Temperatures and sea levels are rising, weather phenomena are becoming increasingly more extreme and CO2 levels are surging to heights not seen for centuries.

The health of the environment is an issue that needs to be dealt with immediately, and college students and young people everywhere will have to shoulder much of the responsibility. We are, after all, the generation that will inherit this planet and the issues we’ve created.

As Badgers and citizens of the world, every one of us has an opportunity and a responsibility to do what we can.

I’m not going to bother explaining why we should all be driving electric cars, recycling more and avoiding single-use plastics, though we should all be aware those things will help the environment. Whether we do them or not is another story.

What many people may not realize is how their consumption habits affect the well-being of the environment. Possibly the most effective way to help the planet is by supporting companies that are ethically and environmentally sound. Big companies and corporations create more greenhouse gasses and waste than any one person ever could.

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This of course does not mean that we, as individuals, are innocent. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Continuing and maintaining efforts to minimize waste and pollution on a personal level remains an important piece of the process. Investing in reusable items, reducing our water consumption and minimizing our personal carbon footprint are all important steps toward healing the planet.

But there’s also a dire need to change who we buy our products from, thereby forcing the environment’s biggest offenders to change their practices as well. We fund and enable these companies’ destructive mechanisms by buying their products and supporting unsustainable methods of commercialism.

This is especially difficult for college students. It would be easier if all we had to do was cut down our shower time and avoid single-use plastics. Changing shopping habits is much more difficult, especially for young adults with no steady income.

A cheaper price tag usually means it’s bad for the environment. It’s tempting to save money and get three tops from Shein for the price of one over one that’s more ethically and sustainably made. But it’s a responsibility our generation must take on.

Another obstacle is the lack of knowledge as to which companies to avoid. Many companies purposely make it difficult to uncover any details regarding their inner workings and production methods.

A wonderful resource I’ve found is Good On You. This organization has researched and rated hundreds of clothing companies based on their ethical and environmental impact — and popular fast-fashion clothing brand Shein got their lowest possible score.

Other companies to avoid include: 

Pepsi, Coca-Cola and Nestle: The BFFP (Break Free From Plastic) campaign found these three companies to be the highest contributors to plastic pollution in 2018, 2019 and 2020. The campaign found 346,494 individual pieces of plastic waste throughout 55 separate countries worldwide.

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Fairlife Dairy Products (owned by Coca-Cola): In 2019, the Animal Recovery Mission organization released a report on the company detailing the extensive and horrific examples of animal abuse by the company.

Not only does this company have a past of animal abuse, but a study from the University of Oxford found vegan alternatives produce three times fewer gas emissions compared to cow’s milk.

H&M: This company, like so many other fast fashion brands, relies on cheap products. Not only are they polluting the environment in their production, but because of the low clothing quality, they don’t last.

This further promotes the throw-away mentality of fast fashion and adds to the landfills. The company does have a “clothing recycling” program, in which customers can turn in old clothing to be used as recycled materials for new clothing.

This may sound great, but according to H&M’s own sustainability performance report, “less than 1% of garments are recycled into new clothing” (H&M, 2020).

Shein: I have previously mentioned Shein, and like H&M and other fast fashion companies, Shein heavily contributes to the throw-away mentality. They produce cheaply made clothing at an alarming rate. There are items on Shein’s website for as low as $2 and yet, according to Vox, the company made about $10 billion in 2020.

To top it all off, the company has done very little to disprove its negative rumors and continues to be quite convoluted in its processes and production methods.

There are plenty of other environmental offenders in addition to these popular and prevalent brands. But before you give up on any hope of finding sustainable businesses — without breaking the bank — there are plenty of environmentally friendly alternatives including Bite oral hygiene products, Culthread outdoor and activewear, Bhumi loungewear and Nature’s Path food. 

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As we move through the critical decades to come, the fate of our planet and species will be decided. Taking the time to research and support ethical companies is hard, but choosing what is best for the planet is not always easy or convenient.

We cannot keep making decisions based solely on what’s simple for us.

The current mindset in our culture is an unstable combination of putting ease and convenience ahead of the environment, including a self-inflicted denial of the true impact our actions have on the natural world.

Our generation has an obligation to our planet and ourselves to change this toxic cultural pattern and mindset.

The green in our wallets will decide the green in our world. How will you spend yours?

Samantha Stidham ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in Journalism.