July 25, 2021

Diversity in Sustainability: A New Series

An introduction to my new series on Intentional Living, and why Diversity in Sustainability is so important.

Above image taken in collaboration with Rupahaus

The choice to live sustainably is a privileged one.

It doesn’t matter if you’re passionate about sustainable fashion, garment workers being paid a living wage, organic produce or zero waste living. This is a lifestyle choice that involves a degree of privilege.

And it’s not just economic.

Ideas about sustainability in the Global North have failed to be inclusive. They’ve failed to recognise the importance of diversity in sustainability and the unique challenges faced by those who aren’t able-bodied, who aren’t slender, whose skin isn’t white, whose hometowns don’t have clean tap water, whose budgets don’t allow for fresh, organic produce… the list goes on. 

The great irony is that climate change is global, and if the sustainable living community is really serious about saving the planet we call home, it needs to recognise the importance of the collective. There is no time for judgement or for power politics, instead we need to form communities and coalitions. Most importantly, we need to make space for voices from all walks of life.

This series, the Intentional Living Series, is one small attempt to reconcile this oversight, one story at a time.

DIVERSITY IN SUSTAINABILITY: INTRODUCING THE INTENTIONAL LIVING SERIES

The Intentional Living Series will be a series of interviews and photoshoots with diverse womxn from across the globe, discussing their efforts to live intentionally. We talk openly about our struggles and our passions when it comes to sustainable & ethical living, as well as the challenges of intentional living in different settings around the world.

It is my great hope that sharing these stories will open up the space of sustainable and ethical living, making it more accessible and understanding of difference.

Unexpected Beginnings: A personal reckoning

A couple of years ago, I was stunned to find myself in the midst of a small social media storm. A friend of mine had commented on the post of a clothing brand that promoted themselves as sustainable and diverse. Her question was simple – did they have plans to feature womxn of colour anytime soon, or is it something they were open to working on?

The brand’s response? An intense rant telling my friend that she knew nothing about running a small business and as a white woman, why did she even care. The brand publicly shamed her, tagging her small personal account in their stories and encouraging their 10,000 strong following to go after her.

A few friends and I commented in support, reaffirming that we just wanted to support brands who are inclusive. The brand then shared a public Instagram post, tagging us all, and declaring we’d started a witch hunt. They said we had no idea what it took to run a small business and no right to drag a female-run business down.

My friend and the others tagged – all with small, personal accounts – received countless nasty messages and comments. They all quickly set their accounts to private to stop the abuse. For some reason (I’m guessing my multiple recent posts about diversity and sustainability), nobody chose to message me.

2 years on, the brand’s feed is still almost completely white – and their following has doubled.

I am sorry to say that it took this kind of situation for me to realise the lack of diversity in marketing is more sinister than I’d imagined, especially amongst brands who proudly declare themselves to be ethical and sustainable (but who are overwhelmingly white).

Why is Diversity in Sustainability so important?

Representation and diversity matter for so many reasons. First and foremost, they shape what we view as ‘normal’ and have the power to fan the flames of prejudice (or diminish them).

If you’re reading this, and you’re used to seeing versions of yourself represented in the media – aka you’re white, or you fit into small-medium sizes, or you’re able-bodied – I’d like to issue you a challenge. Rather than explaining why representation and diversity is important, go to a website where you’re NOT the only body type represented. Try Girlfriend Collective or Ace & Jig. Can you picture yourselves in those clothes when the model looks nothing like you? Now imagine what it might feel like if the vast majority of marketing and media catered to someone who isn’t you…

In terms of diversity in sustainability? Well, global warming and human rights challenges are global issues – issues that will affect the Global South (meaning predominantly Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) long before it will hit rich, western nations.

This means that although individuals in rich countries consume far more than those living in poverty – 28 metric tons of material stuff per year (that’s 22 tons over the ‘sustainable’ limit) – those living in poverty, consuming less, will be the first to be hit by changes in climate, droughts, famine, and other natural disasters.

Global warming will affect all of us, and so it’s only right that every person and community should be included in conversations about sustainability. We should especially make space for voices from communities already feeling the effects of climate change. But how will we ever do that when the face of sustainability is predominantly white?

What is Intentional Living?

As I began interviewing womxn for this series – womxn from totally different backgrounds, cities, cultures, races, with different life experiences, ideas and opinions – I noticed we all struggled to define sustainable living. Did sustainable living have to incorporate ethics? Or was living ethically a separate discussion?

Every womxn wanted to ensure their actions had a positive impact, or at the least, not a negative one. They all cared about protecting our planet and ensuring that the people who make the products we consume are paid a living wage and work in safe environments. But ‘sustainable and ethical living and fashion’ is a mouthful, and it often felt disingenuous.

As the interviews progressed, it became apparent that there was one core principle behind it all – intention.

Everyone interviewed is seeking to live their life with more intention. They began researching the impact their actions would have and considering how they could make even small changes. They all seemed to be asking questions like:

  • Do I really need this?
  • Can I recycle or upcycle an old object or piece of clothing instead of throwing it away?
  • Is there a more impactful alternative?

It was through these interviews that I realised the power and importance of Intention.

The Importance of Accessibility and Understanding in Sustainability

At the same time though, it was important to show the difficulties and the realities of Living Intentionally. As well as being a privileged choice, conversations about sustainability have become increasingly judgmental, especially on social media. This only creates more obstacles for people who might want to make a change. Through this series, I want to explore the difficulties and the guilt that sometimes come with trying to create a positive change.

It has felt liberating to talk about our ‘downfalls’ so openly. While doing these interviews, I realised that most of us are understanding of the fact that sometimes, the best option isn’t the most sustainable one. Busy, working parents can’t always keep up with reusable nappies (diapers, for my American friends!). People living with chronic illnesses shouldn’t feel bad if their medication comes wrapped in plastic. Those with low incomes shouldn’t feel guilty for not spending money they literally don’t have.

Our choices are unique to our situations and sets of beliefs, and at the end of the day, the world doesn’t need everybody doing everything perfectly – it simply needs each of us to try our best.

If you’re interested to learn more about Diversity in Sustainability and to hear more about other people’s experiences of Intentional Living, then stay tuned! I’ll be sharing my first Intentional Living interview with the wonderful Sarah Ong so soon.

And if you’re ready to start making a change and begin your Intentional Living journey now? Why don’t you check out my Beginner’s Guide to Living Sustainably!

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