Sustainable commitment: does Corona make us better people?

Sustainable morality on everyone’s lips

Sustainability and ecological awareness are in vogue, with youth and young adults in particular driving the issues. Generation Greta and the Fridays for Future movement stand for the longing for a green, healthy world without human and animal suffering. But the target groups over 30 are also coming under moral pressure. And in principle, the conscious and critical attitude of the younger generation is perceived as appropriate.

This development was already taking place before Corona, but now it has accelerated rapidly, as some examples from the media show: Breakfast television shows which vegetables you can grow in your own living room. Bee or insect mortality was one of the top media topics before Corona. Before Corona, society talked about particulate matter and the evil automobile industry and demanded car-free inner cities and the long-awaited electromobility that is increasingly shaping our present. According to a recent study, 40 percent of all Europeans are willing to change their behaviour, and many firmly believe that they can make a difference with personal behavioural changes [1].

Where does this change of mood come from?

The cultural upheaval

Psychologically, the debate on sustainability and ecology is a form of mediation that emerged after the last years of maximising consumption. Consumption at any price and according to the motto “I – now – everything – at any time” collapsed with Corona at the latest. Because parallel to the “maximisation culture”, a “reflection culture” developed in which we searched for new leitmotifs and ultimately for the meaning of our own lives. In this context, Corona is to be understood as an emergency brake that helped us to find a new value orientation.

What is the mental experience of sustainability and ecological orientation?

The motives turn out to be particularly tense: On the one hand, people want to demonstrate their own ecological convictions and profess their belief in a desirable, green and suffering-free world. On the other hand, the in-depth interviews that concept m conducted with respondents revealed a lack of concretisation. In many cases, the interviewees resorted to generalities, for example that the “oil industry has had its day” or that “politicians need to wake up and see what is happening to the world”.

The demand for ecological action on the part of every individual is made, with a finger raised morally. The actual illustrations of how this should be done in everyday life, however, focus on a few ingrained behaviours: Separating waste, avoiding rubbish, reducing orders, cycling more. Buying regional products or second-hand fashion are also often mentioned.

Consistent adherence to ecologically or sustainably sound everyday actions turns out to be an ideal that is repeatedly broken in everyday life – in bad weather, the car is used after all, and sometimes online orders on the living room sofa are fun and relieve boredom.

The topic of ecological and sustainable action is therefore tense or fragile and can be explained with depth psychological methods. The following five findings emerge:

  • The commitment to nature and the environment lets the consumer participate in an idealistic value orientation. But in the execution of the sensible intentions, a contradiction often arises with regressive desire, pleasure and convenience.
  • This demonstrative attitude to values is supported by all-encompassing images of nature. Both nature-loving ideas of paradisiacal conditions are developed – or apocalyptic images of destruction are drawn. These world drawings are quasi childlike. The image of the intactness of the world is conveyed in early childhood. Colourful children’s books with happy animals on a romantic farm are or remain the classic explanatory patterns of adults.
  • At present, we are living in a culture of reflection, strengthened by Corona, in which we deal with ourselves much more intensively. This also includes thinking about whether we live in a just world worth living in. However, when the impact of crises is felt personally, sustainability and ecological consciousness are once again pushed into the background. The individual significance can thus diminish in the face of short-time work, unemployment, private setbacks.
  • The corporations are supposed to fix it. Companies act as lightning rods, and all the sustainable misconduct that one does oneself in everyday life is projected onto them. It is not one’s own waste avoidance that is implemented on a daily basis, but instead complaints are made about the “big packages” that industry makes us buy.
  • The concrete implementation of one’s own environmental commitment often ends up in a grinding into individual actions. The sense of one’s own activities for the betterment of the world can thus be increasingly questioned.

Conclusion: The topic of ecological, sustainable action appears highly attractive to many people at first glance, but is ambivalent in consequence. Personal reassurance can best take place when we engage in moral comparisons and settlements with other people. Then we usually do better “than the general public”.

More information on sustainability and Corona at: rochus.winkler@conceptm.eu

[1]  Source: Die Welt, 12.03.2021, “‘Youth’ apparently ticks quite differently than ‘Fridays for Future'”, https://www.welt.de/wirtschaft/plus227876251/Klimaschutz-Die-Jugend-tickt-offenbar-anders-als-Fridays-for-Future.html

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