Ruth // System over self

This week I have been in Huntingdon, England to attend the UK Secret Garden Party, a four day arts and music extravaganza. The event attracts nearly 40,000 people from quite a mixed background and each person here brings a unique perspective on life and the world around them.

During my time at the festival, I had the chance to talk with Ruth, an actor from England who is passionate about challenging people’s perception of their body and the way beauty is portrayed in society. As we talked more and more, the idea of the clothing industry popped up and it’s role on the sustainability movement.

Just a few days ago, Ruth needed to buy a slipcover for a couch, and after searching through different stores in London and not finding what she needed, she decided to just save time (and money) and go to one of the larger superstores (not known for the best environmental and social standards) to buy the slipcover. After a few minutes in the store and while she was waiting in line to pay, she realized that she had managed to not just grab a slipcover, but also found herself holding four cheap t-shirts that she felt compelled to buy. It suddenly hit her how quickly she fell into the trap of wanting to buy more things that she didn’t need simply because she was in the store. She knew that the t-shirts had to be produced with little, perhaps no, concern for the environment and people who made it to be sold at that price. The concept that those shirts represented went against most of what Ruth believed in. Yet she still found herself buying those shirts.

Ruth believes that deep down, we all really want to make the right decisions, the sustainable decisions. But regardless of our intentions, we frequently find ourselves doing the opposite. In the case of the four t-shirts, Ruth believes the culture that we have created through our companies and businesses played a large role in impacting her purchasing decisions. We are taught to think that we need more; that buying is the right decision.

Throughout the talks this summer, this theme has come up quite often. We naturally want to make the right decision, but there is either something blocking us from making that choice or something encouraging us to make another choice.

If we want to start making more sustainable choices, then perhaps we need to stop badgering the consumer to change their behavior. The consumer would change their behavior if the system were set up to do so. Maybe we need to focus more on changing the system itself – the industry, the culture, the marketing, the business plans. If the barriers and alternative forces were not as strong, then hopefully we would naturally make the right decisions.

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