There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.
W. E. B. Du Bois
Raise your hand if you Marie Kondoed your closets during quarantine, in order to ease your anxiety and practice some self-care. Raise your hand if you threw away the items you were getting rid of because donating them was more complicated, and possibly unsafe.
Raise your hand if you stopped going to the grocery store and started having your groceries delivered because you were strictly following the stay-at-home orders or because you were afraid of being infected. Raise your hand if this meant your reusable shopping bags hung by the front door idly while you unpacked the plastic bags full of food.
Raise your hand if your ordered take out to support a local business. Raise your hand if that meant you threw away plastic takeout containers, flatware, and bags.
Raise your hand if there has been any moment in the past ten months where you thought that compromising, just a little, on your sustainability practices seemed less important because you were just trying to survive COVID-19.
Just me? I didn’t think so. It’s okay. We aren’t alone.
States that had previously banned plastic bags lifted their bans. Major brands, like Starbucks, made declarations that while their commitment to sustainability remains unchanged, they are suspending the use of reusable cups in all stores for safety. Many small businesses that were using eco-friendly takeout supplies traded them for plastic because the margins are so much better, and they were worried about their business surviving the pandemic.
And why wouldn’t they? After all, the plastics industry wrote a letter to the Department of Health & Human Services arguing that plastics are the most sanitary options for customers, except the science doesn’t back that up. (Smithsonian)
And while the decision of everyday folks to protect their health over using a reusable shopping bag or of a brand to mitigate their risk by outlawing reusable cups may seem of little consequence in the great confusion that is climate justice, the same lack of understanding and short-sightedness is what led to the government easing fuel efficiency standards for new cars, freezing rules for soot air pollution, continuing to lease public property to gas and oil companies, fast-tracking permitting for offshore fishing farms, and relaxing reporting requirements for polluters — all of which happened by early May, and all of which happened in the name of COVID-19.
The irony is that COVID-19 is evidence that we should be going deeper into climate justice, not compromising.
It’s easy for me to accept that COVID-19 (and really all infectious diseases) is related to the destruction we have unleashed on our planet. I never really needed the proof. People I know personally and trust extensively, such as Alex Diaz, the founder of Common Future, believe it and science isn’t a language I easily understand.
I’ve learned two things over the past few months: it’s not that easy for many people to accept this as fact and not knowing the research behind the truth contributed to my own compromises in sustainability.
So here are the facts that prove the relationship, from the Harvard School of Public Health:
⓵ Many of the root causes of climate change are the same as the root causes for an increased risk in pandemics.
⓶ Reducing deforestation can slow animal migrations that increase the risk of infectious disease spread.
⓷ Reducing CO2 emissions and fossil fuel burning keeps our lungs healthy, protecting us from infectious diseases, like COVID-19.
One industry that greatly contributes to#2 and #3, and therefore has a great opportunity to help protect us all is fashion. The textile industry is the 4th largest producer of climate emissions (over air travel and shipping combined). (Ella Macarthur Foundation) In 2018, out of 17 million tons of textiles, 11.7 million ended up in the landfill. (EPA)
Figuring out how to tackle this might seem like too big a challenge, for most of us, especially in a pandemic, where our focus is on staying safe — and staying alive.
Not so for Jennifer Moreau, founder of World for Good. And it is her devotion to sustainability that is transforming the power solo entrepreneurs have everywhere.
World for Good was created to provide employment and empowerment to womxn who have been trafficked. They carry out this mission by partnering with the organizations that employ these womxn, to create reusable fabric bags made from textile scraps that would otherwise go into the landfill.
Jennifer knew that she could never make a dent in the waste created by the fashion industry on her own. Alone, she could never get access to the kind of resources and publicity she would need. She also knew that by partnering with other like-minded organizations, she could exponentially increase her reach, without sacrificing her own wellness.
I’ve written before about how her dedication to this propelled her into a launch and major milestones in less than a year, something I had rarely experienced from a solopreneur. When COVID started taking over, I was worried about how World for Good would survive. Would Jenn be able to get the bags shipped into the country? Would retailers and consumers keep purchasing them? Would she even have time to focus on any of this?
It’s true that the first two of those concerns had merit. I should have known better than to even consider the third, as the reality was just the opposite. In the last year,
⓵ Jennifer became an advisory member of the Anti-Human Trafficking Intelligence Initiative (ATII). Her role there is to promote social responsibility within financial institutions, to combat human trafficking.
⓶ She spoke to colleges and universities across the state of Florida about social business models, triple bottom line theories, and the importance of 3rd party certifications.
⓷ World for Good became the first company that earned the Certified USA Social Enterprise endorsement in the United States, the only 3rd party certification for social enterprises.
⓸ World for Good was selected by the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship to be awarded the Social Entrepreneurship SIG Award for Excellence in Social Entrepreneurship Practice and Service, an award made possible by the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation.
In other words, she continued to find the people and organizations that shared her vision, partnered with them, and wowed them. As a result, when she is able to ramp up production and people are spending more, she will have greater name recognition for her work, a higher brand profile for her mission, and be eligible for a special seller database for companies looking for social procurement.
In essence, she made sure that the work she is doing can grow and flourish and that she’ll have more and more partners to choose from going forward. It is this level of devotion that gives us all the power to stop compromising and remember we are in a partnership with each other and our world. How do I know we are capable of this?
We know that it takes a village, no company or person operates in a vacuum. We remember that every decision we make relies on, and has an effect on, the long term future of everything.
This is what the future of work and wellness must look like. And, it is the only chance we have of honoring the world we have compromised.
What to do next:
• Visit World for Good to purchase upcycled, beautiful fabric bags. Follow them on Instagram.
• Read the next article in the series, Work, Wellness, and the Future of our Freedom : How three human trafficking social enterprises created business models universal enough to free the world we are living in.
The Modern World needs Modern Activists.
Modern activists are thinkers, entrepreneurs, protestors, writers, readers, teachers, and innovators. We are putting everything we’ve got into creating solutions that live at the intersection of gender justice, racial justice, economic justice, and climate justice. We are radical, audacious humxns who lead and create with moxie and devotion.
We are inspired by rebellion and fueling a revolution.
LaKay Cornell is a writer and creator on a mission to change the world through changing the narratives. Modern Activists is a series in her newsletter. Learn more and subscribe here.