Our world is rapidly changing, and yesterday's rules for quality education and career success are already irrelevant today. Therefore, we talked with a heroine who knows well how to properly prepare for the future in order to meet him with dignity.
Sustainability Consultant, Founder of Responsible Future Consulting Agency. The author of the lecture “Sustainable Fashion Strategy: From Raw Material Growing to Safe Utilization”, which was held during Be Sustainable! Fashion Summit as part of Ukrainian Fashion Week 20/21
Claudia, tell us how you came to train people to understand the principles of sustainable development and help them change their business strategies in this regard?
It all started with the fact that as a child I spent four years in Helsinki, went to a local school and therefore naturally plunged into Swedish-Finnish culture. It was then that she learned the principles of sustainability – for example, mutual understanding and trust. Every morning, the school principal, meeting and opening the door, said to each student: "Good morning!" Another principle can be described by the Swedish word lagom, which means “in moderation, enough”, that is, no less and no more than you need. Once, the teacher told me: "Take as many pencils, felt-tip pens and paints in the closet as you need." Being a child from the USSR, where extremes existed – the total deficit and reserves for future use, I could not imagine how this is possible. At 16, I returned to Ukraine, graduated from university, then worked for a long time in the legal business. I began to seriously engage in the topic of sustainable development in 2017, after participating in the leadership program of the Stockholm Center for Sustainability. It was then that I clearly understood that man and nature are a single inextricable ecosystem and all our problems arise only because we forgot about it.
Having gained knowledge about the negative impact of man on the environment and realizing that in the next 10 years the world will change in such a way that determines the course of the planet’s development for the next 10 thousand years, it was impossible to continue to live and work as before. Together with my partner Lidia Ignatova, we transformed the already existing Responsible Future project and for the last two years we have been helping Ukrainian companies integrate the social and environmental component into the main development strategy, review business models, prepare non-financial reports and create sustainable solutions.
According to your observations, what is the hardest thing for Ukrainians to change on the path to sustainable development?
The paradigm of thinking. It’s not customary for customers to say unpleasant things, although sometimes it’s necessary to say: “You don’t have to exist long, because your business is based on an unstable model. Natural resources are running out, and you are selling something that provokes huge climate changes that are already making themselves felt” It’s very difficult for business owners and top managers to understand this, because they don’t want to believe it or admit it.
Fashion has become a sphere that causes great damage to the environment. Do you believe that the situation can change globally? What people will buy less and brands will produce clothes in accordance with the principles of sustainable development?
In the very near future, drastic changes in the culture of consumption will not occur. Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that the buyer is getting younger, the new generation is already reading labels and looking at the composition today. Conscious consumption is gradually replacing thoughtless shopping. In 2015, BSR and Futerra conducted a study according to which 93% of buyers even then wanted to see responsible brands. And three quarters of teenagers chose products that solved social and environmental problems or contributed to the development of their country's economy.
Children, teenagers now think in a completely different way, so I believe in a new generation. If we talk about brands, then the future is unique for companies that work with biodegradable raw materials and rely on innovation. For example, eco-leather has already been created from pineapple leaf fibers, as elastic and strong as ordinary skin, but safe for the biosphere, and it is produced according to the principle of a circular economy. I am also impressed by the experience of the Pangaia brand, which sews eco-jackets with wildflowers as a filler. In Ukraine, there is also a great example – the company DevoHome, producing home hemp textiles. Of course, it’s easier to buy a product massively sewn in Asia or Turkey, but you need to remember the environmental footprint that you create by acquiring it. If in doubt, use special calculators that consider the environmental friendliness of your wardrobe. In Sweden, for example, Doconomy has already issued a biomaterial credit card that tracks CO2 emissions and checks your environmental footprint when shopping.
And if we are talking about the mass market, then is the situation with sustainable development quite deplorable?
To date, fast fashion is the biggest problem. Advertising and promotion do their job and constantly repeat to us: "Update your wardrobe, buy a new one!" And this exacerbates the situation. But I note that in recent years the picture in Ukraine has changed. Many prefer not the quantity of things, but their quality. In addition, people began to choose national brands, realizing that by voting for them with a wallet, they help the country's economic development.
That is, if we still buy clothes of mass-market brands, will it be more correct to purchase it from local manufacturers?
At a minimum, you will create a smaller ecological footprint, because these clothes were not transported from Bangladesh or China. You will also help local producers to exist and develop. By the way, decent work and economic growth is one of the 17 goals of sustainable development, approved by world leaders five years ago at the UN level.
What is the best way to instill awareness in children so that they perceive this as the norm from an early age?
Only by my own example. You can talk about cool social projects as much as you like, but until you show the real result and how it affected the life of the family, it will not teach anything. My daughters are 16 and 12 years old, at home we sort solid household waste and together we go to the deep-sorting station "Ukraine without smithty". Therefore, they know how to sort plastic and what to do next. Try to pack solid household waste in one bag at home for a week. I think you will be surprised by the amount of garbage that you produce. And your children will be even more surprised when they find out that from plastic covers on a 3D printer, prostheses can be printed or melted into beautiful benches for city parks. This is the first circle of influence that you can exert within your family.
And what to do with shopaholism? Bright adverts on Instagram have a very strong effect on adolescents primarily on an emotional level.
Show by your own example that things that you don’t use can be given a second life or donated to charity. Take children with you, passing clothes to orphanages – this changes thinking. As for cosmetics, teach them to read the labels so that they understand whether the bottle is recyclable, whether the product has been tested on animals. Biodiversity is one of the principles of sustainable development, so take your children to parks, explain which plants and animals disappear from nature forever. Will their children and grandchildren already see snowdrops, which today in large quantities spontaneously sell on every corner? The most important thing is education through concrete, and best of all, tactile examples – something that children can touch and see. I can also recommend the online project "The Largest Lesson in the World", which was developed at UNICEF to easily explain the principles of sustainable development to children.
I know that you have developed a special online course for adults, which should help them understand how to adhere to sustainable development.
It is, since adult education is an important and difficult task. Unlike children, it is much harder for them to change the paradigm of thinking. My personal recommendation for everyone is to read foreign sources more, expand your horizons, listen to lectures, and take online courses. On the site vumonline.ua you can listen to my course "Sustainable development: a new philosophy of thinking" for free. Also, the UN Development Program in Ukraine is currently working on the creation of three online educational courses – for business leaders, civil servants and public activists. They can be completed in April. Just 10 minutes a day to receive such information – and from a different angle you will look and evaluate what is happening in the city and country, and you will be able to understand what you, as a mother or as an entrepreneur, can do to change something within the framework of your circle of influence.
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