I'm currently halfway through a masters in Sustainable Development. I am absolutely loving what I am learning about and testing my own understanding of the environment, sustainability and learning the terms for things I have come to know.
Throughout my whole career in ecology and sustainability, I have always wondered what actions are impactful, how to avoid greenwashing, how to LIVE my own life environmentally friendly and sustainability for myself. It's why I started Making Roots and might also be why you're here too.
I have always been a big advocate for multiple actions. For signing petitions whilst trying to go plastic free. It's rewarding to see this reflected in my learning in my masters, where I am currently investing the pro's and cons of neoliberal mechanisms for change vs system change. Because it can be really confusing to understand whether buying my potatoes loose is really doing anything when I could be signing a petition right now?!
But first, what are neoliberal mechanisms? These are market based actions, basically voting with your money, to tell corporations/ business what you value and what you will pay for (and give them profit for). Proponents for neoliberal mechanism say that market forces will drive change, i.e. if we say we want it, the market will drive environmentally beneficial products and services. But who regulates this? Are these products are really sustainable or are a greenwashed products that allow profits to keep coming in? Examples of a neoliberal mechanism for the environment is "biodegradable" coffee cups. These have been marketed as "sustainable" or "eco" alternatives by business, keen to reduce the negative image of single use plastic. However in reality these degradable cups either just break up into smaller pieces of plastic or they need to be composted in specialised facilities which are normally rare. But for the average consumer, who might be in the rush to the train, busy with work, with a huge mental load or might not be able to tell the difference, they don't have time to research the business claim of "green".
This is where the role of regulations, governments and state could come in. Should these claims be regulated? Should taxes be put on environmentally degrading products? Should there be a tax on the milk that goes into the coffee cup too?
Should we just avoid going to coffee shops altogether and drink homemade acorn coffee at home?
I truly believe we need a myriad of responses to deal with a society with different needs and requirements. We have a set of keys and if we can, we could all utilise our key set to unlock all the different locks needed to generate change across the system. For example, we can be wary of claims of green by business, but buy from those companies genuinely making change (neoliberal response and a liberal civil regulation). We can avoid businesses that don't align with our values (critical civil regulation) but still hold them account and ask them to do better, for those who do still need to shop there. We can sign petitions asking for better regulation on fishing, ending subsidies for bad fishing practice whilst reducing our fish intake. We can ask for better recycling systems, buy items when we need to, made from recycled plastic but also reduce it when we can.
This is important because at an individual level, the actions we take won't always be the same. We won't always have the same resources available to us. If we take on the neoliberal market (in which we all live) whilst fighting for something better, I think we stand the best chance of changing the system. We also increase the chance of fighting for a broader range of people too, for those who need plastic straws or can't vote with their wallet. If we're reducing out plastic use whilst campaigning for better recycling systems, we build resilience into our systems to tackle situations, like Covid-19- where plastic use needed to keep people safe, has sky rocketed.
I find, utilising my whole set of keys builds resilience into my own actions. It allows for hiccups, for situations I can't account for that interrupt my boycott of brands or reduction in single use plastic in the home. I recommend you using a whole set of keys too, your keys will unlock different things to someone else, and together we're more likely to generate change.