Lauren Ritchie knows that sustainability means cooperation

Deciding to take on the world of sustainability is a big task. Many say that major corporations and industries that contribute heavily to the plastic pollution can’t be stopped, but refuse to look at the answers burning bright as day. You want to stop plastic pollution? Stop consuming plastic. Stop funding the companies producing plastic en mass. Stop treating the plastic problem like it’s unsolvable. Eco gal Lauren Ritchie isn’t asking for much. She knows firsthand how hard it can be for some to stop their consumption of plastic all together. She is calling for your best effort. Look into bamboo utensils, find a reusable water bottle, try to switch your staples for similar products that come in glass. The fight for a sustainable planet starts with our demands, and our change. 

MAKEUP ALLIE SMITH @alliesmithmakeup @bridgeartists 

How did you get started on your eco journey? 

My introduction to sustainability and environmentalism came in high school during my Geography classes. We delved into social issues like poverty, migration, and global health, as well as climate change and environmental degradation, and I knew immediately that solving these problems was what I wanted to dedicate my life to. I became a member of “Keep Grand Bahama Clean” in my junior year of high school and participated in beach clean-ups, environmental protests, and educational programs to spread awareness about environmental protection on my island. Now, I am a third-year student at Columbia University studying Sustainable Development and I run The Eco Justice Project which is an online platform to raise awareness about climate and social justice through educational infographics.

Who are some of your inspirations who exemplify and advocate for social justice AND climate justice? 

There are so many great individuals! I would definitely have to say Aja Barber, Mikaela Loach, Leah Thomas, Aditi Mayer, Tori Tsui, and Kristy Drutman! 

When it comes to sustainability, what’s the biggest thing you call bullshit on? What’s a huge misconception?

That you have to be perfect all of the time! If the thing that’s keeping you from starting your journey towards sustainable living is the fact that you feel like you won’t be able to commit entirely or that there are some things you aren’t ready to give up yet, that’s completely okay and valid! There is definitely a stereotype that the sustainability community is very judgmental, which to a certain extent can be very true, but I think doing your best and making any changes you can is good enough! I’m definitely a huge advocate for compromise and I always tell individuals who are getting started on living more sustainably to consider keeping the areas that they aren’t quite ready to give up yet and work on other areas of their life! Change is change and sustainability is all about helping the planet and people over perfection!

On your climate change journey, what has been (one of) the hardest truths or realizations you’ve discovered?

One of the biggest faults of capitalism is that slowing down and having stagnant moments are perceived as a character flaw. We are conditioned to believe that tangible progress and visible change are the only metrics of success. From my experience, this work truly is a marathon and not a sprint. The impacts we make are incremental, and in a world that is so fast-paced, it’s easy to slip into feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing.  Eventually, many activists begin to feel like they are screaming into a void and we aim higher, dream bigger, and push ourselves harder because we are desperate to believe that our efforts are making a difference. We are terrified of what the state of the world might become if we pause to catch our breath. As changemakers, resistance is our area of expertise, however, we often don’t think about listening to our bodies and our minds as a form of resistance in and of itself. Whilst it’s definitely easy to get into the habit of commodifying ourselves in order to be as “productive” as possible, always remember that protecting the planet begins with protecting yourself.

Let’s talk about The Eco Justice Project. What led you to start that and what were some of the challenges you faced creating a brand like this?

The Eco Justice Project began as an Instagram and website platform to educate young Bahamians, and my college peers, about sustainability in a way that would be engaging, digestible, and relatable. It was a place for me to share zero-waste tips, to spread awareness about fast fashion, and to encourage conscious consumerism in a format that would be inclusive for a younger audience that would normally be bored by, or feel disconnected from the typical conversations surrounding sustainability. It definitely is a lot of responsibility to have a large platform. It’s important for me to serve as a positive role model and to also hold myself accountable enough to understand that I still have a lot more learning, and unlearning, to do. To me, it is never about being perfect. It’s about genuinely caring about a cause and doing all that you can to make a difference.

How has the platform evolved? And how are you balancing it while still being in school?

The Eco Justice Project has since expanded into an online community, mainly on Instagram, that promotes intersectional climate activism by highlighting the experiences of marginalized groups in the climate conversation, as well as educating on the racist, xenophobic, classist, and ableist systems that oppress certain communities. I wanted to create a space to highlight grassroots organizations around the world doing amazing work and to connect the community with educational information, first-hand experiences, and volunteer opportunities to get involved and donate. It has certainly been challenging to balance The Eco Justice Project with being a full-time university student, particularly with my ability to post regularly in addition to all of my other assignments. I am grateful to have a community that is so understanding of my capacity and continues to have such great excitement to engage with my content. 

How do you continue to infuse creativity into your brand, while still sharing a clear, actionable message?  

The most important part of The Eco Justice Project has always been providing educational content in a digestible and accessible way for a young adult audience and a large part of that work entails being creative in how I introduce these topics. I really enjoy having casual instagram live conversations with organization leaders about their work and breaking down their expertise in a very easy to understand way, in addition to IG reel, TikTok content, and infographics. I always think about creating content that I would enjoy consuming and that helps me to infuse creativity, but also ensures that I’m always proud of the work I produce. 

Can you describe inclusive climate action in your own words? How are you advocating for marginalized voices in this space? 

Intersectionality is all about being as inclusive as possible and understanding that the climate crisis does not impact everyone in the same way. It’s essential to underline the connection between social justice and environmentalism when discussing the climate movement. Not only must we, as environmentalists, reconcile with the racist and exclusionary history of environmentalism, but what many fail to realize is that the prevalence of injustice within the global community extends far beyond police brutality, prejudiced remarks, or discrimination within the criminal justice system. It’s everywhere. It’s in environmental racism and the poor quality of our air and water. It’s in the segregated and poorly funded communities we live in. It’s in our limited access to sustainable resources. The reality of the matter is that there are a multitude of social factors that impact not only one’s access to resources to combat the climate crisis but also explains why certain communities, usually poor communities of color, are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis compared to other groups. From race to mental health and disabilities to migration and poverty, climate change is interconnected with so many social justice issues and for environmentalists to truly protect the planet.We need to care about all the groups of people on it and work towards creating an equitable society.  

How can we continue to encourage and demand inclusive climate action effectively in our own communities? 

We must recognize that we can’t pursue inclusivity, especially when it comes to intersectional environmentalism, without a good grasp on what allyship should look like. In order to promote an approach to justice that is inclusive of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, we need to be able to effectively ally together to support them by taking the time to listen and learn to understand their plights, amplify their messages, and give them a platform to speak and be heard to enact real change. Being a good ally for communities also begins with a lot of unlearning. From the harmful language that we use, to stereotypes and incorrect assumptions, a good ally is someone who is tolerant and open-minded to learning about stories other than their own and understands how all struggles for justice are intimately connected. Effective allyship is also taking the time to center certain identities in spaces where they are often neglected or ignored and it means using privileges to make space to amplify marginalized communities, without tokenizing them or expecting them to teach you. 

Can you talk us through some of the ways you practice sustainability in your own life?

The biggest way that I incorporate sustainability into my everyday life is by being mindful of my consumption and waste production. Buying ethical, using bamboo utensils, and being vegetarian are all great, but they aren’t always accessible when I’m back home in The Bahamas. Because of this, I try to be sustainable by being extremely mindful of little things that some people may often overlook. I try to always make sure to switch lights and electronics off when I’m not in the room and turn off the shower when I’m shampooing my hair or the sink while I’m brushing my teeth! I definitely try to avoid being wasteful at all costs and I recommend these tips to anyone trying to practice sustainability on a budget or without access to sustainable zero-waste alternatives!

Do you have a favorite sustainable beauty brand? How important is it to ensure you’re supporting sustainable products as well? 

Supporting sustainable beauty brands is so so important! It’s a great way as a consumer to be active in your efforts to do right by the planet and to reduce your waste as much as you can! Briogeo is definitely one of my favorite sustainable brands because it was also one of the first brands that I worked with when I moved to New York and bought for myself.

When buying beauty products, what are some of the ingredients you look for? What are some of the bad ingredients you avoid? 

For my curly hair products, I always try to avoid parabens and sulphates because they are horrible for the health of my hair. Other than that, I really don’t pay very much attention to the exact ingredients in my products but I am very big on making sure that my products are clean (vegan if possible) and cruelty-free! Those components are very important to me. Although people tend to associate sustainability mostly with ingredients, especially when it comes to beauty products, I really value brands that are creative with their packaging to avoid excess plastic packaging or offer refills/reusable products. Even further, brands that are very intentional about reducing their carbon emissions, ethical raw material sourcing, and paying their workers fair wages? I have no choice but to stan. 

For someone who may be unsure of how to get started or how to best contribute to climate change, how would you encourage them to start? 

My advice for someone who wants to get involved would be to begin with some research! There is a wealth of information online (especially on social media), but also in books, organizations, and academic articles that provide lots of valuable educational resources about environmentalism and social justice. Beyond education, I would urge you to see what opportunities are available in your local area and to see how you can get involved in your community. It is so important to engage with local initiatives to better the planet and this is a great way, as an individual, to really begin to make tangible change.