Here’s the thing, the situation, and the dilemma, if you may. For any sector/industry that is polluting, or heavy on the carbon footprint thing, or guzzles way too much energy, or is just intrinsically not sustainable business, and therefore either should be phased out or operate at the most basic level and with minimal resources/renewable energy alternatives, there is the question about what happens to the hundreds/thousands/millions of people employed therein?

Pertinent question. Without an answer to this, we will forever be stuck with unsustainable business behemoths. It’s a cycle that is as vicious as it gets. And conveniently so for some, if one may say so. To add to the confusion, some of them will even pay lip service to the sustainability principle, citing the SDGs to show that they have bothered to study the subject.

Truth be told, we are still stuck with (unsustainable) business as usual. 

The two aspects – business and human interest – are apparently never easy to reconcile. Consider the apparel industry. Global apparel consumption is estimated to be around $1.8 trillion making it around 2.3% of global GDP. The industry contributes significantly to export revenues of several countries. It is also one of the world’s largest employers as a sector, employing between 60 and 75 million people globally. In India, the textile & apparel sector is the second largest employer after the agriculture sector. 

The truth also is that the fashion industry contributes to around 10 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions due to its long supply chains and energy-intensive production. And nearly 20 per cent of global waste water is produced by this industry. The industry, in particular companies selling fast fashion, is also associated with questionable working conditions – from inhuman working hours and pitiable wages to disregard for workers’ health and safety. 

If we need a clear instance of profit before people and planet, here is one. Before you wonder if the fashion industry is being unfairly made an example of, the answer is no. The need to be sustainable and ethical applies across the board because at the moment most of the sectors simply don’t measure up to the standards of sustainability.  

But are we asking businesses to shut shop (not like they are waiting to do that)? No, we aren’t. What we are asking of them is to revisit their operational structures and manufacturing processes and take stock of the waste they are contributing to an increasingly unmanageable waste pile. And yes, we are also asking them to fix the working conditions for their workers, not axe them. They can upskill or reskill their workers should their improvised/improved operations require that.

Thankfully the world today boasts of tons of innovative solutions. Wherever there is a problem, you can be sure to find a nifty solution somewhere. Continuing with the example of the fashion industry, today even fast-fashion brands like Mango and H&M have started stocking sustainable clothing lines, comprising of garments made from recycled pet bottles, among other things.

What more and more of us consumers will want to see is this shift becoming definitive and pervasive – which means that each stage of the process and each department of the business has sustainability embedded in them, instead of it being an afterthought. What more of us will expect and need in the near future is a generic shift in the way businesses operate, how they drive and dictate trends, them educating consumers if need be, about things like sustainability and responsible consumption. What we will want to see is change in the way we consume, in the way we describe what we consume. Like fast fashion becoming slow fashion. That will be the day.

At CauseBecause, our new initiative ‘Talk Straight, Talk Sustainability’ has been conceptualised as a meeting ground between conscious consumers and the brands they consume/patronise/love. Queries will be invited from consumers with regard to a specific brand’s position/actions on sustainability, and with those queries Team CB will engage with that brand’s representative in a one-on-one video interaction. 

The pandemic and the attendant restrictions have changed something fundamental in the ways we consume. Some may say everything is the same, but no, something has changed. It will be a shame if we don’t see the pandemic for the cautionary tale that it is. The rules around our everyday interactions, and transactions, have changed and we all have, willy-nilly or otherwise, adjusted to the same. This is the year when many of us discovered minimalism – not just discovered, but also learned to appreciate the advantages and goodness of it. Let’s hold on to that, because it’s as good a starting point as we will ever have—in the lifetimes of most of us at least.