Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash
In 2016, I woke up and realised the damaging effect I was having on the planet.
I worked in an outdoor theatre, and every day we released cheap plastic balloons into the sky. I watched cast members drop cigarette butts into flowerbeds. I remember searching for a dropped pen underneath a bush, and when I pulled it out, it was covered in the sharp plastic glitter of a performance from two years before. It was inescapable.
I never dropped litter in the street, I shopped in charity shops, I recycled seventy percent of the packaging that came into my house, I didn’t own a car, and I had been a vegetarian since I was eleven – yet still, the guilt hit me. It wasn’t enough. In the twenty-first century, being passive in times of social and ecological crisis means being complicit.
I threw myself into hours of reading, research, and podcasts. I spent money – hundreds of pounds of it. On fancy reusable coffee cups and water bottles, on glass Tupperware and Pinterest-worthy matching jars for my flour and sugar. On vegan skincare products, mooncups, and plastic-free shampoo. A month later I was exhausted, broke, and more confused than before.
In 2020, sustainability seems to have become a global buzzword – on the surface it is a seemingly fleeting mega-trend, told in brightly coloured slogans, splashed across recyclable packaging. Underneath the gaudy exterior, however, is a compressed catalogue of painful facts and harsh truths, too uncomfortable to read and even harder to accept. The current ecological crisis can be an enormously challenging concept to understand. In our ever-blinding and consumer-driven society, ‘sustainability’ can feel like a huge, unachievable target goal, with no real definition or resolution. With an endless blend of opinion and fact accessible at our fingertips, and with every action displayed on social media making us more open to criticism and insult, it feels much easier to just bury our heads in the sand and carry on as normal. Where can you even begin to make a difference when everyone is telling you something different?
However, it’s progress we should be striving for, not perfection. My attempt at a sustainability binge did not work because it was my mindset that needed to change first, not my food storage and makeup bag. A consumer-driven crisis cannot be solved with consumer-driven solutions – buying eco-friendly products is not activism if you didn’t need to buy them in the first place.
Small changes can feel inadequate and pointless, whereas big ones can feel unachievable and exhausting. It’s easy to feel powerless, as one individual in the face of global warming, and even easier to point fingers at large corporations, who undeniably profit from the very over-consumption that’s damaging the planet.
Here at FreeBird, we believe in promoting two separate strands of sustainability. One is external – the direct effect our individual lives have on those around us, and the planet we live on, both locally and globally. This includes a focus on our individual carbon footprint, as well as discussions on the climate change crisis, a reduction in single-use plastics, and how, as a community, we can work together to implement change from within.
But there is also the matter of internal sustainability; that of your own mind. Mental and physical sustainability is just as important – destructive behaviour can lead to a burn-out cycle that can be just as damaging. Mental wellbeing and self-care go hand in hand with a sustainable lifestyle.
Sustainability is, at its core, about balanced longevity– which cannot be achieved or sustained without taking care of both oneself, and others. Truly sustainable living can’t be achieved while we still live alongside social inequality. A sustainable future must be supported from the ground upwards, and as Alice Kurima Newberry writes for Greenpeace “We cannot talk about environmental justice without addressing racial justice.” For a more in-depth explanation of how integral racial equality and environmental progress are to each other, I recommend watching Majora Carter’s TED Talk from 2007, ‘Greening the Ghetto’, in which she highlights the key connections between environmental, social, and economic degradation.
Both internally and externally, change must come, and soon– whether we like it or not. Our individual choices are the ones that matter – but they must be done for the right reasons.
We’ll be starting a twelve-step programme this August, which everyone in the FreeBird community is encouraged to take part in. Each month we’ll be changing our lifestyle in one small way – whether that’s giving something up, trying something new, or adapting to a new routine or habit. While some changes may suggest the purchase of something new, in order to replace a single-use product, this programme is ultimately about a collective change of mindset. We’re not here to accuse or dramatise, or to fill your feed with gloomy statistics, which, while truthful and necessary, can be overwhelmingly anxiety-inducing. We are here to uplift and empower, to inspire change among the creative community, resulting in a positive and vibrant future – for our planet and for ourselves. After all, climate change affects everybody– so everybody can benefit from a more sustainable lifestyle.
Change can be uncomfortable and overwhelming. It can be inconvenient and slow. Change can feel, for a long time, like you’re swimming upstream, fighting the current. But as soon as you realise we are all swimming together, it starts to feel a hell of a lot smoother.
In a years’ time, each of our lives will have changed in twelve small ways, laying a solid groundwork for us to build a more sustainable future– both individually, and together.
Oh wow! This made me cry and smile all at the same time.
Really interesting article – I am so pleased that I’m not the only one who finds ‘sustainability’ confusing! Really looking forward to reading your 12 – step programme for more ideas.