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Illustration by Quim Parades

Consumer Power at NYUAD

With limited choices on campus, how can students purchase responsibly?

At any given moment throughout the day, you might be faced with the inexplicably hard decision of what to do with your money. You might stroll into the convenience store and debate the intricacies and merits of different kinds of laundry detergent or you might just say, “Who cares? It’s fake money” and take whatever your heart pleases. Although we do receive generous quantities of campus dirhams, we still have to consider what our choices mean on a larger scale and outside the realm of being able to afford to eat at the Marketplace instead of Campus East Dining Hall.
Given the small community at the university, the market for certain products can be radically shifted with a change in preferences of a small number of individuals which, relative to other universities, would probably not have the same effect.
The convenience store and food options on campus might seem limited, with a narrow range of options to satisfy a wide range of preferences. However, the increasing student population and a rising number of vegans and vegetarians has led to a wider selection of food options available at Campus East Dining Hall.
Among the many choices that we make throughout the day, many of them have negative effects on the environment. NYU Abu Dhabi has taken steps to become more sustainable, but the options available on campus are still heavily reliant on packaging and single-use plastics. Enacted policies on campus have come from lobbying by student groups or work done by committees.
The banning of Al Ain 500 milliliter water bottles caused mixed reactions throughout the student body, with some going so far as to assert that the positive effects of reduced plastic use were not worth the inconvenience. The ban was controversial for a number of reasons, but primarily because student demand for the bottles was considerably high. In the end, students have shifted to purchasing the 1.5 liter bottles or carrying their own reusable water bottles.
The convenience store poses a problem for students who want to live a more sustainable life. While offering a limited range of products, the convenience store caters to most of students’ needs. Students wishing to reduce their plastic consumption may turn away from convenience store products and look to outside sources to cater to their needs. However, the loss of these customers is outweighed by the general demand for the products already in the convenience store by a much more substantive portion of the student population.
When doing semesters abroad, students go through a very different experience than life on the Abu Dhabi campus. The lack of a structured meal plan and campus dirhams forces students to use cash and move away from the comfortable consumption on campus, but it also exposes them to a wider range of products and choices.
“Studying away, you can always find stores that cater to very specific group of people, so if there was a particular product that I had to get, I could easily go to that store,” said Rashtra Bandari, Class of 2019.
On a larger scale and outside the realm of dining halls and Starbucks, the way we choose to use our money also has very real consequences. The bottom line when shopping today is that evaluating based solely on cheapest available price is a risk, as there is more to purchasing than just picking up a shirt at Yas Mall and taking it home. That shirt, if bought at fast fashion stores like H&M, Bershka and Zara, has most likely been produced in environmentally damaging processes and at the expense of poorly paid workers. Although basic economic principles state that no consumer acting individually can shift market demand, choosing where and what to spend your money on should not be taken lightly.
“People that don't take actions to change their consumption patterns typically say ‘my decision will not make a difference’. In some way, we are trapped in a collective dilemma,” shared Andrzej Baranski, Assistant Professor of Economics at NYUAD.
He added, “Individuals find it costly to change their habits. If they believe that changing their habits will result in a negligible gain for society but a meaningful cost for them, then they rationally decide to stick with their habit.”
These consequences of our spending habits have had the spotlight on them for a while now, with companies and producers responding to the consumers’ outrage in ways that can be considered positive. Clothing brands like Patagonia and People Tree are leading the way with their sustainable and environmentally friendly business practices. Bamboo toothbrushes and sustainable menstruation products have become widely popular but the main problem with all of these movements lies in trust.
“How can consumers verify that indeed the goods were produced as the label says? In the end, anyone can write ‘we treat suppliers fairly’ in their coffee bags because fairness is a subjective concept. Eco-labels came up as a solution to this consumer trust issue; a third party would verify if the producer followed certain steps to deserve the label,” Baranski commented.
However, this solution has posed its own challenges to socially-conscious consumers.
“The problem today is that there are many organizations providing eco-labels.Which is the eco-label consumers should trust?” Baranski pointed out.
At the end of the day, it comes down to the individual priorities of each student and the available information. Whether students chose to live a more proactively sustainable lifestyle or focus solely on their convenience in light of uncertainty affects our long-term goal of having an environmentally friendly campus. While taking responsibility for one’s purchases is admirable, not all students have the level of knowledge required to buy from ethical and environmentally sustainable companies.
Mari Velasquez-Soler is Deputy Features Editor. Email her at
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