This may be delayed because Earth Week will have passed by, but I would like to address our sustainability efforts on campus and perhaps shed some light on this movement as a fellow activist. I do not claim that I am someone who is a better advocate for social justice issues; however, in our ever-present pressure to BREW, these are merely my observations from the critical thinking skills that I have cultivated at Concordia.
I would like to specifically address the tabling in the atrium during Earth Week. I found it ironic that the very group promoting sustainability efforts on campus would promote the buying and selling of more things. While it may be “cool” to sport a novelty item to show support, it is also two steps back from the movement that Concordia now trumpets. The buying and selling of more things is counterproductive to the age-old mantra of “reduce, reuse, and recycle.” Those “snapbacks” (which I am assuming are those ridiculous trucker hats) do not merely fit in with the “reduce” part of the mantra, but they cannot be “reused” in future years, as the number on the front signifies the current number of students on campus (which will change from year to year), and frankly do not hold much meaning outside of the past week (they join the ranks of many other things cluttering our closets). And perhaps they do fit in with the “recycle” aspect, as in, one could donate that hat to someone who may need a flat-bill cap, but purchasing this cap only adds to the underlying problem that should be addressed…
Which is the capitalistic notion that buying a product creates the type of positive change that the product advertises. “Purchase this product, it was made from 100 percent recyclable material,” when in reality, you may already have that product but you just don’t use it. The novelty of being able to contribute, no matter how arbitrarily, is enticing for those of us who feel helpless in the face of all these different movements, and so we, buy into this system in order to have a claim in this “change” we are constantly pursuing. This is further driven by our instant-gratification culture, in which our love of instant reward outweighs the long-term effectiveness of taking the time to educate yourself on your topic of choice. It is so much easier and simpler to pay $50 for a pair of shoes and know that somewhere in a third-world country a “victim of poverty” will receive a pair of shoes because of your contribution. It is quick, relatively painless for those who can afford it, and we feel good about it. We made a difference. It is this need to be recognized that drives this type of pseudo-sustainable, socially-conscious capitalism.
So what is my point? My point is to think twice about the purpose of purchasing a product that might not be so environmentally friendly after all. Think of all of the well-intended campaigns that end up as passing fads. These campaigns may receive a large amount of attention in the beginning, but become lost in the midst of newer, trendier efforts. To really make change means to constantly be engaged in the movement, not just purchasing a t-shirt and calling it a day. This level of commitment to the sustainability effort (or any effort) demands time, energy and patience, and that is the breaking point for many people.
In my closing remarks, I hope I have mentioned a few points that the reader will consider the next time they contemplate the purchase of a “socially-conscious” product. Again, I am not an expert, but I do believe that in dealing with social justice issues, we must all hold each other accountable for our actions. In order to pursue positive change, we have to begin to question the very institutions that ask us to engage in the issues at hand. Yes, this can be difficult and sometimes painful, but critically thinking has never been easy. No matter how small the step, whether you forgo the shower for the day or turn to minimalism, real change begins in the patterns of our everyday lives.
This letter was submitted by Amy Tran, Concordia class of 2015.