Build Empathy, Not Buildings

My wicked problem that I’m reporting on is the effect that advertising has on consumerism, which in turn creates more waste, pollution, and a greater carbon footprint. The Wicked Problems website discusses this level of consumerism and refers to how “differentiation” of products is often called “innovation” when really the newer, “better” product is not in fact better, it has minor changes in usage and possibly a few cosmetic changes. The advertising of these different products then promotes the “newer”, “better”, “faster”, “cutting edge” items and makes the consumer feel lesser-than, unless they have the newest one. It creates lower self-worth in the consumer and due to the instant gratification that our generation thrives on, we play right into their hands and buy these products over and over again even though they are not much different than our current products that more often than not, work perfectly fine. These  working products are usually discarded and are not often reused or recycled, creating more waste. Something that I learned on the Wicked Problems website was that it is incredibly hard to “build” empathy. I think this is one of those issues that requires not only consumers’ empathy, but also empathy from these brands that find their success in their differentiated products in order to scratch the surface to solve it. If companies were required to explain how to discard of their old products in addition to advertising their new ones, it could increase the amount of recycled materials rather than waste in a landfill and could be used in future products since the materials in the future would probably be made from the same kind as the ones they are presently releasing. It would also be interesting to research if there would be a way to measure the waste that a company is contributing as well as the pollution that they create. If there were an efficient way to measure this, it might be interesting to establish a cap-and-trade type system that is referenced in the article “Does the Market Work Better Than Government?”. This cap-and-trade system would apply to the waste produced because of a company and make them responsible for the waste they create by constantly releasing new versions of their existing products. This would also force social entrepreneurship from these brands because they’d have to come up with a way to dispose of their old products effectively and sustainably in order to continue to produce products at the rate they already do or else their brands would face the risk of losing money or even going out of business. A company that displays the definition of social entrepreneurship is thredUp. thredUp is an online thrift store that saw textile waste as a growing issue globally due to fast fashion and took action to reduce this. They provide a service on their website for people to buy and sell clothing so that it is reused instead of being wasted. On their website they have a future scenarios approach as it relates to the Current State Analysis. They define what causes the waste in fast fashion and classify exactly which parts are direct and indirect. By referencing the Circular Fashion Fund non-profit, they are conducting chain analysis. They also assess the impact by informing it’s users how much they can improve the carbon footprint on the planet if everyone bought just one used item as opposed to new this year and they identify the indicators in this step as well by showing the impact. Out of all of these steps, I think they are strongest at pinpointing the influence on human behavior by marketing themselves well and ensuring that brands that are most commonly purchased are on their website so that people are motivated to use this medium instead of buying new. I think the Current State Analysis is a great checklist for social entrepreneurs to stay on track and ensure future success so that wicked problems can be minimized and a difference can be made even if the problem can never be solved entirely. 

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