Green Capitalism and the Responsibility of the Consumer

Consumers have a major role to play

The desperate lack of both substantial and readily enforceable environmental policy produced globally in the last twenty years clearly demonstrates inadequate preparation in fighting the impending climate crisis.

The last decade alone has seen temperatures rise exponentially, with 2023 being the first year on record to note a consistent global temperature increase of 1.5C degrees, with it bringing increased risk of wildfires, droughts, rising tides, and dwindling natural resources.

Should this continue to rise, areas of Europe, Asia, and North America will see a pattern of mass migration as people flee the worst affected areas.

In other parts of the globe, movements have sprouted, cleaning plastic pollution, and preparing to strengthen protections against extreme weather patterns, however this offers only short-term relief. Much of the first world has become accustomed to a culture of excessive consumption and convenience, a culture unsustainable on a planet with finite resources, the consequences of which are already putting immense strain on our ecosystems.

It can now be little denied that short-term thinking has allowed a once preventable ecological issue to evolve into a climate catastrophe that currently threatens the habitability of all life on Earth.

A shift to climate awareness

Scientists’ predictions spanning the next ten years warn of extreme weather patterns, rising tides, and thousands of species under the threat of extinction. In the light of the looming crisis, many across the globe are fighting hard to mobilise the electorate and begin introducing regulations to control the consumer markets before the tide starts to turn.

In turn, movements promoted by environmental lobbyists have helped shift a lot of the responsibility of climate maintenance on to the consumer who are starting to demand greater levels of sustainability..

The introduction of the concept of the ‘Carbon Footprint’ in the early 2000’s has since evolved into mass of multi-stranded social movements promoting veganism and vegetarianism (or at least reduced meat consumption), increased household recycling, increased use of bicycles and public transport, more awareness of excessive fossil fuel production and consumption, sustainable consumer fashion, and increased mindfulness of the conduct of the companies to whom consumers take their business.

As public opinion has begun to shift, the markets, often reluctantly, have followed. Businesses have in turn evolved, developing "sustainable" product lines, providing continued assurances as to the ethical and environmental standards involved in their material sourcing, and the implementation of reusable packaging "wherever possible".

But are those businesses’ commitment to reducing environmental harm real or an illusion? It has led many less sceptical to consider this sufficient in clearing their moral objections, and therefore maintain their loyalty to their favourite phone company or clothing stores. But is it truly enough?

Coca-Cola, a case in point

Many climate protection groups continue to push for increased legislation and stronger regulation surrounding business practices, labelling current attempts fickle and performative. They claim current business methods, such as the switch to paper straws and company pledges, achieve little more than the bare minimum simply to appeal to their environmentally conscious consumer base, and all the while they uphold their previous standards outside of the public eye.

For this, businesses must be scrutinised by their customers, and publicly held to a higher standard to ensure their contribution to the climate crisis is at least minimised, if not working to actively improve the situation.

Coca-Cola, for example, sell more than one hundred billion plastic bottles every year, or roughly 200,000 bottles a minute. Despite many claims to their dedication in building a sustainable future, for the fifth consecutive year in a row they have been named the biggest plastic polluter in the world, contributing massively to unrecycled plastic waste and the quantity of micro-plastics in the worlds’ oceans.

Not only this, but the company is actively increasing plastic use year by year, with an estimated 8.8% rise between 2020 and 2021, amounting to roughly 263,000 metric tons of waste. In an ironic effort to deflect from their tarnished reputation, Coca-Cola publicly announced they were to be the chief sponsor of the 2022 Conference of the Parties, a gathering of the most powerful world leaders to discuss and build upon environmental policy.

How do they manage this hypocrisy?

A report issued in February 2022 by the Conservation Law Foundation titled ‘The Big Beverage Playbook for Avoiding Responsibility’ determined five tactics businesses use to avoid increasing their costs, as virgin plastic is comparatively far cheaper than the mass production of glass or aluminium. The primary tactics listed are as follows:

  • Intense lobbying efforts against the introduction of regulation regarding plastic production.
  • A continuous collection of pledges to the public that will not be met, and
  • The continuous shift of blame and responsibility onto the consumer.

A report issued by Talking Trash found Coca-Cola is a member of at least seven trade associations that lobbied against Deposit Return Systems, such as those seen before the introduction of mass-produced plastic in the 1970’s.

As well as this, in February 2022 Coca-Cola publicly pledged that by 2023 a quarter of all bottles sold will be in returnable glass bottles, and the remaining bottles produced will be made from 50% recycled material.

Neither pledge has been upheld. The company has been making similar promises as far back as the 1990’s when they claimed 25% of bottles would consist of recycled content. Over 30 years on, this number is as low as 10%.

Promises such as these ensure that sales remain high while businesses can continue to operate according to their original standards, a practice commonplace across consumer orientated Britain. Paper straws encompassed in single-use plastic cups still stuff our landfill, cardboard pringle cans fused tightly to plastic rims still bob down our rivers and are deposited on our beaches. How many times must we be asked to donate to charities from multi-million-pound company machines?

Performative gestures lie at the heart of unsustainable business practice - of the 200,000 bottles produced by Coca-Cola every minute, masses end up in our oceans, parks, and landfill sites, despite every single one has “please recycle me” etched into the lid.

Legislation

The government is also a perpetrator in these schemes. An undercover investigation into waste and recycling centres conducted by GreenPeace in 2021 found that thousands of tons of plastic put out for recycling ends up in UK incinerators, and over half is sent overseas to countries such as Turkey and Malaysia, which have very low recycling rates. The concept of “out of sight, out of mind” is glaringly true for UK officials and remains actively contributing to the global plastic waste problem.

What can we, as consumers, do?

As ongoing consumers, the odds are continuously stacked against us.

The British public finds itself continuously undermined by the behaviour of both government and businesses alike, all the while the biggest polluters insist it’s the responsibility of the British public to minimise our impact on the climate.

Many maintain, optimistically perhaps, that even up against mass production and waste, hope can be found in the recycling efforts of domestic households, however current predictions estimate that the effort and mobilisation required to keep the global temperature under the 2°C threshold, avoiding the worst of the climate crisis, will be similar to that of the Second World War - a feat which cannot be achieved unsupported by large corporations and elected government both.

Considering current practices, it seems highly unlikely that business owners intend to uphold higher environmental standards in the future, nor do the current government seem eager to strengthen regulations. It must become a priority of the electorate to embed pro-environmental influence in both national and local government. Specific restrictions on business conduct, while not restrictive to the promotion of entrepreneurship in Britain, will be a vital step in the fight against climate change and must become a priority amongst voters.

Genuine sustainability and climate maintenance, with all its importance, cannot be achieved without the support of those in power, and it is up to consumers to apply much of the necessary pressure for change by challenging companys' sustainability credentials, being more critical when making their buying decisions, and choosing products from companies that are genuinely committed to sustainable products and business practices, and not just paying lip service to it.

Sustain Party RoundelStand for the Sustainable Party

We aim to have candidates in as many UK constituencies as possible in all future local and national elections. To achieve this aim we need your support!

We are actively seeking potential candidates, especially those who may already be considering standing as independents, who are committed to promoting genuinely sustainable economic growth for Britain, but who don’t necessarily accept some of the growth restricting policies of other environmental parties.

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