Youth Blog Series: Costly Trends

Be the Change’s Youth Blog Series highlights blogs written by university student interns at Be the Change Earth Alliance. In the blogs, the interns reflect on their experience completing “Action Packs,” which are learning resources that guide students in research, critical thinking and tangible action related to a global sustainability topic.

Summary of the Action Pack

I completed the Costly Trend Action Pack which explores the topic of overconsumption and; which illustrates the importance of conscious consumption. Overconsumption is the overuse of natural resources in the production of consumer goods, i.e., at a rate greater than can be sustained by the world’s ecosystems. In the Global research section of the Action Packs, students will first learn about the historical roots of overconsumption. Next, it covers the environmental and social impacts of overconsumption, and how current levels of consumption are contributing to increased air, land and water pollution that are leading to the degradation and destruction of ecosystems. This Action Pack introduces students to the current model of production, where corporations sell cheap products that encourage people to consume more. It highlights that the cheap costs come with a heavy price because the products are manufactured in overseas sweatshops. Sweatshops are factories that violate 2 or more labour laws, and hence violate human rights. Sweatshop workers often work in overcrowded, hot, and unsafe conditions for low wages.

A video in the Action Pack highlights how the media feeds over consumption by putting advertisements everywhere to try to get people to buy things that they don’t need. With all the marketing strategies under capitalism, we are increasing personal debt, depleting the earth’s resources and causing negative psychological impacts to humans. To reduce the problem of overconsumption and to create a sustainable future, the Action Pack allows us to consider some alternative forms of economic systems such as democratic socialism, an ecocity or a degrowth economy. The Local Activity section helps students to reflect on their shopping and consumption habits, and to realize the items that we have purchased could have different hidden social and environmental costs. Thus, people should be more conscious of their consumption behavior and take action to alter the current disposable culture. Students can take action such as buying used clothing instead of new ones in a month, telling family about the social and environmental impacts of overconsumption, and organizing a clothing swap at school. At the community level, students can do research on retailers that sell sweatshop free and ethical products in their neighbourhood or city. 

My Reflection

After completing this Action Pack, I found myself more conscious about the things I bought and the items which were sold at the stores. Over dinner one day, I educated my family about the social and environmental impact caused by over consumption. I talked to them about the social and environmental impacts of overconsumption since they are also shopaholics, like me. I felt that it was not very effective when I asked them to change their consumption habits, especially since it may require constant reminders of the issues. But later, I shared with them some videos about over consumption, and it seemed to have a big impact. I hope the video I made will help educate others as well. 

One thing that stuck with me is how I should be more conscious about my shopping habits. After doing research on retail clothing stores, I was surprised that I found quite a few local shops selling ethically sourced/ locally made products. I was surprised to find that many main brand retailers have chosen to shift production to more ethical means. The items are a bit more pricey but it helps me reflect on whether I should purchase cheap but lower quality clothes or expensive but high quality clothes that can last longer. 

Overall, having completed this Action Pack allowed me to see consumerism in a different way. I think it is important to understand how society is consuming and how the rate of consumption is causing injustice in the world. We must learn to buy things as we need them, not as we want them. I believe that the consumer has the agency to cause change to the systems in place. Knowing that producers are taking steps in producing ethically manufactured products reinforces the power we have as consumers.