I recently spoke to a group of Masters of Environmental Science students about the benefits of approaching business with sustainability in mind. What started as a routine presentation ended with quite a bit of excitement when the topic of personal consumption arose.
In general, I find that most people consider it their right to purchase whatever they wish and if questioned on this, they often become irritated. Others see the question itself as a judgement call which can lead to defensive or even angry behaviour. And finally the last reaction is a full blown attack on the concept of sustainability itself.
I found it interesting to watch a group of once quiet students assert themselves and take sides on this heated issue. I was particularly intrigued by the group that asserted that sustainability isn’t really doing any good, rather, it’s just moving harm from one place to another and therefore, “my consumption choices are not part of the problem.” People certainly have quite an emotional connection to their stuff!
As I stepped back and let the students take the conversation in whatever direction they chose, it was interesting to watch two camps emerge and fight it out in the trenches, debating the merits of sustainability and the impacts of our consumer choices.
And so we must ask the question: Are people’s purchasing decisions private or do they cause harm to others and thus we have the right to voice our opinion? The answer is unclear, but if you decide to share your thoughts on this topic proceed with caution. I’ll go out on a limb here and say, people don’t generally like to be second guessed on how they spend their money and they definitely can take offence when told to take ownership and responsibility for the harmful impacts of their personal consumption choices. Some conversations are more difficult than others to get started but nonetheless, they are definitely conversations worth having.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts.