Music is a magical form of art that has the power to touch souls. It has a way of connecting people, beyond language barriers and cultural differences. Music fosters a sense of belonging and community by enabling people to express themselves and engage with others on a deeper level. As we listen to music, we are taken to a world of emotions and feelings that can make us feel alive, bring us peace, or even inspire us to take actions.
And it’s not just people who create music. With its own distinctive sounds and rhythms, nature contributes to this symphony as well. Birds tweeting, leaves rustling in the breeze, and waves crashing on the shore: these natural sounds influence musicians and artists to produce music that captures the splendor and majesty of our planet.
Inanna, also known as Annalisa G. Dunker is one such musician who uses her art to promote environmental sustainability and inspire people to take action for the future of our planet. Through her soulful songs and fascinating videos, Inanna conveys a message of harmony and hope. She believes that music can be a powerful force for change, uniting people to safeguard the environment and build a better future for future generations.
In this exclusive interview, we speak with Inanna about her journey as a musician, her inspiration for writing about environmental issues, and how she envisions her music influencing the world for the better. So sit back, relax, and join us as we delve deeper into the world of Inanna and her music.
What inspired you to use your creativity and imagination in singing for the planet?
I moved here to Los Angeles in the summer of 2018, I knew that at that point I had a clean page that I could start again, in this city with many things that I am passionate about. It was actually very easy, kind of a quick-change, not only of life but of career in general.
Music-wise, I had done a lot of things before – I had been a singer before in several bands and projects, but I kind of felt I still needed to find my own voice. And this time, I really wanted to do it with something with a deeper meaning with something that I could really stand for.
So the project started because I moved here and I wanted to do something on my own – produce music on my own, find my own sound and my own real voice in the music and I wanted my music to have a specific message. In this case, it was speaking up for the environment and the future of nature, the future of animals and the whole planet. And so I simply decided to dedicate all my music to that.
I really felt I had to do it because in those times, especially in early 2019 with all the new protests and Greta Thunberg and all the movements that were appearing more and more, everywhere I felt I wanted to do more apart from just changing my daily habits, or do little modifications in my daily life. I really wanted to speak up and to contribute to a cultural change and I thought – “What’s better than to be able to change culture itself? ” And I thought that I would do it through music because it’s one of my skills and one of my passions and that’s how it happened.
So, I’ve been working on all these songs and all the imagery and products around it since 2019. 2019 was the time when my very first single that came out. It came out in May 2019.
What inspired you to take the name “Inanna” and what does that mean to you?
Inanna is the name of the Sumerian goddess of love and harvest but also war and justice. I thought, the name of a goddess is something timeless that would be good for this project because I want to give a timeless feel to my music. And also, I’m talking about such enormous topics and issues. I’m taking on this task of discussing the future of humans on the planet and the future of nature – the future in general. So I thought that maybe, only the name of a goddess could contain all that.
I think what I loved the most in Inanna is her duality as a goddess figure. I felt it really fit with this project because on one hand with this music, I’m trying to invite people into a possible world where things are done better, where we reach a higher place, a better place in our relationship with animals and nature. But on the other hand there is witnessing and acknowledging everything that is happening and everything that we’ve done.
So there is this dual thing of the need for love and togetherness and connection and work all together but also the rage and the sadness for everything that unfortunately humans have done to the planet and animals. So I really thought it was a perfect match. I also liked that the name contained part of my birth name, which is Annalisa and this “Inanna” had a little bit of a part of me too, so I feel that Inanna is kind of an amplified version of myself.
Do you think art – different forms of art, can play a significant role to motivate people to take actions in their daily lives, especially now, when the climate crisis is getting worse with every passing day?
I think that all art forms and music in particular, play an enormous role in cultural and social change. Arts have an incredible power to bring people together to inspire collectivity. They have the power to speak to conscious and unconscious layers of ourselves. And that’s why in many people at many times and all points in time, they have the capacity to create these moments inside a person where you understand something in a much deeper way, in a way that only a piece of art can make you see or understand. So, I have a deep respect for all artists who are using their skills and their capacities and their tools to speak up for the things that we should definitely change, revise, redefine.
Another factor that is very important when it comes to Arts is their kind of ritualistic power, specially with music. Not only they bring a group of people together but all the people get to feel something together at the same time and even if it’s different, maybe from person to person but there is something in common, like a common ritual and I love ritualistic events because I always say – “Rituals are made to get one person into the ritual as a person and then when they go out of the ritual, they actually go out as someone else because the ritual actually does something to you”. And I feel that is exactly what I’m trying to do with my music and I feel that’s what the Arts should do, to really make you feel different after you experience that piece of art.
How can artists collaborate to make the climate movement stronger and more fruitful?
Artists can collaborate in so many different ways. I have seen it lately especially from the very beginning of this second big wave of the environmentalist movement that is growing and growing – I have seen so many organizations, associations, platforms, digital platforms and artistic endeavors being born in the last three and a half years. At the beginning of 2019, I thought I was maybe one of the only ones that were doing this – as a musician. But I’ve seen so many things happening since then and artists can definitely find so many ways to collaborate in events where they can do things together, support each other, uplift each other, help each other.
So, what I do personally is really try to stimulate and give a further impulse to gatherings like, really doing things together, whether it is an event where we talked or there is an artistic community coming together for a concert, or maybe I’ve been getting in touch with a lot of other organizations to see if we can do something together. I think, especially in these times, uplifting each other and togetherness is one of the most important things we can do. We should not see each other as competing artists or competing organizations. Because we’re really talking about the future of everything, the future of our soul. And if there’s something that we all have in common is this home, this planet and we must take care of it together.
So what I definitely recommend to all artists, entrepreneurs who are speaking up for the future of the planet and working for the future of the planet – “Get in touch to try to do things together. You’re not alone. There are so many other people doing the same and together, you’re stronger together. Together is much better.”
What do you think are needed as ingredients of a song that can create that can inspire change?
I don’t want to talk about the ingredients to make a perfect commercial song, that works for sure in a radio context or in a TV show context. To me, what really matters is speaking to two different levels in a person. Like if you have a catchy song, that’s great because it’s already the first element that will get to someone, but if that song already has a message that’s even better. And from that message, if you have different layers that will touch and communicate to different people – that’s even better. I think it’s about making it really broad and generous.
I think with the meaning you really want to try to communicate something from who you are from an authentic place. I always try to write from who I am and what I really think. I never write thinking – “Oh what is going to make people feel good or what is going to sell?” I always try to be as authentic as possible and I think that’s the best ingredient that you can put in any piece of art, for sure.
Polluters have surely lost the empathetic connection with nature, and we believe that your songs have the power to mend that connection which might make them take a stand on the right side. How do you plan to get your music to reach them?
As I was saying, the way I am trying to reach people wherever they are in life and wherever they are in the world and whatever historical experiences they have is to try to meet them where they are and to simply invite them to another view, another way of seeing things, I really think it’s important not to impose certain views.
Because we don’t know where other people come from and their past experiences and their life history. So I think one element is to be able to invite someone into something you deeply believe, as you know, your life mission and you think it’s really important for everyone. And for the future is to try to invite with generosity and invite with a smile and always try to make people try to feel what you feel like.
I really want to gather people around me, through a sense of understanding and empathy. I don’t want to blame even if I know it’s hard because we get very angry sometimes, especially environmentalists or animalists, we always think – “Oh my goodness, this is never gonna get fixed. How can some people do this? And they don’t see it.” Of course, I have those moments too and we all have, but I don’t think it’s the most effective way to invite people to what we consider the right side. I think you always have to meet people where they are and understand the enormous complexity of certain systems.
So, I think that it should always start from a place of compassion and empathy, you should always try to meet everyone where they are at, even if you know, that certain people or organizations are actively working against the future of nature and everything, we know of this planet, but the reality is so incredibly complex that the best way we have, probably, the only way we have is to try to invite always through compassion and understanding.
What’s your take on climate optimism as an artist and an activist?
I have to say that it gets very hard at times to be optimistic. Because even if I am constantly surrounded by incredible communities of environmentalists and animal rights activists that make me feel that everything is possible – that we are changing the world conversation by conversation, little by little, song by song, but at the same time you also see the tendencies and what’s going on in the world every day, it’s tough to see that a lot of things are not changing at all. But I always tell myself, – “Should I just give up because I don’t see the change that I want to see? And in the time frame that I want to see it?”
I know what I stand for and I know what I believe in. I am dreaming of a future where nature is always considered in every decision of society and economy. I’m dreaming of a society where animals are not exploited anymore, and are not mistreated anymore. And it’s a society that I acknowledge. I don’t acknowledge animals as other beings that live here on Earth with us and not for our own benefit for us.
So, I’ll just keep working for that, and I know that, even if the changes are not as fast as I would like them to be, changes are definitely happening. And that’s what keeps me optimistic. Because I see that change happening around me every day, even in the arts.
Where do you think “spirituality” stands with art and activism? Do you think that understanding “spirituality” is important to feel more environmentally empathetic?
Yeah, definitely. There is a kind of spiritual element in my songs. To me, it translates into something very simple, which is a feeling of reverence. To me that’s what spirituality is in general. It’s this feeling of reverence towards everything that is alive towards the beauty, amazing, incredible wonders, that this planet has, this incredible biodiversity of all animals, all earthlings. The feeling of reverence when you really see that and take that in is automatically spiritual to me. And that’s the feeling of rediscovered awe, that I would like to transmit through my songs and through the imagery and everything that I’m trying to do. So I guess it’s just that big feeling of awe and reverence towards the Earth and all Earthlings.
Tell us about your favorite song and why it’s your favorite.
It’s difficult because I’m very attached to several of the songs, of course, on different levels, and for different reasons. But I think that if I had to choose one, I think I would still choose “Change” which came out last year for Earth Day.
I think mostly because it’s the one that probably sums up the whole Inanna style among all the other songs. Because it’s got a powerful message, it’s got a little bit of the rage, it’s got a hopeful message of togetherness and coming together for something, it’s got a little bit of Middle Eastern hint – which is something that I do. I feel it’s a song that really summarizes a lot of what Inanna is. So I think I would still pick that one. Yeah, it’s definitely “Change.”
Who are your biggest inspirations?
People that have inspired me and that keep inspiring me – I have to say, one of the first ones that really made an impact was Charlie Chaplin and it all started because of my grandfather who was very passionate about him and all his movies. This may have got nothing to do with the environmental movement but I loved the fact that he had such a clear vision for everything that he did. His movies and everything was almost made by him single-handedly. I simply admire that all his art was really his fruit, like his product from top to toe because it was really coming from an authentic place of who he was and what he believed in.
Other inspirational figures, definitely all the current environmentalists that are doing so much for the planet. I always loved Jane Goodall – absolutely a hero of mine. I really admire what Leonardo DiCaprio is doing. I really hope to meet him at some point. I really admire all the work he’s doing and all the documentaries that he is funding.
Knowledge is power – when we know, when we’re aware of things, we can choose better, we can do better. So every artist that really takes time and spends resources in spreading knowledge, I have a very, very big admiration for them.
Another person I really admire that I have had the honor to meet lately is Maggie Baird. She’s the founder and president of “Support and Feed” an organization that I love. Maggie is Billie Eilish’s mother. She’s been working so hard to promote the plant-based equitable food system. And I really hope her organization will grow more and more because it’s really fantastic what they’re doing.
What’s your mantra for life?
I don’t know if it’s actually a mantra for life but I love to sign my newsletters and my messages to my fans and people that know the Inanna project with this little sentence – “A hand is a paw is a fin is a wing. – Inanna.”
This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.
Natalie Chung, a young social entrepreneur, environmentalist, and sustainability leader from Hong Kong has been selected to represent her country at the Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition 2023. At only 18, Natalie co-founded her social enterprise, “V’air” back in 2015 to promote low-carbon local tourism, i.e. ecotourism as a means to mitigate climate change. As a remarkably impactful sustainability leader in Asia Pacific, she has been awarded the Tatler Gen.T List, Eco-Business Youth A-List, and was recognized by The Japan Times as a female climate activist driving change in Asia.
Now, as she prepares to represent her country at the Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition 2023, let’s take a closer look at how she practices sustainability in her regular lifestyle and how she plans on creating a long-term impact through the upcoming expedition.
Tell us about the expedition.
I will be going on the Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expeditionin February 2023. The mission of the expedition is to formulate 23 net zero solutions to accelerate carbon neutrality by the year 2035. This is currently our ambitious goal and our central message is actually to highlight the role of the Ocean in climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience because we think the ocean is a big missing piece in the puzzle and a lot of people only focus on land-based solutions when it comes to climate change while in a lot of countries in Asia, we’re actually very vulnerable to sea level rise and ocean acidification, which are accelerated by climate change. So, hopefully this expedition will shed light on some of the ocean-based solutions and how the communities can develop solutions that are both innovative and able to help us transition to net zero.
On the expedition, there will be a mix of crew members and ambassadors from various backgrounds and disciplines. We’re hoping to generate some interdisciplinary discussions and solutions. I’m a climate activist myself, from Hong Kong and there are people from the UN Network, IUCN, professors, and researchers from different fields. There are also writers, artists, and of course, underwater photographers. We have two National Geographic underwater photographers, Jennifer Hayes and David Doubilet, who will be capturing some of the photographs that will be used later for our exhibition around the world.
So the expedition itself would be a nine-day voyage and for the first two days we will have a small conference at Ushuaia, Argentina to formulate the resolutions. And then the final day, we will also have a day in Punta Arenas, Chile to post a conference on the resolution and how to carry them out to action steps on the ground, and how all the participants in the expedition can bring back these solutions, back to their home countries to spread the news and see how to implement them in the community.
How does it feel to be a part of the expedition team of Dr Sylvia Earle, who was recognized as the First Hero of the Planet by Time Magazine?
I feel very star-struck because Dr Sylvia Earle was always a role model for me. What she’s done for ocean conservation and as one of the pioneers in space, and we call her “Her Deepness” instead of Her Highness, for how deep she has traveled down the sea. So I think it’s a very precious opportunity. We did have some air time before, at virtual conferences. So, I once spoke with her and listened to her remark, which is absolutely inspiring.
And this time, what’s even more exciting is that the ship that we are boarding is also named after Dr Sylvia Earle. It is a new cruise ship for the expedition that is carbon-neutral. We will also be celebrating Dr Sylvia Earle’s work. So it’s very interesting. This ship will be on its first mission. But it will probably be Dr Sylvia Earle’s last expedition because she’s getting old.
So I think it will be a great platform and opportunity for a lot of youth and older generations to come together to form intergenerational climate solutions that will be inclusive and equitable for all. Because – I think the youngest on board would be eleven years old and the oldest would be like 90. So it’s a huge range and I’m very excited to be there.
But at the same time, I think, there is a huge responsibility for me to make full use of this, for example, by forming partnerships with different media outlets and especially with a focus on Asia, because most of the people on board, I would say, come from the Global North. And we need to make sure that the solutions are centered around the needs of indigenous people, and the underprivileged communities in global South and Southeast Asia as well. So, hopefully our discussion will be more inclusive by bringing in perspectives from Asia and the rest of the world.
How do you plan to add value to the expedition with your expertise in the areas of public education, corporate training, and media and communication?
My role in the expedition is the Key Opinion Ambassador. There are a total of around 30 of us and I think what differentiates us from the rest of the expeditions is that we are already doing monthly meetings on the resolution. So we’re kind of forming the backbone for the 23 goals that we will finalize on the expedition. Now we’re using the Delphi method. It’s like a social science methodology based on expert elicitation and literature review to try to find a consensus on what direction of solutions we are coming towards. So we’re having monthly meetings on these to formulate the expedition goals.
And then for me, I’m the only Hong Kong representative for this entire expedition. So I think I will play the role of bringing in some of the localized knowledge and also solutions back to Hong Kong, given that we have quite rich financial resources that we could mobilize and some of the corporate partners in Hong Kong that would be able to do something at scale. So hopefully after the expedition, I could use the findings to convince some of the major business leaders and political leaders here to implement solutions. That could not just benefit Hong Kong but also the rest of the world. For example, Hong Kong has a climate-resilient infrastructure, and how we can export these technologies and skills to the rest of the world and showcase our best practices. So I think I would ask this bridge throughout this expedition to amplify the impact.
How can media play an important role to raise awareness and help overcome the climate crisis by reaching the Net Zero Target by 2035?
I think the media can take a role in the whole communication strategy of the expedition. We want to focus on people who are very alarmed and concerned about climate change, people who already have some knowledge and want to act against climate change but they don’t know how or don’t know the full set of solutions yet. So I think for us as our focus is on Ocean, and the role of the Ocean, I think the media could help shape the narrative for – why is it so important to represent Ocean, the media can help to create the whole momentum around ocean which is so crucial for climate action, adaptations, resilient and livelihood, and how we can tie in the Antarctic narratives with some of the phenomena, we see in Asia. Because I think the Antarctic is at the forefront of climate change, they are warming at an alarming speed. They’ve already warmed three degrees celsius since I think they’re like pre-industrial age. So I think we can create/ consider the Antarctic as a model of what the future would look like if we continue this warming truck and then use the power of the media to paint that scenario. So that we can all feel the sense of urgency, at the same time the power to act. Because we know that the ocean is immense and there are so many potential solutions in the ocean that we have not yet fully explored.
You’re the co-founder of V’air. Tell us about the platform.
So we started up V’air back in 2015 as an organization to promote low-carbon, local tourism. The reason is just that, we figured that almost 20% of Hong Kong people’s per capita carbon emissions come from flying overseas. So, during pre-covid times, we used to fly a lot of short trips to Japan, Korea, Taiwan just for for weekend getaways. This issue was kind of not that elevated back in 2015 like now when most people are focusing on some of the energy-saving measures for climate change. So, I wanted to bring this back to the table, like – if there was an elephant in the room, when people said, “Oh I’m not using a plastic bottle but I’m flying like 10 times a year.” So I want to correct this by showing people the potential of local tourism – it’s actually eco-tourism and geological tourism. That’s how we started. And we have a web platform to showcase these attractions in Hong Kong. We also published a book showcasing 39 roots in rural and urban areas, so the book is like a guide to travel around locally. We also organized eco-tours for schools and corporations – introducing them to different tree species, special endemic insects, and mammal species in Hong Kong as a form of nature education. We realized that quite a lot of people enjoy hiking a lot, but they wouldn’t pay attention to the trees or they would not pay attention to the story behind the trail. So we think there’s immense value in doing that – kind of sparking that interest and curiosity in their surroundings so that they don’t always need to go abroad in order to find excitement or find a thrill.
How are you expecting to integrate your work at V’air into this Expedition?
I was actually planning, after the expedition, we would create more tours around marine protected areas. Because one of the preliminary resolutions that we have touched on in our current discussions, one of the goals would be enhancing marine protected areas globally. In Hong Kong at least 3% of the ocean is protected but we want to raise that to 10% which is the global standard. We could also be hosting more ocean-themed eco-tours. Because currently, we have a lot of land-based tours like terrestrial country parks, and some of the rock formations but not so much in the sea or near the shore. So that’s what I’m planning to do.
Also, another way to integrate is, how we’re training the next generation of young leaders. So in Hong Kong, we have our internship and fellowship program. So, in the past few years, we have already trained over 100 youths and sparked an interest in sustainability and climate advocacy. I’m hoping through the expedition, I will be able to learn from some of the other famous educators on board and see how we can make or copy our existing model elsewhere, like in other Asian countries or how we can collaborate with different partners to extend our impact.
Another thing I would like to try is to expand to other regions. We tried to expand to Singapore before but there was a bit of difficulty and also Covid restrictions. So now we’re looking into mainland China opportunities so that our target group could be bigger. I guess it’s not enough for the Hong Kong people to stay in Hong Kong. Maybe we need to give them more options, for example, taking high-speed trains from China to Russia, which is also a low-carbon mode of tourism. There’s this Siberian train track, so maybe that could be an option, also low-carbon. Because it feels very restrictive to have everyone stay here. We want to keep the experience educational but also entertaining. So we’re looking at some of the high-speed rails as travel options. And then, you can also apply to other places like India. I guess in India, there are lots of ecological hotspots that local people may not pay much attention to. So simply encouraging more people to travel, from South India to North India, could reduce outbound travel and harm to the planet.
You promote eco-tourism through V’air. How is this expedition aiming to promote eco-tourism?
I have actually had a lot of self-reflection on whether I should join the expedition because I was wondering if what I’m doing – like joining the expedition, could cover my carbon footprint. So, first of all, we will be offsetting the whole expedition ensuring all the operations are as low carbon as possible, for example, we have vegan meals on this ship and we’re ditching single-use plastic, etc. Another important thing is, how we are shaping the narrative to ensure that it’s not promoting exploitative tourism to the Antarctic. Because people have previously treated it as a leisure option and not just for research purposes, a lot of people go there just to see the penguins, like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So, we actually do not especially encourage that, but then we don’t want to be too ironic about how we have the privilege to go but other people don’t. So I think we are planning to work on a more immersive educational experience, such as, we are introducing VR so that we can take some VR video clips for people in different places to experience it without having to travel there. And I guess the future of tourism, even eco-tourism would be more of a hybrid reality experience – like how we are integrating some tech elements into the tourist experience and using different senses to feel like having meditation and wellness integrated. Therefore I think, it is important to have that narrative or have that note in mind that we are a very privileged group of people who are able to go there firsthand. And how we are translating these first-hand experiences into something valuable for people to experience second-hand would be the key and the goal for us.
Why do you think raising awareness, especially among young people is necessary?
I think young people play a crucial role in shaping the future because eventually, we are the ones who will be the steward of the planet in the future. So what we are deciding now and what we are proposing now will potentially shape how we live and how habitable the planet becomes. So I think it is definitely important to hear and listen and use voice in policy making and have a system that can institutionalize our thoughts into actual policy and decision-making processes instead of a tokenized form of youth participation.
And in this case, I think for the expedition we are hoping to come up with the 23 high-level goals, but eventually, we want to come up with action steps beneath the goals. So, for example, one of the goals could be promoting less consumption of seafood. Because it promotes sustainable fisheries and also protects ocean resources.
And then on action steps, we can translate it to youth by organizing some youth campaigns, or incorporating this into part of the syllabus so that they can understand at a young age what’s the issue with consuming too much seafood and how we can select wisely what to eat. I think incorporating that into the educational curriculum is the best way to ensure that we know from a young age, what is the right action to take for a planet that we would like to see in the future. Also, another thing is how culture and values are created and are kind of formulated at a young age – like once you are structuring your value system, it’s important to have that intervention on what’s the most ideal or sustainable way of living. So I think that’s also why I really think it’s important to focus on nature education. Because when you bring people up to nature, they get to understand why it’s so important to conserve it rather than educate them afterward to pick up their trash, to not do this and not do that. So I think building that kind of intrinsic human nature relationship from a young age is crucial as part of our youth development training for climate action.
We’ve noticed that you’re a keen follower of sustainable fashion. How did that journey start?
Actually, I haven’t really purchased clothes since I was young. Because my mother works as a fashion manufacturer and she always has a lot of samples and some of the defective items that she would just bring home and we’d just wear them. I guess her job experience shows me how disruptive the fashion industry is, given that they’re throwing away so many clothes she tries to bring as many as possible back home, but then the rest will still be thrown away. And so, from a young age, I realized this problem of fast fashion and what we can do as individuals to counter it. I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to buy anything because my mother would give it to me. But now, as I grow older, I still need to shop on my own. So, then I will opt for thrifting second-hand clothes. I think I kind of started to experience the joy of thrifting when I was in the United States for exchange studies and saw a lot of thrift shops. In Hong Kong, it’s not as common to find these thrift shops, as most of the thrift shops are relatively low-end – very, very cheap fashion or fake items. So, it wasn’t very encouraging to go there. But then, a few years ago, I came across a new foundation in Hong Kong called Redress and I really appreciate their work. It’s run by 3 to 5 people – a small team but they’re collecting a lot of relatively higher quality secondhand clothes, and then they sell them. They rent a space in an A-grade office building and host a Second-hand Gala for everyone to buy these clothes at a cheaper price. I’ve become a fan of that Gala and I really appreciate how this is becoming a trendy thing to do – to wear secondhand items. I hope this will continue in the future.
I guess the most important thing is to destigmatize wearing second-hand. Because when I go to more high-end places and I tell people that I’m wearing second-hand, they might still think lowly of me. I think we just need to detach the idea of wearing second-hand from being cheap because it’s actually regenerative and positive for the planet. So I’m actively trying to shape this narrative by being proud of wearing second-hand and also encouraging more of my friends to change into this new lifestyle.
Do you go through eco-anxiety? If you do, how do you deal with it?
I guess for me, I haven’t really experienced true eco-anxiety, unlike some of my friends. I guess it’s because I’m living in a relatively privileged city, so I don’t feel the immediate impact of climate change on our community. I do feel sad seeing all these negative things happening around the world. We need to be even stronger and even more confident in trying to solve it from the perspective of mitigation to adaptation. I think seeing all these extreme events, my attention is shifting more from the mitigation side to the adaptation side, because I think, for mitigation, it kind of seems like some of the solutions are natural because there are financial benefits to do so, like people are investing in renewables because it just makes sense. But for adaptation, it’s always about loss and damage, it’s always about compensation. There’s no natural motivation to push adaptation projects to be realized. So, personally, although I haven’t felt eco-anxiety, I just feel a stronger urge to work on climate adaptation and see what we can do to make these impoverished communities live better and even for resilience – like how do we build resilience in that infrastructure in community networks. So that we can prevent damage to them when future events hit.
Tell us about a practice(s) in your culture that’s actually very sustainable and good for the planet.
I guess it’s the rice dumplings, like, for Dragon Boat Festival, we will wrap rice with banana leaves and then we tie it with a string made from seagrass. So it’s a natural way of making our delicacies.
How do you practice sustainability in your regular lifestyle?
I think I’m very cautious of what I do and what I admit, for example, for travel, I would try to aggregate my tours as far as possible. Then I wouldn’t need to travel too many times a year, even for important events. Then, of course, I don’t use any single-use plastic, so I never buy drinks outside. I would always only drink water most of the time. Or, maybe if I really need, I get aluminum canned drinks so we can recycle the cans. For fashion, as I mentioned before, I always follow slow fashion, and I even buy my furniture and other items from second-hand marketplaces. For makeup, I use vegan and cruelty-free brands. I’m a pescetarian and I’m moving toward becoming a vegetarian or vegan, but I’m still struggling with some of the nutritional requirements for myself. So I guess, my advice would be to do what you’re best at and to pursue that.
I’ve also learned over the years to not stigmatize people. Like, I used to discriminate against everyone who used plastic bottled water but then when you think about it, maybe they never take a flight, or maybe they’re very sustainable with their diets. So I think everyone can play that part and support others because everyone doing things, even if it’s something little – would mean a lot to the whole world.
What do you do for fun?
I love hiking because it is a good way to connect with nature and also with the local villages, especially going to the snack shops selling local food, like tea cakes along hiking trails.
I was actually inspired back in primary school when I did a project on climate change and we interviewed a polar explorer called Dr Rebecca Lee. She’s the first woman in the world who has traveled to the North Pole, the South Pole, and Mount Everest. So she’s my absolute idol.
And now I am very honored to be able to go on this expedition and hopefully I can bring as much impact to the world as she did because she inspired me just by having one interview. And I hope that I can also speak to someone and inspire them to be an advocate for the climate.
What’s your mantra for life?
I think it’s that – change starts with ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I always think that change doesn’t need to start with something very grand but just as my idea would evolve into something that is material if you work hard enough and there’ll be people supporting you along the way. So when I first started V’air, it was completely out of the blue – we had just joined a competition and had this idea and then we decided to continue it – just because we really believed in the mission. And then we met quite a few important mentors along the way, who advised us to keep going and introduced us to business partners so that we could grow and scale up till today. So, I think, we need to believe in ourselves and our capability to do something bigger than ourselves.
I think the best way is to just reach out to me if you’re interested in starting a regional chapter of Vair, like just the same idea of promoting local tourism in your locality. And we can share some resources with you to start the organization in your country or city and even with some startup funding that we’re able to raise here in Hong Kong. So if you want to do something in Bangladesh, for instance, and you’re looking for somewhere to start, we can potentially give you some grants to start it locally so that we can expand our impact.
For other things, you can stay tuned with my social media and I’ll be posting some of the channels through which other people can participate in the Antarctic Climate Expedition. Because I think during and after the expedition, we’re planning some idea co-creation rounds where we’ll be doing virtual webinars and brainstorming sessions that everyone can join in forming part of the resolutions for Net Zero and potentially some of the submissions we make to the UN and National governments.
Growing up in a climate-conscious household, 26 years old Emily Gray from Sheffield, the UK, usually known as Simple Life Freely Chosen, had started talking about her favorite sustainable brands online as a hobby. With zero affiliations with any of these brands, her detailed reviews and tutorials have always been completely genuine which has really helped her audience discover many awesome sustainable brands that they can put their trust in instead of investing their money in businesses that are hurting the planet.
Tell us your backstory.
I was raised by two very climate-conscious parents, really it’s them who gave me the fundamentals about living simply, living frugally – living sustainably in general, which are values that I have taken throughout my whole life. So, thanks to them!
But it was in 2020 when I really sort of nailed down on conscious consumerism and decided, “I just don’t want my money to be funding anything that doesn’t align with my values – I don’t want to be funding slavery, I don’t want to be funding deforestation, so why am I spending my money with these businesses that we know do all these horrible things? There are stories about them all over the place, yet I still spend my money there.”
So in 2020, there was all this talk during the pandemic of, spending money locally to support local businesses, spending money on black-owned businesses because of the Black Lives Matter rallies going on at the time, and all that awareness that was churned up at that point, and it really hit home. I thought, that every time I spend money, I am investing in the kind of world and business model that I want to support, so, starting right now, I am going to make the choice to seek out sustainable, ethical businesses from now on, and find that real choice in the market so that I am actually supporting what I agree with and what my values agree with rather than big corporations that are just easy to buy from. So that’s I guess why I started my Instagram account.
Why do you create content for green brands for free?
When I started my search in 2020, for myself to find sustainable alternatives, I realized that they were really hard to find! But there are lots and lots of sustainable, ethical alternatives out there – they are just smaller, and they haven’t had the time to build up their space in the market yet, so, I wanted to share all these discoveries that I’d found with people who feel the same as me.
I am sure there are – well, I KNOW there are so many of them because I have a few wonderful followers who tell me so! (Chuckles). But yeah, for people who, like me, wanted to spend their money in a way that was in line with their values. That’s the simplest way I can put it.
I wanted to share all these discoveries so that other people didn’t have to search as hard. I’d already done the research for them, they didn’t have to spend time searching for it themselves. It’s really just to support people who want to invest or vote with their money that way, but also to support the businesses themselves, and hopefully, we can chuck out the horrible corporations or replace them with these wonderful sustainable businesses in the future. Fingers crossed!
How do you live sustainably in your own life beyond conscious consumerism?
Well, I mean there are a few ways. So I am vegetarian; I wouldn’t say I am vegan although I do make lots of vegan choices, but, yeah, vegetarian, which itself is an active form of conscious consumerism really if you think about it. Because I am not actively investing, not spending my money, in the meat industry. And that’s a choice, you know. That’s one of the reasons why people turn to vegetarianism and veganism. So yeah, I am vegetarian.
I also love shopping at my local refill store; if you have one near you that you haven’t quite explored yet, I very much encourage you to go check it out, because they will be a treasure trove of sustainable brands, and plastic-free items, they really have wonderful things and I hope they will become more prevalent in the future.
I guess those are the two big things. As a result of the refill shopping, I have a mostly plastic-free home, as much as can be – but I don’t think anybody is completely plastic-free. I guess that’s how I live sustainably, aside from conscious consumerism.
What are the challenges that you face as a Greenfluencer and how do you try to overcome them?
I’d say the biggest challenge of being a “Greenfluencer”, thank you for that term, I’m not sure if I’d count myself as an influencer, but, yes, in terms of being on the social media scene, talking about green eco-related stuff, I’d say the biggest challenge is that social media is kind of incongruous with the ideals of just living a simple life which I think is what people who follow a sustainable life are mostly kind of after. They like that simplicity, just going outside, being in nature, or whatever it is, and at the same time, if you’re on the social media scene you have to think, “Oh, I need to capture this, to create content later,” which can be quite frustrating, and time-consuming.
However, I am very much enjoying the creative process too, so it’s natural for nothing. I think the way I deal with that is just by making sure that I do take breaks and, just remembering at the end of the day that it’s just Instagram, I’m not going to get stressed by the numbers or the algorithm or anything like that. It is just Instagram and, at the end of the day, my real-life world is more important. So I don’t get too stressed about it. It is fun, as I say, the creative process as well, so it’s not a big problem (Chuckles).
What are the best things that have happened to you since you started?
The biggest reward that comes from being on the social media scene is definitely the community that you find out there. It’s so wonderful getting messages from people saying, “Oh my goodness, I have discovered this amazing brand because of you, thank you, I can now buy this thing… guilt-free,” or people saying, “I’ve been looking for something like this but I don’t want to spend my money at big businesses who don’t practice sustainability for real”— and I can give them suggestions and it would turn, I can ask people questions. It’s so collaborative, there’s no sense of competition, between eco-accounts or “Oh my goodness I can’t tell you that tip because you’ll steal my followers or whatever”, it’s so, so collaborative and it’s just wonderful to see.
What do you think the future looks like for sustainable businesses?
The future of sustainable business, I think is really really quite exciting because there are so many innovations that are coming out. You know, we got top scientists all over the world trying to find solutions, and they are finding some really wonderful solutions that I hope will become more and more accessible to businesses.
But I suppose the biggest trend, I mean for one is definitely plastic-free, people are becoming more and more aware of the issues of plastic and, the long-term concerns around it just being there forever and not going on anywhere, clogging up our world, our oceans, and also the chemicals that leach from them. So yeah, I definitely think we’ll see a shift to more plastic-free, not using plastic unnecessarily, I guess, is where I am coming from – more conscious use of plastic.
Also, circularity is a big thing, I think that is going to become more and more popular in businesses. The idea of making sure it’s not a linear pathway from production to use to landfill, that it can wrap around, be reused, refilled, or, if it can’t be refilled, then it can at least be composted, so it’s not adding waste to the problem. So, yeah, a lot of the businesses that I share in my account have some sort of refill program, which is really really, really exciting to see – that becoming large-scale.
I think there’s still talk – talk about it becoming more popular in supermarkets as well. Can you imagine? If that happened – all the packaging from supermarkets, if we could actually return and refill that? That would be incredible! So, I really hope to see that.
Also, another trend that is sort of connected to circularity, that I would like to see more of at least, is the idea of taking waste from another industry and turning it into something useful in a different industry completely. You know, the idea of not letting anything go to waste; even if you can’t personally use it, someone else can. So, we need to make those connections between industries so that everything can get used to its fullest potential, and, whenever I see a business doing that, oh, it’s so exciting!
Tell us about your top five favorite sustainable brands and why they’re so awesome.
My top five sustainable brands; I would try to do this quickly, but they are so exciting, I could talk about them forever.
Number one has to be UpCircle which is a beauty skincare company. They are a UK company, and they take waste from other industries and turn them into ingredients within their own products so that nothing goes to waste. It’s so so exciting. Other than using coffee grounds to make scrubs, there are so many other amazing things they are doing too. You should go to their website and check it out.
They also have a refill and return system, so that their packaging doesn’t go to waste. The packaging is not plastic – it’s glass, one of the most recyclable materials out there. So, definitely UpCircle up there.
I would also like to mention All Earth Mineral Cosmetics, which is another UK company. These guys make make-up products. Buying locally is another very important aspect of conscious consumerism. So All Earth Mineral Cosmetics is toxic-free – they are using natural ingredients completely. They are also mostly plastic-free, although they do use plastic that’s made using ocean plastics. So they recover ocean plastic and turn it into something useful, something which you can then refill because they have a refill program too. So it’s not just gonna get tossed away as soon as you’re finished with it.
Then there’s Flux Undies. So, if you don’t know, they create period pants, and the product itself is a very sustainable concept because there’s so much disposable waste when it comes to period-care products. If you think about sanitary towels and tampons, there’s so much waste. But period pants can be washed and reused. So, again, huge – huge minimizing of the waste in that problem. But the reason I would say Flux Undies in particular is ‘cause there are a few brands out there who do that, but I couldn’t find a company that didn’t produce their underwear anywhere other than India or China. And we know that there are human rights concerns about production in those countries, but Flux Undies are incredibly transparent. If you look on their website, they tell you exactly the working conditions of their manufacturers and factory workers; including their hours – how many hours they work. So I have felt much more comfortable buying from Flux Undies. Also, they use Tencel, which is a sustainable material, instead of just any raw material; they thought about that aspect too. And they are also trans-inclusive. If you look at their advertising, they are accepting of the fact that trans men also have periods, and I think that’s a pretty important issue to cover for a period-related company, so Flux Undies will get my vote every time.
My next favorite brand is All Green. So these guys make lots of stuff actually for your home and for your garden right in the home as well. But I wanna focus specifically on their compost bin range ‘cause when I realized that I needed to start composting, I thought, “Oh, gosh, I need to get a compost bin bag,” and I didn’t wanna buy just any and all plastic bin. These guys create compost caddies out of the best sustainable materials that they can. So they’ve got ceramic ones, metal ones — metal is much easier to recycle, and they do have recycled plastic too – which makes it a little bit cheaper and accessible for people, which is what I went for. So, again, it’s taking waste out of the system, turning it into something useful. And composting is really something that everybody needs to be doing. So, yes, I will mention All Green for that reason as well.
Finally, my fifth favorite sustainable brand would be Rubies in the Rubble, which is a similar concept to UpCircle in terms of taking waste and turning it into something useful. Rubies in the Rubble create condiments and sauces – stuff like ketchup and mayo, and others that I can’t remember right now. But they take excess fruit and veg, that wouldn’t get used otherwise and they use those as their ingredients rather than letting them go to waste.
So there you have my top five sustainable brands!
How do you keep yourself motivated and keep doing what you do?
How I stay motivated, I think, is mostly down to the fact that when I start to feel down and I start to say, “Ugh, what’s the point? There’s so much effort, why? It’s all the companies that need to change anyway,” I just think like if everybody thought like that, nothing would happen. We have to – we have to work as individuals to change society, to bring about societal change, which will hopefully bring about governmental change, and policy change. I just think that’s the one thing that gets me up, it’s just the idea that if everybody thinks like this, we’ve lost. So, I have to get up and do something.
And also, I find that action is the best way to combat eco-anxiety; which I am sure is something that a lot of people reading this will experience as well. If you take action, you’re taking control over the situation a bit more, which I think is the best way, for me anyway, to combat eco-anxiety. So, every time I feel down, I try to take action. Actually doing something about it, however small, however, drop-in-the-ocean my individual actions are, makes me feel better. So, I do it.
We’ve noticed that you’re into music. Is it a passion? What else do you do for fun?
Well, aside from sustainability, yeah, I have other interests. Music is one of them that you guys have picked up on. I’m a big musical theatre fan and part of a singing group with my friends. We’ve done a couple of concerts. So yeah, music is definitely an interest of mine, and crafting as well. Crafting helps sustainability, because well, it means that I’ve made a couple of my own clothes, I can repair clothes, but also just in terms of repurposing anything around, having that sort of creative sense is really quite useful. So, yeah, that’s another interest of mine, which helps with sustainability. (Smiles rhetorically) No?
We’ve also noticed that you’re into many kinds of volunteering and social work too. Tell us about your most recent one.
I do volunteer actually, that is something I’m doing quite a lot because I’m sort of taking a break from work at the moment. I’m taking a gap year – a belated gap year. So I’m filling up a lot of that time with volunteering and trying to fit in some community work.
The main place I volunteer is a non-profit called Food Works, and they help people who need help accessing healthy meals. They take a lot of excess food from neighboring farms and places like that so that they can turn it into meals for people. And they also have their own farm, which is where I volunteer, twice a week. I’m just growing food.
It’s really really nice to get outside and learn how to grow food so that hopefully one day I can grow my own. And yeah, just giving back to the community is a really really nice feeling. This idea of working together, I think, community gardening, community farming, is going to be a big part of the future. Just any kind of community work, getting the community back together is, I think, really important for the sustainability fight. I think community action definitely needs to be at the forefront there.
I’ve also done some tree-planting; again, it’s about getting out there and helping, which makes you feel like you are actually doing something. Talking back to the eco-anxiety side of things, if you’re doing something, if you’re actually getting involved, you know that, you can see that you’re making a difference. And that helps, that helps a lot.
What’s your mantra for life?
My mantra for life. Well, I have a few mantras for life, because I quite like a good mantra (Chuckles), but the one I’ll talk about now is the one that inspired the name for my Instagram account in the first place, so, that is a Quaker proverb, and it goes, “A simple lifestyle freely chosen is a source of strength.” And to me, that means the ability to say no, to say, “I am okay, actually, I don’t need all that fuss, I don’t need the latest fashions, I don’t need whatever society’s peer pressure is pushing us towards at the moment, I’m okay, thanks”. I think that’s really empowering, to be able to do that. I think we’ve all felt pressure, from society, to pick up the latest thing. And that ability to say, “I am good, thanks,” is really quite powerful.
So, that’s my mantra for life, to remind myself of that simplicity. And, as I say, it inspired the name for my account, I know it’s a mouthful but it means a lot to me, so “Simple life, freely chosen” is where that all came from.
This is a part of a series where Green & Beyond explores the stories and takes a peek at the lifestyles of incredible people like green entrepreneurs, innovators, climate advocates, activists, community leaders, and content creators, all around the world, who love the planet, and are working tirelessly to make the world a better place.
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