G is for Greenwashing
Greenwashing is a business strategy used by companies to portray themselves or their products as more sustainable or environmentally beneficial than they really are. For example, a company might market one ‘green’ product or initiative to signal their concern for environmental issues to their customers, without fully committing to more sustainable business practices within their organisation. Consequently, their attempt at ‘being green’ is merely symbolic and has little potential for transformative change.
Often, greenwashing goes hand-in-hand with poor company transparency, which makes it all the more misleading for customers. This has led to movements such as the Fashion Revolution’s #whomademyclothes campaign, which demands full transparency, accountability and structural change from all fashion brands, including those that claim to be environmentally conscious.
As customers, we shouldn’t take something that sounds ‘green’ at face-value: question it, challenge it, and demand that change is made where the company is falling short of the values they claim to represent.
G can also be for... green spaces, generational & intergenerational
H is for Happiness, or GNH
Did you know that happiness is a measure of development? At least, it has been in Bhutan since 1972, when King Jigme Singye Wangchuck declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product”. What did he mean?
Most states use Gross Domestic Product (GDP, or the value of all the goods and services made within a country) as representative of their economic growth and development. However, a high GDP doesn’t necessarily mean a high quality of life for the people and nature within that country. Therefore, policy-making that looks towards GDP as a measure of development fails to ensure that its development is also socially and environmentally sustainable.
By contrast, Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index aims to be a holistic measure of the country’s wellbeing based on 9 key factors: psychological wellbeing, physical health, education, time use, cultural diversity and resilience, good governance, community vitality, ecological diversity and resilience and living standards. Maximising the country’s GNH is the goal of Bhutan’s policy-making.
Using happiness as an indicator of development seems obvious but in a world where measuring success in terms of economic growth is the norm, the idea is somewhat revolutionary.In fact, it wasn’t until 2011 that the value of the GNH was recognised by the UN and declared the “new economic paradigm” necessary for sustainable development.
I is for Intersectionality
Intersectionality is the recognition of ways that aspects of an individual's social identity overlap to create unique experiences of discrimination and privilege. This means that no issue can be separated from another; when we look at environmentalism, we must also navigate issues such as race, gender, sexuality, ableism and class if we are serious about solving environmental problems.
The concept was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, who described intersectionality as “overlapping systems of oppression”. Intersectionality grew from the realisation that the feminist movement was white-dominated and thus excluded the experiences of women of colour. Today, the term is also used in environmentalism to express how these issues are interlinked: economic inequality and class affect access to green space and healthy foods, environmental racism is rooted in issues from the disproportionate climate consequences for people of colour globally, to the continued under-representation of non-white individuals in the sustainability sector.
Ultimately, tackling sustainability can’t be treated as an isolated movement, but one interconnected with social and economic injustices.The best way to start thinking intersectionally is to diversify your reading feeds. Start by checking out the Intersectional Environmentalist, as well as these great articles by Ayana Elizabeth Johnston or by Somini Sengupta on tackling racism in environmental movements.
I can also be for... interdependence, inequality
J is for Justice
The concept of environmental justice is based in fairness and equality, and the idea that environmental benefits and burdens should be shared equally, irrespective of place of birth, race, class or gender. In this way, environmental justice is intrinsically linked to intersectionality, but differs in that it aims to right previous injustices done against both people and planet, as well as current ongoing and future injustices. But to really understand environmental justice, we have to understand its history...
The term ‘environmental justice’ began to appear in the US in the 1980s, following a series of environmental disasters that disproportionately affected working class communities and people of colour. In 1978, tragedy struck the blue-collar town of Love Canal near Niagara Falls, New York. After record rainfall raised the water table, residents were horrified to discover that their town had been built on top of a 70-acre toxic waste dump. The discovery came too late, as rusted chemical drums began to appear in backyards, trees and lawns turned black and died, and chronic illness, cancer and birth defects took hold among the residents. A long campaign for justice, led by local housewives, followed.
However, even in seeking justice there were tones of injustice. Black families' concerns were ignored at Love Canal, based on negative racial stereotypes. Discrimination against people of colour and indigenous peoples has been a mainstay of environmental injustice.
Today, marginalised communities and nations demand environmental justice in their struggles against environmental harms that disproportionately impact them and their environments. Go to the Environmental Justice Atlas for a map of past and present socio-environmental conflicts around the world!
K is for Ki/Kin
Robin Wall Kimmerer, Native American (Potawatomi) botanist and author, believes that language is a key step towards sustainability. “Grammar is how we chart relationships through language, including our relationship with the Earth,” says Kimmerer.
Kimmerer observes that calling another human person ‘it’ would be considered offensive and suggestive of them being somehow unworthy of respect. Herein lies the issue with the way we address non-human nature: by calling non-human beings ‘it’, we objectify them and deny them personhood. “Using “it” absolves us of moral responsibility and opens the door to exploitation” which, argues Kimmerer, is a key reason why we find it easy to mistreat nature for our benefit.
But what if we changed the pronouns we use when we speak about nature? How would this change our relationship with the natural world?
For Kimmerer, the answer lies in Indigenous languages in which all beings are spoken of as persons, as part of the family of living beings on Earth. Taking inspiration from her native Potawatomi language, Kimmerer suggests that we might address nature with the pronoun ‘ki’ (plural ‘kin’) instead, signifying “a being of the living earth”.
By understanding nature as kin rather than as ‘it’, we can begin the shift towards a more inclusive - and compassionate - worldview when it comes to our relationship with nature. And whilst language is only a starting point for giving nature rights, it might be the foundation for the fundamental shift we need in the way we think about humans’ place on the Earth.
Read more on ‘the grammar of animacy’ here, or listen to this interview with Robin Wall Kimmerer. We also recommend Kimmerer’s wonderful book, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.
L is for lifecycle
Lifecycles look at the entire life of a product, from its source material to end life. Most products follow a linear lifecycle: production > use > disposal as waste.
The product goes from creation to disposal in a straight line, which tends to come with a high environmental and economic cost. By turning this straight line into something a bit more circular, like the butterfly model found in circular economy principles (see C for more info!), we can be more resource-efficient, more sustainable, and get more bang for our buck!
Making a product’s lifecycle more sustainable also means looking beyond just its “usefulness phase”; to its sourcing, production and disposal. This can mean making a product biodegradable, reducing unnecessary packaging, sustainably sourcing its base materials, as well as making production processes themselves as green as possible.
A t-shirt, for example, can sustainably source its cotton and ink for dying, it can run mills and other production sites off of green energy, it can be donated several times and repaired/upcycled to last as long as possible, and it can limit synthetics in the fabric to reduce the plastic microfibers as the t-shirt eventually breaks down, thus boosting its biodegradability. If the t-shirt really wants to go that extra step, it can also use a zero emissions delivery service to ship with!
Lifecycles are all about being conscious of the entire process of a product’s sustainability, rather than consumerist models of buy, throw away, buy more, throw away more. You can be lifecycle-sustainable by shopping consciously, recycling, donating and upcycling wherever possible, and by being aware of the phases before and after use: out of sight, still in mind!
L can also be for… loop economy
M is for monocultures
Monocultures are the opposite of a healthy, biodiverse space. Most often seen in industrial agriculture, monocultures consist of growing a single crop across a wide area, whilst destroying species/life beyond this single plant. Palm oil plantations, wheat and soy fields are common villains, but general monocultures have become the dominant industrial agriculture model; it is our default for food production.
Monocultures gained their now-global hold because they bring a temporary initial boost to profits; you can specialise in farming just one crop in a field at any given time, which is incredibly efficient. However, monocultures steadily destroy soil fertility after that first year, starting a downward spiral as they disrupt bio-diverse nutrient cycles in the soil. In short, a brief bump in profits is paid for by increasing reliance on fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, starting a cycle which only worsens as the soil is further depleted, and as insects/weeds become resistant to the toxic chemicals so need more and more to keep them at bay. Monocultures are destroying the vast network of soil nutrients we need to grow our food; UN FAO representatives said in 2014 that with current trajectories, we have 60 years left of top soil on which to grow our food. In other words, we now have 56 harvests left before our current method of producing food stops working entirely.
Alternatives to monocultures focus on integrating natural systems to better preserve nutrient cycles and to avoid the environmental ramifications of overuse of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Cover crops to regenerate the soil after a monoculture season, restoring animal-plant symbiosis through managed crop grazing, or conservation grazing, polyculture and permacultures, planting biodiverse perennial crops, and interspersing green corridors of native species are all methods that aim to turn a destructive monoculture agricultural system into one that regenerates soil and planet at the same time.
M can also be for… management of resources, morality
Sustainability is a concept and a growing reality that is always evolving, which is why at ecoeats we want to promote and educate on sustainable practices, ideas and issues wherever we can. For more on our A-Z of sustainability, see below!