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Is Sustainability The Answer To The Cost-of-Living Crisis?

Jen Ramm looks at how adopting more sustainable practices can help mitigate the effects of the cost of living crisis. 

In Britain, the growing cost of living crisis in Britain has significantly affected the daily lives of many individuals. Simply put, the cost of everyday essentials is rising faster than the average household income. Unsurprisingly, this has caused a plethora of issues. For example, food banks have seen an uptake in those in need of support, while people are cutting back on meals and heating to survive this period of economic uncertainty. It’s understandable that many people have found themselves at a loss coping with this.  

“The cost of living crisis is having an impact on how people shop, get around, and live. Sustainable practices often align with what’s best for both people’s wallets and the environment,” says Stuart Dawks, Chief Executive Officer for Peterborough Environment City Trust (PECT). Right now, it’s safe to assume that most people are focused on just getting by – rather than ensuring that their shopping is ethical or sustainable, they’re more concerned that it is as inexpensive as possible. As it happens, the two can go hand in hand. Conscious consumerism involves making informed shopping decisions and inadvertently benefiting the economy, the environment, and society. It could be argued that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, but organisations such as PECT are keen to enforce the idea of conscious consumerism and show that it is more than a trend. “We work to protect and enhance the environment – making a difference now and for the future,” as PECT pledges on its website. 

In order to afford rising energy bills over the past few years, many families across Britain were forced to sacrifice warm, heated houses. The Energy Security and Net Zero Committee found that from 2022 – 2023, there were “4,706 excess winter deaths caused by living in a cold, damp home in England, Scotland and Wales.” Energy prices have since fallen, but remain relatively high in comparison to prior years. Putting forward quick fixes to such an extensive problem could be unreasonable; members of the general public who are suffering, as a result, should not be expected to find the solution. Still, Dawks explains that there are a handful of methods that will help people to manage. “Being mindful of energy consumption, individuals can save on both carbon emissions and financial costs. Simple steps like turning off lights when not needed, using energy-efficient appliances, and insulating homes properly can lead to substantial savings.” UK fuel prices have dramatically increased too. Figures from RAC Fuel Watch have recently shown that “petrol prices increased by 4p per litre to 144.76ppl, which means the cost of a full tank of an average 55-litre family car now stands at £79.62 – £2 higher than in January 2024.” There are ways to combat this though, as Dawks says, “walking, cycling, or using public transportation are greener alternatives to driving alone in a car. Not only do these options benefit the environment by reducing emissions, but they also promote better health for individuals.”

Interestingly, the climate crisis and the cost of living crisis exist symbiotically; the two issues, unfortunately, go hand in hand. On a global level, the cost of living is escalated by climate change since the side effects of the climate crisis, such as extreme weather conditions, floods, and wildfires, all disrupt supply chains and even food production. But fast fashion is one of the main contributors to the climate crisis; excessive and quick clothing production is known to provoke global warming and plastic pollution. Shopping second-hand could be a remedy for this. “Charity shops, online marketplaces for used goods, and community swaps are excellent ways to find quality products at lower prices,” Dawks explains. Almost half (48%) of people in England and Wales are shopping more in charity shops or considering doing so due to the rising cost of living (Civil Society Media, 2023). ‘Thrifting’ is now in vogue; people are no longer embarrassed to wear, upcycle and repair preloved items. It’s widely accepted that Generation Z (born from 1997 – 2012) has spearheaded this movement. They are not only being internet savvy and consistently sharing their outfits or charity shop clothing hauls on social media, but they also have a grasp on the climate emergency. Their online activism in this area is often belittled as ‘wokeism’; figureheads such as Greta Thunberg receive patronising messages. Ultimately, it is up to the younger generation to future-proof our planet as best as possible. Similarly, Dawks highlights that “initiatives like the Peterborough Repair Cafe encourage people to repair and reuse items rather than buy new ones. Repairing electronics, clothing, or household goods not only extends their lifespan but also reduces the need to purchase replacements.” 

The narrative that sustainable products and services are on the more expensive side isn’t always correct, and more people, of all ages, are beginning to realise this. Once prices balance out and people’s wages are changed to match, there are hopes that the effects of the cost of living crisis will be lessened. But until then, sustainability – using what you already have, and considering your own environmental impact – could serve as a panacea in the meantime. “By championing sustainable practices, we can leave a lasting legacy for future generations while creating greener, happier, and healthier places for all.” 

Green initiatives local to Peterborough:


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