26 Oct Is the way you scroll harming the planet? How social media could prevent a sustainable future
By Bethany Austin.
As recent TikTok converts, we certainly understand the pull of scrolling! For many of us, hopping onto social media for a few minutes (or hours…) has become second nature. Checking in with friends and people we follow to see what they’ve been up to. Using platforms for inspiration and education. Or just wandering through Twitter as a way to procrastinate.
Whatever the reason we use it, we can’t see the time most of us spend on social media dropping any time soon.
Whilst the potentially damaging mental and physical health impacts of scrolling have been discussed at length and are still being explored, at Wearth we’ve been thinking about social media from a different perspective recently: We’ve been considering how it might be impacting the planet.
Truth is, in a world where around 45% of the population is online, businesses know the power of digital marketing. And whilst that alone is no bad thing, it’s not difficult to see how the scales can tip and social media become a tool for fueling a level of consumerism that is damaging our planet.
We’re being sold to more than ever before
Back in the 1970s, it’s estimated that people saw between 500 and 1,600 adverts a day. As if that number isn’t high enough already, with the advent of the internet, today it sits at around 5,000 per day. Yes. 5,000 adverts in only 24 hours!
However, they’re no longer just plastered onto billboards or in magazines based on general demographics. They’re highly personalised. They’re shown on your screen based everything from what device you’re using and where you live, to what content you’re interacting with online and who you follow. Almost every advert you see is tailored in some way to you.
But what has this got to do with the planet?
Well, one of the biggest foundations of more sustainable living is to only buy what you truly need. Buying less simply means less waste. It means you don’t throw away products bought on a whim that you don’t need. It means fewer carbon emissions producing and transporting items unnecessarily. And it means less packaging, too! If everybody took on the mentality of only purchasing things that they actually love or will get use out of, it would be a huge, huge step in the direction of a more eco-conscious world.
However, social media makes that one bit harder.
We’re constantly being bombarded with advertisements for things that we may not have even known existed. Suddenly we feel like we need to buy a whole lot more than we did when we started scrolling. And that’s something our planet certainly doesn’t need!
How are we being influenced?
Let’s not forget that adverts don’t stop at the ones that are so obviously adverts, either. Influencers are also a huge part of the digital marketing landscape. And it’s not hard to see why: Businesses are making $5.20 for every $1 spent on this marketing form, plus the affiliate marketing sector is worth more than $12 billion.
It’s a massively lucrative industry, on the part of creators and businesses alike.
Whilst there’s obviously nothing inherently wrong with someone using their impact online to sell products, it certainly does add to the pressures that we face to consume more as individuals. Plus, whether the influencers know it or not, a lot of the companies that are advertised through sponsorships are unethical and unsustainable.
Take fast fashion brands, for example. The tag #OOTD (Outfit of the Day) has over 325 million posts to date, many of which are sponsored and feature fast fashion brands. Companies like this are known to be harming the planet: Polluting waterways through the dyeing process, creating masses of waste and producing the equivalent to 1.2 billion tonnes of Co2. Plus, they often use unsafe and unethical labour practices, meaning that by buying from them, we risk supporting the mistreatment of workers.
This isn’t just true within fashion, of course. Whatever the niche - beauty, interiors, parenting, food - there’s the potential to promote companies that are actively harming people and the planet. So, whilst increased consumption is a problem in itself, it’s many of the brands that we’re being encouraged to buy from (or, worse, to “haul”) that are even more of a problem.
Using influence for good: The eco-conscious creators that are changing the way we scroll
Like we said though, being an influencer isn’t inherently negative. In fact, there are a whole host of online creators that are using their platforms to actively change the way we think about consumption.
Need proof? Take a look at just a handful of the ethical and sustainable influencers out there that are creating content that is literally planet-changing...
Venetia La Manna: Venetia is a slow fashion campaigner who encourages people to shop secondhand or ethically, as well as to only buy what they truly love and need. She shines a light on the realities of fast fashion, never wavering in her morals.
Aja Barber: As a slow Fashion activist and educator, Aja has a wealth of knowledge on sustainability and is constantly teaching her followers how to buy better.
Genesis Butler: At just 13, Genesis is already a big vegan activist for the planet, the animals and people, “because we’re all connected”. She gives us a huge amount of hope for the future of social media!
Nicole | Eco With Nico: Nicole shares conscious living, slow fashion and sustainability-based content, proving that you don’t have to be perfect to make progress as someone on a journey to more eco-friendly living.
Monika Poppy: With reviews and tips on sustainable living, Monika is the expert that you may be looking for to guide you towards a more low-waste and ethical lifestyle.
Whilst social media certainly does have the power to harm the planet indirectly, it also has massive potential to positively influence our habits. It can be a brilliant platform to share knowledge, to impact the way that others think and to open minds to being more ethical and sustainable in everyday life.
For the time being, it’s our responsibility as individuals to support ethical influencers and to be aware of the way that we are influenced on social media. In doing so, we can create an online space that promotes helping the planet, as opposed to harming it.