Laura Jones

Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

Being Sustainable is Old School

In Interviews on August 28, 2009 at 9:56 am
Rebecca Luke, co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation

Rebecca Luke, co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation

“We’re bringing it back,” says Rebecca Luke.

She’s an ideal spokeswoman to advocate sustainable lifestyle, mostly because at first glance, one wouldn’t intuitively think she leads one. I met Rebecca at a quirky Seattle establishment called Odd Fellows on a Thursday night and she entered the room in a whirl of silky sashes and carefully styled garments. Besides her role as the co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation, she’s a fashion blogger, stylist, and works in theater as a costume designer and that’s about what you would expect upon initial inspection. If you ever thought that living sustainably meant flipping the hippie switch and donning a pair of yoga pants, she’s the one to prove you wrong.

At the moment, Rebecca’s talking about how we’ve all gotten so far off track in terms of lifestyle. Over the course of a couple hours, she refers repeatedly to the “old days” with confidence that society had had it right at one point but have lost the essence of right and wrong or sustainable or not somewhere down the line. Getting citizens back on that righteous path is what she’s all about, and she’s been at it for eight years already as the co-founder of the Sustainable Style Foundation (SSF)- a volunteer run web resource for sustainable design. Reading between the lines, SSF goes to show that a sustainable lifestyle doesn’t have to be an alternative lifestyle, you can do, shop, wear, use everything you’re used to- but with a little more consciousness, some innovation, and good dose of high design.

Lately, we’ve been hit over the head about the importance of greening our lives, changing out those incandescent light bulbs, carpooling and buying reusable shopping bags. There’s something decidedly unexciting about this whole movement for sustainability, and I think Aysia Wright said it best, “Recycled polyester. I mean, how sexy is that?” But, spend a little time surfing on the SSF site and you’ll see that there’s no need to lower your standards to live sustainably- “Look fabulous, live well, do good” that’s their motto.
Today, SSF is a portal to international sustainable business with a mass of consumer resources. SASS, their e-magazine pioneered the concept of going paperless and growing virally and covers topics from The Economy and Environment in Mexico to snow leopard conservation in Ladakh, India. They host Cocktails for a Cause events within their communities that benefit local charities and provide an open forum for the public to learn about and get involved with projects. SSF also launched a unique platform called ssftags, a sort of sustainable stamp on consumer products that certifies its been made and sold with the triple bottom line in mind. Designed to be as recognizable as the recycling emblem, ssftags have been issued for everything from Levi’s jeans (whose suggestion spurred the endeavor) to BLANK.

SSF was borne out of what Gifford Pinchot calls intrapreneuring- working to change the systems from within an established organization. Back in 2001, Rebecca and her co-founder Sean were working at Nordstrom with Sean poised to do some good in the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility department. It came to light that employees were upset with the amount of waste they found associated with inventory, as each and every garment and item came individually packaged in plastic that was promptly removed and disposed of when shipments arrived at the store. In as large an operation as Nordstrom, you can imagine how quickly this plastic built up and also how cumbersome it was for the employees to handle. So, they took action. Collectively, the employees approached management with a savvy plan to solve the problem- they would collect the plastic and sell it back to the distributor at a discounted price, therefore preventing waste, creating a new product, reducing shipping costs and increasing the sustainable profile of the company as a whole. The duo saw how easy it was to incite a little change, created SSF, and the rest is history.

Rebecca recounts, “When we started, people didn’t even know what sustainability was. We wanted to create a resource to share best practices, and we didn’t know where this would go. We just wanted to be cool people in our community, making things happen.”

OSSA Awards

In the spirit of the movement, SSF stays positive and rewards progress, highlighting the good things people are doing and to leading by example- even if that means awarding Wal-Mart on their steps towards a more sustainable business in their 2007 Outstanding Sustainable Style Achievement Awards (OSSA), which Luke says they received a lot of flack for.  Their mentality is not uncommon from what I’m seeing in the movement, these guys aren’t bullies beating consumers with sticks to get them to make better choices, they’re offering carrots- organic ones, to slowly shift the lifestyle needle closer towards sustainability.

“It hit me when pop culture started to catch on, when Vanity Fair came out with its Green Issue and we started seeing celebrities drive their Prius to the Oscars.” She tells a story about watching True Blood, an HBO series where one character went on a barrage about being “An organic eating vegan with a  carbon footprint that’s miniscule so don’t fuck with me!” and knowing then that sustainability had arrived finally arrived on the scene. In her perspective, the media isn’t part of the consumerism-driving problem, it’s part of the solution- helping to shape the cultural framework we live in and bringing sustainability into our daily landscape.

“You have to recognize that pop culture affects culture. This rise in awareness is huge and has real potential to impact work and lifestyle. Today, sustainability is getting written into the script, they’re getting it, and they’re injecting it into pop culture so now it’s become acceptable. It’s exciting that sustainability is a household word now, I don’t want it to be a movement anymore, I just want it to be a part of life.”

But change hasn’t come overnight, and it won’t come dramatically in the days to come. In Luke’s words, “It’s about the small choices you make everyday that affect your lifestyle.” It’s why the SSF website is in shades of grey, because there’s no true right or absolute wrong way to live. It’s not about polarizing society, it’s about working together to educate and build awareness and to let knowledge consciously guide your daily decision making process- and SSF is one of the organizations that are making it easy for global citizens to transition into a sustainable life with style.

After all, says Luke, “Our parents didn’t use disposable plastic grocery bags back in the old days! Being sustainable is old school, and we’re just bringing it back.”