Climate change is not a new thing. We’re all aware of it. A week doesn’t go by before we’re confronted with yet another example of how our collective behaviour is dangerously impacting our natural resources and ultimately, the future of our planet. Heck, even typing this sparks a certain pang of anxiety. So, what is needed to motivate consumers into taking action IRL?
Revealed in a recent Fashionista article, according to psychologist Dr. Daniel L. Benkendorff, part of the problem arises from the fact that news about climate change creates the “wrong kind of fear.”
An associate professor of philosophy at The Fashion Institute of Technology, Benkendorff is concerned with the psychology involved in sustainable and unsustainable consumer behaviour, particularly the ways in which consumers approach “fast fashion,” and the fact it has little to do with a lack of awareness of the impending problem.
It seems that since we’re not faced with imminent danger that requires immediate action (though many would argue otherwise), climate change’s slower pace of destruction prompts a slower response. Less action-inducing, more anxiety-ridden contemplation, which Benkendorff says “isn’t so helpful” and may lead to denial or other coping mechanisms, rather than direct action.
Where does that leave sustainable fashion brands and ethical fashion activists?
Fear-mongering or shockvertising tactics don’t work if we are to encourage consumers to move towards sustainable fashion. Instead, there needs to be a focus on communicating a message of hope, rather than despair, in order to inspire consumer action.
“This doesn’t involve lying about climate change or avoiding the truth, but when you talk about climate change… it’s important to talk about the possibility of solving it,” Benkendorff said.
Benkendorff offered two additional pieces of advice for those seeking to inspire more sustainable lifestyles in their customers and readers. One was to encourage them to seek out like-minded people — a move that fulfills the deep human need for connection and the fact we are often stronger together, as well as making individual activism efforts more effective.
“We want to change all of our bad behaviours all at once, and that’s unproductive, because it’s really hard,” he said. “Try one small change, and reward yourself when you do better. If you can do that, you can move onto the next change.”
It’s highly unlikely that most consumers would completely overhaul their shopping habits in favour of sustainable fashion overnight, but encouraging them to take one step, like opting for charity shop finds or re-commerce or being mindful of materials such as Modal or eco-plastic, and making it easy to find conscious fashion labels (which we are committed to doing), will start a chain reaction in their life and those around them.
Positive news always spreads. And if you can make it pain-free and actually exciting and inspiring, well most people will opt for the better option.