Socio-Economic Advantage, which is the fifth and final factor for our 5 Factors for Sustainable Consumption, can be defined in a number of ways. Therefore, it can have a different definition for the consumer, and for the manufacturer or retailer.
For the consumer, this encompasses consuming while keeping in mind one’s own values and core beliefs, along with being mindful of the causes and effects of their own product demand on the resultant supply. Every single one of us has a distinct personal blueprint of the way we perceive the world, based on where we grew up, how we were raised, our genetics and our personality. Therefore, Socio-Economic Advantage, or Socio-Economic Worldview, is relative to each person, based on one's own personal blueprint and beliefs.
Sustainable Life App defines a “brand” as a company that manufactures products and a “business” with regards to our platform is a brick-and-mortar style establishment that sells products or services manufactured by such brands.
On the supply end of the consumption chain, brands and businesses have a different perspective on Socio-Economic Advantage, which could be defined here as: The Socio-Economic Worldview of any brand or business, given the company’s core values and beliefs. This is also relative to the size and reach of the platform that is maintained by any company. Based on company values, every brand or business has a social and economic responsibility to the planet that reaches farther than just the lack of a negative impact on human rights - as discussed in our third factor. Therefore, socio-economic worldview for brands and manufacturers stands for ethically made products with a focus on quality over quantity.
The Socio-Economic Advantage of sustainable consumption goes back thousands of years, perhaps longer - especially since the beginning of widespread usage of land and sea trade routes, where every item traded along the route had a socio-economic impact. This socio-economic impact could have been good when introducing a population to a new useful item or providing work or a chance for financial development to a population.
This impact, however, can also be very negative. Perhaps the most famous example of this is colonialism, which started as a means for well-developed countries to start trading of exotic items such as silks and spices, from relatively underdeveloped countries. This trade, however, led to eventual colonization and mass social value erasure of the trade origin countries. Some of these socio-economic injustices were so grave that they are still a very present part of the underlying fabric of countries subjected to these injustices.
While it is the eco-conscious consumers’ role to make sure their consumption choices force a positive socio-economic impact on the world, it is imperative for brands and businesses to make sure that instead of simply not conducting human rights violations, they are going above and beyond to sustainably provide a worldwide Socio-Economic advantage as their platform requires. This includes understanding how their product impacts human health, the earth and ALL living beings by honouring a circular economy outlook from sourcing ingredients for their products ethically all the way to considering the end-of-life impact of their product. As an example, this includes paying a living wage to workers, ensuring safety of their workers, and not employing children in a way that is harmful to their development or education. This also includes the waste produced throughout the supply chain and its impact on the communities where this waste is disposed, including animal habitats.
In addition, countless other factors such as diverse hiring and charity work can all be included in this factor for sustainable consumption.
Sustainable consumers, brands and businesses must ask themselves:
Another very important factor to be considered is the Socio-Economic impact of the product source - at the very beginning of the supply chain. This includes mining to source and extract raw materials from the Earth. Mica, as an example, is a mineral silicate which is used to produce items like stoves, lanterns, and furnaces in addition to paints, plastics and electric cables, among other consumer products. Mica is also sparkly in appearance, which is why it is often used in the billion-dollar beauty industry to formulate products such as nail polishes, eyeshadows, and sparkly lipsticks44. As a result, human beings are exposed to mica dust through their products. However, people working in mica extraction are severely at risk because of close contact with mica dust in the open-cast mining and harvesting process.
This is a major issue because pure mica has been known to cause a type of severe pneumoconiosis (lung disease) in mica-processing workers43,45. Pneumoconiosis is a lung disease which leads to thickened areas of the organs, scar tissues and the loss of air sacs and blood vessels in the lung46. This human health issue also becomes a socio-economic issue when the mining sources are brought to light. Much of mica mining occurs in Africa and countries like India, where poor labour protection laws lead to women and children scavenging for, and mining, mica. As a result of the irresponsible or uninformed demands for mica by consumers in developed countries, many children in developing countries are being robbed of a stable economic future as they scavenge what they can to make money, whilst being exposed to serious health risks47. Not only is this therefore a human rights issue, but it is also an environmental issue through the degradation caused by mining activities, a human health issue and perhaps most of all, a socio-economic issue.
Another example of a massive industry that may have a negative socio-economic impact on the beginning of its supply chain is the coffee industry, which was valued globally at over USD 100 Billion in 2019, and is expected to be worth more than USD 150 Billion by 202648. Coffee farming is known to harm origin countries where the coffee beans are harvested in multiple ways; through underpaying of farmers, through mass deforestation and the resulting loss of important flora and fauna which may be important environmentally or culturally to the local populations, and perhaps even more importantly, through the destruction or phasing out of culturally sacred and important local architecture and practices, some going back thousands of years.
Every choice made by consumers has a sizable socio-economic impact on the planet, which goes largely unseen by the consumers themselves. In her prize-won book titled Disrobed49, the award-winning journalist, consultant and CEO of HipGuide Inc., Syl Tang states “Every day we must choose: do we grow textiles or food?”. This statement is perhaps best exemplified in her example of the beloved avocado. After social media first popularized avocados, it led to 96,000 more households purchasing avocados, and even to crime waves of avocado theft in New Zealand49. Avocado is so popular that it has now become a cultural phenomenon and even the representation of a particular healthy, trendy lifestyle. Avocados can be found on t-shirts, earrings, decoration pieces, backpacks, and a wide variety of other popular consumer goods49.
However, what many consumers might not know is that the surge in demand for avocados led to wide-scale deforestation of pine trees in Mexico, where producers cut down local pine trees to meet the demand for avocado arising in America49. This not only has environmental implications due to natural resource consumption in the shipping process in the supply chain, deforestation for plantations, and the resulting loss of land nutrients and habitats for key species such as the monarch butterfly, but it also has a larger social impact. As Syl Tang quotes, the Wall Street Journal, in its article titled “The Violent Gang Wars Behind Your Super Bowl Guacamole”, compared avocados to conflict diamonds49. Producers have been known to start avocado plantations illegally on unapproved land, and avocado consumption has also been linked to gang wars in Mexico, as Syl Tang states49.
The enormity of this problem can be realized when the large-scale consumption of this fruit is contextualized: Americans consume 1,137,749,941 pounds of avocado every year49. Each of these consumption choices has a trail of socio-economic impact trailing behind it. When we choose to consume avocado, that choice means the deforestation of pine trees as well as socio-economic impacts for the source country. Perhaps now that the Earth’s natural resources are at a critical stage, it is more important than ever before to realize that our consumption choices are pushing the planet into a state that is unsustainable. When human consumption outgrows what the planet can provide, it leads to devastation of the planet, and natural processes bringing biotic population sizes back to a critical sustainable amount.
It is becoming clearer with every passing day, as social issues arise globally, that the current consumer product industry is not set up to promote a Socio-Economic Advantage to all its constituents equally. Gone are the days when products did not have to have a sustainable background. The sustainable consumption industry and its consumers now demand that brands and businesses go above and beyond to promote socio-economic welfare and advantage globally, and consumers are voicing these demands openly as sustainable consumption is on the rise like never before. Sustainable consumers now demand that the consumer products they invest in have a future and that it clearly follows the beliefs they hold based on their personal blueprint of the world. This can only be done when brands and businesses are held accountable for the Socio-Economic Advantage they do or do not offer. Sustainable Life App is a groundbreaking platform that goes above and beyond to validate an all-encompassing sustainability criteria for assessing the brands verified by our app. It is however important to state that our platform asks for and appreciates brands who apply disclosing full transparency - including in the ways they are working towards improvement and betterment bot not there yet. All that our platform asks for is transparency. The decision is always ultimately in the hands of consumers who make purchasing decisions based on their core values.