And this gives me the feeling that living sustainably is often tied up with extreme privilege. I have come to believe, rightly or wrongly, that you need an abundance of time, money and even connections – in order to commit to living sustainably. I often think that ‘sustainability’ has become about badges of honour - like organic cashmere and plant-based diets – which incidentally speak to status and glamour.
It’s easy to forget that simply knowing about sustainability and ways to limit our impact on the environment is a privilege in and of itself. Research from 2011 shows that people with degrees are more likely to adopt pro-environmental behaviours. However, the same research also found that these people are likely to display their eco credentials via what they buy rather than what they do.
Having financial and social freedom is an enormous privilege – you can make decisions about where you shop, what you eat, what transport you take and how you manage your time. Some people simply don’t have that choice.
Those who appear to live sustainably often inhabit a moral high ground which in some cases comes with an undertone of superiority. But when you consider that the ability to make choices such as driving an eco-car or having a nanny to help wash nappies or buying organic produce is essentially down to fiscal privilege, it seems a little less worthy.
Green shaming – to shame someone for not being environmentally friendly – is a thing. And while I haven’t experienced it overtly, I have been lectured about how easy it is to use reusable nappies by an acquaintance of mine (wearing vegan Veja trainers in a bathroom filled with extortionately expensive organic toiletries in a part of London that has been gentrified beyond all recognition).
“It’s honestly a doddle,” she assured me. Downstairs I could hear her live-in nanny loading the dishwasher.