Every now and then (although recently with increasing frequency) I stumble across a Youtube video by a prominent teenage or young adult ‘influencer’ on how to be more environmentally friendly. Curious about these insights and whether I could actually discover more ways I could reduce my impact on the planet, I click.
I overhear the same-old claims: use metal straws, reduce plastic usages, buy re-usable water-bottles. All excellent points, I would like to emphasise. The biggest change is, however, often to reduce animal product consumption. This, according to the expertise of these Youtubers is the single most significant way to reduce your impact on the environment. Again, this is an excellent point. We can all reduce our animal product consumption, as the damaging effect of these industries on the global climate is well-known. For a moment, however, I take a step back. I realise that whilst the YouTuber has claimed we all need to reduce our consumption to help the planet, they have held up a plastic, reusable cup, (obviously great stuff) but branded with a fast fashion clothing brand. Perhaps this a metaphor for the general hypocrisy I have observed with individuals or many ‘influencers’ across this platform. I dive a little deeper. Upon a more thorough examination of their Youtube content, the term ‘haul’ pops up rather often. When a large number of clothes either purchased or given by a sponsor are rattled through, bargain prices and all. An important thing to emphasise is that these are often from fast fashion companies. This is a trend I have noticed across a lot of Youtuber platforms that is a rather disturbing one. These hauls are almost always large (sometimes even labelled ‘huge’), frequent and are often themes in regard to the many holidays they are going on during the year. I find myself time and time again asking the same question: but didn’t you just tell me I needed to be more environmentally friendly?
I have noticed this consistent lack of critique of the many fast fashion brands that these YouTubers promote and purchase from, as well as a frequent ‘travel’ vlog of their 10th holiday in the year. I do want to add that this is not all Youtubers as many often promote sustainable brands. Additionally, I don’t want to by any means claim that going on holiday is morally wrong. However, I do think it is important to raise the question: why lecture your audience about reducing their plastic usage, while you go on holiday so frequently, rarely disclosing whether or not to use certain schemes like carbon offsetting to reduce your impact from travelling? I do not wish to get into this issue further, but I hope the main point of hypocrisy is pretty obvious. I don’t want to shame these Youtubers. Their version of ‘environmentally friendly’ is nevertheless problematic. It is that which is most digestible to their lifestyle. With the money that some of them have, it’s much easier to buy a metal water bottle at £20 and eat delicious and nutritious vegan food and be ‘environmental’ in the process. Comparably, it’s much less digestible to consider how frequent travelling and excessive purchasing and promotion of fast fashion companies are equally problematic. Maybe even more so than plastic usage, often for viewers that might have little choice over how their food is packaged and what food they eat. I do want to emphasise, these YouTubers have certainly done a lot to raise wider awareness of being environmentally conscious across the platform. So, kudos to them. Importantly, their efforts are great, and we can always do more to be environmentally friendly and they make great attempts. That is something that should not be taken away from.
The main issue I have, however, is the promotion and purchasing of fast fashion brands by Youtubers that emphasise their efforts to reduce their environmental impact that is a frequent theme in their videos. Why, if you care so much about the environment and ethics do you tell me in one video to be vegan and use metal straws, yet a week later you are showing off your most recent haul from the next biggest fast fashion brand (that may or may not have sponsored you)?. I urge all of these YouTubers to perhaps take a step back and be critical of their consumption habits in this regard. It is particularly problematic to claim you are vegan for the environment when your excessive consumption of fast fashion (probably more than the average consumer) fuels an industry that is one of the most polluting on earth and yet, you don’t have a single video on this. I am tired of being lectured about animal welfare and ethics of the animal product industry when you buy or promote clothes from a fast fashion brand that uses sweatshops, does not pay a decent living wage, violates human rights and contributes to deaths and illnesses from working conditions and poor treatment. How do you think it is fair to care so much about the rights of animals when you care so little about the rights of human beings that make your clothes? You have a very minimal understanding of being environmentally-friendly and ethics if you believe food from animal products to be the only industry on earth that is unethical, kills and pollutes. Your clothes are doing it too.
Furthermore, I have recently seen one YouTuber promoting their own active-wear line that is sustainable and ethical. This is excellent news for sure, especially as it promotes subscribers and followers of this particular YouTuber to consider where their clothing comes from. I raise, however, another issue with this. Isn’t it ironic that the one brand of clothing they promote that is sustainable is their own? The one they will be profiting from. It takes just 5 minutes to go back over their Instagram and Youtube videos to find them continuing to purchase and promote products from unethical, unsustainable fast fashion brands. Surely, you now know about the damaging effects of the fast fashion industry on the planet because you made a whole active-wear line to mitigate this. So why not be consistent with your brand promotion rather than urging subscribers to buy from the one that you created and benefit from? When the planet is at stake, shouldn’t your profits come second? For instance, why have you never promoted sustainable active-wear prior to the creation of your own brand? This just makes very little sense to me if the motives behind a lot of this are exclusively to be environmentally friendly like these individuals claim.
This is not an attempt to say these Youtubers or influencers are being terrible human beings. Their efforts to promote greater awareness of sustainability and environmentalism are excellent. However, the task of saving the environment is far more nuanced than I fear they make out. Doing something will always be better than doing nothing. But, for those who are privileged to have a large platform whereby they can promote more environmentally-friendly behaviours, I urge that they perhaps consider how being more environmentally-friendly for them will not always be digestible, nor fit within the comfort zone of their current lifestyle.