The systems aren't actually broken: A Stanley cup fueled rage, turned introspection
The hot topic across the internet at the moment is Stanley cups. It seems everyone is talking about them, but the discussions are vastly different.
There’s the discussion of their rise to fame thanks to a blog post, and how creative marketing targeted to the right audience can make all the difference in sales. And tied to that is how our market is so unpredictable that it’s hard to keep up with the hot new item that burns hot and then seems to disappear. This then lends to whether small businesses can keep up with the viral fads because even if they are able to get a piece of the pie, the ability to scale exponentially overnight is costly and unsustainable, especially if the obsession is going to burn out and the business will no longer need (or be able to afford) the space and team expansions that were vital to keeping up with the overnight trend.
Then there’s of course the folks who are discussing where to get them and which colors are coming out next. This group tends to then split into two mindsets, one, discussing how many colors and variations they personally have in their coveted collections, and the other, discussing how much they can make in profit if they sell the sought after items on the secondary/reseller market.
But the folks I’m seeing most across my media feeds are the earth-minded folks who are aghast, frustrated, and befuddled. We’re aghast by the obsession of yet another overpriced, trendy product taking over the marketplace. We’re frustrated that shoppers don’t support small businesses with the fervor that they do for these overnight trends. And we’re befuddled by the fact that this is yet another trending drink container in a long line of trendy drink containers. Before Stanley there was Yeti, before Yeti there was Hydroflask, and before Hydroflask there was Nalgene. Not to mention that somewhere in the mix was Tervis.
I found myself frustrated and ranting about the folks who are buying these cups and not supporting small businesses or shopping second hand for their water bottles and cups. But then a reality check came from an unsuspecting source - an Instagram story shared by Shannon of Hello Alice (a lovely local artist who offers activism fueled art!) The post said “How bout ya’ll be a little softer with one another and a lot harder on the systems” – a post shared by Instagrammer @lavitaloca34 quoting a June 22nd post from @spirited_justice – yes it’s important for me to tag these folks so that their voices are amplified and I’m not stealing their words which inspired and reality-checked me.
So back to the realization! These activists were speaking to different topics, timely to when they posted, but the sentiment of the words is pertinent all the same… The reminder to be softer to the folks who are simply living within broken systems. Or rather, well oiled machines, that work fabulously well as far as systems go, but are fueled by capitalism, consumerism, industrialisation, and greed. (As well as racism and profiting off those less fortunate.) Those systems are preying on humanity in order to feed their insatiable hunger for money and power.
The people, who in this case are buying the Stanley cup (or insert other trendy item here), are simply responding to the capitalistic system that preys on consumer behavior. When we take a moment to look behind the scenes, it’s clear that folks are simply trying to meet their needs of community, achievement, and fulfillment. We have been trained to never feel “good enough” and so we’re always yearning to feel “better”. We have been trained that those needs can be met by consumerism and purchasing the “it” thing, that happens to be a little pricey, but not so pricey that it’s considered “luxury goods” and out of reach. Unfortunately, the purchases will never make us feel better for longer than an instant.
The systems are strong. They are founded on generations of successful psychological manipulation (which sounds terrible, but really is the foundation of marketing); and are fed by the weakened willpower of a humanity that has been systematically beaten down for generations.
BUT WE ARE STRONG TOO! We stand on the shoulders of the activists who came before us - people who have changed the world in profound ways. In just the last 120 years:
- Women have been granted the right to vote in several countries
- Regulations regarding working conditions and minimum wage pay was implemented in the US
- Lawful segregation ended in the US
- The first woman elected head of government was elected as recently as 1960 (Sirimavo Bandaranaike was elected Prime Minister of Sri Lanka)
- Sweden was the first country to allow transgender individuals to legally change their gender
- American women were given the right to an abortion (Although there’s some back sliding about this in the US currently, The United Nation states that women have the right to make “their own decisions about their pregnancy”)
- Apartheid ended in South Africa
- Same-sex marriage has been legalized in several countries, beginning with the Netherlands in 2001
- The ban was lifted in Saudi Arabia that prevented women from driving
- Women in the US and other countries can now have credit cards and bank accounts in their own names without needing a man to vouch for them
- Cannabis was decriminalized and/or legalized in many states within the US
You can read more about most of these and several other activism wins in this Business Insider article entitled 21 of the Most Important Human Rights Milestones in the Last 100 Years from 2018.
It’s easy to forget that these huge, systemic changes occurred quite recently in the grand scheme of things. Although it’s easy to take them for granted, I want to encourage you to remember how much change can occur in such a short time. And how things that people never thought would change, did. This can fuel our hope and drive toward change.
Change is possible, and systems CAN be reformatted. There is a reason that the trendy product right now is “sustainable and reusable” - sustainability is hot and the big businesses know that single-use items aren’t as marketable anymore. Even Stanley talks about how they’re “committed to making at least 50% of their stainless steel products from recycled materials by 2025” – (but note how they don’t talk about their current statistics.) This is a prime example of potential greenwashing and has me skeptical. They DO however tout their sustainable actions and have reports on their website, which is admirable. Another thing they note is how durable their goods are and how they’re designed to last for a lifetime - with replaceable parts even! THAT is notable. And yet… the consumers, instead of buying one for life, feel they need to collect them. And instead of using the cup for life, they will inevitably switch out to the new hot item when it dances in front of them on social media in a few months. This behavior is still a product of the fucked up systems that we exist within, and is likely a result of the marketing that Stanley is putting out there, despite their claims of sustainability.
All that to say, if Stanley is touting sustainability, it’s a sign that big businesses know that sustainability as a consumer value is on the rise. And if it is on the rise, it means that we currently exist within the swell of the waves of change! If we continue to vote with our dollars and put our money where our values are, then we will be able to force change from the big businesses who are directly ingrained in the systems we’d like to break, and potentially rebuild - but better.
Bit by bit, purchase by purchase, un-bought trendy cup by un-bought trendy cup… we can do this! We can create system changes - there is absolutely hope for a better future.
And with that…
Let’s grow greener together!