There are numerous approaches to addressing critical environmental issues such as climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. One prevalent method aimed at catalysing behaviour change in the context of these challenges is “eco-shaming.” But does eco-shaming truly have a positive impact, or does it potentially backfire?
Eco-shaming refers to the practice of publicly criticising or calling out behaviours that have adverse effects on the environment. This can manifest in various ways, from social media posts to public protests, with the ultimate objective being to raise awareness and, ideally, stimulate a change in behaviour.
Proponents of eco-shaming argue that it harnesses the power of social pressure to drive change. In an era marked by continuous connectivity, public opinion can exert significant influence. When environmentally harmful actions are brought into the spotlight, the hope is that this exposure will lead to changes in behaviour or practices that benefit the environment.
It’s essential to distinguish between eco-shaming and the more constructive concept of social pressure. Social pressure campaigns against products that employ excessive plastic packaging, such as plastic straws, have resulted in widespread boycotts and a growing consumer demand for sustainable alternatives. Notably, there is no element of shaming involved in this process. Instead, it involves holding inanimate corporations accountable for their practices through social pressure, eventually compelling them to adjust their business models. The feeling of eco-shame primarily pertains to individuals, prompting us to question whether it is beneficial to extend this emotion to others.
While social pressure certainly has its merits, we must consider several key aspects of eco-shaming. Firstly, many individuals may react to eco-shaming with defensiveness, resistance, or dismissiveness, making it challenging to engage in productive dialogue. Secondly, an exclusive focus on individual actions can divert attention away from systemic issues and larger-scale solutions, potentially fostering a false sense of accomplishment. Thirdly, eco-shaming can sometimes result in superficial, short-term changes designed to placate public opinion, rather than fostering enduring, sustainable shifts in behaviour or policy. Lastly, it’s vital to acknowledge that the very corporations responsible for harming our planet often seek to deflect responsibility by encouraging blame-shifting among individuals.
It is crucial for people to unite and work together to expose the unsustainable practices of large corporations that possess the potential to cause substantial harm to our planet through social pressure. The same approach cannot be taken when dealing with an individual of lower income who purchases clothing from a fast-fashion company like Shein.
In this case, initiating a constructive and open dialogue about Shein’s practices might be a more effective means of convincing individuals to adopt sustainability in other aspects of their lives.