare what is and what is not ethical purchasing, and to make often costly decisions accordingly.

But if fast fashion is reliable, accessible, and affordable, what weight can be put on the fact that it’s not ethical?

It’s legal, isn’t it?

Can consumers be blamed if governments allow such exploitative items to be distributed by retailers?

It’s true that many consumers buy fast fashion and discard it frequently. But this is a behaviour mirrored by consumers of all budgets, whether buying cheap or otherwise – people simply like to shop and have new things.

Textile waste doesn’t only contain fast fashion items.

But can opportunities be made which enable people on modest incomes to buy sustainably, and still get what they consider to be “value for money”?

It seems unlikely. As I’ve acknowledged, high or higher price ranges for sustainably and ethically sourced goods are justified – fair sourcing of materials, fair pay and working conditions are all reflected by a higher garment price.

But we’re simply not used to paying fair prices – many people in our own countries are not paid fairly and are therefore at an immediate disadvantage before they even enter a clothing retailer.

We live in separated worlds – the privileged and the poor. But really, I’m not talking about those who can shop at Gucci and those who can’t –

I’m talking about the poverty-stricken, exploited and exhausted factory worker in Bangladesh, and the privileged person in Primark with a basket full of new, cheap garments.

So, sustainable clothing vendors and retailers…

How are you adapting your unique selling point to appeal to fast fashion loyalists who can:

  • Already get decent quality clothing for a fraction of the price, and –
  • Have many other things to worry about besides the unethical, non-environmentally friendly reality of fast fashion?

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Reduce your impact on the planet by going vegan, says researchers at Oxford Uni. But can one more vegan make a difference, or is a compromise needed

Somehow, Rooney Mara cradling a live turkey has failed to convert the hungry masses.

Food delivery platform, Deliveroo, shared last year their projection that as many as 20% of British families would have a vegan menu at Christmas.

With more and more information available to support meat-eaters make the transition to veganism, and more vegan alternatives available in supermarkets and on the high street, a vegan lifestyle is easier to follow than ever before, right?

Well, it’s certainly more accessible than it ever was before. But still most pet owners (like me) and wildlife lovers, enjoyed an array of meat and dairy products for Christmas.

Even following vegan social media accounts, with their frequent use of shock (truth) techniques, such as sharing videos and images of the appalling conditions of many animals destined for slaughter, has not been enough to stop me including so many animal products from my diet.

Though I have unfollowed several, vegan accounts because I’m hungry, and I’m obviously too fragile to know where my food has come from.

I know, however, that if I was left on a farm and told to slaughter my own dinner, I wouldn’t do it.

I doubt if I’d even want to milk a cow, but lucky enough for me as well as most others, there are still more others willing to do those jobs for us.

We just pick stuff off shelves and pay for it.

But I want to know, would my unlikely embrace of veganism really, suddenly, make a difference?

That seems to be what the clever people at the University of Oxford think.

But such a claim to one person’s ability to make a significant difference misrepresents the truth.

Cynical? Yes. Also, honest.

One person’s individual embrace of veganism can only assuage their own conscience – it can’t make any measurable difference to a society’s collective carbon emissions.

Indeed, one person reducing the time they spend in their car makes only a negligible difference.

But it’s said that many people “doing sustainability” imperfectly is better than one person “doing” it perfectly.

Perhaps, therefore, flexitarianism is a more reasonable recommendation than veganism.

This mainly vegetarian, occasional meat-eater diet can be adopted on a wider scale – since it’s a more tolerable compromise than veganism – and if embraced by enough people, may actually one day make a difference to emissions.

Purveyors of vegan goods and ideals, Shock tactics are not effective.

Meat-eaters like me are far too acclimatised to our usual favourable position within the food chain –

We love our pets, and our exciting sightings of wildlife, but we’re not prepared to go vegan “for the animals”…

And it’s unreasonable to ask us to go vegan “for the environment”, for the reasons I have stated above.

“Go vegan for health” might work for some, but with little conclusive proof that veganism will stop you getting cancer, heart disease, or diabetes, your best option is to tell people, “Go vegan to lose weight”, since this is more realistic and attainable.

“Go flexitarian and commit to vegetarianism most of the time and have meat as an occasional treat” is again, a more reasonable suggestion and expectation.

“Go flexitarian for the environment” might even work if you can get a lot of people to do it.

But who am I to share so many opinions?

I am the stubborn meat-eater you want to convert.

I am also someone who is dedicated to supporting sustainable businesses including vegan businesses, because I know that they’re right.

But I’m not yet prepared to compromise my exploitative diet because like a child who has acquired a stolen toy, I don’t want to give it up.

I don’t want to be amongst the 20% eating only plants, I’d be too jealous of the 80%.

But making efforts to become more flexi doesn’t seem too unreasonable.

Vegan businesses, can you think of any ways to half-convert the masses?

Would you yourselves be willing to make that compromise?

Can flexitarianism be the future? At least, the beginning of a cruelty-free future?

And how might meat-eaters be led to a life more flexi?

Isn’t it time some celebrity vegans and vegetarians made a bigger effort to inspire their followers?

Somehow, Rooney Mara cradling a live turkey has failed to convert the hungry masses.

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Why should normal people curb their emissions when rich people with much bigger emissions don’t bother?

… If we feel we’ll “miss out” on luxuries or experiences enjoyed by others through making efforts to live more sustainably, it might be enough to make us quit.

I recently watched actor Will Smith’s YouTube Premium documentary, “The Best Shape of My Life”.

The six-part series shows the midlife crisis of a rich father of three, tortuously completing his autobiography whilst trying to lose 20lbs.

His journey took him over 8000 miles across the earth from Los Angeles to Dubai, where he climbed the stairwell and tower of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest skyscraper in the world, for a little bit of morning cardio.

Appearing frequently throughout the series were multiple cartons of JUSTWater, plain mineral water packaged within a 90% plant-derived container.

Created by an eco-conscious company co-founded by Will’s second son, Jaden Smith, the term “carbon offsetting” came to mind.

But whether or not the Smith family are attempting to curb their collective carbon emissions is another discussion.

The real problem is:

Why should normal people, with normal carbon emissions, make any attempt to curb those emissions, when people as indulgent as Will Smith continue to live a life without restraint?

It’s true, we shouldn’t be concerned with the poor choices of others until we can fix our own.

But we’re all concerned with what’s fair.

And if we feel we’ll “miss out” on luxuries or experiences enjoyed by others through making efforts to live more sustainably, it might be enough to make us quit.

So, the challenge faced by environmentalists and eco-friendly retailers is:

How to communicate the value of living more responsibly in a world littered with extravagance.

And how to explain why one individual’s efforts are not done in vain.

I will continue to explore this theme in subsequent blog posts.

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Making money from unused clothes

How can all the unwanted, too-good-for-charity clothes in the United Kingdom be collected, valued and catalogued? A nationwide campaign?

So, we all know there is a world of difference between buying clothes from a specialist vintage store and buying them from a local charity shop.

The items left in charity shops are those which vintage fashion dealers have rejected. Items which can’t be sold at a premium, and thus, those deemed “undesirable”, or “unfashionable”.

And most people won’t buy these items unless they have to.

Consumers turn to fast fashion options therefore because they are affordable, and usually always available.

Modern, affordable fashion is a quick, satisfying fix for most people living on a budget.

But if consumers can be offered a convenient alternative, then the sway of fast fashion can indeed be curtailed.

The majority of unworn wardrobe items stay unworn and unwanted.

Charities appeal for donations regularly, but people know that many of their own unwanted clothes are “too good for charity”.

However, many haven’t the energy or inclination to make spare cash selling clothes as second hand online.

So, those unwanted clothes remain as non-functional possessions in the depths of wardrobes.

An obvious gap in the market would be, for want of a better term, a “higher quality” semi-charity shop.

A high street equivalent of the mobile app, Vinted, if you will.

This would ensure that more unwanted clothes were saved, and less fast fashion materials were produced and wasted.

But could unwanted fashion owners be adequately compensated, and could “higher quality” semi-charity vendors still make a profit?

Before that question can be answered, the first question would need to be one of logistics.

How can all the unwanted, too-good-for-charity clothes in the United Kingdom be collected, valued and catalogued? A nationwide campaign?

Or maybe, a local campaign with a single semi-charity to start?

Why a semi-charity?

Well, because people won’t give these clothes away. And they won’t throw them away, not yet anyway.

But am I being unrealistic?

I said in my last blog post, “It’s not a dream if it’s possible”.

The answer to competing with fast fashion is simply “organisation”.

Who wants to organise the local or nationwide acquisition of great quality, second-hand clothes?

Well, I’d love to help out. ✅

Just one more idea for a society living more sustainably…

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Is it sustainable if it’s expensive?

Consumers of all ages have the option to buy new or buy vintage, with the two options often being the same price or else the vintage often more.

Call me Andrea Sachs, but from the noughties ’til the present day, my relationship with clothes has been difficult.

With no natural proclivity towards popular fashion “norms”, I spent my teenage years in my favourite men’s jeans or else overworn and torn, corduroy flares. And I loved those corduroy flares!

Needless to say, I didn’t quite fit in with my Top Shop, Kookai, Jane Norman, New Look-wearing peers.

But the young millennials of my time were not like the more enlightened generation Z who followed.

In our current 2020s, young people know they should make sure to express their genuine-selves at all times.

They wear what they want, they hold their heads high, and they don’t care what the “cooler kids” think.

In recent years, the takeover of vintage stores and pre-loved shopping has brought older-style fashions into the mainstream.

Consumers of all ages have the option to buy new or buy vintage, with the two options often being the same price or else the vintage often more.

My teenage self in her baggy, boyish clothes would have felt inspired by the variety of unique, vintage items available today! 

And although fashion has presented us all with the option to buy new clothes cheap, the items with longevity often prove to be those which are preloved.

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of textile waste end up on British landfills every year. Places where many of my own old, poor quality fast-fashion purchases lay waste amongst so many others.

If more of us make the decision to buy responsibly then we can reduce that waste, and benefit from better made, longer lasting clothes.

I began visiting charity shops for necessity. I found many things I needed but I desired many more options.

If charity and vintage stores can grow in prominence, then more and more good quality, second-hand items will be available to consumers.

Less items will be reduced to landfill and a reduction in textile waste will serve to help ease environmental pollution.

It’s not a dream if it’s possible!

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Is sustainable living reasonable?

I make no effort to discover where my purchases or their components are sourced, and once I dispose of them, I make no effort to check where they go.

I want to save the world as much as anyone else.

I want the trees and animals to be healthy, and the sea and sky to be clear.

My carbon footprint isn’t massive. I don’t own a car, and I fly once every few years.

But I haven’t made a big effort to live sustainably. I’m ashamed especially to see the amount of single-use plastic I buy and waste.

The truth is that buying off a shelf and throwing in a bin, is too easy.

I make no effort to discover where my purchases or their components are sourced, and once I dispose of them, I make no effort to check where they go.

I have access to recycling bins and so I usually dispose of my rubbish responsibly. But disposing of so much single-use plastic shows that at my core, I’m not a responsible consumer at all.

With a little more effort, a little more money and yes, a little less convenience, I would be able find alternatives to many of the single-use items I use.

Whether their prices are always sustainable is another issue, and ultimately, I know that living much more sustainably isn’t too feasible right now. 

So, what should I do?

I know that I can try and make small changes. I can reduce the number of bottled drinks I buy for example, and I can also find a place to refill my liquid soap instead of constantly buying new containers.

I could also choose to adopt a vegan diet. It’s no secret how destructive the agricultural industry is to ecosystems and the environment.

“Going vegan” would be a big step towards living more sustainably, but that is a psychological battle which my conscience is yet to win.

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