What’s Green Enough?

I spoke to a class of university students the other day. Topic du jour was climate change, climate action policy and communications. Therefore it was not surprising to have the following question come up during the Q & A:

– What is green and what is green enough for you?

I showed off my full professional capabilities by elegantly ducking the actual question, and instead replied to a question I was prepared to answer. The question from the audience didn’t leave my head, though. What’s green enough?

The next evening I was having dinner with a friend and we were discussing her recent trip overseas. 

– “I felt so embarrassed for flying. It felt so wrong to post anything on Facebook or Instagram about the trip, so I made a big show of highlighting that I actually went to see family and not just jetting about for fun”, she said. 

Another friend told me that their annual girls’ trip destination would be St Petersburg this year, because it is accessible by train from Helsinki. 

– “Because we couldn’t justify flying”, she explained.

I myself got the biggest kick for a long time when I found out about an amazing artisan cobbler in Brussels and prontissimo took my footwear for her care (follow her on Instagram @_ledispensaire_). In all honesty I also felt the biggest embarrassment as I realised I was unearthing shoes I had actually forgotten I had (I have to point out here that I have expensive tastes as regards footwear, which made the embarrassment chill me to the bone). 

I decided “that was it” for buying more shoes until foreseeable future. This weekend I got to thinking whether I could also stop buying clothes for a while? Given that I don’t need anything (none of us really do), how much stuff is it still OK to want for oneself

I shall spare you from the science and politics of climate action and all things related, but even if we leave out the warming globe of the argumentation, our lifestyles have become unsustainable on many counts. I am the first to confess that for many years an invitation to a party also meant an excuse to buy a garment for the occasion. It is not once or twice I have made the last-minute ambush to Zara or H&M in search of a perfect party top, which, post-party, mainly ended up collecting dust rather than further wears. 

The fast fashion chains seemed legit in the beginning, because we all wanted fashion to be democratised. They made trendy dressing accessible, mainly because most of their stuff is inspired by the collections of couture fashion houses. Today fast fashion not only keeps the masses clothed, but also is a major contributor to the apocalyptic mountains of fabric waste (mainly cotton) that is becoming impossible to recycle – even partly.

I am not judging where people should buy their clothes or shoes. Anything legal is perfectly fine – it’s more a question of how much do we want and how often do we want to buy. I recently read about a blogger who orders stuff from Zalando, takes photos of the mail-order goodies for Instagram and then returns everything.

This is the problem: keeping up the appearance that an endless amount of clothing is desirable, normal, accessible and something one should strive for (because of course her followers were not told that she does notactually own the clothes she models on the pictures). 

I fully see the paradox here: I love reading fashion magazines and I follow a large number of style influencers on social media. It is inspiring to look at new things, and I crave that inspiration. It is fun to try and buy new things. When does it become unsustainable (not just from an environmental point of view, but also morally)

I am already seeing more and more bloggers and social media influencers taking it down a notch with the frantic hysteria of acquiring new stuff. This must be difficult, because for many their income solely relies on selling glamorous lifestyles and creating needs people didn’t know they had. I am not advocating the shutting down of the economy, moving into tree-houses and feasting on wood chips to save the planet. I am merely wondering what could be the middle-ground that would allow us to enjoy fashion and trends, dress interestingly and satisfy our need for fresh things, while at the same time ensuring that we don’t actually suffocate on stuff.

I am not making any bets or promises for this year as regards buying clothes/shoes/accessories, but I will try to cut any purchases to an absolute minimum. In full disclosure: I have bought two pairs of shoes this year (I know, it’s only February so it’s not looking good) and two pieces of clothing. 

Also I flew one return flight already. It was for work.

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