Social responsibility Vs Social concern

If you had to, how would you answer the question, what kind of person are you?

Before you answer, we would like you to know that we were at the Mediterranean Tourism Forum held earlier this week in St. Julian’s, Malta, and we took with us two points worthy of note:

Point one

Social responsibility (sustainability on surface level) Vs Social concern (sustainability for survival)

If you pick up plastic trash from the ground and toss it in a bin because there is a sign that says ‘do not leave trash on the ground’, you are being socially responsible. 

If you dispose of the plastic because you worry that it might find its way to the guts/stomach of animals and cause them their lives, or because it can pollute the environment by outlasting humanity due to its non-biodegradable nature, you are socially concerned.

At the Forum, Malta’s minister for Tourism, Hon. Clayton Bartolo, while pointing out that sustainability is becoming more of a buzzword than a modus operandi, confirmed what we already know which is; that the majority claim to be familiar with the subject of sustainability and supposedly throw their weight behind the crusade for a decarbonised future, while in truth, they are merely trying to appear socially responsible. 

Having deciphered that a lot of the business community are choosing to associate their brand with the buzzword in a bid to sound profound and progressive and at the same time boost SEOs, we have arrived at that stage where we feel like screaming every time we hear ‘sustainability’. 

The word has gained momentum as much as it is losing credibility and attracting banality, which brings us back to the question: what kind of person are you? A socially responsible person who jumps on exigencies because it is trendy and fashionable or a socially concerned individual who does because it is pragmatic and necessary for survival?

Point two

Reusable Vs Disposable – which is more expensive?

The growing consensus is that sustainable products and services are designed to appeal to upmarket members of society. During the Mediterranean Tourism Forum, we had this chat with a reseller; 

GSE – ‘A CEO of one of the Fortune 500 companies recently posited that globally today, 50 percent of consumers rank sustainability as a top five value driver. Why aren’t you encouraging your manufacturers to go green and meet consumers’ expectations? ’

RESELLER – ‘Doing business ethically and sustainably comes at a premium for manufacturers. The figures lie when they rate sustainability as the purchasing criterion for half the world’s population, because 80% of my consumers are unrepentant in their purchasing behaviour. They would choose plastic utensils over bamboo utensils when you tell them plastic is cheaper. Now do the maths and tell me if a manufacturer would rather have a warehouse full of unsold bamboo utensils or several warehouses of fast-moving plastic utensils.’  

Debunking the consensus

It is a mistake to think that opting for conventional products would save you money and your conscious consumerism is sustainable living, because it isn’t. 

  • If every month, you spend €1 each on disposable women’s underwear, food takeout packs, grocery bags, plastic water bottles, plastic utensils, paper towels and napkins, as against €5 each on the reusable options, in a year you would have spent €12 on each item, whereas the reusables would have almost certainly last for years. Matter of fact is that you are spending so much more on the disposables as the frequency pales in comparison to the sustainable alternative. 
  • Only a fraction of factories would likely take steps to minimise pollution or ensure safe working conditions. This is because setting those measures in place is expensive, and if carried out, the product price would be set to reflect the dynamics of cost, otherwise cash flow becomes cumulatively negative. By this fact, the share of factories would operate nonchalantly while exposing workers and host communities to industrial processes which together with emissions from fossil fuel combustion has since 1970 been contributing about 78% of the total greenhouse gas emissions increase.

Now consider the cost of pollution in the long run – health hazards, cost of medical care, death (the ultimate price) in worst case scenarios and of course funeral cost – then, compare with the supposedly pricey cost of eco-friendly products. 

How about you do the maths this time?

Pertinent to note that our collective penchant for disposables is problematic and while there may be a number of planets, there is only one earth to say the least. However, if we as consumers genuinely move the needle toward eco-friendly reusables and disincentivize manufacturers of disposable products through lack of patronage, they will in turn innovate to stay afloat, the planet would be safer and everyone would be better for it.

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