Our founder, Kate Cawley was recently invited onto BBC Woman’s Hour to discuss gender and sustainable consumerism.
The conversation starts halfway in and can be downloaded to listen to here.
“Sustainable consumerism is not a gender issue – we are all in this together. While it is broadly true women make the majority of purchase decisions (80%, Kantar 2019), this should not be used as an opportunity to absolve men from all responsibility! 71% of women try to live more ethically compared to 59% of men (Mintel 2018), and men view green products and behaviours as inherently female.
Women generally can empathise more with people and the wider natural environment and respond to more emotive cues, whereas men are often much more transactional in their purchase decisions – it’s much more about do they have a need for it and how much is the product whereas women buy into the story behind the product much more. Motherhood moves some women on, so it becomes less about the ‘I’ and more beyond us. However, this goes well beyond gender!!!
The issue is actually about affluence – to be able to make a conscious decision is a privilege only the elite few get to enjoy both from a time and monetary perspective. The average consumer does not have the time to shop around, visit their organic grocer or butcher or the budget to do so. There’s also a general consumer knowledge gap – ‘am I doing the right thing’ guilt.
Women can only vote with their wallet if there are accessible mainstream choices out there and the responsibility does not sit with women but with business, alongside supportive governments in place to change the current hard and fast throwaway consumerism that the economic system supports. Businesses need to be rewarded for doing the right thing – both from a consumer angle and through legislation.
Google searches for zero waste have doubled since 2017, and there are 2.3m hashtags on Instagram.
If not seen through an unbiased lens, the zero waste lifestyle becomes another aspirational lifestyle, adding more pressure on women. It’s another layer of having it all, which is exhausting.
People generally want to do the right thing as long as it’s easy and intuitive – the fight against plastic pollution is a case in point. Emotive cues (blue planet) and a solution that is inclusive and available to all and makes us all feel good – reusable water bottles, coffee cups etc. This is now mainstream and the norm. It makes people feel good, and it generally saves them money – this is the sweet spot we need to replace at all levels of consumerism. Price and convenience generally prevent people buying the sustainable choice – both areas that business and government can change.
So far, there are only sustainable choices for the few. Truly sustainable lifestyles are currently unobtainable for the majority of people. Products with high ethics are generally at a price point not accessible to the average consumer – if a minimum wage family are given the choice to buy a chicken at £4 which we all know will have poor welfare standards to feed their family then this ‘transactional’ need will win over how the chicken was raised and its impact on the environment.
Good food, and by this I mean sustainable and nutritious food is a fundamental basic human right, and the big businesses need to provide this for the many, not the few – when this becomes the norm and available to the masses. But this is hard – there is no silver bullet because currently, sustainable products cost more to produce, so who pays the true cost?
We need far more intelligent conversations about climate change’s connection to food, agriculture and health so that it is not left to the point of purchase. Rather than challenging the consumer to make the right decision, we should be challenging businesses and governments.
However as a society what can we all do?
Consume less and waste less. One third of all food is wasted yet we need to produce 50% more food to feed the world by 2050.
Volunteer or donate to organisations campaigning for change.
Be vocal. Challenge and be heard. Challenge businesses and government.
Switch to ethical providers, 100% renewably sourced energy is a good place to start.
Support big and small businesses where you can. Don’t discriminate against big businesses because they have the scale to drive change.
Buy local to reduce the carbon footprint of the products.
Do your research and buy from brands that have high verified ethical and just credentials.
Packaging – buy online, use your own refill packaging or take excess packaging back to the supermarket.
Avoid buying excess food, just plan and buy what you need.
Moderate meat and dairy – then you can afford to buy better. Better in this context means British, local, higher welfare.
Have your say with the National Food Strategy - they are asking for your help (deadline October 25th).”