How do I define sustainability?
My understanding of sustainability is framed holistically and goes beyond satisfying global inter- and intra-generational needs. The well-being of people and the planet are inseparable and interdependent. As we find ourselves in both a climate and spiritual crisis, we must embrace a cultural and moral revolution that redefines wealth and our value systems.
Our physical well-being, sustainable management and existence are only possible if the nine planetary boundaries are not overexerted, six of which have already been trespassed. Yet, our anthropocentric lens views nature as income that we can spend as our needs (or often) desires dictate. Therefore, we need a regenerative revolution that goes beyond preserving what remains of a once-thriving planet.
“Look at what they’ve done
the earth cried to the moon
they’ve turned me into one entire bruise
– green and blue”
― Rupi Kaur
If our current systems are broken, what does this symbolise?
We need to address our inner beings to transform our outer realities, our systems and, in turn, our institutions and global constructs.
For companies and institutions, the global SDGs are our north star of sustainability for planetary and social health. As a society, we can begin by creating a narrative centred around abundance, interdependence, reciprocity and circularity.
It is in our power to embark on a new path towards collective healing by regenerating ourselves to regenerate our world.
Photographer: Stephanie Pfaender
“How beautiful can life be? We hardly dare imagine it.”
Photographer: Anna Rosa Krau
What is transformation?
A sustainable society and future go hand in hand with a transformative shift, and it is unfolding before our eyes. We must chart new maps to navigate towards regeneration, equality and cooperation, which requires radical and accelerated systemic change. Democracy, our livelihoods, peace and the Earth’s natural resources are being degraded by the destabilisation of our Earth’s entangled systems, which we as a species are responsible for.
Transformation can be viewed systemically and is a heuristic concept, a non-linear, dynamic process that involves multiple levels of action, actors and drivers. Transformation means a cultural and ethical paradigm shift revolutionising our interconnected economic, ecological, technical, institutional and social systems. Due to neoliberalism and the resulting decoupling of the markets, they have become driven by the need for limitless growth, no longer functioning in the interest of society at large.
A transformation means sustainable normativity as a starting point. It cannot be achieved through technical innovations alone but requires the creation of a new social contract so that inter- and intra-generational justice becomes a reality. Our existing infrastructures, both physical and mental, create path dependencies that can be redesigned through disruption. So let’s disrupt and rebuild.
How does the fashion industry come into play?
The fashion industry is responsible for around 4% of all carbon emissions. (McKinsey & Co and Global Fashion Agenda (2020) Fashion on Climate) In its current model, it is heavily reliant on fossil fuels. It is extractive in all aspects along the value chain, culminating in mountains of toxic textile waste polluting oceans, river streams and landscapes. It currently thrives on a culture of overconsumption and overproduction, propped up by a maltreated and exploited workforce that is unable to sustain their basic needs or care adequately for family members and their communities. We have the power to change this.
“There is a gap of two to five times between
industry-standard wages and living wage benchmarks in
the fashion sector worldwide.” ( Labour Behind the Label, Tailored Wages 2019: The state of pay
in the global garment industry)
Consumers and the industry have acknowledged that a radical systemic overhaul is necessary, and this is where the potential of creativity as a driving force for change could unfold. We can bridge the disconnect between fashion and the climate and ecological crisis with a new narrative. Consumer awareness and a desire for circularity, equality, radical transparency and regeneration could have a seismic effect upwards the pyramid, pressuring industry players to reframe their business models and ultimately creating the framework for a holistic fashion future.
“When future generations look back […] they will certainly blame the leaders and politicians of this time for their failure to address the climate crisis. But they may well hold artists and writers to be equally culpable – for the imagining of possibilities is not after all, the job of politicians and bureaucrats.”
― Amitav Ghosh
Photographer: Yannick Schuette