Better Ugly Than Never
A Sustainable Future Begins Now
It's unfortunate how shame obscures our self-worth. When I was younger, I was embarrassed by the implications of my mother's recycling habits. I didn't have the luxury of daily meals from the school's canteen, so there were days I brought lunch from home.
I didn't look forward to those days. It meant bringing lunch in an old ice-cream container. There was a distinct sense of shame when I thought of how my friends perceived this act.
Poor, cheap. Lower class.
As an adult I now recognized there is nothing inherently shameful in giving single-use containers a second life. Given the choice I'd choose an old ice-cream container over single use styrofoam any day, but I wonder how many carry the same shame that would have discouraged me from recycling in the past.
You see, my mother always considered the implications of discarding single-use plastic containers. "Such a waste", I can imagine her saying. I suppose this aversion towards contributing to landfills suppressed any bouts of shame. So regardless of how I once construed this act — be it "poor" or "cheap" or "miserly" — it undeniably stemmed from the same motivation that inspires many ethical companies today. If "single-use" is the enemy, 'multiple use' is the antidote, and 'life-time' use is the cure.
It's easy to see how this conflicts with the market trends of our day. Businesses, ethical or not, need to sell to sustain themselves. And when push comes to shove it may well mean encouraging the same consumerist tendencies ethical businesses try so hard to avoid. So while 'life-time use' may help slow down climate change, it could mean the end of many ethical businesses trying to do the right thing.
As a middle class consumer, I struggle with this conundrum. The future of sustainability is complex. Politicians and corporations often place the burden of environmental responsibility on us consumers: stop using plastic straws, carry reusable shopping bags, recycle everything. It’s overwhelming to think the burden of keeping the world alive rests on our shoulders.
And yet we must remember the potential of our collective impact for good. As consumers, we vote with our wallets. Sustainability doesn't have to be pretty but it has to start now.
So here's a challenge: start ugly.
There is absolutely no shame in choosing sustainability over aesthetics. No reusable container? Choose to repurpose a single-use container to carry your fruits or salad. Left over bags from the store? Bring them with you the next time you shop, crumpled as they may be.
Out of this you'll form an emboldened identity; a certain boldness that comes from rejecting shame. A heightened drive in rejecting market forces. And self-affirmation that you're not just in it for the aesthetics. You're in it for the long haul.
When sustainability is viewed as an aesthetic, we run the risk of it being temporary; for 'aesthetic's sake'. But when viewed as a life-style, it becomes all accommodating: every action edifies our collective efforts. We begin by eradicating the shame of ugly and, instead, magnifying the action of sustainability. That is the future we should strive for.
Daniel is a content strategist, film maker, and writer. Before moving into content strategy, he co-directed Jubileo: A Parable of Christian Fellowship (2020, Docs Without Borders Film Festival), a film birthed from his curiosity in religion and its role in shaping culture. As a writer, Daniel is curious about marketplace trends, and examines the need for an ethical backdrop in guiding social progress.