Food & Fashion? Improving sustainable consciousness – my realisations, experiences, and what I’ve learnt incorporating sustainable practices into my lifestyle.

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.

How Technology Can Support Environmental Activism

Guest post: Jane is the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she shares practical tips on how to live a greener life. 


Technology drives the modern age. Since the pandemic, we spend more time staring at screens than ever before. Laptops now help us access education safely from anywhere in the world.

The benefits of technology are evident, and individuals wonder how they may expand. When developing or supporting a social movement, many citizens turn to the web. Though this may present conflict, it also promotes community and action.

Slacktivism to Activism

Society once viewed social media-driven activism as “slacktivism.” The term derives from two words — activist and slacker. Individuals believed social media campaigns were lazy, supporting a cause through simple measures rather than true devotion.

The past few years proved a different use for social media in activism. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more exposed society to the harsh reality of the world.

Technology and Environmental Activism

The online environmental movement has significant effects. In the early years, corporations capitalized on eco-conscious development, spreading misinformation for profit. Cooperatives offer alternatives to proprietor-owned companies.

Rather than working to please investors, environmental cooperatives focus on their mission. They may work with individuals to generate beneficial change. Online spaces provide everyone with a place to speak, regardless of their financial background.

Social Media

Before social media, movements remained local. Today, they can become international overnight. A few tweets and posts generated a significant turnout at Standing Rock.

In 2016, the U.S. government announced plans to install a pipeline crossing the Missouri River. Officials mapped the pipeline route, allowing it to run beneath Lake Oahe. The lake is the Sioux Reservation’s primary water source, and an oil stream could pollute it, causing adverse environmental and health effects.

Individuals on and around the reservation used internet posts to gain the attention of environmental activists. They used #NoDAPL to signify the movement. People from all around the U.S. saw #NoDAPL tweets and posts, making the trip to the reservation with food, medical supplies and other aid.

Social media also provides a supportive space for individuals to connect and get help. At times protesting, researching and connecting can feel defeating. Online communities allow mental stress and isolation to dissipate.

Many environmental activists used social media to distribute a message in lockdown. Greta Thunberg planned a school strike on Earth Day in 2020, and, due to the pandemic, she asked individuals to remain inside. Rather than leaving school to protest, Greta took the day off virtual classes and raised environmental awareness online.

Various activists utilize education, exposing society to ecological degradation. Many people use Facebook live and IGTV to share their values and goals, influencing others to volunteer in local protests. This technique displayed success through the recent Black Lives Matter protests.

Film

Video technology exposes individuals everywhere to environmental degradation. Film experts developed the documentary “Chasing Coral” to expose marine damage caused by climate change. The video shows footage of global coral bleaching.

When coral experiences stress from temperature, light or nutrient changes, it expels algae and turns white. The degression leaves it susceptible to disease and death. “Chasing Coral” offers suggestions for lowering society’s contribution to the issue.

Another documentary, “RiverBlue,” breaks the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) wall between fashion consumption and production. The fast fashion industry contaminates 70% of freshwater sources in China. “RiverBlue” explores various regions of Asia, exposing the harm our blind purchases cause.

Another river in Bangladesh located near textile mills and leather tanneries holds the record for most localized pollution. Tanneries utilize harsh chemicals, disrupting the nervous systems and hormones of workers. Few individuals know of these environmental harms when they go shopping. Filmmakers use powerful footage to expose society and promote a response.

Online Voting

The pandemic generated the e-ballot era. Some people preferred to vote from their laptops or phones rather than in person. Though online petitions may lack government legitimacy, they gain success in other realms.

Online petitions successfully raise environmental awareness. Coupling this activism method with community outreach programs, protests, phone calls, organized media campaigns and more can create change. It also helps those without voting rights have a say.

Small Actions, Big Impacts

We are past the days of slacktivism, finding various uses for technology in environmental activism. Though some of the online efforts appear small, together, they generate a significant impact. Like Bernie Sanders and Greta Thunberg, many individuals successfully increase climate awareness and reach voters using technology.