Is our addiction to Instagram helping or harming the movement for a better world?
1 billion people use Instagram every month, and 500 million of those users are on the app daily. Young people are particularly active on the app, with 71% of Instagram users globally under the age of 35. The photo sharing platforming is now a global force: no longer just a place for sharing photos of your breakfast. But is the worldwide obsession with Instagram having an impact on sustainable development? And if so, is it for the better – or is the pursuit of likes and followers damaging the movement to protect our planet?
‘Fast Fashion’ – the process of buying cheap, on trend clothes only to dispose of them before their useable life is over – is big business on Instagram. Top bloggers are reportedly earning up to £360,000 a year from sponsored posts and brand endorsements, largely from clothing and accessories companies seeking to promote their latest designs. Shopping is no longer contained to the high street or to online stores; it’s all over Instagram. We can ‘swipe up’ to shop our favourite blogger’s new t-shirt instantly. We might not be able to skip a week of University and jet off to Bali like the models we see posting on the app, but maybe we can buy a cheap new dress with the discount code they’re providing.
When we consider recent trends such as neon and cycling shorts (which unfortunately for sustainability, are not being worn to encourage people to ride bicycles more), however, we might not just be considering crimes against fashion but the planet too. Last year, British people threw away £12.5 billion worth of clothes, meaning 300,000 tons of unwanted textiles found their way to landfill from the UK alone. The clothing industry is reportedly the second most polluting in the world, responsible for the contamination of our rivers, greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation, to name a few. If that isn’t problem enough, the industry could be making up a quarter of the Earth’s carbon budget by 2050. Promotion and advertising from brands and influencers that encourages the mindless disposable culture of fashion is undoubtedly harming our planet.
But equally, brands and products that are created in a sustainable way can take advantage of the marketing opportunity Instagram presents. ‘@MindBodyGreen’ is a sustainable lifestyle account with over 700,000 followers, posting about sustainable food and mindful consumerism. The hashtag ‘#sustainable’ has over 4.7 million posts, allowing users to browse through products, recipes and lifestyle images all relating to sustainability.
But Instagram isn’t just influencers and brands posting about stuff we can buy. There are numerous accounts aiming to raise awareness of climate change and sustainability, too. ‘@Everydayclimatechange’ posts photos from a ‘diverse group of photographers’ that document climate change and the account has 126,000 followers, and The UN Climate Change account has 323,000 followers. 51% with access to the internet use social media as a news source: sustainability related accounts on platforms like Instagram may be educating users who follow them on the latest climate change news, without needing to actively search for information from more traditional news sources. Extinction Rebellion, a UK climate change protest movement, has also used Instagram and other social media platforms to advertise their events, beliefs and stream videos live from their protests. Direct action protests obviously don’t need Instagram to be a success; the platforms can, however, be employed to the advantage of groups trying to create a more sustainable future.
Like many things in life, Instagram isn’t inherently entirely bad or totally good, especially in the context of sustainability. The premise of the app, that people can post and follow what they find interesting, means that if users choose it to be, an Instagram feed could be a useful and easy place to find sustainability tips and products. However, the necessity of action to combat climate change and the destruction of our planet means big social media companies like Instagram need to take climate change and sustainability seriously, and consider how their platforms can support the essential changes we need to make to our lifestyles more sustainable
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