A Call To Action: Sustainability ≠ Accessibility (But Shouldn't It?)

 “What an ignorant thing to say…” Was the response I received from a friend who is on disability, like myself, after they witnessed a conversation in which a fellow sustainability advocate informed me that making sustainable choices cannot be considered a privilege, because they are often cheaper long-term than unsustainable alternatives. They then went on to inform me that applying inclusive thought processes to an expediated program model is not "practical."

Unfortunately, this capitalist-driven interpretation of privilege – or lack thereof – seems to be present in many of our sustainability industries. Upcycling, low-emissions appliances, electric vehicles, working from home to limit emissions, and sustainable eating becoming the trend of the wealthy is certainly a turn from past decades, when it would have been lower-income families utilizing – and often being scorned for – second-hand and patched clothing, dresses made from drapes, recipes that call for scraps from other meals, and rationing gas and energy use.

Today, we have even imposed additional taxes on our vulnerable communities for not being able to keep up with our idealized version of sustainability – Larger deposits on necessary items like milk and juice are examples of this, as primarily it is those with mobility, the capability of coping with high-demand and high-capacity tasks, and the resources of a vehicle (and gas and insurance where applicable) that are functionally eligible to return these costly containers and receive that money back. This is especially true for families, who may need to bring children or dependents with them to complete return processes. Further to this, additional taxes and penalties leveraged on those who cannot afford the upfront costs of an electric vehicle only push people farther away from being able to afford the upgrades we credit ourselves with encouraging.

Inclusive models may require longer start-up times dedicated to planning, branding and testing, but considering accessibility from the start saves valuable resources down the line, when initial results plateau and we are left with a population that cannot contribute to global goals and initiatives, and as a result our long term goals cannot be met.


  • Is my ask out of reach for vulnerable communities? If so, how could this be mitigated?
    • Ie. If you're asking corporations to encourage biking to work or plant-based food choices, suggest they include a purchasing allowance for employees within their budget for roll-out!
  • Is my ask directly depriving vulnerable communities from the opportunity to participate?
    • Ie. If a jurisdiction or building official is asking for donated relocated homes to be brought up to new home code standards against the recommendation of the National Model Codes, they are directly barring access to an affordable, waste and emissions reducing housing option. (See the report on GHG emissions in construction / demolition here if you want to learn more!)
  • Have I surveyed people in vulnerable communities to learn their concerns, strengths and challenges?
  • Are there resources already available that would make my ask accessible for larger audiences, but that hasn't been adequately marketed? How can I support education and awareness of these resources in symbioses with my own advertising and community relations?
  • Can I reverse engineer the results I'm striving for across multiple avenues to create options that cater to differing abilities, sensory challenges, learning styles, and environments?

Sustainability, zero waste and the circular economy will remain unfeasible as long as we are gatekeeping it from such large portions of our population. It's time to remove the gates and bridge the gap - Complete with ramps, handrails, and warm LED lighting, of course.

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