In the latest in our Life as I know it series, our sustainability analyst Chloe Stephenson shares her journey in sustainability so far and the impact it has on her career and daily life.
When I first moved to Bristol in 2013 to start my undergraduate degree, I couldn’t wait to fill my room with clothes and decorations. I was equally excited by the prospect of using my student discount at Pizza Express, and discovering what food was on offer in my halls’ dining room (my actual degree being rather low on my priority list). Never did I imagine I would be sitting here, six years later, with such a changed view on the great pleasures of food, clothes and discounts.
During my second year at university, Bristol was named the Green Capital of Europe. The city’s ethos had a huge influence on how I now think about aspects of everyday life, such as how we source the food we eat, where our clothes come from, and how we get rid of our waste. I remember watching a Netflix documentary with my boyfriend on food waste in the UK and being shocked by the estimation that UK supermarkets were throwing away 115,000 tonnes of edible food every year (the weight of 12 Eiffel Towers in food). I was also horrified that UK farmers wasted tonnes of produce as it could not be sold to supermarkets because it was ‘wonky’ (and did not satisfy the customers demand for that perfectly curved aubergine).
Although this didn’t encourage me to start spending my entire student allowance on veg from the local Clifton farmer’s market straight away, my then boyfriend and I did discover a really cool café in Stokes Croft that made meals entirely from supermarket skip waste and operated on a ‘pay what you will’ policy, which we ate at regularly. Now living in London, and no longer on a student allowance, I order my weekly vegetables through Oddbox – which delivers wonky and surplus produce that would otherwise go to waste – and buy my much-needed sweet snacks and chocolate nuts from The Source Bulk Foods to minimise waste.
Bristol’s clean air and green spaces reminded me of my childhood growing up in the South of Spain, where I was surrounded by beautiful scenery with both the sea and mountains within walking distance of my home. (I learned to ride a bike at the base of the mountain and I practically learned to swim in the sea).
I used to run along the beach in Spain with a view of Africa on the horizon. In Bristol I trained for a half marathon along the gorge and the downs, with the suspension bridge in sight in the distance. My appreciation of the value of these outdoor spaces is definitely said with hindsight, since I am currently living in one of the greatest, but most polluted, cities in Europe. I am still keen on exercise, but I try not to run outside due to the rising rate of asthma in large cities.
During my final summer at university in 2016, I interned at an advertising agency, where I worked on an account for a large fast-moving consumer goods company. I remember being inspired by this particular company’s CSR messaging – it was encouraging its consumers to reduce their consumption, changing the standard economic business model. I remember thinking – “this company is encouraging its consumers to reduce the amount they buy, and yet it is still one of the leading players in the fast-moving consumer goods sector. If it can do that, then other companies should follow by example, and I’d like to be involved in helping them do that.”
Following my decision to work in sustainability consulting, I applied to a MSc in Environmental Technology with Business at Imperial College London. I remember pitching a business idea to my peers called ‘FunkyUndies’, the premise of which involved using scrap textile materials to create funky-patterned socks and underwear. More and more brands today are using waste as a resource, which is so important. My favourite bikini ever is from Vitamin A – a swimwear brand that uses recycled nylon in its swimming costumes.
The course provided me with the opportunity to learn about exciting and innovative technologies that reduce the social and environmental impacts of products, however more importantly it introduced me to 120 inspirational human beings who now work in diverse areas of the industry – from carbon policy, to renewable energy to development banks – in their endeavours to safeguard our planet.
Together with friends I met on the course, I am currently organising ‘An Evening of Ethical Fashion’ at Kindred, Hammersmith, to celebrate World Environment Day on the 5th June 2019. This will be the first in a series of events aimed at making conscious consumption easy, social and enjoyable and will include a clothes swap and a talk from an expert speaker.
My interest in the sustainability field has always centred around consumption and waste, particular when it comes to food and clothes since they are two everyday human essentials. Both of these sectors have multiple labour issues within their supply chains, which have only become worse with faster production models, uncertain lead times and badly informed purchasing. I love food and I love clothes; it is hard to imagine that these everyday items can cause such harm to humans and the environment. However, knowing that there are alternative business solutions is what lead me to where I am now, working at Eco-Age. I love my job – it is work that inspires me and challenges me, and hopefully inspires others too
Now, when I consider buying something new, I ask myself the (Marie Kondo-inspired) question: Will this still bring me joy in 4 months’ time? I ask myself whether I will be able to use it multiple times. I believe that by starting to ask these questions, we become able to purchase and consume differently.