Unveiling Links: Tania Roa on Climate, Social Justice, and Wildlife

Unveiling Links: Tania Roa on Climate, Social Justice, and Wildlife

In a world where the delicate balance of nature teeters on the edge of collapse, Tania Roa, a passionate advocate for wildlife, environmental preservation, and social justice has emerged as a strong voice for change. With an unwavering commitment to highlighting the interconnectedness of the climate and biodiversity crises, she sheds light on the exploitation of marginalized communities and animals. Through her work, Tania emphasizes the urgent need for change and invites us to join her in the fight for a more just and sustainable world.

In this exclusive interview, we delve deep into Tania Roa’s remarkable journey, exploring her insights on the interplay between climate change, social justice, and biodiversity conservation. Get ready to be inspired and enlightened as Tania shares her vision for a future where the protection of our planet and all its inhabitants reigns supreme.

Tell us about your backstory. How did you join the climate movement?

During one of my classes in graduate school, I learned about the harmful consequences of factory farming in the U.S. for people, animals, and the environment. Migrant workers are treated as disposable and unfairly paid for their hard labor. Workers and animals often get sick or even die from the widespread use of unhygienic practices that prioritize profit over well-being. The air, water, and soil pollution that results from these practices degrades the environment and, therefore, contributes to climate change. When I learned about these connections, I realized I had found my calling: climate justice for all people and for all living beings.

As an environmental writer and speaker, you talk about biodiversity, climate change, social justice, intersectionality, and wildlife conservation. Can you please explain how all them are interrelated?

When land is destroyed for extracting natural resources, everything in the area is impacted. It’s a chain reaction that begins in the ground. The loss of soil microorganisms reduces the number of plants, which harms herbivores, and fewer herbivores signify fewer predators. This process also diminishes our ability to grow food or filter air and water. That’s why large corporations extract natural resources near historically marginalized neighborhoods – they know it’s wrong, so they strategize with the goal that it will go unnoticed. For true climate justice, we need to regenerate the Earth AND protect marginalized people.

Why do you think it is important for us to reconnect with nature?

For decades, Western conservation efforts have separated humans from nature. This mindset only leads to partial protection of the Earth, in parks or reserves that we ‘set aside’ for conservation. When we see ourselves as part of nature, this perspective shifts towards one that calls for the protection of the entire planet. Many Indigenous cultures view plants and nonhuman animals as relatives, and these are the cultures that protect 80% of today’s biodiversity. It’s not a coincidence that the way we relate to the natural world influences how we treat it, so it’s time we find our way back to nature as we did before overconsumption and over-extraction practices.

In your TEDx Talk, you discuss The Ego and The Eco mindset. For our readers, can you please explain what they are and why we need to shift to Eco from Ego?

Thank you! Ego stands for Egotistical, and it’s illustrated by a pyramid that depicts a hierarchy. Systems built on superiority are founded upon the idea that the living beings on the bottom of the pyramid are replaceable and therefore disposable. Ego includes systems that place certain humans over others based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. or systems that place people over other species.

On the other hand, Eco stands for Ecological, and it’s illustrated by a circle. When we place ourselves on the same level as all other people and living beings, we move towards collaboration. Circles are representative of cycles, and by placing ourselves in the circle of life, we recognize that what we do to others we do to ourselves. In that case, why wouldn’t we want to live in ways that are rooted in love, care, and coexistence?

Being a Colombian-American, tell us about a practice(s) in your culture that are actually very sustainable and good for the planet.

Colombians tend to be less wasteful than Americans. In Colombia, they serve you one napkin with your meal (if they give you one at all), while in the U.S. I’ll get five napkins with my meal even if I don’t ask for any. My parents grew up learning to appreciate what you have and taking care of it so it lasts. For example, we put covers on our couches so they don’t stain as easily. I also still have the same furniture in my room as when I was ten years old, which is one way we save money.

What is your favorite Colombian food? Does climate change have any impact on it?

Colombian fruits are delicious. Lulo, Granadilla, and Mora are some of my favorites.

As a nation in the tropical region, Colombia’s agriculture is severely impacted by climate change. Increasing heat waves, more intense and frequent storms including cyclones, and glacier loss threaten water sources which can lead to degraded soil. One way to minimize these adverse effects is to return to Indigenous agricultural practices.

How do you practice sustainability in your regular lifestyle?

I reduce my use of single-use items by opting for reusable face wipes, a menstrual cup, and rags instead of paper towels. My mom taught me to make kitchen rags out of old towels by cutting them up. Now I adopted that mindset to my wardrobe, too, by cutting dresses I don’t wear anymore to make skirts and tank tops. My mom also taught me how to not waste food. If you ever need any ideas for how to use the last three ingredients in your fridge, I got you!

Tell us about your podcast, Closing the Gap. When and why did you start that journey?

I started Closing the Gap: a social justice podcast in February of 2022 with my best friend from high school, Adriana Medina. We’ve protested together, participated in community events, and encouraged each other to take action by signing petitions or emailing our representatives. We decided to share the resources we come across with others in a way that’s accessible and relatable, and that’s when the podcast was born. The podcast doesn’t focus only on climate, but as all of my work emphasizes – everything is connected, including social justice and the climate crisis.

What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?

Be careful where you get your news. I don’t watch the news. Instead, I stay updated with current events by following climate justice-oriented organizations, activists, or platforms that specialize in creating action items. On Instagram, Environment and The Slow Factory are great accounts to follow for ways to take action. The action item reminds me of my ability to do something – whether it’s signing a petition, donating, or calling a legislator – and that makes a difference in our world and for my mental health.

How do you envision your future?

Protecting the natural world and all species that are a part of it, including humans, is my life’s work. There is no ‘finish line,’ and I don’t want there to be one. Collaborating with plants, other animals, and fungi is never-ending because our relationships with them constantly evolve – that’s the best part. I’ll continue to spread love for all living beings and speak up whenever any individual or group is disrespected.

Do you have an idol?

There’s not one person I look up to, but I am inspired by the many climate justice advocates and activists in this movement. From Francisco Activista, a young Colombian activist who encourages others to Catherine C. Flowers, author and activist who is dedicated to speaking up for poor, rural communities who are neglected by regional and national government agencies, there are people all over the world of all ages giving back to their community. Together, all of our actions add up.

What’s your mantra for life?

“When you know better, you do better.”

Maya Angelou

I love this quote because it highlights how we should all have grace for ourselves and each other. I didn’t learn about the severity of climate change until my 20s. While I wish I had begun this journey at a younger age, I didn’t know any better back then. Now that I know the problems and their solutions, I act and I ‘do better.’

How can others join you in the climate movement?

Everyone has a role in the movement for a more equitable, regenerative future. My favorite resource for those who aren’t sure where to begin is Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s Venn Diagram. Bottom line: choose something you love, and feel free to add on or change it as you grow and learn.

Find and connect with Tania on Instagram or LinkedIn.

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.

How to Reconnect with Nature

How to Reconnect with Nature

It all starts with one breath, a pause, where you allow yourself to simply exist. When you no longer try to prove your worth and you give yourself permission to just be. That moment can seem like a lifetime – because it changes everything. It alters how you perceive the rest of your day, how you carry yourself, and how you interact with your surroundings. That’s why it’s important to take a break and try to reconnect with nature.

When we breathe, we ground ourselves.

A beautiful golden sunset with reflections on the river water and the shadow of trees visible. Image used for an article titled - How to reconnect with nature.
Photo by Tania Roa

Today’s technologically driven world full of grind culture causes us to forget to breathe. Thankfully our bodies do it automatically, but modern society neglects the power of deep breaths. Mindful inhales and exhales do more than merely keep us alive – they rejuvenate our mind, body, and soul.

To reconnect with ourselves, we have to reconnect with the natural world. We’re part of nature, and whenever we disconnect from our breath, we disconnect from the beings that give us that breath – the plants that release oxygen, the soil that swaddles the plants, and the water that nourishes the plants.

To reconnect with nature, we can use our senses with more intention. 

We limit our ability to connect when we look down at our phones rather than up, at our surroundings. As we rush through life, we forget to use all five senses – eyesight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. 

1. Eyesight:

Close-up photo of a human eye with intricate details of the iris and pupil.

Just looking at a landscape photo can be calming (that’s why so many devices come with nature-based wallpapers). But sight can be taken a step further: go outside and observe. Pay attention to even the slightest movement, such as the gradual fall of a leaf or the calculated journey of a snail. You’ll begin to see things you didn’t before, and that’s where you’ll find inspiration. 

2. Smell:

A woman wearing a red dress is leaning forward and smelling wild flowers in a green field.

Smell the flowers. Literally. Smell their perfumes and others, like the salt of the ocean breeze and the aroma of your tea or coffee – after all, everything we consume comes from the Earth. Smell helps ingrain memories into our brains, so let’s ingrain the delicious fragrances of our blue and green home. 

3. Hearing:

Close-up of a person's face, showing one eye, eyebrow, cheek, and some hair.

Even when it’s tranquil and seemingly still, nature is constantly moving and, therefore, making continuous noise. Don’t just hear but listen to the evening calls of creek frogs as they notify you of sundown. Go underwater and listen to the crackling of busy coral cities. My mom taught me the beauty of rushing water, and now I always close my eyes to listen to the river as it seamlessly cascades over rocks and logs. These are the sounds of energy coursing through nature.

4. Touch:

Hand touching delicate white flowers and leaves on a tree branch. The rest of the tree is blurred in the background.

Don’t be afraid to become a tree hugger. Touch is a love language, and what our planet needs right now is more love. When we interact with the natural world, we act out our admiration for it. Respectfully demonstrate your affection as you would to a loved one.

5. Taste: 

Hand of a person holding a half-eaten watermelon slice. The person is wearing an orange t-shirt, which is slightly visible in the photo."

Taste the sweetness of the Earth. Everything we eat comes from soils or oceans. No matter how many artificial ingredients we add, everything edible originates from the planet. So why not taste all the elements? Gather food as close to its source as possible by supporting local small-scale farmers or growing your own food. 

When we unwrap the potential of our five senses, we gain an understanding of our place in nature. Daily tasks become meditations. A walk at the park evolves into a vibrant journey when you observe, smell the plants, listen to the birds sing, touch the grass with your bare feet, and taste the juiciness of ripe fruit. 

Let’s rebuild our relationships with the beings that give us life.

Conversation with Rahmina Paullete, young activist on a mission to save Africa’s largest lake

Conversation with Rahmina Paullete, young activist on a mission to save Africa’s largest lake

Growing up in Kenya, Rahmina Paullete, young climate activist, environmentalist, and wildlife conservationist started her own organization called Kisumu Environmental Champs to bring together environmentally conscious youth to inspire collective action for the planet back in 2020 while she also runs her own sustainable business. Looking at all the sufferings that her people are facing in the Lake Victoria region, Rahmina decided to speak up and take action to help restore the ecosystem of Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa.

Tell us about your backstory. How did you join the climate movement and become a climate activist?

I have been an environmentalist almost all my life since I was 5 years old, but I have now become a climate activist because I realized that the actions that we are demanding are not being taken seriously by the government, the community, and especially by the private sector – the multinational companies.

So, back in 2021, I started demanding change for us, for our future, especially in the Lake Victoria region. This was mainly inspired by the climate crisis impacts that we have faced for the past years – like the rising of the water level of lake Victoria and how it has affected the community and the biodiversity.

Source: www.rahminapaullete.com

What motivated you to start Kisumu Environmental Champs?

I started Kisumu Environmental Champs back in 2020 during the outbreak of Covid-19. So I came up with the idea of having a group of environmentally conscious people, especially young people, mainly students. I thought, maybe at this time, when schools are closed, students can take the time to bring in the changes in the community and act with the purpose of enlightening people on environmental conservation and the urgent need of creating climate solutions. Now we have many students, youths, and also parents in the organization.

Besides being a climate activist and an entrepreneur, you also focus on sustainable living. So how can anyone start living sustainably? What’s the formula?

Well for me, I believe in small steps. I mostly buy second-hand clothes. I know that people from all parts of the continent of Africa buy second-hand clothes very often. Apart from that, to reduce plastic waste, I always carry my water hyacinth bag. Also in our house, we have a little kitchen garden where we usually use our food waste as compost. So, in a nutshell, I always keep emissions of greenhouse gas and pollution in my mind and I try to act accordingly, no matter what I do.

Tell us about your sustainable business. Do you plan to give it a more formal outlook in the future?

It’s a funny story that actually made me come up with this sustainable project. So the story is from back in 2016. I had just come back home from the lake where I went with my mom for boat riding – because I love boat riding. But sadly, that day we were told by one of the boatmen that we could not go on a boat ride. So I was really sad when I got back home as I had nothing to do. So, then I just had an urge to look up water hyacinths and found out that they can be reused and beautiful products can be made from them.

So it started off as a project where we were making papers and cards, but then, we actually realized that we were just limiting the production so we expanded into a small business called “Rahmina Paullete Eco-Products”. So that is when we started making eco-friendly products from that. Right now, we’re looking towards expanding the business, in terms of increasing the production, and having more machines. So I guess I can say that the outlook towards the future for the business is to bring more sustainable products.

Source: www.rahminapaullete.com

Tell us about some sustainable practices in your culture.

In my culture, we normally eat indigenous vegetables – which not only has medicinal properties but is also very sustainable and climate-friendly. Then, originally before our culture became vastly westernized, we used to wear clothes made from nature, like cow leather – just creative wears made from things like animal skins and plants like Sisal. Although it is something that we still occasionally do, most people do not wear that normally anymore. So that was actually one of the ways for us to live sustainably. We also used to have bags made of Sisal. These practices have been passed from generations to generations and that’s how the knowledge was preserved.

How do you keep yourself motivated and keep doing what you do while dealing with negative emotions like eco-anxiety?

I do suffer from climate anxiety due to the impacts of the climate crisis like floods, the environmental degradation and pollution. But these things also motivate me to see a vision for my people from the Lake Victoria region where they can swim in the lake without facing any irritation to their skin, where there are plenty of indigenous fishes in our lake, where there is no pollution, how our ancestors saw it. These are the things that make me want to take action to help restore the ecosystem of Lake Victoria.

Normally when I face negative emotions, I like to visit places that are peaceful that can help me to connect with nature. Sometimes I go to Kisumu Impala Park to look at wild animals. Also, music helps me a lot to overcome my negative-emotions.

What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?

Well, I would advise them to continue their work. I know it can be tough but it’s important to know that the combined result of our efforts, no matter how small they are, can create bigger impacts towards restoring ecosystems and make our planet a better place.

Do you have an idol?

For me, I can’t say that I have an idol. I’m not really looking up to anyone, but I am currently following the steps of people such as the late Wangari Maathai. I also follow the steps of my mentor, Paulene who is actually an agronomist and a specialist in climate change adaptation. I also have someone who I look up to who is called Kevin Mtai, who is the founder of Kenya Environmental Action Network (KEAN) and also a climate activist.

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies or passions?

For my hobby, I love going on boat rides. Apart from that, I love listening to music and also singing this song called “Save The World” by Jarvis Smith. That’s my favorite song.

What’s your mantra for life?

Change starts with us, for us and by us. We can make a change in a span of five minutes and it should reflect on the future to come.

How can others join you in the climate movement?

Well, it could be in different ways. One, someone can join the movement through Kisumu Environmental Champions. Or even by supporting our campaign that we are running to restore the ecosystem of Lake Victoria which is #LetLakeVictoriaBreatheAgain.

So people can join the campaign by sharing a one minute video talking about Lake Victoria and the urgent need of restoring its ecosystem. That will really empower the indigenous community. People can also join the campaign by doing cleanups and they could help us financially which will help us bring resources since we need a boat for the Lake Victoria cleanups and removing the water hyacinths – because boats can be quite expensive. If we have our own boats, we can go from Kenya to Uganda and Tanzania for advocacy. Apart from that, I think financial support will really help in terms of getting us tools for cleanups and transportation for people. So, I think that would be amazing but in case they also want to join Kisumu Environmental Champions, we are open and glad to welcome anyone to join us.

Where can people find you if they want to get in touch with you or follow what you’re doing?

You can follow me on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram and I also have a website. For Kisumu Environmental Champions, you can just search ‘Kisumu Environmental Champions’ on all social media platforms and find us. You can also follow our campaign Let Lake Victoria Breathe Again on Instagram.

Conversation with Natalie on Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition 2023

Conversation with Natalie on Dr Sylvia Earle Antarctic Climate Expedition 2023

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 Expedition in 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. 

Who is your idol?

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. 

How can people join you in the climate movement? 

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.

Conversation with Jess on a Life that’s Simply Sustainable

Conversation with Jess on a Life that’s Simply Sustainable

Growing up on the central coast of California, Jessica Vetterli developed a deep passion for the enjoyment and protection of nature, a passion that would stay with her throughout her life.

As a young adult, she took up the cause of the environment, working in grassroots campaigning for Environment California, implementing a refill program at an olive oil chain and founding and growing a zero waste granola business in the Bay Area. After receiving a B.A. in Sociology from the University of California at Berkeley in 2013, she went on to join Seed Consulting Group, a firm dedicated to solving complex business challenges for environmental non-profits. But she knew that she wanted to do more, to have a bigger impact on the world. And so in January 2021, she founded Simply Sustainable, a sustainability consultancy for individuals and innovative CPG brands to reach their full potential in creating value for the planet and people.

Tell us your backstory. What inspired you to start Simply Sustainable? 

So I grew up in California, – and being a Millennial, I grew up in the generation before phones and social media were a big thing. So, my entire childhood was really in nature – we were always outdoors camping, hiking, and we lived right by the beach, so we were always swimming, surfing, biking – we were always doing something in nature. And I feel like from an early age, I had this connection to nature on a deep level and I think I just kind of took it for granted. I was like “Oh, this is how it is. This is how everyone is.” But then, I got to college and learned about climate change and its consequences that humans are facing. And also the fact that it’s actually human-induced – like we’re creating it! And I feel like in my mind, I was just like, “This doesn’t make any sense. Why are we destroying our home?” 

It made me really sad to think that, generations after me won’t be able to experience the same joy and bliss that I found in nature. So I wanted to align my actions and my career with the environment because, as humans, we have that self-awareness and that’s something that differentiates us from other species. It’s like, we can actually enjoy nature, appreciate it, and have that sense of awe and wonder.

And it’s like I’m seeing the effects of climate change now. Even in California, it’s not the same as it used to be – all the wildfires that have been happening over the past few years – they’re getting worse and worse every year and I see how it affects my family and friends that live there. I’ve had friends that have been displaced from their homes, they had to evacuate because the fires are so bad and the drought is so bad. But when I was growing up, that wasn’t a thing – no one talked about that, no one worried about that. California wasn’t like that, you know? Whenever I was asked “What do you think about California? I’d be like, “Oh my God, the beaches and palm trees! It’s so beautiful.” That’s how it was. But I feel like now, California is experiencing terrible, terrible consequences of climate change. So I guess, kind of coming full circle, that was kind of the reason why I started caring about climate change and helping the environment. 

I’ve learned so much in the past two decades about sustainable living and what that means – like switching over all my lifestyle habits and just really getting involved locally and within my community and also on a bigger basis. So, that’s really what inspired me to start it. 

What is a typical day in your life like? 

Mornings are my favorite time of the day, it’s like that sacred time for me, where I try not to check my phone, I try to just have that me- time. I usually make coffee and breakfast and then try to get some movement before starting the day. So I usually try to go for a run or go to the gym or just yoga because I have a lot of anxious energy that I need to let out first thing. And then after, I’ll usually start meetings and have a full day of work and then on a good day, I’ll try to finish work around 7:00 p.m. And then after that, I’ll try to do something social – like, go see a friend, or go to a show or a movie or something. 

Because in New York, there are endless opportunities to do things. So, it’s hard to balance work and self-care besides two jobs and also trying to have a life. 

How do you practice sustainability in your regular lifestyle?  

I would say sustainability – it’s really integrated into my everyday life, to the point where it’s so automated now that I don’t even think about it – it’s like brushing my teeth – kind of a thing. And that’s really what I’m trying to help my clients achieve through Simply Sustainable. Since I’ve been learning about sustainability and really trying to make those lifestyle changes for like two decades – which makes me sound old (chuckles) but, fun fact I’ve never actually had a driver’s license. So, I’ve never owned a car. Never. I mean I’ve ‘driven’, technically like once in a while in my life but I do not drive. I 100% use public transportation and walking for everything. Luckily, I live in New York City, which has amazing public transportation. So taking the subway, biking, that’s a big thing. 

I have made it a point to understand my local municipality center – what I can and cannot recycle, how to compost and just overall how to reduce my trash. So, I really don’t produce a lot of trash and I live pretty close to a zero waste lifestyle. And I’m very fortunate in that sense, because I have access to a lot of resources. I get that being able to live a zero-waste lifestyle is really different depending on where you live. So, some people don’t have access to bulk stores or reusable stores and things like that. So of course, I totally understand that. So, recognizing my own privilege, and being able to live in a community that supports that. 

I took a tour of New York City Recycling Center, it’s called Sims Recycling Center and actually it was super enlightening because they really shared what New Yorkers can actually recycle and can’t. A lot of people think they know what’s recyclable and they’ll just throw something in the bin and hope that it’s recyclable, but they don’t really know. And so when I took a tour of the recycling center, they really broke it down there like, New York city cannot recycle flexible packaging, it cannot recycle cardboard that has oil on it, etc. – so they really broke it down. And it made me understand exactly what I can recycle and what I can’t recycle which has also influenced the way that I make purchasing decisions. So when I’m at the store and I buy things, I think about the package and I really try to prioritize buying things that I know have a high recycling rate in New York city. So, that’s one thing. And then, composting is super important to me and it’s something I really enjoy. I feel like there’s something about being around food scraps, it just kind of feels like it connects me to nature. 

Also, I buy used items whenever possible. I really try not to buy a lot of things. I’m not very materialistic, I’m very minimal. So I really just try not to buy a lot in general, but if I do, I really prioritize buying used items. For example, when I moved into this studio apartment, I had never lived on my own before. So I had to furnish my apartment. I had to buy a table, a couch – all that stuff and I went to local used marketplaces for all of that stuff and I was able to find everything I needed. And it was pretty cool because I was able to actually talk to the real people that owned them and I could hear their stories. Like, I have this beautiful table and the person was like – “This table has been in our family for like 20 years. I’m so happy to pass it on to you.” So everything that I own kind of has a story to it. 

Lately I’ve also been thinking about anything that I buy or that I’m going to bring into my home. I try to always challenge myself to ask that question like – “Okay, I want to buy something new but let me think about it, do I see myself having this forever?”. I try to think about the life cycle of the product or whatever it is I’m buying. And then, if I do buy new, of course, I really try to prioritize buying from sustainable companies, like ethical businesses that are local of course.

I have a plant-based diet, I’m also really passionate about that and my friends are down too. Like, they always want to try vegan restaurants with me – which is really cool. And then, I started this business as I really want to help other people that don’t necessarily have the knowledge or time or energy to figure out all these things for themselves. So, that’s kind of a way that I’m trying to go above and beyond with my own individual life and really make a broader impact and help others. 

What were the Eco traveling preparations and experiences like on your recent trip to Italy?

I think with traveling, it’s definitely a tricky issue. And as I mentioned, I’ve never had a car. So, first of all, I do try to be mindful when I travel. I try to really think about “Okay, do I need to go on this trip? How will it enrich my life overall?” And so, when I went to Europe this summer, one thing that I do want when I travel is that I try to just travel from one place and not hop around too much – I try to stay in one place and travel deeper, rather than broad. I used to do backpacking, which is cool, but these days, I want experience. Like, I’d rather stay in one city for a month, than travel to five countries because, that way, you get a deeper experience of the culture.

So, I went to Europe for three months and I primarily lived in Paris – that was my home base. And, Paris is a huge metropolitan city just like New York. So, I was able to take public transportation, I was able to incorporate all of the lifestyle habits that I have in New York and I was able to do that really easily in Paris. Also, when I travel, I try to do research on where I’m going and see, “Okay, do they have public transportation? How can I compost there? How can I recycle there? Are there any zero-waste stores that I should check out? Any vegan restaurants?” 

So if I’m going to be there for a long time, I try to do research on that place and see how I could be sustainable while there. So Paris was great, and I was really there for three months. I mean, I could have traveled all over Europe, and I met people that were traveling just like me and they were going everywhere – they’re taking planes from here and there, like all over the continent because it’s so cheap. But I’ve only been out of Paris twice – one time, it was Italy – to meet one of my co-founders for Simply Sustainable, and then the other time was Croatia. So within that whole time, I only traveled twice outside of Paris. So, it kind of gave me that deeper experience of where I was. 

And then, when I travel I try to stay close to my zero waste lifestyle – like still bringing in my containers and trying to be mindful of that. 

As an entrepreneur, how do you deal with negative emotions like self-doubt, criticism or burnout and keep yourself motivated? 

I would say it’s a process. I definitely don’t have it all figured out, it’s something that I am continuously working on every single day. One thing that has helped me is reflecting back on the past.

So, when I was in California after college, I had another business. It was a zero-waste granola business. So, I was doing that for a few years and it was such a beautiful experience, it was amazing. And I reflect back on it these days and think “Wow, that was so cool” and it really resonated with a lot of people and it was something that even to this day I don’t even see – like no one else is doing it. 

Basically, I had this business where I was making granola and I was selling it all in reusable containers and bulk containers. So every store that I was selling it to and that I would partner with, I would implement this circular system which was a part of my brand and I was like “Hey guys, here’s this really amazing granola. Bring in your jars or I have a jar for you. You can save it and bring it back for a refill.” So it was like a circular model and it was pretty cool. Like I said, to this day, I still don’t even see that a lot. But at the time, when I was doing it, I faced a lot of self-doubt and I was always questioning myself. I was always asking “Why am I making granola? Is this really what I want to do with my life?” I was questioning everything and it held me back a lot. So, that has been an insightful thing to think about. Because I look back at that experience when I was doing something pretty cool but I still had so much self-doubt. So, with my new business, Simply Sustainable, I still face those same inner criticisms and I question myself like, “Oh my God, is anyone going to want this? What am I doing? Should I just stick to a day job?” – all these kinds of things. I try to look back on my previous experience and think, “Oh well I was asking myself the same questions, so it’s really not about what I’m doing, and it’s more about me – like it’s something that I need to work through.” 

Another thing that’s helped me is trying to look at my business objectively. I think when we start our own businesses, everything feels so personal to us. Like our success feels personal, and if we get rejected from a client or from someone important, that feels personal too and it feels like, “Oh we’re a failure!” 

And one thing that’s helped me is really trying to separate that. I have this full-time job also, right? And it’s funny that I never feel self-doubt in my full-time job – like I just go for it. I don’t care if I fail, because I’m like “Oh well, I still get a salary.” And I work in sales, so when people reject me, I’m like “Oh, it’s fine.” I don’t care because this is just part of the job. So I try to apply that thinking to my own business. But for some reason, it’s harder to do so with my own business because it feels more personal. But I try to be objective and think like, let’s say, I just got hired to do this business. Let’s say it wasn’t my idea, I didn’t create it, but someone just hired me, saying “Hey, sell Simply Sustainable, or build Simply Sustainable.” I would have approached it and thought about it so much differently. So that’s been a good thought exercise for me. 

What happened to the granola business? 

Basically, I wanted to move to New York and it was just a lot of doubt honestly. At the time, I was in California and I was like, “I don’t know if I just want to have a granola business forever. I don’t know if this is actually what I want to do with my career.” And I knew that the more I did it, the more attached and deeper I would get into it and then it would be harder to walk away from down the line. So I just kind of decided to shut it down and try something new. So, I moved to New York right before the pandemic and got a different job. I was just trying new things. But I am actually thinking about relaunching it here in New York so that could be a possibility!

Tell me a little bit about Simply Sustainable and your motive for this program in general. 

Simply Sustainable is a 12-week course where people learn everything about sustainable living. They get to learn about how to integrate sustainable habits into their lifestyles, how to really live sustainably and also have that broader impact just beyond themselves. But mostly to get involved in their community, to make a really big positive impact, and leave the legacy that they want to leave, as well as connecting with like-minded people on that journey, having a community, having a “sustainability family”. 

My goal for Simply Sustainable is that everyone becomes best friends. I mean, they learn all about how to compost, recycle properly, how to reduce their plastic waste, how to reduce our overall trash, how to incorporate climate-friendly foods into their diet, where to go for sustainable swaps or for anything they want to buy – Just giving people the tools and resources to navigate that and then getting involved within our community – whatever that means for them, whether it’s like starting a new business or something that has to do with the environment or working to push legislation through, hosting cleanups – kind of whatever that looks like for them.

What are the challenges that you faced when starting off your business?

The first challenge was understanding what a service-based business is. I never worked in a service-based or consulting type business before. My past experience was in the consumer-package business. So, just understanding that landscape and that space was a challenge. And then when I was creating Simply Sustainable, trying to understand what aspects of sustainable living to focus on, i.e. do people want to learn more about reducing plastic or sustainable swaps or aligning their careers with sustainability? – So just trying to understand that and then providing value, putting something together that really provides value for people. Also learn about how to connect people online because having a virtual environment is really different than when you’re in person meeting people. So, creating a community online that feels really authentic and feels like a family was another challenge because my goal with “Simply Sustainable”, was that I want this to be a family. I want people to make lasting friendships, I want them to meet their business partners or their next investors – I want them to make those connections there. So how do I foster that online when people are spread across different time zones? They all have different backgrounds, and different priorities but they’re all united by that shared value of caring about the environment and wanting to make that positive impact. So, those are some of the bigger challenges. 

How do you define success? 

Success to me is about the journey, not the outcome. So when someone is on a path that feels aligned for them, it brings joy, like it challenges you to grow and evolve and become a better version of yourself – to me, that’s success. So, it’s not about what you achieve on the outside –  whatever that looks like; the accolades, the money etc. 

As an entrepreneur, what does the future of your career in sustainability look like to you?

I really want to help as many people as I can. Sustainable living is not just for environmentalists or tree-huggers or vegans. I want people to know that sustainability is for everyone. No matter what your life situation or life circumstance looks like, we all share this home, our planet. I really just want to build a really great community around where people really do feel inspired and empowered to make a change. 

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies or passions?

Right now I’m learning French and Spanish. Living in France was so cool and it just made me want to learn French. So I’m doing that. Also, really just spending time with a lot of my friends living in New York, going to Broadway, shows and comedy shows and just trying out new restaurants (of course plant-based – so focusing on more sustainable restaurants) and then movies etc. I also like doing yoga and outdoor activities, like hiking, surfing in the summer – those kinds of things as well. 

What’s your mantra for life? 

I really strive to listen to that inner voice and try to do what’s aligned for me, even if it’s not a popular decision or it’s not what other people want me to do or what they think I should do. I really just try to critically think about what I need to do at this moment, what is going to feel the best for me right now and make me a better person who is able to give more to other people. Because, you know, as cliche as it sounds, you can’t give from an empty cup, right? So, I feel like it’s important to focus on ourselves, taking that time for ourselves, having the self-care that we need, making the decisions that we need for ourselves. I mean, it could be something as small as going to a yoga class at night instead of hanging out with a friend or it could be a big life decision such as moving to a new country, moving to a new continent – like making that major life move – whatever that means for you. So that’s kind of what I always am trying to do. 

What advice would you give to someone who is trying to become a green entrepreneur?

I would just say keep at it, like don’t give up. That’s pretty much it. Just keep doing what you’re doing. You’re making more of an impact on people’s lives than you realize. Sometimes we don’t really recognize the impact that we’re creating until way later, and sometimes, we never realize it. So, just stick with it, keep at it, and everything will turn out great. 

How can others be involved with you and Simply Sustainable? 

They can find our Instagram at @simply_sustainable. They can find my profile which is just @jesswasteless and we also have a website, hellosimplysustainable.com where you can find a bunch of resources as well. 

Conversation with Emily on a Simple Life, Freely Chosen

Conversation with Emily on a Simple Life, Freely Chosen

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. 

Learn more about Emily through Simple Life, freely chosen.

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.

Convince your friend to live more sustainably: 9 easy steps

Convince your friend to live more sustainably: 9 easy steps

Ever felt that your friends or family don’t understand why you’re so concerned about sustainability? Have you tried talking to them about the importance of environmental issues but always fail to connect? It’s not an easy job to encourage your friends to change parts of their lifestyle, especially when they are unaware of the urgency of the climate crisis. Talking about sustainability can indeed be difficult and draining too with some people, but with a little patience and kindness, it’s possible. Here are some suggestions for encouraging your friends and loved ones to embrace sustainability, even if they do not immediately relate to it.

1. Be patient and positive

Photo of a white hand and a black hand holding each other in a gesture of unity and solidarity. Photo used for an article titled "Photo of a white hand and a black hand holding each other in a gesture of unity and solidarity"

Persuading people to change something about their lifestyle is not easy, and it works differently for everyone. Remember that this is a change for your friend and changes take time. So the process to get them onboard might get frustrating sometimes, but don’t let that dishearten you. Because while trying to get your friends on board to love the planet is not supposed to be an easy job, you’re still trying your best. And with a little patience, it’s possible and also extremely rewarding. Keep your mind open, be patient with them and also be positive.

2. Start small. Avoid giving them too much information at once

Photo of a girl wearing a t-shirt and jeans holding a hand mic and shouting at a boy also wearing a t-shirt and jeans who appears to be annoyed by the noise pollution.

Focus on their areas of interest (which will be different for every person), hear them out first, and give little information relevant to those areas and sustainability and/or climate change. Give them time to process that information and feel connected to what you are trying to make them realize and why that’s important.

3. Share simple and fun activities to start with

Photo of a hand reaching out from the top of a ladder towards a woman at the bottom of the ladder who is extending her hands to grab the hand that was reached out for her to climb up the ladder.

Introduce them to simple and fun activities that they can participate in within their areas of interest and make them understand how these small actions can have a huge impact and how they can be real changemakers by taking these small steps towards a more sustainable lifestyle every day. For instance, if they are into fashion, you could challenge them to style a dress in three to five different ways, if they are into gardening, maybe you could help them start growing their own herbs or fruits, and vegetables.

 

4. Use the power of Social Media

A hand holding a smartphone displaying various social media icons including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and Telegram.

Educate your friends by raising awareness using the power of social media. Focus on sharing interesting, essential but light and relevant content to raise awareness. Share about how living sustainably has been so rewarding to you so far and how awesome it would be if people realized the fun in it. Let’s make sustainable living the new mainstream. 

5. Introduce them to Eco-friendly Products and Services

A girl sitting in front of glass pots, containers, potted plants, and a wooden brush stand is holding a smartphone in her right hand and showing it to the viewer. The screen of the phone has a green recycling sign on it, indicating a sustainable lifestyle. The girl is smiling in the photo, suggesting her support for environmental awareness.

Introducing your favorite eco-friendly products and services to your friend will help them get to know about eco-friendly alternatives (and learn how cool they are!). Also, this will help ethical eco-conscious businesses with the support and attention that they truly deserve.

6. Plan Eco-friendly Activities Together

Two girls on the beach, one picking up a plastic bottle and the other carrying a black trash bag to clean up litter.

Arrange clothing swap meets among your friends, do volunteering activities like beach cleanups and plogging together, and let your friendship find a life outside of your social media accounts!

7. Gift them Eco-friendly Products

Two women, one White and one Black, sit on a couch with white shirts, smiling and enjoying each other's company.

Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are the best times to give eco-friendly products to your friends as gifts. This will help them experience first-hand what it’s like to use sustainable products and see how convenient they are (and also eventually fall in love with them!)

8. Stay away from Eco-shaming

A black woman in a sleeveless white dress stands in front of a white wall with a large house plant partially visible in the background. She covers her eyes with her hands and smiles slightly.

Avoid eco-shaming at all costs in your attempt to convince them. This not only will fail as a strategy to convince them to live more sustainably but will also negatively affect your friendship. Keep your mind open and respect their opinions too.

9. Appreciate and Celebrate

Five multi-racial friends wearing various types of jeans clothing, posing for the camera and making friendly hand gestures.

Appreciating and celebrating their small steps is a crucial part of the plan to get your friend to live more sustainably. Always remember this – One who loves to live, will love our planet and always take care of it.

Wishing you good luck on your journey. Cheers!

A conversation on life with Marinel Sumook Ubaldo

A conversation on life with Marinel Sumook Ubaldo

A young climate activist who isn’t afraid to speak up for the planet, Marinel Sumook Ubaldo is one of the leading climate activists in Asia who also helped to organize the first-ever youth climate strike in her country, the Philippines. 

Marinel’s life was just like a movie in a tropical paradise until her life suddenly changed forever when she had to witness the terrors of climate change firsthand in 2013, as Super Typhoon Haiyan wiped out her country, taking away lives of thousands and homes of millions of people. Disappointed at the crisis response from their government at the time, she decided to speak up and has since become one of the leading climate activists in the world. 

Today, she’s an advocate for climate justice and environmental issues and also a registered social worker. While her story has touched thousands of lives and inspired so many young people to speak up for our planet, today, we will be taking a different look at her lifestyle, and learning how she keeps doing all the incredible things that she does, so that readers can resonate with her story, and know that anyone can be a voice for the planet, no matter who they are and where they are from.

Marinel, What’s a typical day in your life like?

Well, a typical day, for me, is getting up at 8 in the morning, and then I make my bed, read a book, clean my apartment, and then I would start work. That’s when I answer my emails, attend meetings, answer interview questions, facilitate events and conceptualize them, write proposals and concept notes, etc. I usually work until the evening, at around 8 or 9 pm, depending on how many meetings I have on that day. And after the break, I resume working from 11 pm until 3 am in the morning, to entertain the other time zones — which is not nice, you should not follow that at all, sorry! You should sleep, and get your 6 to 8 hours of sleep every night. But, as for me, those are my working hours. *chuckles*

When I’m working, I would eat in between, sing in between, watch Netflix or listen to some music, and just try to have a normal day because I always like to think I am in control of my time even if I am not. That’s also a way for me to cope during trying times, whenever things are just too heavy, especially if you are working or living alone, it’s always nice to have other little things to do while you are working. I think it kind of balances out your time. 

I also want to say that you should not take the pressure to have your life all figured out. Because no one has a perfect life. We are all just thriving, we are all just surviving. You should do whatever makes you happy, what you love, because, you never know how many years you have on Earth before the climate crisis becomes unstoppable. So you should really enjoy the life you deserve. And, please sleep 6 to 8 hours daily!

How do you practice sustainability in your regular lifestyle?

Well, as a climate activist, I am more on climate change, lobbying with the government, having a dialogue with the leaders, etc. Because, I believe that, we should try to engage with leaders because it needs a standard change. For several billions of people living on the planet, there are only 100 corporations fuelling climate change, and that is just so unfair. Even if we all transition to a zero-waste lifestyle, still, these corporations will profit from the sufferings of other people. They will still be emitting so much carbon dioxide that it would imbalance the gases in the atmosphere. So, I believe that it is our responsibility to make these corporations accountable and reliable, and I’m always working on that. And that is my contribution to sustainability.

I believe that we should not blame ourselves all the time. I am a very open person in my life. I eat seafood, chicken, fish – I love chicken. But I don’t eat red meat, pork, or beef – animals that are contributing too much carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, I don’t eat them. But, I also acknowledge that as a person, it is a privilege for me, a luxury to have that kind of choice on what to eat, and everybody has that choice. So, I would say that we should always engage with our leaders, alongside, of course, changing bits of our lifestyle, and, choosing a more sustainable way of life.

What’s your favorite local food? Does climate change have any impact on it?

My favorite food? I love everything that’s chicken. Well, all of the sources of the food that we are eating, are being threatened by the climate crisis. So, even if you’re not from a developing country or those communities or countries that are bearing the brunt of the climate crisis, and even if you are in Europe, the U.S., or other parts of the world, you will be affected by the climate crisis. Just look at the source of the food that you are eating, because all of the raw materials are affected by the climate crisis – our poultry, the plants that we eat, and even the source of the clothing that we wear. 

All of the aspects of our lives, including the little special things, are being threatened by the climate crisis. All of our favorite foods, our favorite places, our loved ones, and even the book that I am reading, all of these things that I enjoy are now threatened by the climate crisis. Because the climate crisis does not just show up through floods or typhoons or other climate disasters, it also shows up through pandemics, and health crises, among various other forms. 

Tell me about a practice(s) in your culture that’s actually very sustainable and good for the planet.

Oh, in my hometown, since it’s a very remote community — it’s facing the Pacific Ocean, actually, it’s a whole side of the fishing village, we don’t use too much plastic, and I’m very proud of that. And our environment is very rich in all sorts of natural things, like various kinds of herbs, and all kinds of things we could use, even just for the food, the inclusion of our food… thinking about that, I just feel we were really lucky to grow up in our community. It also has a really nice beach, so we don’t have to go to other places to just swim or have the beach experience. And, we don’t use too many preservatives, because the food here is so fresh and nice.

How do you keep yourself motivated, and keep doing what you do?

Tell us how you practice self-care, or how you deal with negative emotions, like eco-anxiety and so on. 

Well, it’s so hard to even answer that question. But I think, as humans, we always have to know what our limits are. I love singing, so it is actually one of my stress-relievers, even when things are not okay, like being in this space is already so energy-draining, even Instagram is so energy-draining. With all of the pressure around, sometimes, I just want to go back to my apartment, turn the lights off, and get the music on, and that’s one of my ways to practice self-care… and also acknowledge that you need those times for yourself, so you can recentre your priorities. 

My alone time is very, very important to me. Because that is the time that I kind of think about what I should improve on. That’s also a way for me to evaluate myself, and process my thoughts and emotions. As a Cancer, I am an emotional person, and acknowledging that you’re emotional is not a weakness; rather, a strength, really. We should turn these emotions into strengths so that we can use them in a better way. Instead of dwelling on being sad, angry, or disappointed, you can use those emotions to actually ignite the fire in you to do more, act more, and influence others to do the same to influence more people. Because being in this space is not about me as an individual person, it is about the community that we represent and the causes that we advocate for. 

Whenever people ask me what a typical day in my life is like, I don’t even know how to answer because, just like every other people, my typical day… it’s not that special. I think just accepting the fact that we are just human beings, that we are limited and we can not do everything, all at once – is kind of liberating, to accept and acknowledge, that you are capable of just doing so much. You actually have the right to step back, and process everything on your own, and not just feel pressured about what other people will say. People will keep on talking and expecting too much from you. And even if you give in, it doesn’t end, it will just continue on until it drains you completely. So, if you don’t have the energy to actually do what you love, because you are just too drained pleasing people trying to live up to their expectations, please acknowledge that you are also a person, you also have needs, and sometimes, you also have to pause and just be with yourself. And I think that is what I did, this week – to be out in nature — because Manila is sometimes too crowded which gets too much for me, and I just want to be in a new environment. Although I was still working, taking calls, and still answering emails, the time you spend with yourself… those are crucial for keeping up, and, keeping sane, basically. 

So, you see, I am not different from any other youth activist, even any other 24-year-old girl or woman out there. I am still just a 24-year-old girl with emotions, I get angry at times, I get too emotional at times, I get hurt at times – because I am just a person. And, my aim, at this stage of my life, is to not be bothered by the expectations of other people towards me. Because I just have to be bothered with what I want for myself, not the expectation of others. And I think that is how I handle my eco-anxiety, by accepting that it’s not always about being perfect, it’s about doing as much as you can to make an impact, no matter how small. Because we need everybody to be in this movement and we don’t have time to think twice about if we are doing enough. We just have to do what we can.

What would your advice be to someone in the climate movement who feels hopeless and burned out?

Sometimes we feel hopeless because we think that we can’t do anything about certain things like the climate crisis. And, as I said earlier, it’s okay to feel hopeless at times, it’s okay to have these negative feelings. As humans, we all feel negative things and that is okay. But we should not drown ourselves in these negative feelings, rather use them as our motivation to do more. 

How do you envision your future? 

I just want a future that is peaceful, I just want a future that is safe for me to live in and for my future children. I just want a future where I can hold my potential and be the best version of myself. I want a future where I will not be afraid to live, I will not be afraid to dream, and I will not be afraid of wanting to have my own family. That is my greatest dream – to be a mother, but also that is my greatest fear too. I don’t know if I will be a good mother, or if I will even be a mother, I don’t know that. So I just want a future where it is safe to dream, it is safe to reach your dreams.

Do you have an idol?

I do have an idol. I look up to people who are doing amazing things for our planet. One of my idols is Naderev Yeb Saño. He’s just a really monumental person in the climate movement, not just in the Philippines but also internationally. He is like an idol to me and a really nice person. And I’m very very lucky to call him ‘Tatay’ which is a word we use in the Philippines for father as he’s like a father to me. He always inspires me to do more for the planet, because he is just an amazing person. Yeb Saño is the Philippines’ former chief negotiator in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). And he has done so many amazing things. Even when he was working with the government, he made sure to keep working for the people, and with the people, not for his own interest. And that’s what I love about him. He’s always thinking about things that make people happy and safe.

What do you do for fun? Any hobbies or passions?

What do I do for fun? *chuckles* Well, like I mentioned earlier, I sing. That’s one. I talk a lot, I hang out with my friends, and I drink at times. But most of all, I sing, I love to sing karaoke. 

What’s your mantra for life?

Experience is not what happens to you, it’s what you do with your time and what you take from it. – You’re the lead in your life. You can do whatever you want with an experience you’re having and that is your responsibility to make sure that it’s used for the greater good. Every person I meet, I always try to learn from them and make sure that there’s an exchange of knowledge. Even if it’s a relationship that’s not working, it’s okay. People come and go, some become our constants but many don’t stay forever. But we need to make sure that we always learn from the experience and use that to grow better next time.

We have so much to learn from each other, no matter what our standing is in society. We all have unique stories, and we can all learn from each other, no matter who we are, and wherever we come from.

How can others join you in the climate movement?

You can connect with me on Instagram or Twitter. You can also like our pages Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and Oecono Media for updates on events and opportunities coming up. And if you want to be a part of the movement, you are always, always welcome whatever you do for the environment. You don’t need labels to join us, you just need to do something for the environment. We are a community and we call ourselves siblings in the movement because we are in this together. And we should be allies with each other as we need that kind of solidarity in this movement.

Find Marinel Sumook Ubaldo and learn more about her work.

This is a part of a series where we explore the stories and take 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.

Your Guide to a Happy and Green Halloween!

Your Guide to a Happy and Green Halloween!

Halloween is almost here! A time for all things scary… like ghosts, creepy clowns, ghouls, and… TRASH! Yes, you read that right. In fact, the most terrifying thing about Halloween is the useless piles of waste that it generates worldwide.

Every year, around one million kilograms of pumpkins are farmed in the United States. Many are carved into jack-o-lanterns and then wind up in the trash rather than on the table. Authorities have warned that these decomposing pumpkins release methane, which significantly contributes to climate change. Similarly, according to 2020 research, half of the UK’s 24 million pumpkins carved for Halloween had ended up as food waste. Plus, 42% of study respondents had no idea that pumpkin flesh was edible. There’s more, with 70% of UK shoppers expecting to buy sweets, chocolates, and other delights, Halloween is now the UK’s third largest commercial festival after Christmas and Easter.

Starting from the massive food waste, shoddy single-use costumes, and plastic candy wrappers to mass-produced decoratives, Halloween is not only a nightmare to the environment but also to our wallets. Here’s your guide to how you can have a happy and Green Halloween in 2022.

1. Reuse or DIY your own costume

Photo of a woman dressed as a witch in black clothing and hat, helping a child get ready for Halloween by wrapping a bandage around their head, possibly for a mummy costume. Another child in a mummy costume is visible in the background, slightly out of focus. The scene takes place in a living room, indicating a Halloween celebration. The photo is for a titled 'your guide to a happy and green Halloween!'

Find your old costume from last year. Adding a different accessory or face paint will make it new again! You can also DIY your own costume from thrift store fabrics or recycled finds around the house. Get creative!

2. Swap costumes with friends

Photo of a public costume party, possibly a Halloween celebration. Three people, two female and a male, are dressed in superhero costumes, possibly indicating a group of friends having fun at the party.

Another super fun option is to arrange a Halloween costume swap with your friends. This is a great option if your old outfit doesn’t fit anymore, or if you just want to change things up this year!

3. Make your own homemade treats

Photo of Halloween-themed treats, including cookies and candies, arranged on a table. Hotdogs are also visible in the photo, possibly indicating a Halloween-themed food spread.

Homemade treats are the best! Plus you get to spend a great time with family and friends baking cookies and cakes for Halloween! Then again, if making homemade treats is too time-consuming for you, you can do this instead…

4. Ethical alternatives to regular candies

Photo of a variety of cookies and candies, displaying different shapes, sizes, and colors.

You can look for sweet treats and candies with independent certifications like B-corp. Note that these certifications do not necessarily always mean they’re completely green. It’s completely okay if you still have to buy regular candies. Just remember that buying only what you need is not only better for the planet but also for the kids too!

5. DIY Decorations

Photo of two hands decorating half of a window for Halloween with decorative spider webs on a white net-like cloth.

Decorating for Halloween with family, friends, or even just by yourself is a great way to explore your creativity while also being a conscious planet lover. Just find random stuff around your house and go crazy with your ideas!

6. Buy local and seasonal produce

Photo of two people holding pumpkins in a field, with their faces not visible in the image.

It’s best to buy your pumpkin from a local grower or a farmer’s market. If pumpkins aren’t in season for where you are(like the Southern hemisphere), you can carve out watermelons instead!

7. Make the best use of your pumpkin

Photo of two hands cutting a pumpkin pie, with another pie visible beside it and a smaller pie behind them.

Save the seeds and flesh to eat later. You can make pumpkin soup with the flesh and even muffins. Plus, you can also roast the seeds, it makes a pretty good snack! Compost the remains of the pumpkin if it’s past its best use after being on display for too long. Remember, you don’t have to throw away your Halloween pumpkins. You can actually use the Guts, Skin, Flesh, and Seeds to make some amazing dishes. Some examples include:

  1. Baking a pumpkin pie or a cake
  2. Making pumpkin cookies
  3. Making pumpkin soup with the flesh
  4. Making chips with the skin
  5. Making pumpkin gut muffins
  6. Baking a pumpkin bread
  7. Cooking a delicious pumpkin curry
  8. Roast the seeds as a crunchy snack

It’s okay if you still can’t eat your pumpkins, or they seem to be completely inedible. You can always just compost them instead!

8. Save your costume and decorations for next year

Photo of a person dressed in a ghost costume covered by a bed sheet and wearing sunglasses, standing in an open field with mountains and a river visible in the background (out of focus).

Now, this is pretty self-explanatory. Saving everything up will make it smooth and easy for you to set up your Halloween game for the next year. Even if you don’t want to repeat it next year, you can always swap with your friends, or even get crafty and DIY it into something completely new.

Remember, trying to be sustainable, should not take the fun out of the festival. All you have to do is be mindful of your small choices, and it would make a huge difference. Happy Green Halloween!

Is Sustainable Living Expensive for Real?

Is Sustainable Living Expensive for Real?

With the growing awareness around climate change, Gen Zs and Millennials all around the world are stepping up to become more responsible global citizens. While many individuals are convinced that they must take action to protect the environment, many are finding the transition to be intimidating because of the price tag that comes with it. So to quench our thirst for curiosity we tried to do our own research by asking the question – Is sustainable living expensive?

So, does living sustainably really have to be expensive?

We interviewed people to figure out some of the main challenges they face when trying to live sustainably. Among the few common challenges we found, the most popular one was “it’s too expensive”. However, what’s surprising is that some people also shared a completely opposite argument. Among them, some said that being sustainable is easy and usual for them because of their financial difficulties (that should mean that it’s relatively cheaper to live sustainably, right? ); while others said, sustainable living can seem rocky at the start but in the long run, it’s extremely rewarding and saves you a ton of money if you stay invested to the journey. Even though most eco-conscious practices like recycling, reusing, conscious shopping, eating plant-based, thrifting, conserving energy, etc. are expected to minimize personal expenses, there are many factors that make people think otherwise. 

But, why do people feel that way?

1. The media effect: 

Photo of a hand holding a smartphone displaying icons of various social media apps, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat.

There is no doubt that social media heavily dominates our idea of how our lifestyles should be and it works the same way for sustainable living too. Looking at some posts on social media, many of us get the implication that sustainable living means owning a massive house with minimalistic decor and garden space, purchasing all the trendiest zero-waste accessories and ethical products, and so on. What we need to consider here is the fact that there is a gap between how sometimes sustainable living is advertised on social media and how it really is. 

The good thing is that sustainable influencers and bloggers are growing aware of how this might be altering the message they are working so hard to spread. Many of them have now come up with ways to help their audience understand when they are making regular content and when it’s actually an ad by adding hashtags like #ad to those particular contents or simply by announcing an advertisement at the beginning of the caption. Besides, if you look, you will find so many incredible sustainable influencers (some of our favorite creators in the space include Kate Hall, Danielle Alvarado, Kathryn Kellog, Kira Simpson, and many more!) who are not afraid to talk about their real struggles, and how they deal with them besides the frugal and fun side of sustainable living. Make sure to check them out. You can find more sustainable influencers in the space through Ethical Influencers.

2. The price tag on sustainable products: 

Photo of a woman wearing a mask while checking out the price tag of a sports bra in a store. This image is the used for an article titled 'Is Sustainable Living Expensive for Real?'.
Photo by Rodnae Productions

Let’s be real here. It is indeed true that sustainable products come with a higher price tag and there are quite a few reasons behind that. 

Firstly, the ethical resources used to make sustainable goods are more expensive to produce, manufacture, and process. Growing organic cotton, for example, with fairly paid labor and strict labor rights, will surely cost more than pesticide-laden cotton processed by unfairly paid employees.

Secondly, while the demand for eco-friendly and sustainable alternatives is increasing, it is still fairly low in comparison to mainstream alternatives. This implies that, whereas mainstream non-green items can benefit from economies of scale, the same cannot be said for those in the sustainable market.

Another very important factor that adds up to why sustainable products cost more is the fact that they are made to last way longer than traditional alternatives. Many think it’s easier and cheaper to simply rely on single-use items rather than reusable ones as they seem more convenient and affordable to use, but investing once in a sustainable alternative instead can take us a long way and help us save money in the long run too. That way you don’t have to make frequent purchases all the time that just keep adding up (which is obviously more expensive!). A plastic-free reusable water bottle might cost you higher than the price of a regular single-use plastic water bottle. However, you can be certain that the reusable bottle will last you far longer, has never had any plastic around it in the first place, and will also save you money in the long run. 

3. The notion that fossil fuels are cheaper :

Photo of an industrial site near a river, featuring a smoking chimney and a ship partially visible in the distance. The image suggests a fossil fuel industry presence and possible environmental impact.
Photo by Chris LeBoutillier

Surprisingly, not anymore. It’s true that fossil fuels have been dominating the world’s energy supply for the past two decades due to their cheaper price range during that time. But wait, did you know? Between 2010 and 2019, the unit costs of solar and wind energy have fallen by 85% and 55%, respectively. So basically, these safer and cleaner sources of energy are not just becoming increasingly cost-effective, but also more accessible to general people.  

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also confirmed that solar and wind are currently the cheapest and best options for reducing world emissions, which must be reduced by 24 gigatonnes by 2030.

4. “But wait, won’t this shift make people lose jobs?”

Photo of a mid-aged white-haired man in a black suit sitting on a chair and attempting to work on a computer. The computer is strapped with tape, implying that the man is not allowed to use it. The computer screen partially reads 'Unfortunately, we no longer need your services'."
Photo by Ron Lach

It’s true that the transition towards greener alternatives in the market could initially affect the income opportunities for people dependent on the ‘not so green’ industries for a living. But here’s the thing, according to ILO’s estimations, the shift towards a greener economy with appropriate policy implications could give rise to more than 24 million new jobs by the year 2030 that would eradicate poverty. So eventually, there will actually be more jobs!

You can find ethical companies with relevant opportunities on LinkedIn just by putting your keywords on the job board. You can also keep an eye on our green opportunities section to stay updated on current and upcoming relevant opportunities in sustainability.

So, how can you afford to live sustainably?

Of course, a better lifestyle can come with a price, but it does not have to be expensive. So, what can you do if you don’t have the budget? The good news is that there are several low-cost and affordable ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Here are a few of our favorites:

1. Avoid replacing until absolutely necessary: 

Living green does not require huge investments, it can simply start with making the best use of what you already own and slowly making small transitions from there. Tossing out all of your plastic storage containers or entire plastic bottles of shampoo does not benefit the environment. Living sustainably entails using what you have to the fullest extent possible. Only then should the items be replaced with eco-friendly alternatives. 

2. Learn to share and borrow: 

This is especially relevant if we know we won’t be using an item frequently, or more than once. This has also emerged as a new concept in the global economy, known as the ‘sharing economy.’ For consumers, the basic concept of sharing and borrowing rather than purchasing new is undoubtedly a great practice toward more mindful and cost-effective consumption. Need a fancy dress for a dinner party, a car for a special event, or just a particular tool to fix your broken appliance? You can just approach your friends, relatives, and neighbors, use rental services, or just reach out to your local community. 

Here are a few platforms that you might find useful: 

Nextdoor: a platform that connects neighbors, local businesses, and services, with over 265,000 neighbors globally. After checking in and choosing your area, you will be able to see what your neighbors are posting about – stuff for sale and rent, services, lost and found items, events, and so on. 

The platform is available in the following countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia, Denmark, Sweden, and Canada.  

The Clothing Loop: The Clothing Loop is a community-based program that allows people to easily swap garments with others in their own community. It’s fun, free, and environmentally friendly. The concept is pretty simple – big bags packed with clothes move along a path through all participants in a certain city or neighborhood. Each member takes what they like and put something back in it for others to find. No matter where you are from, you can easily join a loop in your area or even start your own loop if there isn’t one already.

Peer-to-peer car-sharing platforms like GetAround (operates in the USA, UK, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, and Belgium) and Blablacar (operates in almost all of Europe and Latin America) can get you a car whenever or wherever you need with just a click. Now you don’t have to buy a car just because you need it for one special day. 

These platforms for the peer-to-peer exchange of products and services may cost you less than goods and services provided by traditional shops. Furthermore, sharing products with individuals you know and trust, or who you met through the community may help you save money in the long term too, for example, you can purchase a lawnmower with a neighbor and just divide the costs. 

3. Shop consciously: 

Don’t make the mistake of becoming a rampant consumer in your effort to establish a sustainable lifestyle. Fundamentally, having less is the greatest approach to sustainability. Consider whether you really, truly require another reusable water bottle. The best way is to make a list of things you need and stick to it when you shop. 

For grocery shopping, it’s always best to start with a weekly or biweekly meal plan, visit your local markets, and shop in bulk. According to this University of Portland research, customers may save up to 89 percent by purchasing bulk groceries. Besides, buying fresh produce from your local market will not only help you eat healthy and unadulterated food but also enable you to support your local farmers.

4. Invest in quality: 

A cost-effective sustainable approach is to invest in a few high-quality long-lasting sustainable goods (remember to only buy when you need to). When we are on a tight budget, it may seem contradictory, but choosing high-quality durable items made of lasting materials, rather than products that wear out too soon, can be cheaper in the long term. Your carbon impact will not only be reduced in the long run, but you will also generate less waste. Even though spending more money upfront than we are accustomed to can be unsettling, there is a good chance you will be motivated to take better care of these items and, overall, value them more.

5. Do what you can: 

Nobody has ever said that sustainability has to be all or nothing. If you believe you cannot afford a truly sustainable way of living, just do what you can. Remember – something is always better than nothing. 

Photo of a group of people protesting for the environment, with a woman in a sky-blue shirt and yellow backpack as the main focus. She is holding a sign that reads 'Less is more. It's Eco-logical', advocating for sustainable and eco-friendly living.
Photo by Hello I’m Nik via Unsplash

All in all, a greener lifestyle can actually be quite affordable, less wasteful, and more convenient for people and the planet if you know the right approach to it. Still, got queries? Send us an email at hello@greenandbeyondmag.com. Cheers! 

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