Sexy Sustainability (Watch Out)

This week Collins Dictionary announced its official word of 2018 as ‘single-use’. Last year, Oxford Dictionary’s children’s word of the year was ‘plastic’. There is a not-so-subtle theme going on here. Is it just me or is sustainability on the tongues of more and more people nowadays? Awareness about the consequences of our lifestyles on our world (both people and planet) is on the rise thanks to things like the new Planet Earth II documentary, and national bans on plastic straws and grocery bags. I find this spike in awareness exciting and hopeful, but also inducing of a very necessary supplementary warning… Watch out.


Businesses are cluing into the buzz words which attract conscious consumers, but their products might not be that conscious after all. The concept I’m describing here is called ‘Greenwashing’ and it’s the attempt to make something appear environmentally friendly without interest in the product being kind to the environment. I’m calling this ‘Sexy Sustainability’ and it’s clever advertising that coins the words ‘eco-friendly’, ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable’ solely for marketing purposes. Have you seen reusable metal straws being sold in throwaway plastic cases? (Oh the irony.) Or beauty products fighting animal testing whilst using plastic packaging (which damages animals in another arena)? This branding is happening all over - with garments, food, toiletries, cleaning products - you name it.

But we, oh conscious folk, can be one step ahead of the game. How? We need to know our stuff. Our ignorance is bliss for sellers trying to persuade our purchases. Instead, let us know the ingredients and materials and packaging to be suspicious of. Let us shop slowly and deliberately, allowing time to read product labels and do follow-up research at home. Let us hunt through a business’ website to find any pledges of ethics or intents (or at worst, a vacuum of such information). Let us buy products infrequently, borrowing and repairing items and visiting thrift stores/charity shops before we buy something sparkly and new. Let us recognise that living sustainability doesn’t mean trading out our kitchens for a bamboo equivalent but rather using every item for its entire lifespan. Let us be wiser than greenwashing. Let us be cautious consumers.

Bethan UitterdijkLearn More