Friday 4 May 2012

a green optimism fling

I have had a busy week! 

For many Aussie fashionistas this week has meant dashing between The Tent, The Box and The Theatre of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week whilst maintaining a perfect off-the-runway look - for me it's meant bouncing from sustainability event to sustainability event (whilst maintaining my eco-fashion look).

Wednesday I had the privilege of speaking to undergraduate students at the University of Sydney about my career, my book and leading a sustainable life in our consumption-driven society.  At the end of my talk a student asked if I felt optimistic about the future, because it seems to him that mainstream culture might never get over its addiction to stuff. My answer?


I have wavered from time to time, as I suspect many environmentalists have, but these days I'm more optimistic than ever that we'll get the changes we need. When you see all I’ve been up to this week you may understand why I’m feeling so hopeful.

Sunday afternoon - Environmental and Behaviour Change Book Club
What’s mine is yours – the rise of collaborative consumption
I wore: Aussie designed and manufactured Zoologie cropped pants paired with vintage lace top from Emporium (Wellington, NZ)

I’ve long been a fan of Collaborative Consumption (and even met the lovely, intelligent Rachel Botsman at Green Cities this year) and was happy to discuss the book with some people I hadn’t met before.  It’s a model that will help us transition into a lifestyle which consumes less new materials as we move to a culture of sharing, bartering and swapping, with the side benefit of connecting with other individuals.  The book club members all agreed that the concept is fabulous and offers the potential for real cultural change. Even better, we can all visualise the real-world applications and immense opportunity for new businesses, all with the nice side-effect of being environmentally sustainable.   

Monday night – City of Sydney City Talk, Poverty Amid Plenty
I wore: Vintage raspberry dress from Hunter Gatherer, vintage jumper from C's Flashback, organic cotton cable knit tights by Ambra

This event included a lot of discussion on sustainability, despite the title, and included a keynote by Paul Gilding, former Greenpeace CEO and author of The Great Disruption. I had the pleasure of hearing Gilding speak last year at a 1 Million Women event, and even got my book signed by him – eco-groupie! He discussed how our current economic model based on growth will end because we will reach a crisis point where there will be no other way than to adapt.  He argues that we’ve missed something so basic in our current economic system, and we’re ignoring it right now because it’s too scary to look at (ain’t that the truth?) – infinite growth on a finite planet is illogical. We’re already using 1.5 planets’ worth of materials and resources, and things will only get worse as population continues to rise and developing nations strive for higher standards of living on par with developed nations and our spending habits.  Gilding did offer his own optimism, however, explaining that humans are inherently ‘good’, and when we look at history we know that humans are excellent in crises; so when the reality finally does hit, we’ll all act swiftly and effectively.

Gilding was following by a panel of varied experts all proposing/working on  innovative, sustainable solutions to the problem of our current economic model, including:
The panelists all approached the problem from different perspectives, and didn’t always agree with one another, but isn’t this how we’ll solve the complex problems of sustainability and poverty?  We can’t work in isolation and expect to make a difference. (Or be happy, as multiple panelists were keen to point out, connection is a key indicator of human happiness – more so than money!). I left feeling incredibly positive about the future because the panel was just a snapshot of the many brilliant and passionate minds attacking our problems from multiple directions – the tide is definitely turning.

Tuesday morning – Conscious Capitalism breakfast
Co-hosted by Human creative agency
I wore: Top from lastweek’s Vinnie’s sale layered over a long sleeve top from American Apparel and lyocell/modal skirt from Anthropologie

Co-founder of the Conscious Capitalism (CC) movement, and author of Firms of Endearment, Raj Sisodia, spoke to a packed house of business leaders about running successful businesses that put a focus on people and society.  The four basic tenets of the CC movement are:
  • Higher purpose - profit is a by-product of having a clear and meaningful purpose.
  • Stakeholder relationship model - making sure the needs of all stakeholders are met including staff, unions, suppliers, investors, community and the environment. It aims to create a win-win situation for all its stakeholders and puts humans back into business.
  • Conscious leadership - where leaders care for and inspire their staff.
  • Conscious culture - where the company's culture is based on: trust, authenticity, transparency, integrity, learning and empowerment.
Organisations leading this movement include Whole Foods (its founder John Mackey is another co-founder of CC), New Balance, Southwest Airlines, Toms, Craiglist (also an example of the other CC, Collaborative Consumption), Chipotle Mexican Grill, Starbucks, Patagonia, Zappos, Costco and Panera Bread.

Okay, these are not all environmentally sustainable organisations, but it’s still reassuring to see massive companies that actually care about employees, stakeholders and the community and not just the financial bottom line.

I was fascinated to learn that companies that operate as CC businesses financially outperform not only the average company on the S&P index, but also the organisations highlighted in Good to Great, the extremely popular management book that outlined how companies can make the leap from good to (financially) great.  (Of course, this was written in 2001, so this comparison may no longer be relevant.)

Sisodia’s vision is bold, and at times the messages bordered New Age, but the numbers don’t lie, and I’m all for this inspiring business model that encourages big businesses to operate with purpose and awareness.

Tuesday evening – GreenUps, monthly green networking drinks
I wore: Vintage dress from Hunter Gatherer and Gorman jacket

Every time I go to GreenUps I feel rejuvenated and inspired, and this time was no exception! I had a ballet date, so I couldn’t stay long, but still connected with amazing individuals at the sustainably-minded Beauchamp on Oxford Street while enjoying a glass of organic wine. 

Wednesday morning – University of Sydney, Consuming Cultures, Environmental Futures
I wore: Good Society organic cotton denim, my favourite vintage poncho, and bangles that were a mix of thrift, my mother’s and from travels in Mexico.

I was thrilled to join the conversation in this class filled with lessons on consumption, multiculturalism, slow food, the history of products, mining and more.  Most of the students are already sold on the sustainability message, and I can’t wait to see what they do with this knowledge as they move forward in their own careers.

All this and the week was only halfway complete! 

And now the weekend brings the excitement of the Garage Sale Trail across Sydney, as well as the start of Fairtrade Fortnight

There is so much momentum right now, I can’t feel anything but optimistic that we’ll solve our environmental and economic problems. It's not going to be simple, but there are passionate people attacking this from all angles, with different expertise and different ideas, and I feel confident we will get the change we need.  Even more exciting, there are so many opportunities for sustainable entrepreneurs, so we can all take part in the world-changing times ahead.

Have a great weekend, and let me know if you partake in any CC, Collaborative Consumption, Garage Sale Trail, Fairtrade Fortnight or other sustainable activities - there's a lot to choose from right now!

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