Shopping for Good: The Sustainable Development Goals and You

UN Sustainable Development Goals

Have you heard of the Sustainable Development Goals? Chances are, no, because neither had I, until I started working as a summer marketing intern for RubyMoon.

This is probably because our every day lives are saturated with the immediacy of buy now, think later, and very often sustainability is neither at the forefront of production lines nor consumption choices. Fashion, food, technology – it’s all getting faster, leaving us with increasingly less time to consider how it may have arrived in this shop, on that plate or in our hand and what actually goes into making it. The fashion industry is now the second largest polluter in the world, second only to that of oil, and its environmental impact is more than a little frightening.

The Sustainable Development Goals are a new and universal list of 17 goals that want to slow the pace of this whirlwind consumer culture, instead redrawing the focus to spotlight the potential for the more wholesome and equal existence of a global society. These goals hold huge promise for good, especially within the fashion industry, and were set at the UN Sustainable Development Summit in late 2015, to be used by member states to frame their policies and agendas over the next 15 years. Some of the goals include ending poverty and hunger, and ensuring the health and well-being of all, reducing inequalities within and among countries, achieving gender equality, and ensuring sustainable consumption and production patterns that favour the wellbeing of all humans and ecosystems. At a simple level, these goals want to make humans, their societies, and their environments happier, helping them to live more equal and self-sufficient existences.

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What is surprising is how quickly these goals are able to move from an abstract to a concrete level, through only a little bit of research and making small changes to shop a little more sustainably – something I have only realised since beginning my work with RubyMoon. On a grand scale, ideas such as – to take the first goal of the seventeen – to ‘end poverty in all its forms everywhere’ may seem a little daunting at best. However, in my short time so far working for the company, I have realised that it is in the many small steps towards this larger end goal that progress is made. At the centre of RubyMoon comes the idea of female empowerment; the 5th SDG, which wants to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’. This goal is particularly important because it is women who are so often in charge of household spending, and furthermore, as RubyMoon’s own director Jo Godden identifies, it is women who are most likely to then spend that income on improvements in the health, nutrition and education of the whole family, but particularly children. In this respect, the empowerment of women organically contributes to the ending of poverty and hunger, improved nutrition, health and wellbeing, and the education of all ages from the individual outwards – the first four SDGs.

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RubyMoon is a unique business that is able to help to achieve this because all profits from the sale of its garments are invested to provide small loans to women in developing countries. These loans, which can be from as little as £15, enable women to develop and stabilise their own occupations and businesses, providing them with a reliable means to securing their own income. As opposed to charity, micro finance (the umbrella term for the lending of small amounts of money to entrepreneurs and businesses in the developing world) then enables women and their families to become more self-sufficient and empowered in lifting themselves slowly but surely out of poverty. And it does not end there. Once the loans are repaid, all monies are reinvested into RubyMoon, expanding the company’s range, to reach a wider market and hence give out more loans. The company’s own goal of supporting and improving the lives of 36,000 women by 2025 then becomes one contributive piece in the puzzle for a better global future.

At a corporate level, RubyMoon and other similarly ethical, eco-friendly companies are beginning to implement a new and positive dynamic within the fashion industry, fulfilling many of the SDGs along the way. And at an individual level, these companies empower us, too. In being given choice, we are also given the power to make a difference. As environmental consciousness has become more embedded in our everyday lives, measures such as turning off lights, recycling or reducing food waste have become habitual. So why shouldn’t we also be able to make a difference through our choices as consumers? The good news is, we can. Instead of buying a bikini from a high street store that will last the two week beach break in Turkey but then begin to sag a bit on the bum, lose its elasticity around the neck, or discolour from the sea and the sand, the ethical options provided by sustainable fashion companies such as RubyMoon are intended to last much longer (5 times longer, to be precise). Sustainable fashion is designed specifically to give you far more wear for your money (and far less frustration as you won’t feel like you have to buy a new bikini every year).

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This is because one hugely important factor in making fashion more eco-friendly is reducing the amount of waste that is produced by individuals as well as companies themselves. According to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), prolonging the life of our clothes is the single biggest thing that can be done to reduce the negative environmental impact of the clothing industry, and extending the active life of our clothes by just 9 months would reduce water, carbon and waste footprints by 20-30% each. This statistic is shocking because it proves that if we were all to shop a little smarter, we could radically change the way that the fashion industry impacts on the environment, saving ourselves money at the same time. So, all in all, it’s a win-win situation. Through shopping ‘for good’, and supporting more ethical and sustainable brands like RubyMoon, we can not only continue to do our bit for the environment – whilst at the same time even offering a leg up to families in developing countries – but we even get a better deal in terms of design and durability, with products lasting far better in the long run. With a little bit of research, shopping sustainably becomes a small and easy, but incredibly rewarding step that we can all make towards a greener, brighter future.

SDGs images sourced from: http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/sdgoverview/post-2015-development-agenda.html

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