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.

Book Review: What Can I Do (about the climate crisis)? Jane Fonda tells you

Guest post: My name is Hannah Maple and I am a third year Psychology student. Studying this subject has expanded my interests so much. I think it’s really important to learn about the world you live in and understand how your actions influence it.


Jane Fonda is a controversial character but one of her many admirable qualities is how committed she is to elevating voices and influencing causes she is passionate about. Her most recent cause is the Climate Crisis.

Her demonstrations are called Fire Drill Fridays, whereby she and other activists rally in Washington D.C. and commit civil disobedience, risking arrest to stand up for the climate. Their website is full of content from experts on all issues climate: https://firedrillfridays.com.

In the fight to raise awareness she has written a book called “What Can I Do?”. The book outlines the issues raised at the various rallies that took place between October 2019 and January 2020. There can be a lot of confusion about what you, one individual, can do to help the climate crisis and the abundance of issues it refers to. Jane’s book ‘What Can I Do?’ outlines everything so perfectly, step by step of what causes can help and what role you can play.

On reading this book there were so many areas that I didn’t even consider being related to the climate crisis. Ignorance is bliss. But this book has certainly motivated me to get more involved in any way I can, and I just wanted to share the things I have learnt, and encourage you, if you haven’t already, to maybe have a read of Jane’s book.

Some of the issues she raised and what actionable steps we can take:

The Oceans

One of the most common areas discussed when on the topic of climate change is the ocean. The ocean absorbs so much heat as a consequence of global warming and almost half of the oxygen we breathe comes from the ocean so we need to protect it (https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/ocean-oxygen.html). In addition to the heating of the waters, it is well understood that many fishing practises are unsustainable and damaging to the areas in which they fish, destroying the ocean beds and habitats.

Furthermore, an area I had never heard of or considered before was the unethical employment of these fishing boats and the human trafficking practises that occur on some.

Actionable steps:

– Eat less fish.

– Use less plastic, particularly single-use plastics

– Write to officials to let them know you care about this issue and you expect them to also care.

Water

Access to clean, safe water was recognised by the UN as a human right in 2010 (United Nations, 2010) but there are so many people that don’t have that and it’s predicted that the vital resource is going to become even more scarce. According to WWF, by 2025 it is predicted that two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages.

Water supplies are being polluted and others drying up. We need to protect this vital resource, needed to sustain life.

The blue communities project is working hard to support the UN Sustainable development goals (particularly, 1 No poverty, 2 Zero hunger, 3 Good health and wellbeing, and 14 Life below water). The idea is to adopt the mindset that water is a public good, “shared by everyone and is the responsibility of all”. These Blue communities are popping up all over the world. https://www.blue-communities.org/About_the_programme

Actionable steps:

– Buy less plastic water bottles, use refillable bottles.

– Avoid using hazardous house cleaners and pesticides that pollute water systems

The Money Pipeline

While movements are being made towards cleaner energy there are still expansions taking place in the fossil fuel industry and our banks are supporting them. One movement, led by students, encouraging colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel organisations has had a huge influence on the development of the fossil fuel industry. Divestment and protesting has become a serious threat to the fossil fuel industry and their ability to bring in money. This is a huge success.

Jane lists some of the big banks still investing in fossil fuels but have a look online. Greenpeace’s article: https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/barclays-banks-climate-change-fossil-fuels/

So much was covered in the book, there is no way you could summarise all of it, these are some of the other topics discussed in the book:

– Health and the climate

– War, the military and the climate

– Women and the climate

– Migration and human rights

– Jobs and a just transition

– Plastics

– Fossil fuels

Jane’s book covers a lot of issues prevalent in the US but that doesn’t mean the same isn’t happening here. The particular organisations she raises may not be applicable to us in the UK but there are many organisations here that are doing wonderful things, we just need to go out and find them. For example, Greenpeace https://www.greenpeace.org.uk.

I found Jane’s book really interesting and so inspiring. I hope you have a look https://www.waterstones.com/book/what-can-i-do/jane-fonda/9780008404581

Do You Say ‘What If’ At the Checkout? – My Journey Towards More Sustainable Consumption

My name is Lucy Lavender, and I am a final year Politics and International Relations student with an interest in communications and conflict analysis. Outside of my studies, I am a Global Officer under the GOLD programme for the university’s Dean for Internationalisation, aiming to promote global engagement and increase cultural awareness. I’m also passionate about upcycling and love spending my time repurposing or altering unwanted clothes and materials into new designs. I’m looking forward to getting involved working with the Kent sustainability team and hope to help simplify the complicated world of sustainable living!


DVDs, books, clothes, shoes, folders, a memorable receipt from that one café I used to go to every Friday in Winter of 2019, or in other words; my ‘stuff’. The confirmation that I am someone who keeps up with fashion, who is interested in non-fiction and enjoys peppermint tea. The ‘evidence’ to my claim of who I am. But how can choosing my ‘stuff’, impact both myself the rest of the world?

In 2015, the United Nations set out a UN Resolution called Agenda 2030; a set of 17 targets, all interdependent upon one another, named the ‘Sustainability Development Goals’. They aim to address our biggest global problems, such as Climate Change, poverty and hunger, alongside building economic growth, stronger institutions and community. The goals create a framework of collective action, to be adopted by charities, institutions, states or individuals, willing to grow towards a more sustainable future. But tackling such immense tasks on an individual level can seem overwhelming to say the least.

Or is it? At the beginning of March 2020, I was living in Prague, having packed one large suitcase in September to last me a year. When the COVID19 pandemic hit, I was faced with having to cram as much of the unjustifiable amount of extra clothes, souvenirs and random leaflets I had collected over my study abroad into the same suitcase – so much extra stuff I had originally decided that I would have to go home for a weekend in April and June and then, donate to charity in order to get everything home. But of course, with all plans out the window, and no shops open to buy extra luggage, I had one day to decide what I definitely wanted and what to leave behind.

Surprisingly, the process was easy, for someone who loves ‘stuff’ I immediately knew what I wore, what I liked and what I wanted the most. Stuff I had worn for years and no longer liked as much, stuff I didn’t really wear, stuff I only wore on certain occasions, stuff I had just accumulated without making a conscious decision became clear. These items found themselves packaged into (embarrassingly) three bin bags and a box, to be left for my landlord to send to me at a later date – only fitting for a year such as 2020, my landlord accidently donated everything.

So, all this ‘stuff’ ended up donated and out of my life for good. Although the initial loss of one beautiful coat and the cumulative cost of everything haunted me for a while, I felt, overall, much lighter. I found myself looking at ‘stuff’ with a new attitude. Where I would once see my copy of ‘The Aristocats’ on DVD (a film I have not seen in years, nor do I even have a DVD player that works to watch it anymore) and think ‘what if it’s worth something one day?’ or ‘what if DVDs come back?’ I now saw something I was holding onto, that I knew, would not be something I’d pack in my last-minute suitcase.

In fact, the more I thought about my stuff, the more I saw a pattern occurring; over half of my stuff is a ‘what if’. A ‘what if I want to wear that one day?’ ‘what if that is worth something?’ ‘what if I want to read that?’ all outnumbering the ‘definite’. Even a lot of my recent purchases were based on ‘what if I have an interview one day?’ ‘what if I regret not buying it?’ or ‘what if I can sell it?’ and most of the things that fitted into the ‘what if’ category were things that sit around, just like the things I let go of on my journey back from Prague, that I felt so much lighter without.

So, since this time, I have decided to question my purchases. If I feel as though it is a ‘what if’ purchase, I know it is impulse and, in most cases, going to become another piece of my ‘stuff’ that sits untouched in my room. I feel more in control of my spending and equally all the better for it. As if that wasn’t benefit enough, the enormously intimidating task we discussed earlier; of making a difference individually towards the UN’s SDG goals, becomes something I have found myself invested in working on.

Saying no to such ‘what ifs’ has not only allowed me to be more selective about the stuff that I bring into my life, but allowed me to cut down my individual consumption massively, helping to work towards SDG no. 12 ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’. With charities beginning to refuse clothing donations due to COVID19 and stock room saturation after being on the receiving end of lockdown spring cleaning, even pre-pandemic, with 700,000 tonnes of clothing being sent to UK recycling centres each year. Shifting our focus from how we dispose to how we consume has never been more important. By analysing our purchases, we become more responsible consumers, and so, I encourage you to try it. The next time you are at the checkout, question if your purchase will lead to a ‘what if?’ or if it already is a ‘what if’ in the first place. Perhaps even more importantly, would you pack it in your last-minute suitcase?

Inspired by nature

Guest blog by Rebecca Smith, Sustainability Champions for Kent Business School.

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Understanding the potential for nature to inspire ideas was the topic of the first Business Start-Up Journey Ideas Hack bootcamp.

Using the Canterbury campus as a living lab, students went into the ancient woodland of Brotherhood Wood, near to the Sibson building, to explore how nature can inspire solutions to problems in the human world, using this problem solving as the basis for starting to develop business ideas.

The bootcamp began with an overview from the University’s Sustainability Coordinator, Emily Mason, on the biodiversity crisis facing the planet. She explained how careful management of the University’s natural capital was trying to counter it. Then, using the woods as their inspiration, students were set the task of developing an idea which would either tackle the issue of biodiversity or of improving mental health.

Ideas included a woodland adoption programme and classrooms based in the woods to promote a closer connection to nature.

In the afternoon, students took part in a further interactive workshop in the Sibson building, generating ideas based on understanding of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and looking at the subject of biomimicry. Biomimicry uses the solutions which animals, plants, and microbes have found to help solve problems in the human world.

They were led through a rapid idea generation session by the ASPIRE’s Innovator in Residence, Jo Pullen, and ASPIRE Project Officer, Rebecca Smith.

The bootcamp on Saturday 24 October followed a successful launch event with a keynote speech by entrepreneur, Mick Jackson, who founded of the multi-million pound global company, Wildhearts. Mick talked about the purpose of ‘business for good’ and the importance of finding your ‘why’.

The Business Start-Up Journey programme is a mix of interactive workshops, mainly online in Teams, real life bootcamps and one-to-one support. Students are guided through the process of starting a business, from finding, developing and testing an idea to creating financial and marketing plans and pitching for investment. The programme, which is philanthropically supported, ends with a pitching competition where student entrepreneurs can win £1000 to help start their business.