Large Corporations or Individuals: Who is Responsible for Climate Change?
Article by Catherine Bell
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
The mainstream climate change movement has unfortunately placed too much emphasis on an individual’s power to make more environmentally conscious decisions, such as not using plastic bottles and straws, and shopping more sustainably and not enough on the impact and responsibilities of large corporations. The rise in popularity of metal straws in 2019 was a perfect example of this because as much as it did help to reduce waste caused by the use of disposable plastic straws, it is far outweighed by the decisions of large corporations, such as Coca-Cola, which according to Greenpeace, produces 110 billion single-use plastic bottles each year.
This emphasis on individual responsibility has led companies to present themselves as sustainable through greenwashing, which is when companies present an image of sustainability through marketing while contributing to the destruction of the environment and climate change. The best example of this would be the fashion industry as it uses greenwashing to make money by making us think we are making sustainable choices. In many cases, this could not be further from the truth as according to UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe), the fashion industry is responsible for 20% of global water waste with a single cotton shirt requiring 2700 litres of water, which is the amount a person drinks in 2.5 years.
H&M is a fashion brand that has attempted to paint itself with a more sustainable and environmentally friendly image through two main methods: a sustainable clothing collection and the ability to recycle old clothes in their stores. Their sustainable clothing collection, Conscious, is a good start at sustainability as according to H&M’s own website, each product in their Conscious line “… contains at least 50% of more sustainable materials- like organic cotton or recycled polyester”, however as they are the second largest fast-fashion brand, they still produce thousands of new products each week that outweighs their attempts as sustainability. Unfortunately, their campaign to get people to recycle old clothes in their stores also does not have as much of a positive impact on the environment as it could do, as the company that manages H&M donations, I: Collect, has stated that only about 35% of what it collects is recycled. In addition, those who donate their clothes at H&M stores receive a voucher towards their next purchase with the brand and therefore enables and promotes the further consumption of fast fashion goods while reducing the lifespan of clothing, which already is at an estimated 2.2 years in the UK.
Therefore, it is especially important for large companies to make positive changes and steps toward sustainability and being environmentally friendly as not only do these companies have a much larger impact than individuals, but their actions allow us to make decisions that have a positive effect on the environment and help to limit our impact and contribution to climate change more easily. This is especially true in circumstances where people do not have the means to purchase items from pre-existing sustainable brands and therefore rely on these cheaper brands for their necessities as regardless of whether they wish to make more environmentally friendly choices, they are unable to without these brands leading the change towards positive effects on the environment.
Large companies making more environmentally friendly changes to limit their impact on climate change and reduce waste would not only improve life for people living in the UK but globally as climate change and these companies usually affect those living in the Global South, which refers to less developed countries, more. This impact is mostly negative as these companies not only use these countries’ weak labour laws as an excuse to underpay and overwork their workers, but also a lot of the garments that are originally made in these areas, end up back there in the forms of waste and while some of these clothes are then sold within the population, the majority of these non-biodegradable clothes items end up in rubbish dumps further reducing the quality of living for the population. Therefore, it is not only important for companies to take responsibility to make more environmentally conscious decisions but to also take responsibility for the tonnes of waste they have already created.
 Greenpeace slams Coca-Cola plastic announcement as ‘dodging the main issue’ – Greenpeace USA
 RFSD_2018_Side_event_sustainable_fashion.pdf (unece.org)
 Conscious choice products explained (hm.com)
 What really happens to old clothes dropped in those in-store recycling bins | CBC News