Abuja, Nigeria: Man is a social being. In this age of social media, man has become even more social than ever.
Now with this social nature comes the need for class and status; distinguishing ourselves from other members of society. This plays a huge role in the decisions we make regarding where we live, what we drive, what we eat, who we hang out with.
Over the years, we have gradually come to associate certain products with such status. Most of these products are usually more expensive, more improved, bigger, faster or ‘better’. In the same vein, their toll on the environment is usually higher. These products are status symbols and the more you possess, the higher your status, the more negative your impact.
When I read Jennifer Nini’s article on reusable diapers, I thought about this. In Nigeria, we were once familiar with reusable diapers. They were mostly used in the 90s by young mothers. They were cheap and sometimes made with recycled cloths. Today, they have been completely replaced by disposables. Disposable diapers are certainly more convenient, but they are also bad for the earth and moderately expensive (especially if you have to buy them for over two years). Thus, reusable diapers are no longer used, relegated to the poor. And not just the moderately poor, the poorest of the poor. It is generally regarded as a joke when the bachelors are reminded by the elderly married folks to save up enough money in their youth for the purchase of “Pampers” (a popular brand of diapers here). If you cannot buy disposable nappies, then you are regarded as the poorest of the poor. Because it is awfully important to be perceived by neighbors as affluent; no one wants to be cast in the class rung of poorest poor. So, no matter how much you love the environment, no matter how eco-friendly your reusable diapers are, most Nigerian mothers just won’t buy them because it sends the message: ‘I can’t afford diapers, I am poor’.
This does not just apply to young mothers or diapers, it is quite evident in every other aspect of our lives. It is on this principle of comparisons and appearances – otherwise referred to by Nigerians as packaging – that trends are built. I daresay that it is on this principle that the economy of the world is built. Students have to buy the latest sneakers, and of course, the latest Samsung phone (never mind that there are zero useful new features) or they would be dubbed “old-fashioned” and “uncool” by their peers. Millennials have to go on more holidays, travel to more places. Workers have to buy newer cars, more home furnishings. Celebrities, and women in general, are not “allowed” to repeat dresses and outfits. This also means that one has to have two or three houses, not just their primary place of residence, to keep up. A billionaire has to own a private jet or two, otherwise, is he or she really a billionaire?
According to Lauren Greutman, author of ‘The Recovering Spender’, the number one reason we spend too much is to impress people. The ‘Bandwagon Effect’, where people buy things and do things because others are buying and doing it, explains this psychological phenomenon. This desire for approval oftentimes ranks ahead of need among the reasons why we spend money on things. This need for class, appearances and status is what is driving the earth and its resources aground.
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However, I believe it is also what will save the environment. One of the biggest wins in the battle to save the earth is the development of the electric car by Tesla. Tesla’s Roadster wasn’t exactly the first electric car; it was the first cool electric car. Elon Musk the rockstar billionaire manufactured a sustainable vehicle so cool, celebrities loved and wanted it. It wasn’t about doing good for the environment, it was about acquiring status. The environment was a bonus. In Silicon Valley, you are not cool if you don’t own a Tesla. This feeling is quickly catching up with the rest of the world. It seems all of a sudden, it is cool to care about the environment. Environmentalists are not seen as “tree huggers” anymore; they’re cool people driving Teslas and saving the world while doing so.'According to Lauren Greutman, author of “The Recovering Spender, the number one reason we spend too much is to impress people. The 'Bandwagon Effect', where people buy things and do things because others are buying and doing it, explains this...'Click To Tweet
The effect of “environmentalism as a status symbol” will be far-ranging. One of the biggest is that it will increase demand for eco-friendly products. If phone cases made of organically-grown bamboo are the cool thing, then naturally, more people will want it. The effect will be that companies, from fashion to automobiles will take up production of more sustainably-made products. Since the widespread success of Tesla, this has been witnessed in the automobile industry, where the biggest trend is cars that run on renewable energy.
Related Post: 5 Things You Need to Know When Buying a Green Car'Elon Musk the rockstar billionaire manufactured a sustainable vehicle so cool, celebrities loved and wanted it. It wasn’t about doing good for the environment, it was about acquiring status. The environment was a bonus.'Click To Tweet
The fight to save the environment is underway. It is a battle with global ramifications. It is not to be undertaken by any particular group of people or “eco-warriors”. This earth is not a platform for human existence. Its health is our health, and so, we have to involve everyone. In my opinion, the easiest and fastest way to do this is to make everyone an unwitting eco-warrior, not necessarily out of love for the environment, but out of his or her selfish desire to stand out in society.
It is this wave of coolness that the green movement has to ride if it is to be successful.
What do you think about environmentalism as a status symbol? Will it help or hinder the movement? Feel free to leave a comment below.
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