I have a problem with sustainability and this is not with the concept of sustainability but as to how it has been popularised as a hype and we are seeing consultants, designers, brands, certifications, marketing proposals, influencers galore without the deeper understanding and thus the applications thereof the possibility sustainability holds... The hype has diluted sustainability so much that the word does not feel real anymore and the more we need it the further away it gets. My quest is to give sustainability's credibility back. I will try.
Today`s world demands that we understand the complexity of the interconnected mechanisms to make sense of the whole as revealed with clarity (once again to all of us) by the effects of an pandemic where the virus could be considered as the flow of information - from one host to another as well as from one country to the next where visas, passports, borders become powerless. In any information system, a program, a supply chain, a process whatever happens to a part, has repercussions on all the other parts.
All things are interconnected and everything that we do to a part of the system changes the system itself. As John Muir puts in beautifully “ When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” If we take microorganisms as the smaller building blocks we can see the scope and the natural interconnectedness. Microbial health leads to soil health, soil health to plant health, the plant health to animal health and the plant and animal and ecosystem health to human health. I am trying to learn more about microbes, our gut system, permaculture, epigenetics, biofields so that I can amplify and fully understand the meaning of sustainability. There is more when you start getting interested and scratch the surface.
We are parts of the system ourselves and thus whatever we do to the system it is reflected on us (ultimately). This perception evokes other ways of thinking as well as behaving. If there is hunger and poverty in one part of the world, or if a country is suffering from climate injustice, social unrest, the challenges are reflected on the system as a whole. No one remains immune to the damage. I often think of what we are trying to sustain so that I can internalize the extent of its implications - what is it that we would like to hold up, support? Maybe it is better to break the concept down to its bits and pieces so that we can see the impact on the cellular level and build on the roots. It does not work when we try to construct without the roots; thinking that a sustainability reports published on the web page, the capsule collection made from organic cotton, nice shots of smiling women garment makers without the framework that is needed to define the ecosystem, human, stakeholder wellbeing in coherence will not work. It cannot work.
Our bodies function with the same holistic mechanism; cellular health defines the wholesome well-being. Modern medicine remains focused on the isolated cure for certain semptomic diseases or parts of the body and luckily we are seeing more medical doctors taking the more functional approach to consider the body as information rather than as parts in isolation. The supply chains are no different.
The supply chains are interconnected nodes of product and information flow and very much like the human body are in need of a holistic overview to create value rather than landfills. The fashion industry is at best taking sustainability to be a selective cure rather than as healing. The curing process is not aligned with circularity as it isolates an aspect without understanding the underlying drives as well as how this one node is affecting the coherence of the system. Healing on the other hand, will evaluate the problem initially by taking care to assess how and why we have ended up here and the past, current as well as the future impact as a system. So if healing can be used as an anonym; what would you be looking for? A healer, a methodology, questions, interactive dialogues, evaluation, sensory feedback, patience, unconventional thinking, self-assessment, support, partnerships, sharing, coherence for wholesome well-being.
Take the recycled polyester yarns that most brands are signing on as an example - linear thinking promotes using the recycled polyester as an element of sustainability whereas circular thinking asks the relevant questions as to from which virgin material was this certain polyester recycled from (an apparel piece? plastic bottles ? ghost fishing nets?) and how would we wash this piece of clothing so that it does not shed more fibers than its virgin cousin or how would we dispose of it once it is not loved anymore. Where do things come from and where do they end up? We may need a second thought before we label anything that is recycled to be sustainable. We will not be able to detect or solve our challenges to move to a circular operative system with linear thinking frameworks. We have to look deeper to see where our materials come from and where they end up.
I am not saying we can achieve the transformation overnight - and here it comes handy to use sustainability as a verb so that it calls out the action, the act of moving, transforming and evolving - becoming a journey rather than an unfulfilled destination. I have been presenting the Climate Crisis in My Wardrobe series which I have tailored from a 35 hour in depth training to an hour glimpse and have reached out to over 700 viewers with the very passion to connect - to say that we are connected - every time we purchase a pair of jeans, a community is asked to relocate due to climate change, trees are cut to make fibers, a garment maker gets her paycheck.
We are mostly acting as if we are unconnected to ecosystems as well as to each other and we have to come back to the realization that this is a faulty perception and start to live accordingly. We have to ask ourselves what would change in our lives once we see this? How would we behave?
After all we are built into the environment and everything we do to each other as well as to the environment is what we do to ourselves.