Major social issues as they relate to our consumption
Many social issues overlap with environmental issues because problems with natural resources inevitably lead to social issues. Water pollution from irresponsible activities will damage the eco systems of nearby waterways, jeopardize the public’s ability to use that water for drinking and for other natural resources such as fishing.
Our consumption has an indirect impact on the quality of life of others because our demand for products drives the need to produce them. As companies compete for the lowest prices and highest profit margins, social responsibility often takes a back seat. They cut costs by neglecting the environment and communities in which they produce their goods.
Conscious consumers actively seek to reduce their use of products that are known to have a negative social impact. One product can have a multitude of social impacts and everyone has their opinions on which ones are most important. Some of the big issues driven by consumption include:
Labor – Working Conditions
The textile industry is the most common example of unfair labor practices because it’s the most relatable. Textile manufacturers cut costs to be more competitive and it comes at the expense of their workers. Sweatshops have long be uncovered by journalists, exposing the unethical practices of suppliers.
Clean Water – Pollution
An estimated 780 million people don’t have access to clean water. Our consumption of products like textiles indirectly drives the use and pollution of water. It can take around 700 gallons of water to produce one cotton shirt and the textile industry is the second biggest polluter next to oil.
Directly, our consumption of water for landscaping, showering, drinking, etc. is highly political and has environmental repercussions. Southern California draws the majority of its water from the central California valley which has been dried up, literally and figuratively.
Waste – Food
Our extensive consumption leads to extensive waste build up. It’s estimated that 40% of all food produced in the US is wasted. This presents a massive social problem (as well as environmental). 49.1 million americans live in food insecure households, yet households throw away 15-20% of the food we purchase.