Ecochic is supposed to be the trendy, fashionable side of living sustainably, but unfortunately in standard practice is more like people getting in the SUV, driving around the corner to the local organic outlet and buying a $100 llama sweater imported from Peru. The sweater may have been made by some sustainable practice but was likely shipped with the world’s longest carbon trail. The word Ecochic makes me think of a bling covered Smartcar, or a $2,500 ball gown made out of pine needles, or paying $6 to drink water from a plastic bottle that came from a fantasy painting of a mountain spring in a faraway land. It’s how we like to impress people with our car’s gas mileage while ignoring its destructive manufacturing process – essentially using your car as trendy jewelry.
Ecochic is followed in it’s non-sustainability by ecotourism, ecolodge, and probably anything with the eco-prefix followed by some retail buzzword – and it’s a very low bar for changing a culture of non-stop consumerism. $100 for a Peruvian ecosweater isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if it’s all I’m doing for my ecolifestyle, the money would be better spent encouraging local organic farmers and sustainable industries. By itself, ecochic seems to give people a false sense of ecocontributing to real ecochange. We don’t need a greener kind of consumerism, we need less consumerism. Or even better, none at all.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t buy things, I’m saying that we need to drop the consumerist philosophy we’ve been brainwashed with by Edward Bernays, who ingrained into the American psyche the notion that we are always one purchase away from emotional fulfillment. This is consumerism, an idea designed to prey upon our emotional needs, to drive consumption, and to keep factories pumping out disposable junk to drive the GDP. Ecochic “green consumerism” is not the solution to consumerism, “no consumerism” is the solution.
This study done by Sogn and Fjordane University College, and the Cicero Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research, found that not only are consumers feeling generally powerless to have a real impact on sustainability and resource conservation, but that information and awareness campaigns that give consumers information on how to act responsibly toward the environment, “tend only to influence categories of consumption with little environmental impact.” Greener consumerism loses again.
Also unsurprisingly, the study showed that most people are unwilling to change their behavior or do not see the connection between their impact to the environment and buying things like luxury chocolate, ecochic or otherwise. It seems that the answer starts with helping people understand that consumerism will never bring fulfillment, consumerism is a trap, a treadmill, a bleak cycle of continual unfulfillment and enslavement to debt. Side note, when did we stop being citizens and start being consumers?
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I’m finding a real lack of vocabulary for the kind of changes we’re trying to make in our life, especially words that haven’t been hijacked for some other product category. Even “sustainability” is starting to sound more like “sustaina-banality”. I’m thinking I need a phrase like, lifestyle of “sustainhillbillity” something with words that remind us that not all technological innovation equals progress. There are many lessons from the past that could serve us well to remember.
I recently heard the term Grannytech used to describe how someone’s grandmother survived the great depression, listing the ingenious ways the community would work together to put food on the table and get the longest life out of everything they needed to survive. More than just anecdotes about how many times they’d use a piece of tinfoil before it went in the trash, this was about getting to the real priorities and essentials of life. Maybe hillbilly doesn’t quite paint the right picture, but for me it evokes images of people who figured out how to make do with what they had, never let anything go to waste, leveraged their local resources and relationships, who did not build their identity and value on their wealth or stuff.
Many people already long for a life of essentials, a life based on real priorities, a life beyond consumption. Consumerism robs us of the pursuit of what really matters, instead filling up our time with the accumulation of stuff.
Back to bottled water, here is a study on the actual impact of importing it from another country. How did we ever become convinced that drinking bottled water is healthy, chic, or sustainable? Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Dr. Phil Hammond looked at our bottled water consumption and asked if we have abandoned rational thought. I think sometimes the question answers itself, but when you consider that Americans in 2012 spent $11.8 billion (yes, BILLION) on bottled water you can start to get a glimpse of how badly we are duped by ecochic marketing. Imagine a picture of a cyclist in San Francisco wearing their Peruvian ecosweater, pedaling a bamboo frame bicycle (imported from China, and manufactured under who knows what conditions), drinking a plastic bottle of water.
Bonus points if the person in the image is holding some kind of Apple device, with electronics made from conflict minerals, assembled in a factory where the sides of the building are lined with nets to prevent people from jumping out of the window. Incidentally, if you took a picture of me it would look a lot like this, except that I live in Colorado. This is ecochic, and this is not the answer.
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This article (Ecochic vs. SustainHillbillity) is free and open source.It may be reprinted with permission under this Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License, with attribution to Brad Rowland and Highlyuncivilized.com, December 24th, 2010.