Locally and internationally, sustainable living has become more popular than it has ever been before. From fair trade coffee to sustainably sourced cotton clothing, we’re seeing more and more people opting for trendy ethical options. Despite the fact that the rise in popularity of sustainability is beneficial for many aspects of society, there is a level of exclusivity to it when it comes down to the price tag. Ethical shopping is almost wholly aimed towards the economically privileged. The price increment of sustainable vs non-sustainable is considerable and for the mass population, unaffordable.
In 2015, the retail and sustainability survey found that ‘more than two-thirds of individuals consider sustainability when making a purchase and are willing to pay more for sustainable products.’ In Malaysia, studies show that 69% of consumers are socially conscious and “8 in 10 consumers are willing to pay extra for products and services that come from companies who are committed towards creating a positive social and environmental impact”. What this shows us is that there is a huge shift in mindset that is happening amongst the consumer base, sustainability is becoming more mainstream and it is more important than ever for businesses to start thinking more deeply about it.
With the rise of the conscious consumer, there is a greater sense of pressure to participate in sustainability in as many aspects of life as possible. There is also an element of shame when purchasing from cheaper, non-sustainable options. This pressure doesn’t just stem from peers, but also widely from social media. As more exposure has been brought to the unethical ways in which big companies produce their products, the perception of these brands have become increasingly negative – along with the consumers who shop there.
However, it is not fair to blame the consumer for purchasing from these brands. The fact is, the products from these brands are cheap, and there are a lot of people who can only afford to buy from these big companies. Whether it being clothing, makeup, furniture or food, it is accessible and convenient. In a way, these big companies allow for everyone to be able to own the things they want and need. To blame the individual for ‘supporting’ these brands is to not address the root of the problem, only a symptom of it.
The biggest way to combat this issue would be for more widely available affordable sustainable options to become present or if we want to dream really big – institutional level change with legislature against brands from using unethical labour. However, when it comes to the legislature, it is a complicated issue because it is a global one. Companies tend to outsource to developing nations where the laws allow for them to operate in these inhumane ways. For the change to be holistic, there needs to be a global push for these practices to be mandated against and it is going to be a long time until we see those structural level changes.
What research has shown us is that consumers are willing to spend a little more on products that do good and as more and more of these brands come up, it is important to be mindful that although individuals are willing to fork out more money for a product with a cause, being able to do so is inherently rooted in privilege. The fact that people wouldn’t mind spending more doesn’t mean that they always can. It is easy to shop ethically and consciously when you have money to spend, but when your concern is putting food on the table every month, scouring thrift shops and searching for the few affordable sustainable options out there just isn’t a priority. Until we live in a world where every product is cheap, ethically sourced and sustainably made, let’s try to shift our mindset from blaming and judging those who opt out of sustainable and ethical shopping and focus more on holding big businesses accountable.
We intended to list down some local, sustainable and affordable brands, however, upon researching there are sadly close to no products that fall into this category.
Effective altruism is a niche term mainly used within the humanitarian and social responsibility community, we don’t often hear it in our day to day but it is something worth exploring because it brings about a unique perspective to doing good.
So what exactly is effective altruism?
Effective altruism is a concept that puts forth the notion that everyone ought to not only do good but the most good they can possibly do. However, when it comes to defining what doing the most good is, Peter Singer – one of the originators of the movement – takes a very cut and dry approach. He believes that when given two choices, a person ought to choose the option that does the most good for society without consideration to your emotional needs or preference. In a perfect world this may work but humans are intrinsically imperfect and most likely will do what is morally right for them but may not be entirely ethical on a larger scale.
An example that well explains this is that of picking a job. Following the principles of effective altruism, when deciding whether to choose a career in social work or corporate work, choosing the corporate job and donating all the money you earned would be the correct choice. This is because you’d likely be able to contribute more and have a bigger impact through donating hundreds of thousands vs impacting a few lives in the non-profit field. Although picking the high-paying corporate job may be the best choice for society, it is nowhere near as emotionally fulfilling as working in a non-profit. This is one of the biggest downsides of effective altruism, it fails to consider the emotional aspects of people.
Although the concept is a hopeful one, it thrives off a philosophy that doesn’t understand human nature. In our capitalistic society, individuals have no obligation to do good; let alone the most good that they possibly can. Earning money takes hard work and expecting them to put aside their own emotions to do what is of the most utility for society is unfair. In this sense, effective altruism isn’t all that effective since it cannot truly be put to practice.
To bridge this gap, a happy medium needs to be found. One where individuals are doing some good, likely not the most good they could possibly do but still some good nonetheless. Integrating the practices of effective altruism with those of modern-day capitalism will not be dependent upon individuals doing the most good themselves, rather, consume products that do the most good for them. This is where a conscious capitalist model comes into practice. Imagine a world where all necessities abided by a certain standard of social responsibility. They are mandated to “do the most good”. In this world, by just buying your daily groceries, as an individual you are doing your part because most of the products you bought contribute to something bigger. This solution takes the pressure off all of us and puts it onto the large corporations who have no reason to operate out of emotion. Corporations have enough money to abide by the standards of effective altruism and are able to make cut and dry decisions to do the most good.
“A corporate shift to incorporating this philosophy is a shift from traditional capitalism to conscious capitalism”
So does effective altruism actually work? Yes and no. No, it doesn’t work for individuals – it is just not possible to get individuals to abandon their emotional and human nature to do the most good they possibly can. However, it does serve as a considerable starting ground for further thought on how individuals should approach doing good. If tweaked to fit into the corporate world, yes, effective altruism can work to create an equitable world where individuals are doing good in their everyday practices. A corporate shift to incorporating this philosophy is a shift from traditional capitalism to conscious capitalism, something we are already slowly seeing. But can this system ever work, or is it too optimistic to believe that corporations will ever work to do the most good? What do you think?
When we think about water, we think of long baths, ice-cold drinks and big bodies of water we can jump into. As people who live in developed cities and towns, we don’t often think about water apart from the times we’re looking to enjoy it. We don’t worry about whether we’ll be able to have a glass of water with our meals, if we’ll have enough water for a shower or if we’ll be able to clean our homes. We don’t think about water and how important it is to our lives because we have it all the time.
But for 4.2 billion people around the world, clean water, proper sanitation and hygiene are out of reach. Over 6,000 children die every day from lack of clean water, 485,000 die from diseases due to contaminated water and over 200 million hours are spent daily by women and girls collecting water. Even in our own country of Malaysia, where it seems like water is abundant for all, 73% of the rural community don’t have access to clean water. Water poverty is a global problem and has been for a long time. It is a tough issue to overcome and may take years to truly be solved but with companies like H2GO – there is hope.
H2GO is a water technology company which aims to eradicate water poverty globally. They believe that clean drinking water is a right for everyone living on earth and that it should be easily accessible to all those who need it. At the heart of the company is Dr.Rajiv. The founder of H2GO, he is soft spoken and humble, but his work speaks volumes. Over the course of 10 years, H2GO has brought clean water to over 2.5 million people all over the world – with an active presence in Columbia, Ghana, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia. Through remarkable technology: a water filter that is able to produce safe to drink water from unclean sources.
The technology is seemingly simple, you fill the bottle or tank with dirty water and when you dispense it, the water is clean and safe for consumption. It works almost like a magic trick, within seconds water that is brown in colour and full of sediment is completely filtered and crystal clear. This technology has been integrated into systems that work for communities, families and individuals. They are easy to use, don’t need to be plugged in and require maintenance only once every few years. A communal tank can filter 2 million litres of water, which approximately lasts around 3 years. After this, all that needs to be done is to have the cartridge replaced and then it’s good to go again for another 3 years.
When watching a demonstration of how the water bottles worked, I was amazed. How could governments all over the world not already supply these to remote communities or even those affected by disaster? This technology seems like a clear solution to this worldwide problem.
However, it’s not always that simple. Global water poverty can be eradicated with approximately 6 billion USD; although it is a lot of money, billionaires all over the world have more than enough to solve the water crisis and go on living wealthy lifestyles. The question of why they don’t remains unanswered and is incomprehensible to most, unfortunately that is just the current state of the situation.
Water poverty is an issue that discriminates. It only affects the poor. It is rarely spoken about because it affects invisible people whom society deems as less important. It doesn’t affect the urbanites, the politicians or anyone living a comfortable life. That’s why it’s not a hot and trendy issue, because we just don’t see ourselves in the people who are affected.
Despite the immense impact that H2GO has made on water poverty, it is but a drop in the bucket of the global water crisis. Choosing water as a cause to champion comes with taking on an incredibly daunting challenge. Water poverty is a pervasive, historical cause – it isn’t new and trendy, but a traditionally difficult issue to tackle.
When asked; “Why water?” Dr.Rajiv gives a clean and simple answer – I was in the right place at the right time. He came across the technology at a military expo and after doing more research on the global state of water, he decided to take on this cause. He explained that living on the blue planet where technology has become so advanced, it is unbelievable that there are so many people living surrounded by water but yet without any they can consume. The passion at H2GO is palpable, they understand that clean water is a pathway to a better life for many. In bringing about proper hydration and sanitation, clean water allows for individuals to pursue a better life – one where the simple act of drinking water is no longer a barrier.
In some places of the world, 1 in 2 girls drop out of school at puberty purely because there is no access to sanitation. Clean water gives young girls the opportunity to elevate themselves. As women, their sole purpose is often to get up in the morning, walk 7-8 hours to collect water which is likely contaminated. With these systems, they will no longer have to do this and will be able to get second jobs, start their own business, or do whatever it takes to empower themselves, their families and their communities. In the developing world, trillions of dollars are lost through women and girls being held back. Clean water is a gateway for empowerment, upliftment and growth within these parts of the world. It is barrier breaking.
Doing Business With a Mission
At the end of the day, H2GO is a for-profit business with a community-driven mission. Their business has 2 sides to it, the main side is profit driven, selling their products at all levels (individuals, corporations, governments). The other side is non-profit, where they fundraise and conduct donation drives in order to place these systems where they are needed. Their business runs on a sustainable model and all fundraising is purely for the beneficiaries and not for the business. They have zero debt and have never had to raise money for their business expenses. H2GO can stand tall next to other tech companies, they are able to be competitive in their market and do so with heart.
In the next decade, they’re looking to scale up. In the first 10 years they were able to reach 2.5 million people, in the next ten they’re looking to reach 200 million people. With such a massive cause, it is hard to feel satisfied with the work that has been done because it will never feel like enough until water poverty is eradicated all over the world.
“Nobody is too small to make a difference – small acts of kindness is what amounts to real change.”
The Power of Hope
Dr.Rajiv speaks in a way that will leave you feeling inspired. He acknowledges that having a goal of eradicating water poverty can be seen as naive but believes that as long as we continue to dream and believe we will continue to achieve. The day we start limiting ourselves in what we are able to do is the day that things will start to stagnate. Our greatest power is our ability to hope.
After speaking to the team at H2GO, I was left with a sense of immense hope for the future. Regardless of what your goal is, looking to companies like H2GO who do the tireless work that they do serves as an inspiration for all of us. And if there’s anything we can takeaway, it is that all of us need to strive to embrace that every life we touch is meaningful and important. For H2GO they were able to touch millions of lives, but they got there by starting with just one.