Is Sustainability For You? Q&A with Claire Shay

I don’t know about you, but to me, sustainability is INTIMIDATING. It’s such a broad term that encompasses so much of our everyday lives, from the food we eat to the trash we throw out to our power sources… EVERYTHING! Because of my lack of knowledge, I’ve always been hesitant to venture into that world. I feel like I don’t know enough, or have enough money to participate in this lifestyle, or have enough influence to make a difference. But my mindset has begun to change…

I wanted to learn more about sustainability, but one question plagued me: where do I even begin? 

That’s when I reached out to sustainability writer, Claire Shay, who recently released her first book called Reinventing Sustainability. And GIRL did I learn A LOT! Here’s what Claire had to say!

April: What is sustainability and why is it so important?  

Claire: The definition of what sustainability means is far-ranging and will likely differ, depending on who you ask. I would describe it as the belief that humans, animals, and natural life will create the collective society of Earth. Sustainability is a practice and a lifestyle that teaches us how to protect the delicate balance of Earth’s society, while also guiding our actions towards greater collectivism. 

When we practice sustainability as an individual, it becomes a personal philosophy that should be guided by the basic principle that your actions should serve the broader collective society of Earth. It is so important because for all of our technological innovations, we cannot erase the fact that we are still but a tiny part of this world… Sustainability is important because our current usage of natural resources and pollution is untenable. 

However, I truly believe that IT IS FIXABLE. I believe in our power to come together and create change. My belief is that sustainability affects all of us, but each one of us can also contribute to this sustainability movement.

April: What does sustainability look like for you? Does it have to look the same for everyone? 

Claire: I believe that sustainability is a personal philosophy that each one of us has to develop. That being said, there are 7 values of sustainability that I believe in:

  1. SOCIETY: Humans, animals, and nature create the collective society of Earth, and each play an integral role in the balance of life on Earth.
  2. GOODNESS: Each person believes they are the center of the universe. When they discover the negative effects of their actions, it creates discomfort because each person has good intentions.
  3. HOPE: Transcendence into a contributing member of the collective comes from a person’s inherent inner goodness and compassion to help the helpless.
  4. INCLUSION: A person’s social identity and economic status changes the way they practice sustainability.
  5. TOLERANCE: Any practice of sustainability that respects the balance of life on Earth should not be discounted.
  6. ACCESSIBILITY: The economic situation of each person should not be a limiting factor in the practice of sustainability.
  7. ATTAINABILITY: Any practice of sustainability has to be achievable, maintainable, and executable for each person based on their social and political identity. 

I believe that so long as you develop your personal philosophy within the bounds of these values, WHATEVER form of sustainability you practice is completely valid, real, and should be celebrated.

April: How can people in different stages of life become more sustainable? 

Claire: I often think that we misinterpret stoicism and its applicability, but this is a scenario when I do believe stoicism applies: DO YOU. You can control your own actions, even if you can’t control the world around you. For example, you can be in charge of determining whether you use a plastic fork or a reusable fork. Sustainability is unique to each one of us, and one size does NOT fit all!

I recommend evaluating your lifestyle right now to determine in which area you are the most “wasteful ” and which areas you are doing “well ” in. For example, I choose to spend a little more on organic produce and certified humane meat, but perhaps you are either low on budget or can’t control what food you are eating. On the other hand, perhaps you are able to walk to most places whereas I need to ride the train for an hour to get to work. The great part of inclusive sustainability is that YOU get to be in charge of what sustainability means to you… The important thing is to improve by just a little each day and control what you can control.

April: How does sustainable fashion play a role in the bigger sustainability movement? How can we do our part not to participate in fast fashion? 

Claire: Though fashion is one of the most wasteful industries, I think that fashion is a space where it is so easy for all of us to immediately start making a difference. We all need clothes, but we won’t run into the same issues as perhaps food does (we won’t run into potential health issues by wearing one piece of clothing rather than another). 

If we can all come together and start being mindful with fashion, we can IMMEDIATELY start making huge strides in sustainability. Fashion touches upon all three segments in sustainability: people, planet and natural resources, and animal rights. When brands, influencers, and the government start advocating for shopping consciously, we can start fixing a lot of huge issues in sustainability such as how much waste we’re dumping into drinking water, labor abuses, and unethical animal testing practices.

The way we start practicing conscious fashion is not necessarily by limiting ourselves to shopping at brands that label themselves as “sustainable fashion” (I think certain brands immediately come to mind when we think sustainable fashion). Some of these brands may advocate themselves as sustainable, but this word isn’t regulated. What is to prevent them from lying to customers? Instead, we need to start changing our shopping habits. Choose the clothes that will best fit your personal style, your lifestyle, and your body type; don’t buy that top just because every influencer is wearing it! What we really need to do is start shopping for what we absolutely NEED, taking extra care of our clothes to maintain quality, extending the life cycle of our clothes, and recycling our clothes when we’re done.

April: When you lose your motivation to keep fighting the sustainability fight, what do you do? What do you recommend to others who are feeling burnt out as well? 

Claire: This is such a good question because this is something I frequently struggle with. When you find out that there’s a whole world of knowledge that you didn’t know and when you feel as though your efforts are futile, it is SO important to go back to your “why.” Something I focused on heavily in my book, Reinventing Sustainability, was the concept of finding your “why.” 

For me, my “why” goes back to the ocean. My cause, the reason why I fight so hard for sustainability, is to save the marine animals and clean up the ocean. Whenever I forget why I fight, why I bother posting content when it feels like no one sees or cares, I have to remember that I am fighting for the marine animals that die from the plastic in the ocean. I am fighting for clean water, I am fighting for more fish than plastic, and I am fighting for leaving the ocean cleaner than I found it. 

If you are feeling burnt out, I recommend taking a step back and digesting inspirational content, be that a movie, a book, or a podcast. Just the other day, I felt slightly discouraged and had to pull up the Disneynature Oceans movie on Disney+ to remind me why I am fighting.

I knew Claire had a lot of knowledge on this topic and she did NOT disappoint! I hope she inspired you as much as she inspired me to start incorporating sustainable practices into my life. I think there’s one thing we can all agree on after hearing Claire’s thoughts: sustainability is NOT just one thing, and it is FOR everyone because it AFFECTS everyone. No matter who you are or what stage of life you are in, you can find small ways to be more sustainable. Learn more with Claire’s new book: Reinventing Sustainability.

If you’re looking for MORE inspiring chats from MORE inspiring women, join the Ditch the Clique COMMUNITY to find empowerment and connection every day!

who is the author, April?

April Hooper is a public relations student at Messiah University, minoring in marketing and gender studies. She always has a coffee in hand and is rocking a thrifted outfit with handmade accessories. When she graduates, she dreams of living abroad, owning as many cats as possible, and writing for a living. 

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