I’m Bilal Hussain, a Politics & International Relations graduate and Global Officer at the University of Kent. I’m passionate about sharing what I’ve learned from my experiences so far and working together with students and staff at the University of Kent to build a greener future for all!
For many like myself, trying to incorporate sustainable lifestyles is a notion that is met with complaints about the difficulty and impracticality that has long been associated with greener life choices. Prior to the UN setting out the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015 there was arguably a level of ignorance and dismissal towards sustainable alternatives in our daily lives, something that I personally am accountable for as well. Fast forward to 2021, we now have more variety and accessibility to greener technologies, transport, and diets but more importantly a stronger awareness within our societies of the real-world impact climate change has had. My own journey to improving my sustainable consciousness was filled with realisations that it was in fact not as hard as I thought, and that making a small adjustment to my daily lifestyle choices would help make big changes to achieving a greener future. The two big ways I saw this unfold in front of me was in my food and fashion choices.
A problem that I often encountered was trying to incorporate a greener, more sustainable diet. As a fairly active person, one of the things that put me off sustainable options was the lack of meat-free protein alternatives that were actually enjoyable. However, as time as gone on and the meat-free industry has started to revolutionise and innovate further I discovered a greater and more affordable variety of options that not only tasted great but, in some cases, better than the meat versions! Some of my favourites include the Vivera Vegan Shawarma and Richmond’s Meat-free sausages. My adventure into the world of sustainable eating on the recommendation of a friend quietly started to become part of my regular food shop and I even found myself trying more sustainable foods at restaurants compared to my usual orders. As a Muslim this was extra encouraging for me because I had to often choose the vegetarian options because there was a lack of halal choices. So, for me and I’m sure many Muslims, the greater availability of vegetarian alternatives has made the realm of food much more exciting in the UK than ever before! This gradual adjustment to incorporating an environmentally friendly diet occurred unconsciously simply because I found myself actually enjoying the alternatives, which is perhaps a testament to the improvements of meat-free products in recent times. I started to become more conscious of making more sustainable choices in my diet, seeking out plant-based recipes and trying them with friends. I will say that not all the alternatives are the best sometimes, banana peel pulled pork being an interesting experiment to say the least! I’ll be honest I haven’t totally committed to a meat-free lifestyle just yet and I still enjoy the foods I liked before, but I have faith in the growing variety and quality of sustainable alternatives that will allow me to enjoy and incorporate more into my diet. The main thing is, to make a growing conscious effort to transition to a more sustainable lifestyle helped me to realise that it wasn’t as hard as I thought!
Another example where I realised how sustainable practice was right in front of me was when it came to fashion. I, like many my age these days, enjoy wearing reworked clothes and clothes made using sustainable materials. I was already buying clothes from independent businesses that were committed to giving part of their profits towards greener causes. As someone who also sells clothes, I was naturally recycling old packaging, something that I didn’t even consciously realise was a sustainable practice in daily life. Personally I had shopped sporadically at so-called ‘fast fashion’ stores, and as I realised the environmental damage that was caused from over-shopping at these places I couldn’t help but naturally move towards buying more sustainable clothing, whether that was materials, reworked, or just second hand. All of a sudden alongside the wave of greater awareness of sustainable fashion I realised that I had subconsciously been practicing sustainability in my fashion as well, which like my journey with food made me realise that sustainable practice isn’t as difficult as I once thought.
Of course, it is worth noting that these actions are of small significance in the greater process – I am not claiming to have saved the planet because I had vegan food one time! Instead, the point I want to make is that sustainable practice in our daily lives is very much doable, and that every person that consciously makes an effort no matter how small keeps us all going in the right direction in reducing the damage we do to our environment. The ever-growing variety and quality of sustainable lifestyle options around us thanks to innovations in technology are helping make everyday activities more sustainable. The move towards electric vehicles for example is gradually becoming a norm for us (I don’t know about you, but I am seeing a lot more Tesla’s and charging ports nowadays!). I have also found that becoming more conscious in behaving sustainably can help others also realise that these small actions can collectively make a huge difference, particularly those who perhaps do not see the point as I was in a similar mindset not so long ago. Regularly reminding yourself for doing a small sustainable behaviour as doing a favour to the environment sounds odd, but you actually feel a lot better about yourself and the world around you! Consciously making sustainable choices and realising that it isn’t as difficult as we thought will help us all gradually transition to a greener future for us and generations to come, and this is particularly encouraging with the developments and innovations in the products that are available to us. As we have greater varieties, quality, and importantly accessibility to just as good if not better alternatives for our daily lives hopefully we can naturally incorporate sustainable practice into how we live our lives. The small mindset adjustment of “how can I help the environment” when making our lifestyle choices can make a powerful change to achieving a more sustainable society without us even realising.