Are Sustainability Movements Classist?

No one should feel guilty for not being perfect.

On Wednesday February 3 I attended a collaborative event debating the constantly relevant topic of sustainability, its affordability, and accessibility.

The Panellists included:

  • Charlotte Ingrey, the Environments and Ethics Officer for YUSU
  • Kate Archer and Lucy Mason, Working Class and Social Mobility Officers
  • Grace Williams, the President of the Vegetarian and Vegan Society 

The discussion began focusing on the vegan and vegetarian diet – a topic which holds many sceptics. Charlotte commented that the diet can initially be “time consuming as you’re having to read packaging labels and convert favourite recipes”. The diet can be expensive, especially Quorn substitutes “which can save you time but are more expensive than recipes”. 

I found this link to time really interesting; it is definitely a precious resource for everyone. Many people may not have the opportunity to spend time converting, or the funds, especially as university students. 

However, the panel continued to comment on the demand for vegan products increasing to the extent that the prices have become cheaper than meat. Grace mentioned Aldi and Lidl’s very affordable vegan and vegetarian range, noting that “the drive and demand for it has brought the prices down”. 

So, like any product, as veganism has become more popular supermarkets and restaurants are accommodating it as there is higher demand. Yet, as Charlotte mentions, it is a “postcode lottery”. Of course towns and cities with a high population will supply vegan products, but in rural areas where the demand is not there, it will be very difficult to convert. 

The discussion progressed to the topic of social movements, and, as Charlotte stated, many “advocate for mass arrest and civil disobedience”. However, only a small number of people can afford to have a criminal record and a fine. As Grace stated: “it can put you in the position of losing everything”. Additionally, many cannot afford to join the protests as they have work commitments, school commitments, and they might not be able to afford the travel costs. So, as Kate stated: “you wouldn’t want to sacrifice your life chances”.

A final point raised was the ability to be sustainable, and purchase eco-friendly products on a budget. Grace mentioned a zero waste refill shop, which came to £4.50 for 2 containers of hand soap. Kate also mentioned Scoop, feeling the prices were “inaccessible from a price perspective”. The demand for Scoop and refill shops is sadly not there, so the prices have to remain high for their existence to continue. Yet this does result in a continuous loop of unaffordability for many. 

The discussion was very interesting, and a wide array of topics within the sustainability movement were mentioned. The movement is classist, not intentionally but through the excessive prices of many eco friendly products, and the protest movements which only allow those who can afford to miss time off work to attend.

On top of that, the focus on arrests discriminates against those who cannot afford to have a criminal record or pay the fine. If demand for the products increase, the affordability will expand, but at the moment focusing on whatever you can afford is all we can do to help the movement.