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Sustainability - Hypocrisy or Hope?

Vogue magazine was recently praised in the news for replacing the usual photoshoot used for their cover page with an illustration to minimize their environmental impact. This reminded me of the November 2018 edition of ‘Fashion’ magazine that arrived as scheduled in my mailbox. It was full of the usual frivolity and shaming in an effort to entice the reader to discard their out-of-date outfits (that’s so last season!) in favour of this season’s latest and greatest must-haves.

The issue was themed “SUSTAINABILITY REBOOT”, which was unabashedly displayed across the front page. What was particularly interesting about this issue is how they were boldly and repeatedly bragging about it being “Carbonzero certified” because they donated the requisite amount of money to the Toronto-based organization that helps “organizations and individuals measure, manage and mitigate their climate impact”. (You can check out their website here: Carbonzero helped offset the emissions created by printing and distributing the magazine by donating money to the Southern Quebec Afforestation Carbon Offset Project.

Huh? So we just have to plant trees to absolve ourselves of our consumption sins? Sweet!

You may wonder, like I did, how this organization defines a carbon offset. Their website provides a nice explanation – “A carbon offset is a real and verified reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Developed to compensate or "offset" an equivalent greenhouse gas emission from another source that cannot be easily eliminated by improved efficiency, conservation initiatives or changes in behaviour, carbon offsets help mitigate climate change by creating a financial mechanism for change.”

I added the italics for emphasis because I find it amusing that a magazine fit the criteria to receive these offset credits. Even though I am an avid consumer of the product, a fashion magazine is not a necessity, and printing it each month and shipping it around the globe to readers could definitely be eliminated without any negative impact on the earth’s inhabitants.

I find it hypocritical of a fashion magazine to devote an entire issue to the topic of sustainability considering the entire purpose of this medium is to encourage people to consume products, often by making them feel bad enough about themselves for not looking like a super model that they will go and spend money on a new disposable item.

Now don’t get me wrong, I absolutely think we need to be more conscious consumers, but preaching about sustainability is rich coming from a fashion magazine. Fashion! The same industry that is pumping out clothing in dingy, polluting factories in developing nations at a more and more rapid pace every year; pumping out clothing with less and less durability and stay-ability than in any time in history; and fabricating clothing in countries with poor or no environmental standards to ensure they are created at the cheapest possible price to ensure the largest possible profit for the brand. The luxury brand Burberry came under fire for burning $38 million worth of clothes in 2018 and destroying about $113 million worth of product over five years in an effort to prevent counterfeiting to protect its brand and, presumably, its profit margins, to some degree.

Consumption of clothes has increased by 400% in the last two decades, while at the same time, each year, North Americans send over 10.5 million tonnes of textile waste to landfills. Not only is there ‘Spring/ Summer’ and ‘Fall/ Winter’ seasons, there’s now “Resort”, where people will unflinchingly pay $10,000 for a dress, presumably to wear to a yacht party, or something of the like, before discarding it in favour of next season’s must-have item.

The things we do in an effort to achieve the current ideal of beauty creates a lot of waste, and that waste is full of toxins. In Green Cross Switzerland and Pure Earth’s 2016 report on the world’s worst pollution problems, they listed the Dye industry as number 10 on its list of the world’s most polluting industries because artificial dyes are created using a lot of chemicals. Tanneries were listed fourth for production of leather products due to the use of chemicals. Mining and ore processing for minerals, metals and gems used to create jewelry is number two, with artisanal small-scare gold mining listed at number five. It seems like these would be worthwhile industries to protest more loudly in an effort to get them to improve their environmental footprint, but their impact doesn’t even make the late-night newscast.

As consumers are becoming more educated and conscious about their decisions, there are changes being made in the manufacturing of clothing to minimize the environmental footprint, and there is a lot of talk about “sustainability”. I believe that it is imperative that we get serious about creating items sustainably and with durability; however, is the cost of sustainability attainable, especially to millennials starting out in the workforce? I say this because the magazine was touting a lipstick in a reusable leather case for $160. For context, my favorite lipstick sells for about $7.00, granted, I can’t reuse the case. If we can’t afford to purchase the sustainable product and, instead, purchase the disposable item, we aren’t really doing much for the environment.

Plus, Canadians are in a heap of debt, as are many people in the developed world, and that indicates that we may not be as conscious or care as much about sustainability as we may publically suggest. The ever-increasing debt levels suggest increased consumption, but no one is protesting that because that would be bad for business. It’s been easier and more profitable for businesses to brand themselves as “green” and take up the cause by trying to tarnish the reputation of the supplier of the resources needed to make their product, particularly the Canadian oil and gas sector.

I guess what I am saying is that we need to be mindful consumers, both of tangible products and of information. We must recognize hypocrisy and call it out. I did. I sent a letter to the editor of ‘Fashion’ magazine. Don’t worry, I followed their lead and sent it digitally to minimize my environmental footprint.

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