how to live sustainably for a better tomorrow

By Hanna G.  
April 22, 2020

Clear blue skies, animals coming out of hiding, pollution levels down drastically. Is this a vision in our near future that we've dreamed about? Not at all.

This is the planet today, amid all the lockdowns brought about by the coronavirus. But how long will the blue skies last? Will we use this time self-reflect on our actions and do better once the lockdowns are lifted?

In conjunction with the theme for Earth Day 2020, we invited Susan Stevens, environmental advocate and founder of Made with Respect. We discussed why climate change is still a pressing issue, even as coronavirus overtakes our fears and how we can all do better once the coronavirus frenzy settles down.

Read snippets from Part 1 of our Earth Day Special interview below:

News around covid-19 has been the primary news cycle these days and even for the last few months. It's constantly on people's minds and it's already stressful enough. Why do you think discussions about the environment and climate change still needs to happen?

None of us, I think, would have thought a couple of months ago that we would all be confined to our homes and battling this global pandemic. And I think this crisis has reached into everyone's life. It's really exposed our vulnerabilities and it's been incredibly challenging for everyone. But what I think covid-19 has proven is that our health and well-being is what's most important.

And although coronavirus and climate change are different, I think ultimately the outcome is the same. And that for ourself and future generations, for all of us to continue to thrive, the planet and its ecosystems also need to thrive. And so we often find it hard. As humans, we do often find it hard to understand how something that will happen in the future will affect us if it is an immediate danger. And as a result, we end up questioning whether it's valid.

And we often downplay the outcome, even if there's conclusive research suggesting otherwise. So unlike with climate change, this virus has exploded into our lives and we've really had to face it head on. And so we've had to make changes. And we've had to adapt.

But with climate change, it's a much slower burn. And we can't afford to ignore the consequences of our actions that we're doing today because it's not having an immediate impact on us.

I believe that climate change is equally destructive. And I think we should be even more concerned. What will be life changing with coronavirus, is that we eventually will get a vaccine. And we will be able to slowly to go back to living the lives that, we hopefully, we're used to living. But there'll never be a vaccine for climate change. Once we've gone past that tipping point where we would destroy the resources, it's hard for (it) to replenish.

We face quite a difficult outcome. So what we need to realize is that our everyday, ordinary choices have an extraordinary impact on our planet. And I think the fact that we are living in this isolation, we're beginning to understand that beyond our basic needs, which is essentially access to water, food, medical help and attention and being out. We also understand the importance of getting out and about and the plain fresh air and having that ability to move freely around within the environment. And the fact that we're always looking for bigger and for better and none of that is sustainable. None of that behavior is sustainable.

And what do you think is the best way to talk about sustainability without being too preachy?

I think the key to change is education, which I think is why I'm so passionate about Made with Respect and what we're doing a lot of is pushing out content. And like anything, if we aren't properly informed, it makes it really difficult to understand, in the case of climate change, what the fuss is all about. So it's important that we do talk about sustainability and it is important that we have open conversations about climate change and consumerism.

I think the problem is that it is seen as a daunting problem. But I think we can't let fear rule it. I think we need to be inspired to find alternative ways of living in order to live a better life. So where do we start? Well, we start by talking about why it matters.

Some of us are parents, you know, some of us enjoy hiking or biking, enjoy being in the outdoors like we like my family, like going to the beach.

So we really appreciate that the water and it's not polluted and that we don't have plastic bottles washing up on the sand. You know, even if you care about the economy or our security, because these are all relevant to living a more sustainable life.

How do you think we can use this time as an opportunity to live sustainably now?

Whilst we're sitting at home contemplating what the road may look like and how covid-19 has changed things quite dramatically. I think we must also assess the role that each of us play in society. And we've really got to dig deep to look at our past behaviors and whether this is reason to change some of the way that we do things.

I think we need to ask ourselves, what does tomorrow look like? I think we need to take this opportunity to contemplate our future to reset, to be open to new ways of thinking and to be open to embracing a more sustainable lifestyle. You know, we rely on the environment for food and medicine, for our general health and wellbeing. So it's an integral part of everything that we do. So we have to protect it.

And as you said, things are going to change. And from there on, we're definitely going to be seeing major shifts in consumption patterns overall after all of this. How can we do better when this is over?

As a human population, we exploit more than 70% of the earth. And now we are affecting the climate and we are leaving little room for nature to thrive. So our constant and growing demand of niche resources is really leading to deforestation, degraded soil. We've got polluted air, water, polluted fresh water, polluted ocean. This has been a dramatic decline in plant and animal species and some of them are threatened with extinction.

So the impact of our actions is creating an unstable climate. We need to really realize that the way that we have always lived in recent years is having a dramatic effect on the environment around us. Each of us can make a positive impact and we can look at the way that we consume. And I think another problem that we have is that people often think that has to be solved by governments or large corporations. 

It's really not going to make a difference on the bigger scale of things, because I'm just one person. So how can one person make change? So I think that sometimes is a reality as well, is that it's too big a problem for just me. But we all make a huge impact just by changing the way that we think and adjusting our lifestyles, because every one of us, collectively, would have an impact and would have a benefit to the health of our planet. It's not about striving to be perfect because I'm certainly not perfect. But it's just about being more conscious of what we do.

Alongside the efforts of us as individuals, businesses need to be involved and they must reconsider their operations. They need to be looking at how they can adopt a more sustainable business model. You know as heck is there an opportunity for them to invest the resources?

Can they address overproduction and even revisit their mentality and their growth. The idea that growth happens by producing more. If we produced more, we sell more, we make more money. So whereas I think instead, we need to start supporting sustainable brands who are not driven purely by profit. And as consumers of products and services we hold considerable power with what we do.

If we stop buying from those brands that don't care, then they will start listening to us.

So what does meaningful change look like? So it can be as simple as buying fresh and local, which encourages a small environmental footprint as well. Being more mindful about recycling and upcycling to keep those unused or unwanted items out of landfill.  

So before you buy something, sometimes a simple question is asking yourself, do I really need this? I think we need to be more mindful to move away from that.

For the businesses to move away from that 'make, use and dispose' mentality. And for consumers to start making more conscious choices, we can buy better and buy less. You can still buy things. But rather than buying five cheap T-shirts in every color, buy one good one, that's going to last a lot longer.

Watch the full interview with Susan Stevens below: