While the term “first world problems” is used about a lot these days, it’s safe to say that we in the 21st century have a lifestyle obsession. In the age of social media everything we say and do is more than just living our life, it’s creating our own personal brand. Thus, it’s no longer enough to live our lives well, we have to be seen living them well. Everything from the kind of moisturizer we apply in the morning to how we consume our coffee, from our holiday snaps in Vegas to our exercise regimen (not to mention our personal appearance) falls under the lens of scrutiny on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with this, outside of certain caveats, we must be careful of how we use our influence on social media.
Every time you post a picture, a comment, a meme or simply a few lines explaining how your day went, you’re making a statement. One of the biggest mistakes we can make on social media is underestimating the impact and importance of everything we post and how it will be read and interpreted within our following and beyond.
You don’t have to be an influencer to influence people
The 21st century has given rise to many jobs, careers and even entire industries that simply didn’t exist a couple of decades ago. Although the internet was fairly widely used in 1996, absolutely nobody had heard of Search Engine Optimization. The rise of Influencer Marketing has enabled and empowered many individuals, in many cases completely transforming their lives. Big brands have recently begun to capitalize on the value of piggybacking on the following and popularity of (mostly) YouTube and Instagram personalities who have created something akin to celebrity by growing their following organically and cultivated a devoted following. Brands realized that if they can get these people on board with their brand by giving them freebies, taking them on paid vacations and recruiting them as advocated for the brand, they can grow their reach without paying the big bucks that they’d have to fork out for a celebrity endorsement.
But you don’t have to be the next Zoella or Jamie Genevieve to have an influence over your social media following, especially on platforms like Instagram or Twitter where your sphere of influence extends far beyond the relatively small confines of your circle of friends and family. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you have an obligation to be a positive influence on those who follow you, whether you’ve ever met them in person or not. Everything you buy, eat, drink, wear or apply to your skin has a social and ecological cost and whether you share explicit images of these products or not, by using them you are endorsing them. If you put down the products that are costing you a fortune and damaging the planet, you can show your following the power that they have to affect real and lasting change.
The problem with plastic.
We live in a disposable society. Every day we encounter products with a useful life of around 15 minutes, then throw them away. The trouble is that when we do that they aren’t banished to an alternate dimension. They stay around for a very, very long time, especially if they’re made from plastic. Plastics aren’t going anywhere. In fact, unless we do something pretty soon marine biologists predict that there will be more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050. An enormous amount of damage is being done by plastic bottles alone. 50 billion plastic bottles were used last year in the US alone. Sure, plastic bottles can (in most cases) be recycled, but of those 50 billion bottles used last year, only 24% were recycled. That means 38 billion plastic bottles were either dumped on the street or thrown into landfill waste. By 2020 at least half a trillion plastic bottles are estimated to go into circulation. Moreover, most plastic bottles can only be recycled once.
Of course, the damage isn’t just limited to plastic bottles. An entire garbage truck’s worth of trash goes into our oceans every single minute. And once it’s in there, it won’t decompose until after you’re long dead (an estimated 450 years). Every plastic bag you’ve ever used is still out there somewhere. Ditto every plastic toothbrush and every Coke can you threw in the trash instead of the recycling.
Needless to say, this is not sustainable.
You might wonder how we can reverse this tide. You might even think that you can’t make a difference, but you’d be astonished at how easily you can change people’s attitudes if you educate them on what you’ve read above. It’s not even hard to find alternatives. Use glass bottles or aluminum cans instead of plastic for your soda (or just cut it out altogether, your body will thank you!). Use a bamboo toothbrush and toilet roll and buy a single reusable bag made from durable but biodegradable materials to ensure that you’ll never need to use a single use plastic bag again.
Make it, don’t fake it.
We all want to look good, and have a beautiful clean home. After all, how can we influence others if we don’t make sure that we keep ourselves in order? But there’s no need to spend a fortune on expensive beauty products for your skin or harsh chemical cleaning products for a sparkling clean home.
There are a whole lot of DIY Skin Treatments which you can make yourself that can supplement the professionally made products you use, or in some cases even replace them. Many cosmetic moisturizers, for example can be replaced with either coconut oil, shea butter or cocoa butter. Exfoliating is important for healthy skin, but it doesn’t need to come from a product that contains harmful microbeads. A perfectly potent facial scrub can be made for virtually nothing using your old coffee grounds and a few extra low cost ingredients. Even when it comes to beauty products that you absolutely can’t avoid, look for products made from medical grade silicone which is more inert than most plastics and much less likely to leach toxins into the sea after you dispose of it. Even toothpaste can be made cheaply and with no damage to the environment. Simply combine bicarbonate of soda and peppermint essence with coconut oil.
You can even make your own makeup! Zero waste specialist Bea Johnson has been very vocal about the diversity of looks that can be created with such low cost and environmentally friendly substances as cocoa powder, kohl powder and arrowroot powder.
So, we’ve covered making yourself beautiful, but what about the home. How could you possibly maintain a pristine and Instagram ready home without the benefit of the cleaning products you’ve come to rely on? Well, the truth is that most of the harsh chemical cleaners under your sink are completely unnecessary. There’s nothing any cleaning product can do that can’t be done with a combination of water and spirit vinegar or a paste made from water and bicarbonate of soda.
When you cut back on products that are harmful to the planet like cleaning products that use harsh chemicals, cosmetics that use microbeads and bottled drinks, you find that not only are you doing the planet good… You’re saving money. Keep a tally of how much money you save and share it with your following, or post it on your blog. You’ll be astonished at how interested people get when they find out that you can save them money.
We like to drink coffee. A lot! Americans drink over 280 million cups of coffee a day (together, of course, not individually). We like taking photos of our coffee too. But with all those coffee shots comes a level of responsibility. Simply changing where and how we drink our coffee can make a big difference to the planet. You may be fooled into thinking that fairtrade coffee ensures that the farmers who grew your morning brew get a fair shake. Unfortunately there’s a mounting body of evidence to suggest that fair trade is not fair. Encourage your following to stop giving their money to tax dodging exploitation mongers like Starbucks and encourage them to use a more ethical and sustainable alternative… They’ll probably be a lot cheaper, too!
In the 21st century, we don’t just eat our food. We don’t even just play with it. We like to snap it silly before we even take a bite. The food selfie phenomenon shows no signs of going away but before you snap, consider the ethical and environmental cost of what’s on your plate.
As someone who is an omnivore, the thought of giving up meat gives me anxiety. But when I really think about it, that juicy, fillet steak, for example, may be high in protein, but it’s also pretty low in ethics. Aside from the animal rights implications, it’s worth remembering that beef is one of the most water and resource intensive foods on the planet. Even if we assume that all cows raised for slaughter are perfectly ethically and with respect (which they aren’t), beef requires a lot of water and natural resources to produce and nourish very few people considering the cost. 1 calorie from beef requires 27 times more energy to grow than 1 calorie from soybeans and 1 pound of beef requires upwards of 2500 gallons of water to produce compares to just 25 gallons for a pound of wheat. For example, seitan- a gluten based ‘wheat meat’ can be engineered to be similar in texture and flavor to beef with just a hundredth of the water cost.
Never underestimate the difference you can make in others’ lives. Even making a few small changes to your lifestyle can go a long way in making the world a better place… While also saving you a small fortune.