Friday, 23 November 2018


It's tempting to tell yourself that your choices don't matter. A plastic bag here, a light left on there. The most common reason George and I hear for not adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle is the criticism: “one person won’t make a difference anyway.”

This mindset is highly comparable to the "my vote doesn't matter" excuse people adopt around the time of an election. The fact is, if every single person thought that their vote did not matter, nobody would vote; nothing would change. We would live in a static society. Of course, you can't change the world alone. But, there is power in numbers, and that's why it has to start with you. 

Another common excuse is that if we want to make any sort of environmental change, we need to tackle the bigger corporations: our individual habits are too inferior to make any sort of substantial impact. B
y ignoring the connection between the planet's welfare and your own lifestyle, you can waive your personal responsibility and do what you want, guilt-free. It is easier to tell yourself that your choices do not matter than confront the idea that you are contributing to a much wider issue.

But friends, never underestimate the power of the consumer. 

Your choices do matter. We'll prove it.

My first example of how individual choices can influence larger corporations that have authority in the market is that of veganism. Yawn, I’m sure some of you are thinking, but hear me out. Veganism indeed once meant – and sometimes still does mean, in certain restaurants and parts of the world –  a bland salad. Even when I started cutting out dairy and eggs in my first year of uni it was tough to know what to buy. Supermarkets did not have the wide range of vegan products that are available now. That is no longer the case. Tesco, Asda, Iceland, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Lidl and Waitrose have all launched shiny new vegan ranges this year. According to the BBC, meat-free foods in the UK market rose to a worth of £572m in 2017: an increase of £34 million in just two years. Because customers were demanding vegan products, to stay competitive, businesses adapted and provided them. Simple.

Businesses sell what consumers will buy. Businesses have to listen to the consumer.

Your demands matter.

The call to 'boycott plastic straws' campaign is another excellent example of how this excuse doesn't add up. Admittedly, one straw won’t destroy the ocean, but if everyone uses a straw, we’re dealing with several million after a single evening, and yours just might be the one to suffocate a turtle. 

I have been working at the same cafe at the SU for over two years now. I love working there, but the sheer amount of non-recyclable waste and the number of single-use plastic straws we went through every day deeply bothered me. I went through a phase where I would "forget" to give a customer a plastic straw, or "accidentally" not give out a plastic smoothie lid. My small rebellion felt petty but I didn't know what else to do. Eventually, I took the plunge to email my manager and asked her what we could do to make our outlet more eco-friendly. I suggested that we recycle more, and switch over to recyclable materials to reduce waste. One year on, we have paper straws, a glass and plastic recycling bin, and, although our coffee cups are still non-recyclable (due to expense), I have noticed an increase in people bringing their own reusable cups. I am just one voice, yes, but by executing it, every day hundreds of biodegradable straws are distributed across our campus, instead of plastic ones. I haven't changed the world, but I have made a difference. 

Your voice matters.

Let’s talk palm oil. Ofcom, the organization that oversees literally all of our communication – broadband, post, TV, radio – banned the Iceland advert. The people disagreed, and now the YouTube video has over 5.2 million views, which is nearly as much as the M&S Paddington advert last year after a mere two weeks since its release to the public eye. Sharing the Iceland video on Facebook, watching it, talking about it – it’s all raising an awareness despite what the governing organisations are saying. Whether or not boycotting palm oil completely is beneficial, we are creating a dialogue that attracts not only custom but competitors, who will, no doubt, see how impressed the public are with Iceland’s ethos and understand that consumers want sustainability. Ofcom, a huge corporation that didn't want to stream the advertisement was challenged, its advice ignored. Consumers overthrew the need for Ofcom's approval and spread the message their own way.

Your choices matter.

According to David Brown’s Times article about ‘fickle customers', it is social media and our obsession with taking arty photos of food that is responsible for collapsing the entire middle tier of the restaurant industry. Co-owner of independent pop-up business, Iris Hable, responded to this article by articulating:

“Maybe the business model of mid-range chains used to work in a socio-economical structure with a healthy middle class… Maybe customers feel uncomfortable interacting with the desperately cheerful waiter that definitely doesn’t get paid enough to be genuinely that cheerful. Maybe the food, the ambience and the service are mediocre because, in a place like that, no-one has enough agency to genuinely care.”

I highly recommend reading this article anyway, but Iris excellently expresses how, as customers change their priorities, businesses become outdated. If the consumer demands a more authentic, personable service, the companies that do not comply will inevitably collapse. Why is this relevant to sustainability? The photo in David’s article is of Jamie’s Italian. In August, Jamie Oliver himself invested £13 million into the chain to avoid bankruptcy, though still had to close 12 of the restaurants. The rich aren’t enough to keep the economy flowing: because of customer choice, the business is failing. Jamie Oliver is one of the most influential men, particularly regarding our diet, in Britain (first the Turkey Twizzlers, now the sugar tax?) He has the power to change government policy. Yet us, the seemingly irrelevant individuals choosing where to dine on a Saturday night, are able to get to him with our Instagram photos from independent cafes. We have impacted a national business.

Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Now, in a society that is hyperconnected through the means of social media, this nugget of advice feels even more prevalent. Social media provides us with a platform to represent our values and choices online as well as irl. Your Facebook post or 140 characters can be shared internationally in the space of an hour. Your voice can be heard more than ever. Ensure your posts, your content, your decisions reflect the changes you want to see! Who knows, maybe your feed will influence others, or even companies and retailers to incorporate your ideas. 

Your demands matter. Your choices matter.

We like to support independent restaurants near us! Basement Browns has now managed to expand to Coventry due to its success in Leamington. 
My Grandad told me this whole ‘veganism’ thing is just a trend. He said the word ‘trend’ as if it was an insult. But trends are empowering. Derailing homophobia started as a ‘trend.’ Wanting equal rights for women started as a ‘trend.’ Believing that animals have rights was a 'trend.' The society we live in is progressive on account of ‘trends’. Of course, these issues are infused in our history, but the changes have been radical. Pressure from the bottom has catalysed changes at the top. Boycotting throwaway plastic is making a difference. Demanding sustainable products is forcing companies to reconsider. The mindset that your actions are unimportant is toxic and backwards. 

Changing a lifestyle that has been as resource heavy as ours is in the West is difficult. Very difficult! But there is strength in numbers and if other people can do it, you can. We don’t expect it to be easy. Even tiny changes have an impact. One straw. One bag. As David Brown demonstrates, you have the power to literally close national businesses through little else than the photos you post on Instagram. You have the power to make privileged shareholders wince.

Of course, there are some ambiguities in the whole saving the planet thing: it is more complex than replacing meat with soybeans or boycotting palm oil. But remember, just because you are not providing the answer to global warming and deforestation, it does not mean your choices are not making a difference. Your choices matter. And it's your choices that encourage change. 

Love, George & Haze xxxx


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