Sustainability: Lifestyles and Mindsets

We have to cultivate contentment with what we have. We really don’t need much. When you know this, the mind settles down. Cultivate generosity. Delight in giving. Learn to live lightly. In this way, we can begin to transform what is negative into what is positive. This is how we start to grow up.

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

Sustainability lies in striving for balance in our lives and within our mindsets. Although not separate, the nature in which we approach sustainability is unsustainable; almost all of our efforts are invested in reducing material consumption, which is extremely important, but not enough. Without addressing the imbalance of our thoughts and mental energies, work done to improve our lifestyles and consumption patterns will not be long-lasting.

Intersectional environmentalism, a concept that forms a key aspect of Mind Full of Everything, addresses this issue head on, by asking questions beyond the supply chain. The concept asks why environmental and social injustices, the foundations of unsustainable production frameworks, exist rather than fixating on consumer-driven changes to supply chains. This includes both unethical and ecologically-damaging practices at production/manufacturing level and the inability of certain groups of people to have sustainable and healthy lifestyles.

To stop ourselves from spiralling into a chaotic mess of incoherent thoughts, we must ask ourselves key questions that help us prioritise our mental/physical wellbeing and causes closest to our hearts. Below are some of the questions and thought processes I have when deciding how I can maintain my mental health and do my bit for the planet, which you can replicate/adapt for yourself:

Q: I really want to re-build my wardrobe to only have sustainable fashion pieces, particularly because I feel bad wearing items from fast fashion companies, but is it economically viable for me to do so? Isn’t it more sustainable to keep the clothes you have instead of buying new ones?

A: You can gradually replace your wardrobe with brands whose values lie close to your own, however, as a student who also is currently unemployed, making sudden changes is not sustainable. Buying a few pieces which you know you will keep for as long as they last is a better option.

Q: I want to change my family’s electricity provider to a green energy company, especially because I have heard about the harmful practices of our current provider. However, is it right for me to impose my views onto my family, especially since I am not paying for electricity bills?

A: Definitely not now. Maybe when I start working and help in paying bills, but it will be best if I wait to buy my own home to make such a change. I have heard that green energy providers can be quite expensive, compared to fossil fuel companies, so it’s definitely not fair on my parents to ask for this change.

Q: I feel guilty about not engaging as much with social/environmental issues that I feel strongly for, especially because these days I have been feeling very slow with everything. Shouldn’t I just start reading around again to get back into the flow?

A: Whilst it’s important that momentum for social and environmental causes is maintained, so is maintaining your mental and physical wellbeing and addressing issues in your personal life so that you are fit for continuing on your work in the outer world. It’s tempting to skip over self-work for other things but we know that isn’t sustainable and the negative side-effects of this unhealthy habit will show up sooner or later.

Q: I advocate for consumer activism over ethical consumerism, however, I always feel as if I am not doing my part for holding corporations accountable for their unsustainable/unethical/greenwashing practices. Am I doing something wrong?

A: The first step in coming out of this guilt and concern over your “lack of action” is researching into what work has been done, and is currently being done, in the areas you are interested in. Often times we feel the urge to begin our own projects and initiatives when we feel enough progress hasn’t been made in a particular field, and whilst this passion is great and can help fill in many niches, our ideas overlap with organisations that already exist and have done amazing work with local communities but haven’t gotten the platform/recognition to expand their work. If we take out more time in finding out about these organisations/movements, we not only support smaller-scale projects expand their work further but also identify any niches that perhaps we can fill.

Q: I am finding it quite challenging to balance my views on ethics and sustainability in terms of the products I consume; for instance, some materials like silk may be sustainable due to the fibre being of natural origin, but is unethical in terms of the abuses of the rights of silk moths and many times garment workers. What should I prioritise, the rights of workers or the silk moths? Is it moral to be making that comparison?

A: Whilst sustainable brands can assure us that their workers are paid above the minimum wage and work in safe conditions, as well as the silk itself being produced under a slow fashion production framework, no one pays close enough attention to the unethical sourcing of silk. Ahimsa silk has been proposed as an “ethical silk” but there have been many criticisms of this alternative too. Silk is also of significant cultural and religious in India, where I am from, therefore this decision is not just a decision being made by a vegan but also someone who is very closely connected to their culture. The best thing to do is research into silk production more and create a podcast episode just on the ethics of silk; currently I feel that silk doesn’t lie in line with my perceptions of ethics and I know that many Indian ethnic clothing companies/fashion designers feel the same. However, I also know that supporting local community livelihoods and ensuring a safe working environment is equally important, therefore I will continue to support those businesses that provide vegan alternatives but also protect worker rights.

All life deserves respect, dignity and compassion. All life.

Anthony Douglas Williams

These are just a few questions I ask myself and attempt to answer, in my personal life and on this podcast, whilst balancing everything else in my life. In fact, these questions are essential questions that I need to ask myself everyday, because they reflect who I am as a person, therefore as I continue to grow each day, the answers to these questions will naturally change.

The importance therefore is not the answer but the process of reaching the answers, and the ways in which you challenge your own beliefs to become the person who you want to become. Whatever your journey is, prioritising your mental health and supporting all other life when you are able to, both humans and non-humans, are the prerequisites to sustained happiness.

Agrita’s favourite resource banks and businesses/organisations:

  • Slow Factory (particularly their Edu Series)
  • The Ethical Consumer – although detailed content requires paid subscription
  • Good On You – directory with ethical/environmental ratings for popular fashion brands
  • Fashion Revolution
  • Greenpeace
  • Friends of the Earth
  • So You Want To Talk About (Instagram page)
  • Ted Talks – space for inspiration
  • Anita Dongre – sustainable luxury traditional Indian clothes designer offering all natural (including silk) and plant-based alternatives such as Tencel
  • Samara Bags – female-led vegan leather bags (including apple leather) company in which every purchase contributes towards the Soular Backpack initiative
  • Hempnath – UK-based bag/accessories business producing bags in the Nepal side of the Himalayas to help support local livelihoods and every purchase supports the Eden Reforestation Project (I am from the Indian side of the Himalayas, therefore this business is particularly close to my heart)
  • Sojo App – tailor app for people living in London to get their clothes tailored by local tailors and delivered straight to their doors
  • Meune Fashion – slow fashion start-up working with local communities in India and Peru to produce fashion pieces. Please donate, if you can, to the Kickstarter campaign for this business so that their ideas can be carried forward.
  • Etsy local businesses – for sustainable items and/or locally sourced

This resource bank is not exhaustive; as I continue to become more inspired every day, I will be adding more useful resources and sustainable brands to the list.

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