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Why Sustainability is an Issue of Classism
By Trianne Hontiveros
Published November 17, 2021
The avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
"the pursuit of global environmental sustainability"
Sustainability is a term and practice almost everyone has heard of. “Be more sustainable!” “Support sustainable businesses!” “Buy more sustainable products!” Such well-meant efforts lead up to one goal: avoiding depletion of natural resources. By avoiding depletion, we also avoid a cascade of negative chain reactions leading up to the inevitable: a global environmental crisis. While worldwide practices of sustainability can help prevent further damage to the planet, it does not cater to everyone. It is not so often realized, but sustainability is a privilege. So if the common goal for all is living a better, sustainable lifestyle and avoiding depletion of natural resources, then why are sustainable options more fit and marketed solely to those who can afford it?
The Adidas x Parley shoes, a collaboration resulting in the usage of plastic bottles polluting beaches cost at a minimum, $200. While in comparison to mass-produced Adidas Superstar shoes, it is only about $80. While both are from the same brand, one is only environmentally conscious but expensive, and the other costs less but does not contribute to sustainability.
The fashion brand, Reformation, with the slogan “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. Reformation is #2.” And “Save the earth, one sustainable dress at a time.” Is committed to sustainable fashion by limiting CO2 emissions, water use, and energy consumption into making clothes. On the left, The Rachelle dress goes for $300, and while a similar, though not identical dupe on Shein (right), a notorious fast fashion company, goes for $15. Interestingly, many forums online are committed to looking for Reformation dupes online in other stores in an attempt to find the same dress but for less. Such action defeats the entire purpose of reformation. Because of its price, consumers are steering away from helping and acknowledging the initial cause. They end up buying from sources that contribute to land, sea, and air pollution by the minute.
When we think of sustainability one of the first thought of ways to help is to eliminate emissions, especially vehicular emissions. The only way to achieve this is by switching from a gas, to an electric-powered vehicle. And no, not all-electric vehicles are Teslas. The car manufacturer, Nissan, and even many other mass-produced car companies have sold electric models. The fact that it is electric, leads to an increase in price. The Nissan Leaf’s (Left) MSRP is 27k. Interestingly, its famous counterpart the Nissan Sentra, (right) sells for 19k. Both are compact cars and both are Nissan cars, yet the more sustainable and emission efficient is much more costly.
Though it’s arguable that the reason why options for sustainable practices are much more expensive, is the fact that the cost depends on many factors such as materials, labor, and time, conversely, it should not be this way. If climate change and environmental depletion are actually in need of dire attention and truly are encouraged to be a shared practice, then there should not be an economic barrier resulting in everyone, regardless of socioeconomic class, not having access to sustainable options because of cost. How can we solve a problem collectively, if there are only certain people who can contribute to it? How are we all expected to live sustainably if not everyone can afford it? If there is no effort to make it affordable? If it’s only for those who are financially stable?
Because sustainable options are presented as more expensive, it leads to the growing perception that sustainability is luxury. And with the perception of luxury comes the exclusivity in who has the money to do so, and who does not. Larger, more popular, brands and companies having sustainable options can be multifaceted. Yes, they are starting to take initiative within the climate movement, but it is also just so often seen as a marketing tactic. Any fashion brand selling “sustainable” fashion amps up the price double and even triple. For example, french fashion company Longchamp, often known for the famous Le Pliage totes, sell “eco-friendly” versions of the tote for a minimum of $300 depending on the size. When in fact, the regular non-eco-friendly Le Pliage totes sell for as low as $110. With that arduous price change, it promotes the idea that only the wealthy or those who can afford, can only be the ones that can be sustainable.
Sustainable living marketed by society encourages classism. But this should not prohibit people from finding other ways to be environmentally conscious without the financial burden. Our planet is still in need! The simple act of choosing not to use a straw may not seem as impactful, but it is one less thing we need to worry about not ending up in a landfill. Instead of finding the need to buy something, do something instead, such as the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. By reducing unnecessary items such as single-use commodities, reusing items for different purposes instead of throwing them away, and recycling system just by segregating recyclables from garbage, many can begin to live a better, sustainable life than those who find it necessary to buy marketed “sustainable” items to achieve the same goal.
Sustainability should not be exclusive. It should not be a privilege. It should be for everyone.
Flynn, Caitlin. “Here's Why Reformation Clothes Are so Expensive.” TheList.com, The List, 5 Apr. 2021,
Green, Dennis. “Adidas Is Getting Serious About Making Sneakers from Ocean Waste.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 21 Apr. 2017, https://www.businessinsider.com/adidas-releases-new-parley-ocean-waste-plastic-shoes-2017-4.
“Why Is Sustainability Important?: Bluglacier - Top-Quality Salmon Producer.” BluGlacier, 11 Mar. 2021, https://bluglacier.com/why-is-sustainability-important/.
Why Should I Care about Sustainability? - US Forest Service. https://www.fs.fed.us/sustainableoperations/documents/care-about-sustainability.pdf.
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