In our macro trend Uneasy Affluence, we recently explored how premium reusable water bottles like the Soma have become representative of Western luxurians' anxiety around the planet’s depleting resources. Not only this, but reducing plastic has become a virtue signal that lets affluent consumers convey their morals and ethics in a visible manner. Thanks to their new status, reusable bottles have become a booming industry, one that is expected to rise to £7.91bn ($10.4bn, €9.20bn) by 2025.
‘There is nothing wrong with showing that you care about the environment, of course – that should be applauded,’ explains brand strategist Arwa Mahdawi. ‘It’s just a convenient way for polluting companies to make themselves look good without really changing or jeopardising their bottom line.’
The reality is that tackling sustainability on an individual level is an act of privilege for many. The luxury premium that currently comes with sustainable consumption means that products are often out of reach for even the average consumer. This past year, the Conscious Consumer Spending Index found that price emerged as the number one reason Americans aren’t spending more on socially responsible products and services.
‘That’s not an incitement to panic, or an indictment on the sustainability of business as a force for good, but merely an invitation take a moment and examine our blind spots,’ says Heather Shackleford, founder of Good Must Grow, a socially responsible marketing agency.
One brand that does seem to get it is Chromat. It chose to protest ‘whitewashing’ in ethical fashion at New York Fashion Week in February 2019. ‘When thinking about sustainability it's going to need an intersectional approach, because the reality is class and race will affect how people can engage with it,’ says Chromat designer and founder Becca McCharen-Tran. ‘We need to ensure that sustainability remains diverse and that we are creating solutions for all.’
In hiring a hyped fashion designer, Evian has tried to separate the idea of water as a necessity for life and water as a luxury product, missing the opportunity to create a whole-system solution that is truly inclusive for all. There is nothing disruptive in the approach Evian has taken. If it isn’t accessible, it is neither radical or revolutionary.
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