Wednesday 12 December 2012

a green activism commitment

Last Monday night I had my eco-consciousness kicked up a notch while attending's Do the Math tour when it rolled into my alma mater, the University of Utah, for it's final stop. It was purely fortuitous that I was home visiting family on the date of the event, and I'm so glad I made the effort to attend.  In fact, it was just the wake-up call I needed to reignite the climate action fire in my belly.

You may have noticed that this post is not just a 'green fling' but a 'green commitment'. It's also a call to action on climate change. I think it's important to reconnect periodically with why we even care about sustainable fashion or eco-beauty products, and so thought I'd fill you in on the updates from the event since it had such a strong impact on me.

Feeling starstruck after crossing paths with Bill McKibben in the aisle pre-event.

The Do the Math tour came on the heels of co-founder Bill McKibben's popular article in Rolling Stone, titled "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math", which famously attracted more 'likes'' than the Justin Bieber cover story in the same issue. And while McKibben refers to himself as a 'professional bummer outer', I'm thankful he's not shying away from the data and sharing it with the world.

The math
So, what is this terrifying new math?  Here are the three key numbers:  


2 degrees Celcius is about the only number that everyone will agree on, with world leaders at the (fairly disastrous) 2009 Copenhagen climate summit signing an accord agreeing to "deep cuts in global emissions . . . so as to hold the increase in global temperature below two degrees Celcius." 

Currently global temperatures have risen about 0.8 degrees Celcius, and the impacts have been harsher than many scientists anticipated (warning: depressing doomsday data).
  • Arctic melting occurred at record levels in 2012, one-third of summer sea ice is now gone, and melting in Greenland's ice sheet also increased, beating records only set in 2010. 
  • Last month the earth experienced the 333rd consecutive month in which the temperature of the globe exceeded the 20th Century average.
  • The air is holding 5% more moisture than it did 30 years ago as a result of warming, causing more frequent and more ferocious storms (such as Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Bopha) and devastating floods (such as the 2010 Pakistan floods).
  • Oceans are 30% more acidic, threatening the lives of numerous underwater species and disrupting ecosystems. 
  • This year the earth experienced its hottest downpour of rain - in Saudi Arabia at 109 degrees Fahrenheit.
With stats like these (and many more available if you're interested) you can understand why experts from MIT, NASA and the World Bank all think 2 degrees is too much. Unfortunately at this stage it's the only number global politicians will agree on, so we must cling to it.
565 gigatons is the amount of carbon dioxide we can emit into the atmosphere before reaching the 2 degree threshold. 2011 carbon dioxide emissions were 31.6 gigatons, up 3.2% from the previous year. If trends continue we'll exceed our 565 gigaton limit in 16 years. (16 years! Yikes!)

2795 gigatons is the amount of carbon dioxide that will be expended by fossil fuels already in reserve. That's right, 5 times the amount safe to emit. Not all these reserves are out of the ground yet, thank goodness, but they are known quantities and figured into the companies' financial reports which dictate their stock prices. And despite having 5 times the safe limit of fuel in reserve, these companies continue to explore more polluting and extreme forms of extracting more fossil fuels such as fracking, deep water drilling, tar sand mining and mountaintop removal. I was so sad to learn that my own beautiful home state of Utah is likely going to be the first state to succumb to tar sand mining, and fracking is scheduled to occur along the stunning Moab rim.

So, those are the numbers of climate change's terrifying new math (McKibben wasn't exaggerating with that title!). It's happening faster than we thought, with harsher consequences than we assumed, and yet the world (and the United States in particular) refuses to give up her love affair with fossil fuels. The Do the Math tour made no attempt to hide the fact it was vilifying the fossil fuel industry - if we're serious about getting climate change under control, it is enemy #1. 

The fossil fuel industry
This is not an easy enemy. We can safely assume fossil fuel companies will fight tooth and nail to ensure their already-calculated reserves are bought and burned, and they will continue efforts to belittle and thwart environmental activities demanding a move away from dirty energy.  And I know, it sounds too easy to point fingers at the fossil fuel industry. And I'll remain among the first to call for changes in our personal lives; I still  believe (perhaps naively) that making personal changes will lead to becoming more aware and active in the movement. But as one of my personal idols, Naomi Klein, reminded us at the event, we need to get these "carbon pushers" out of our faces.  We also need fossil fuel companies to play fair, and pay fair, and we're running out of time.

The fossil fuel industry did not become "richest industry in the history of money" without learning a few tricks along the way. For instance, did you know that the industry receives $500 billion in subsidies annually? The US figure alone is $13 billion - this is what keeps the gas prices artificially low in this country, discouraging lessened use of these non-renewable resources. It's hard to swallow this level of subsidising when they earn so much money: five of the key fossil fuel companies (Chevron, Shell, BP, Exxon and Conoco Philips) profits exceed $137 billion in 2011.

They use this money to continue business as usual, too. Although you may see lovely ads about fossil fuel companies 'investing in the future' the truth is only 4% of all fossil fuel industry investments are in renewables. And BP, who famously rebranded as 'Beyond Petroleum' earlier this decade, has just closed its final solar plant in order to focus on their 'core business' - petroleum of course.

And since it has the money, the industry can lobby politicians and buy research, sending misinformation to the public about climate change. It also bombards our airwaves with advertisements; The New York Times estimated spending this year of $153 million to promote coal, and increased oil and gas drilling and criticising clean energy, nearly 4 times the amount spent by clean energy advertisers.

And on top of it all, they don't pay for the waste they emit in terms of carbon (yes, I'm talking about a price on carbon emissions).
We must strip the power from the fossil fuel industry. We must take away the social respectability of fossil fuel companies, like we've done with tobacco companies. Most importantly we need to hit them where it really hurts - their bank accounts.

How can we take action?
There is no way environmentalists will be able to outspend the fossil fuel giants. What we can do is remove all support of them by divesting - removing investments in fossil fuels. This is easy enough to do on a personal level (I achieve this by investing in Australian Ethical, and Generation Investment Management is an ethical investment company in the US, or you can ask your personal financial adviser). Do the Math suggests a larger divestment strategy, one on par with the 1980s divestment campaign that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa: getting industries and organisations to divest in fossil fuel companies.

The humble McKibben getting to the heart of the divestment strategy.

The starting point is university-level (the tour was held on campuses around the country) and has set up a Fossil Free website to help students and alum appeal to their universities to divest. It simply doesn't make sense for universities to have investments in companies that are guaranteeing their current and prospective students won't have a stable existence. Congratulations to Hampshire College and Unity College for being the first universities to divest.

If you're not able to assist in a university divestment campaign, you can always create one of your own to convince institutions you are involved in, like churches or other social organisations, to divest from fossil fuels. Do the Math suggests you propose a two-pronged approach: first ask that no new investments be made in fossil fuel companies, second that all existing investments are sold within the next 5 years.  I'll certainly be joining the cause by campaigning the two universities I've attended, and I hope you feel compelled to similar action.

My green activism commitment
I realise this post is a turn from most of my other posts, but I felt compelled to share this information and my reaction with you, as my eco-life is an open book (or blog!).  Truth be told, I'm feeling worried. I'm worried because climate change is falling off the radar, especially in America. From 2007 to 2011 the number of Americans who believed the continued burning of fossil fuels would cause the climate to change dropped from 71% to 44%, well under half the population. I'm continually awestruck by those who 'don't believe.' I know it's not pleasant news, but to not accept the science you may as well not go see a doctor or walk into any building because you can't trust the science of medicine or engineering even though 99% of the experts in the field accept the science. But I'm not here to convince any hardcore deniers, but simply to encourage you all to act for the climate now if you want a clean, stable environment. 16 years will go by too quickly if we don't speak up.

I'm also reaching out because our actions impact other people, as McKibben eloquently demonstrated with photos from around the globe, and typically it's those in developing nations with the fewest resources to protect themselves. And right now rich countries give 5 times more money in fossil fuel subsidies than they do in climate aid. How fair is it for people in developing nations, who have done nothing to cause climate change, be left with the horrible burden while fossil fuel companies continue to be extremely profitable?

I've also had the privilege of meeting some of these other people during this year of travel. From the warm Maldivians and their low-lying islands, to Indians already facing the reality of changing crop patterns, to Africans struggling to get by without the added worry of increased droughts threatening their delicate existence. I simply cannot accept that my life is of more value than any of theirs simply because I had the lucky fortune to be born an American.

Some gorgeous little ones on a bank of a river in Kerala, India.
My hair stylists in Arusha, Tanzania.

And even though I've previously fallen on the side of environmentalists who want to avoid the depressing stories of climate change, because we know that's not guaranteed to initiate action, I also believe there is a need to appeal to the morality of all humans to think of the other humans on the planet, current and future. We are at crisis point, and only talking about the good news of environmental action cannot get across the urgency of cleaving ourselves from our fossil fuel addictions now.

McKibben also hinted that environmentalists (particularly the younger ones) are too polite, and we all need to become more firm about what we want from our government and our institutions. I'm usually guilty of this one - if you've read chapter 5 of Sustainability with Style you'd understand why - and I've witnessed this from countless environmentalists who don't want to rock the boat. But no more. I really feel that the time for being overly cautious and quiet about the cause is over, and we must demand a clean energy future now. The fossil fuel companies won't be polite, so neither will I.

Remember, what we are not asking for is not radical. We are not mad hippies asking for the end of all things. All we want is a healthy planet like the one that existed 50 years ago. What is radical is pumping chemicals into the atmosphere which change the makeup so much that the Holocene, our current 11,000-year period of climatic stability, will end.

The good news
Don't worry, though, once we're all on the same page we can make the move to renewables swiftly. We already have the technology just not the motivation. Germany is a fantastic example of a country taking the leap to renewables seriously. The conservative nation (also the one faring best in the European financial crisis) committed to running the nation on 35% renewable energy by 2022 but are trending well ahead of schedule and forecast achieving nearly half their energy requirements within a decade. In fact, a couple days this past spring half the entire nation's energy was run off of solar panels located in their own country.

So if the fossil fuel giants are starting to get you down, or your institution won't divest or you're feeling slightly deflated after reading the above depressing statistics, take heart. Humans are amazing creatures, and when we put our minds to it, we really can achieve anything.

Photo c/o - a proud group of dedicated activists at the U of U!

Saturday 24 November 2012

eco-shopping : spain style

Beautiful Barcelona. What a delightful city to explore following my African adventure.
My itinerary during my brief stay?

Gaudi. Picasso. Culinary explorations. Eco-shopping.

Getting ready to hit the eco-shopping trail! I was so
happy to be in a city again and took the opportunity to
put on some red lippy and a fave vintage dress.

When I'm home in Sydney, I'm an expert eco-shopper. I know the green shops, which markets have great secondhand finds, my favourite vintage stores, and (perhaps most importantly) the time to wait for online purchases to be delivered to my door. In Barcelona I didn't have the luxury of time, and I had the need of finding winter pieces to bulk up my travel wardrobe as my hubby and I began 3 months of winter weather.

Would I be able to find sustainable fashion with limited time in a new city?

After half an hour of internet research (I love free Wifi) I found a handful of sustainable shops in the Gracia neighbourhood so decided to start the search there. My hubby and I downed a couple espressos and pain au chocolat and were out the door, ready to pound the beautifully-tiled pavement in search of Spanish sustainable fashion.

Olokuti was our first stop. It's a fun little shop with a little bit of everything eco. There was women's fashion (unfortunately most was not my style), a rack of men's clothing, children's toys and clothing, gifts, books, gadgets and even some food items. It was a great shop with lovely staff and I'm sure it would be a 'go-to' for me if I lived in Barcelona.

People Tree
I know, it's UK-based, but I was happy to find this fabulous frock by People Tree in Olokuti.  It is a handmade, Fair Trade, organic cotton dress. Can we get any more feel-good-factor into one flirty dress? Yes we can!* People Tree work with Assisi Garments, a Fair Trade group set up to provide work for underprivileged women and physically and mentally disabled people in India. All I can say is keep up this amazing fashionable, sustainable work, People Tree!

I Owe You
This goosebump-inducing label (watch the short video on their website to get goosebumps of your own), also carried at Olokuti, is responsible for keeping my hubby looking extra fine this season. I Owe You works directly with artisans in India who hand-weave all the fabric. The weavers use very little energy in their shops and weave natural cotton grown locally - it's a great sustainable business partnership.  And even more fun, each piece of clothing has a unique bar code that enables you to track your piece of clothing through it's entire life cycle, including the buyer uploading a photo of themselves wearing the item so the producers can see their finished product in action. Sometimes the world is a beautifully small place.

Nudie Jeans
Again, not a Spanish brand, but I was thrilled to come across this well-known Swedish brand which has this year achieved 100% organic cotton denim. Nudie also fully supports repair (the flagship stores will repair your damaged denim), reuse (selling secondhand denim in flagship stores) and reducing water usage, encouraging consumers to avoid over-washing their denim. I love this fashion-forward denim label with real sustainability cred. My hubby picked up a fab pair of black jeans (and we both picked up a fab restaurant tip for a local lunch hotspot from the friendly shopkeeper).

This beautiful shop brings together a unique collection of ethical European fashion labels featuring high-quality, sustainably-sourced materials like certified organic cotton and recycled fabrics. One line included pieces of upcycled men's trousers crafted into dresses and skirts.  The store was stocked with lovely basics, as well, and if it weren't for the eco-name you'd think you were in any other stylish fashion shop. Lovely.

In the El Born district of Barcelona I stumbled upon a collaborative pop-up store for local fashion designers called Coshop. It is located near the Picasso Museum at Bays Vells, 9. Lots of pretty little things await the curious shopper inside the store, and one brand in particular caught my attention (no prize for guessing why!).

An excellent haven for a rainy evening in Barcelona.

I came across Ecoology inside Coshop and it was love at first sight. The label has a vision "to care and spoil both women and the planet we live on through fashion and design" and a mission to provide women with catwalk trends made with organic and natural fabrics (they also have a few quality basics). Ecology's sustainability standards are high, utilising only materials with eco-certification. The pieces were lovely to the touch and excellent quality, and it's one label I'll definitely be keeping my eye on.

I.M. by Eme
After leaving Barcelona I headed to the gorgeous Basque country and stayed in San Sebastian. I found this fantastic necklace (which attracts multiple compliments each time I wear it!) in the Patagonia store - just another reason for me to crush on Patagonia.  It's made by a local skater-girl artist who makes the necklaces out of used skate decks. I love beautiful upcycling! You can order online through  IM by Eme's Facebook page.

This aqueous-minded menswear label - founded in San Sebastian - was created for "the gentleman sharing our devotion to the ocean" and was perfect for my surf-loving hubby.  TwoThirds reminds us to protect and respect the 2/3 of our planet that is water; it thinks of itself not as a green fashion label, but a blue one. TwoThirds has partnered with Oceana, a global ocean conservation organisation, and gives 10% of its proceeds to Oceana. The clothing is made of sustainable fasbrics and they use plant-based 'plastic' when shipping that dissolves in - you guessed it - water. I loved much of the fashion in the shop, it was perfectly in line with the nautical trend I saw throughout European fashion, and my only complaint is that they don't have a women's line!

Sorry the photo is crooked and that I cut off the branding!

* * * *

Okay, full disclosure. Not everything I purchased in Spain was truly sustainable fashion. I blame my time constraints (a horrible excuse but it's the truth!). I made sure to follow some 'better' shopping guidelines, though, and didn't cave for the many fast-fashion labels available. My 'better' guidelines included:
  • Natural fibres
  • No viscose (it is everywhere!)
  • Quality over quantity
A couple of the tops made of natural fibres which are keeping me warm!

I also ventured into H&M but was unable to locate any of their sustainable fashion pieces. Truthfully, it was the usual nightmare of overflowing racks and tables of disposable fashion and I didn't have the patience to hunt through the store. I know H&M has lofty eco- and ethical-goals, but I'm not celebrating this brand just yet.
* * * * 

Eco-shopping on the spot was an excellent exercise for me. I've become so comfortable eco-shopping at home that I'd forgotten how awkward it can be when you're learning the ropes.  Of course I'll frequent my favourite haunts again once I get home, but I'm glad to have brushed up on my skills, explored new territory and discovered more sustainable fashion labels. Besides, what better way to experience a new city than wandering in and out of shops?

I loved Spain, and had a blast shopping and chatting with the local shopkeepers, and at the end of the day my eco-shopping advice remains the same as ever - take your time, read every label (preferably before you try it on, so you don't fall in love with something you shouldn't), choose sustainable fabrics, and don't buy anything you don't absolutely love.


*I couldn't help this small tribute to my favourite re-elected president, especially since he finally addressed climate change in his acceptance speech. Go Obama!

Monday 19 November 2012

I can create that style sustainably : summer 2012/13

Despite a few cloudy days, spring has sprung for my Aussie friends, summer is right around the corner, and you know what that means - time to get busy building your summer wardrobe.

As a gal who loves colour, I'm thrilled to report that 2012/13 is set to continue the trend of all things bright and bold. The Spring/Summer runways featured colour-blocking, neon highlights, crisp whites, layered patterns and asymmetric hemlines. It also seems our passion for peplum is as strong as ever.

As a fashion- (and summer-) lover, I can't wait to pull together some fabulous, on-trend summer looks; as an environmentalist, I'll make sure I do it sustainably. Here are some amazing pieces I've discovered to create a fabulous, sustainable summer wardrobe.

Bright colours
Reuse jeans, made of 80% recycled materials, available in a range of neon and pastel hues and varying styles.

available at FashioningChange

Montree Designs neon top made of upcycled lace, bamboo and organic cotton.

available at FashioningChange

Bold patterns
Afia shorts, made by local artisans in Ghana who are paid a fair wage for their efforts. As Afia eloquently puts it: Sustainability means creating prosperity for all people involved in the process. Well said.

Nearfar jacket, a West African ethical fashion label.

Available at Indigo Bazaar

Asymetric hemlines
Auralis dress made of silk, hemp and organic cotton, hand-dyed with tumeric.

Another trendy number by Afia.

Exquisite reuse with this beaded vintage top from Dear Gladys, the fundraising arm of Fitted for Work, helping disadvantaged women get into the workforce.

This top may no longer be available, but
remember to check vintage shops in your
summer wardrobe quest!

Minna dress made of recycled lace, manufactured in the UK using zero-waste pattern cutting techniques.

I love just about everything from Raven & Lilly; the below pieces feature melted bullet casings and recycled metals handcrafted by HIV-positive women in Ethiopia.

Love is Mighty shoes, 100% handmade, 100% vegan and helping to preserve indigenous Indian craftwork. This pair is made of recycled biscuit wrappers, and I can't wait to get them on my feet!

I hope that's helped get your summer wardrobe off to a good start. I'd love to see any great finds you come across. Share with me and I'll share with my readers.

Happy summer-sustainable-wardrobe creating!

Thursday 15 November 2012

a green travel fling : chumbe island

I recently had the absolute pleasure of staying in sustainability-with-style paradise on Chumbe Island, located 8km off the Zanzibar coast.

Despite the proximity to Zanzibar, Chumbe certainly achieves that "million miles from anywhere" vibe. Additionally, because there are only seven eco-bunglows on the island and day visitors are kept to a minimum, the island feels blissfully uninhabited. I spent three days on this island paradise and would go back tomorrow given the opportunity.

Aerial view of the eco-bungalows from the heritage lighthouse on the island.
I boldly claimed over our first lunch on Chumbe Island that this is my ideal
view - the colours and textures of this tidal beach are perfection to me.

Okay, so it's a beautiful, peaceful, tropical island resort - but what makes it sustainable? Only every detail you can imagine, from island-filtered water provided to guests in reusable glass bottles to forward-thinking conservation programs. I've written about some of my favourite aspects here.
  • Chumbe Island's eco-lodges are fabulous examples of green building at its most primal (and most comfortable) - and are recipients of multiple architectural awards. Each bungalow is powered by photovoltaic panels, has solar hot water heating and collects and filters its own rainwater thanks to the unique shell-shape of the building and the filtration systems built into each site. The water is then hand-pumped each day by staff into the solar hot water system and stored in hot and cold water containers for ease of use by guests. Thanks Chumbe team!
The steep roof enables efficient collection of rainwater.
The coral and shell filtration system at the edges of the bungalow - the water
is then stored in a cistern underneath the bungalow.
  • Used water from sinks and showers is filtered and guided into specially sealed plant beds so no water leaks into the reef sanctuary surrounding the island. The plants chosen are water- and nutrient-hungry, and easily absorb the treated water.
  • The bathrooms feature the nicest composting toilet I have ever seen. Somehow they made the fact that you needed to add scoops of dirt, twigs and leaves to the loo after each use quaint and charming instead of hard-core-greenie.
The black water hand pump can be seen on the left, and just behind the
toilet is the basket filled with leaves, dirt and twigs, to assist our compost.
This basket was magically filled so I never had to worry about it.
  • The buildings were made using local mangrove trunks - extremely hard and long-lasting. Local fabrics were also used for sheets, pillows and the hammock mattress cover (most comfortable hammock I've ever laid upon). Local Zanzibar spices were used as natural air-fresheners and locally made soaps and shampoo were also provided.
The ground level of the loft, open air and extremely comfortable. There was
even a yoga mat available for use in the lodge! Heaven!
  • There is an amazing levered wall upstairs in the bedroom, allowing guests to lower a woven wall of the bungalow open to the ocean view to allow the sea breeze to enter the bedroom - better than air-conditioning or a ceiling fan.
Upstairs in the bungalow, the floors were covered with locally-woven sisal
rugs and we kept that wall down our entire stay.
  •  LED lights are available in the bungalows, but dinner each night was by candlelight (and starlight! on the beach - I just don't know that it gets any better! 
  • Chumbe is an internationally renowned destination thanks to its reef sanctuary, which has been under the protection of Chumbe since 1994. Because of this protected status, and the care Chumbe provides, this is the healthiest and most pristine reef I have ever seen, and I've been around!
The large tides on Chumbe Island meant we could look at amazing
sea creatures up close without getting wet!
  • The Chumbe Island Reef Sanctuary is upstream of important fishing grounds, and provides a protected breeding ground for fish, corals and other species which can then recolonise nearby overfished and degraded reef systems.
One of many incredible snaps from snorkeling.
  • Guests are invited to participate in a number of educational activities each day including snorkeling, an intertidal walk and a forest walk with the park rangers they employ - I learned so much from each of these activities, and was suitably impressed with the conservation work and research being done on and around the island.
I learned a lot from my favourite park range, Juma #2, on this
intertidal walk around the island.
  • The most impressive sustainability aspect of the entire island, however, is Chumbe's commitment to community education. They offer programs for local students, teachers and fishermen/women so they can understand the importance of protecting reef systems. I urge you to read more about it on their website, as I simply can't do it justice.
Chumbe Island's efforts have not gone unnoticed, and it's been the recipient of a number of sustainability awards. It's also been GER certified by The Long Run program because of its commitment to the 4Cs of the program - Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce. It's also been recognised by the UN Secretary General as a noted example of 'Payment for Conservation.' The conservation and education programs are all funded through the visitor fees and accommodation prices.

On top of everything, the food was delicious and service impeccable; I truly had a dream holiday on Chumbe Island. This is eco-luxury, though, no doubt about it, but worth every cent. So start saving your money and plan your trip to this magical destination - you won't regret it!

'til next time . . .

Friday 12 October 2012

sustainability with *african* style


I'm writing this from Tanzania, where I've been for nearly 6 weeks, partly on holiday, partly volunteering, and mostly absorbing all the African culture I can before I leave next week.

It's been hard to decide what to blog about in Africa.  There are some very serious environmental, social and economic sustainability topics I could write about - animal welfare in safari parks, unreliable residential waste removal, the lack of education options for young people. I will write a little bit about these in due time, but first I want to share with you a beautiful and inspirational organisation called Shanga, a group succeeding in making a positive impact on many lives.

How fabulous is their tagline?!
Shanga translates to 'bead' in Swahili, and was so named because the founder Saskia Rechsteiner started by selling beaded necklaces at a Christmas fair in Arusha in 2007. The necklaces were a runaway success, and today Shanga employs 42 disabled Tanzanian people, has the Riverhouse restaurant and multiple Shanga shops around Tanzania.

I spent a blissful afternoon at Riverhouse and Shanga last weekend. About a 30 minute bus ride (known as a dalla dalla) from Arusha, it was a pleasant respite from the bustling town. After a delicious lunch I took a tour of the factory and kept getting goosebumps as I heard the Shanga story.

In the necklace-making room of the factory - the workers behind me are deaf.
When Rechsteiner realised her jewelry company was taking off she needed to hire staff. She was taking a walk around the Burka Coffee Estate and met a deaf plantation worker; Rechsteiner decided to hire the plantation worker and trained her to make glass beads from recycled bottles.  Soon enough more staff were required to fill the demands for Shanga's pieces, and she hired another disabled individual to work at Shanga, and so the story continues to this day.  All warehouse workers have a disability of some kind, but you would never know it from the quality of pieces coming out of the factory and the demand for Shanga's pieces.  Proceeds from sales pay the salaries of the artisans as well as make a contribution toward Pink Balloon, and organisation supporting deaf and mentally disabled children. Oh, and no hard feelings from Burka, either, in fact, they give Shanga space for the warehouse, restaurant, shop and lovely gardens rent free.

Do you have goosebumps yet?

Making glass beads one by one - glass bottles are collected around Arusha, crushed and melted
on-site to make the many beads and other glass pieces Shanga uses in its creations.
As I walked among the bead makers, glass blowers, loom workers, sewers and others craftsmen and women, I felt as though I was walking through a beautiful artists' factory, made even more beautiful by the sign language alphabet hanging on the wall. My excitement doubled because the pieces are made of reclaimed and recycled glass and aluminium, and quadrupled because of the hiring policy of Shanga.  In my opinion Shanga is ticking all the right boxes in terms of equality, environmentalism and style (my three favourite topics!).

A more recent addition of a loom means they can make their own fabrics for use in
neckalces and furniture coverings.
As we left we walked a few blocks with one of the workers, William.  He travels about an hour each way to work so that he doesn't have to live in the noisy city - he's Maasai and lives in his family village. He enjoys making jewelry, has learned excellent English through working at Shanga, and speaks a little sign language now, too. He told us how happy he was to work at Shanga because it provides stable income in a difficult economic climate, disability or not (apparently there is quite a long wait list for those wanting to work for Shanga).

I have great news for you, too - Shanga has an online store! So get shopping - jewelry, glassware, lanterns, children's clothing and more await you at the Shanga Shop. (Oh, and let me know what you buy! I've purchased a few things, but will buy more online when I get home.)

Relaxing in the lovely gardens after my lunch and tour.
Taking public transport! The 30 minute dalla dalla (bus) ride cost about 25 cents.
The dalla dallas are usually crammed! We took this photo to commemorate
the one time we had a dalla dalla to ourselves (for about 5 minutes).

Thursday 6 September 2012

a green travel fling : india

Advance apologies for any errors/incomplete thoughts in this post, I'm currently battling internet issues and wanted to get something uploaded before I'm offline for a couple weeks.

I've just departed incredible India - what an amazing experience!

Truth-be-told, it took me a few days to remember to pay attention to sustainability issues on this leg of my journey. As anyone who has visited India can attest, one's first visit to this spectacular country threatens to overwhelm your senses. The terrific combination of sights, sounds and smells are at once utterly foreign and completely familiar, and at times a little too much for this Aussie-American gal who was a popular target for sales pitches.

Of course it only took a couple days for me to start processing my environmentalist thoughts, and I found my mind trying to wrap itself around the many conflicting issues I was witnessing.

Some quick stats to get you up to speed:
  • 1.2 billion current population
  • 33% of Indians live below the poverty line
  • 580 million expected middle class population by 2025 after a growth spurt of 12 times the 2005 levels
  • Ranks 4th in global carbon emissions at 5.83% of global emissions. China is first (23.5%), followed by the USA (18.27%) and the European Union (13.98%)
  • Ranks 145th in global carbon emissions per capita. Carbon emissions per capita at 1.4 metric tonnes. In comparison, Qatar 53.5 (ranked 1st), Australia 18.9 (11th), USA 17.5 (12th)
  • Energy sources 42% coal, 24% oil, 24% biofuels and waste, 7% natural gas, 2% other renewables, 1% nuclear
In short, it's a large country using a lot of energy, but not much per capita. There is a poverty problem and at the same time a rapidly growing middle class, destined to be a huge consumer group.  Yet while the environmental impact of the rising middle class is a concern for environmentalists, when you begin to understand the depth of the poverty problem in this country, and see it firsthand, it makes it hard to really focus on the environmental concerns. I am not an expert in this area, so I don't want to comment too much on the topic (though I welcome feedback and thoughts, it's a lot to think about), but even as a diehard greenie I found billboards about 'greening your city' to be particularly in poor taste when placed directly above a large slum (I'm afraid I don't have a photo of this, but I'm not making it up, I saw it in Mumbai).

This doesn't mean we can ignore environmental concerns in this country. As discussed with some fabulous guests at a homestay in Wayanad (they were avid travels, and he was an environmental law professor among other impressive eco-credentials), it's so imperative for the government and communities to put in place sustainability initiatives and systems that take care of environmental issues. So many people are just striving to eat and stay safe and healthy, it shouldn't be their responsibility to 'green' their lives.

And if I could send one message to the growing middle class - please make your consumption choices sustainable ones!  I'm so happy that more people in India are becoming educated and have stable jobs and greater financial security, and I hope that you can be a good influence on the rest of us middle class consumers to think sustainably in our choices. Don't follow the lead of the past consumers from America, Australia and Europe, start a new trend in sustainable consumption!

Maybe a eco-themed Bollywood flick or soap opera with a stylish and sustainable star is just the ticket - what do you think?

Here are a few of the eco-things I managed to do or see while in India - it wasn't easy to find these options, so I hope next time I come to India there is an increase in availability of these types of activities and shops, though it's great to see they are making an appearance.
  • Green Palm certified houseboat on Kerala's backwaters c/o EcoTours Kerala
  • Self-canoe around the backwaters (as opposed to a motor boat)
  • Ecoutree Fair Trade shop in Fort Cochin
  • Plastic Ban at Edakal Caves
  • Eco-initiatives at Tranquil Resort (refillable shampoo bottles, refillable water bottles, many opportunities to get in touch with nature on 12 trails around the coffee plantation)
  • Eco-shops or eco-aware shops in Mumbai shopping centre
Lovely backwaters . . .

Welcome-aboard coconut!
I got a fab wrap/scarf and two bangles in this shop in Fort Cochin

Beautiful arcenut plantation near our homestay in Wayanad

Plastic ban area in a cave parkland area - love it!

Eco-aware beauty shop in Mumbai

Meditation/yoga shop in Mumbai encouraging recycling and composting.
On a side note, while I was in India researching and holidaying, my fellow eco-fashionista Carlie from Indigo Bazaar has been sourcing suppliers for the next season of goodies for the online shop. Check out the store now if you haven't already, and I can't wait to see what goodies Carlie comes back with!

Next stop: Africa. I'll be on safari and taking in an eco-island restreat, and I'm sure I'll have much to discuss.

And watch for my mini-blog on the Angry Elephant coming soon . . .