In discussion with creators of the Eco-Rakhi and WWF’s named Solution Seekers, Jaanvi and Paavani on sustainable lifestyle choices and more
What are your ethnic and professional backgrounds?
We are both British Indians. Our roots lie in Gujarat but our parents were born in East Africa and then moved to the UK over 50 years ago. We both work in healthcare, one of us is in primary care and the other is in secondary care.
What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?
The short answer is our love for nature. But that’s not all. In recent years, there’s been an alarming number of threats to the planet, animals and people – and we have become more aware of the solutions needed to prevent these threats. Without the love and understanding for nature, we wouldn’t have this drive to want to change for the better, and inspire others to do the same. Of course, individual change is great, however, a ripple effect involving millions of people is what is necessary to give our future a different and more hopeful trajectory. Our aim is to create some sort of ripple effect, however small. Even if it’s a few people that will make conscious decisions moving forward. This is enough for us.
The longer answer is a little bit more deep-rooted; and goes back to us growing up. We were taught about nature and shown documentaries specifically by our idol, Sir David Attenborough. Like most people who watch his documentaries, we were inspired and fell in love with our natural world. However, over the last few years we’ve been informed about, and have seen first-hand some of the impacts of climate change, deforestation and plastic pollution. We snorkelled in a place that was once brimming with colourful life, and returned back and saw what seemed like a graveyard filled with coral skeletons. That was one of our triggers – seeing the reality of our human impact. It caused a whole array of emotions too like overwhelm, guilt, hopelessness and so on – and that’s when we decided we need to act!
This led to the birth of our platform, and the drive to educate and inspire others to help protect the planet, and all its inhabitants. This is with why we decided to contact schools to do sustainability and environmentally-centered talks. We feel that if children are taught certain things from a young age, they will use that as a foundation to make conscious decisions as they grow too. By educating the minds of the younger generation, we trust and hope that this knowledge will spread within their own households, and spark the much-needed change, even further.
The Instagram account came about because we wanted a platform for children, parents and teachers to refer back to for educational resources. However, due to COVID-19 we haven’t been able to speak at schools in person. Therefore, we have used our platform to raise awareness and share sustainability tips such as DIY alternatives, the impact of certain traditions on the environment and sustainable swaps. Recently we have started virtual school talks which we hope to continue going forward into 2021.
In addition, recently one if us decided to adopt a vegan lifestyle.
Not only did this change my diet, but it made me think way beyond just food, it made me think about the whole supply chain of any product – and the impact that it has on the planet, animals and people.Paavani
The spark of this journey began three years ago. A friend recommended watching Okja; a film essentially about a young girl fighting to stop her best friend, Okja, from being slaughtered. Until this point, I wasn’t vegetarian, but one specific scene was all it took to flick the switch for me – when the girl’s grandfather labelled meat cuts on an illustration of Okja. Now, I have a cat who is also my best friend, my favourite being and I couldn’t help but see myself as the little girl in the film, watching her care for this animal. This film made one thing quite clear, Okja, whether it’s a pig, a cat or any other animal, should be just as important, as my cat is to me. How could I love one, but eat the other? It just didn’t seem quite right.
From that point onwards, eating meat was history, and I naturally became more conscious about any issue concerning animal welfare. I became vegetarian overnight, but the more I read about animal exploitation and the unnecessary animal by-products added to food, toiletries and cosmetics, I wanted to change. There was this realisation that animals are here with us, not for us. For me, Okja was THE moment that has honestly shaped my entire life – without that film, without making that connection, there would have been no realisation, no awakening – veganism really was the starting point of all of this, and as a result made me more interested in environmental issues and sustainability – because they’re so inherently interconnected.
Why do you spend your free time on environmental activism?
For hope. Hope for things to get better. There’s a wonderful quote that we want to add from Xiye Bastida – a 18 year-old Mexican-Chilean Climate Justice Activist– ‘The only way to deal with the world’s inaction is to act, because acting gives us hope.’
What have been your biggest successes to date?
Our biggest successes in the sustainability space to date include raising awareness about traditions that are unsustainable, and attempting to make a sustainable solution – our Eco Rakhi. We somehow managed to gain recognition by the well-known conservation organisation WWF (UK) and have also been featured on BBC News and BBC Radio because of it, something so far beyond our wildest dreams!
People have also wanted to learn more about the environmental impact other traditions and cultural celebrations have including Bonfire Night, Diwali and Christmas – it has enabled our followers on Instagram and those that have heard about the Eco Rakhi to explore their own traditions, assess and explore how they can be celebrated more sustainably. That’s a huge success for us!
Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take a stand on climate change? Has it been challenging to navigate through?
Not at all! We think if we had taken this stance 10 years ago when studying for A-levels, then yes, there most likely would have been backlash. However, as two individuals that have finished their qualifications, there’s no reason for friends and family to have an issue with what we decide to do in our spare time (not that they should have an issue with it anyway – but that’s a whole other topic!) However, we do secretly wish we were inspired to act earlier on in life, as a career in ‘healthcare’ wouldn’t have been our first choice, something like Environmental Science or Natural Sciences would have been. So, no we don’t feel there has been any backlash at all – everyone has been extremely supportive!
In terms of challenges, there are always going to be some when it comes to inspiring change! We have found that most of our family and friends do understand the impact of climate change, and act on it after they watch specific documentaries we’ve suggested. But from the conversations that follow, it’s evident that some are a little reluctant to act, because the impacts don’t visibly or directly affect them (yet). The challenge we have here is trying to make people see the whole picture and understand that the natural world is so inherently interconnected, and how our actions and choices have the power to make a difference – for the better. Real change takes all of us, and everyone’s efforts are needed.
How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly?
This is an answer we will try to keep quite summarised! Lifestyle, diet, consumer habits, having open conversations with people, energy saving, cleaning products, transportation, talking in public, up-cycling, using sustainable alternatives and reducing our plastic usage are just some of the things we’ve been working on! We’ve changed aspects of our lives ranging from the simple, unsubscribing of emails to more complex issues like completely changing our diets and the products we buy.
We have made many sustainable swaps this year such as only using shampoo bars, soaps, face scrub and facewash – eliminating the need for plastic. We’ve almost ditched the plastic bottle, just a few old purchases to use up before we become completely plastic-free in the bathroom. However, we’d still be open to testing and trying different sustainable, ethical and organic toiletries, in the hope to find an alternative which works best for us.
We used to love shopping on ASOS but we can’t remember the last time we made a “fast fashion” purchase! Since reading and learning about the textile and fast fashion industry, and following activists like Orsola de Castro, Aja Barber and Venetia La Manna, we’ve understood the importance of opting to buy second-hand, or from ethical, sustainable and fair fashion brands.
Since the beginning of 2020, we’ve not yet bought a single item of clothing for ourselves. We seem to have far more clothes than we need – and will only be buying once those items break, or are unable to be repaired.
Luckily, we are both similar dress sizes so we share a lot of our clothes which is great but more recently, we have had no shame in re-wearing our outfits and normalising that fact that re-wearing our old clothes is not something to be embarrassed about. We also borrow some of our clothes from friends and family too, we did this last year with some dresses when the pandemic wasn’t governing our lives and we were able to go to a bar for a social drink!
We both have reusable bottles for water and our tea/coffee when we’re travelling or going to work, one of us actually uses an upcycled mayonnaise jar as a cup at work, because it’s made of glass and doesn’t leak! It’s also a great topic of conversation as people are always intrigued as to why someone wouldn’t just buy another travel cup instead(?)! We use glass containers for storing our food, and we proudly take these to restaurants if we go out to eat, in case there are any leftovers. Although restaurants provide containers for you to take your leftovers home in, majority of the time these containers are made of plastic – it’s just another way for us to reduce the amount of plastic we’re allowing into our lives.
We’ve recently bought a sewing machine to repair our clothes or even make some upcycled items, so we can continue using garments for longer, we still have a long way to go with learning this skill, but it’s definitely something we’re trying to put more energy towards.
Even switching bank accounts to more environmentally conscious and ethical companies is something we’re in the process of doing – this is because the banking sector is massively responsible for funding the use of fossil fuels – which is something we desperately need to move away from! We could go on and on and there are so many other aspects that we’ve changed in our lives, the majority can be found on our Instagram feed and highlights, and we still have loads more to come! So please take a look @sustainability.sisterss!
Being carbon conscious on a practical day-to-day sense can be quite costly – how can people easily and cost effectively make a difference? Do you think being sustainable is accessible to everyone?
Being sustainable can be accessible to everyone, but it also depends on your personal circumstances. We see it as a type of venn diagram. ‘Sustainable for you’ in the left circle, ‘Sustainable for Earth’ in the right circle, and ‘sweet spot’ where both the circles intersect. Everyone’s diagrams will look a little different, some with more focus on the left, and some with more focus on the right – and that’s okay!
Sustainability is mending clothes, eating leftovers, walking or taking the bus, re-wearing the same outfit over and over. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
Overall, it’s buying less but better quality – and making what you do have last. Sustainability is how our ancestors used to live, and it’s what many marginalised people have been doing for years.
There’s a saying that’s been thrown around a lot recently in the sustainability community: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly, we need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” And it’s true. In our respective circumstances, sustainability is something that we can all try. But we must remember to try and keep a positive balance between what’s sustainable for you and sustainable for the earth.
The easiest way to begin a sustainable lifestyle is to reduce consumption of unnaturally derived/toxic products from brands with unethical practices and opt for products that are derived from the Earth.
There are so many small cost-effective steps you can take if you’re in a position to do so, to help reduce your carbon footprint and become more sustainable:
- Ditch plastic bags when shopping! Opt for produce that is not in plastic packaging and if you’re worried about germs, then wipe your veggies in apple cider vinegar wash when you get home.
- Consciously make your tea/coffee from home and this will save so much money and avoid disposable cups (which are nearly impossible to recycle!)
- Go paperless with your bills and receipts – you’ll be cutting down on enormous amounts of wasted paper and most receipts are not recyclable!
- Go plastic free in the bathroom. Replace traditional tooth brushes with bamboo ones. Use bar soaps and shampoos. There are so many alternatives available! Normally one shampoo bar lasts as long as 3 medium sized bottles of shampoo which is better for your pocket and the environment.
- Think about reusing or repurposing everything and avoid new products where you can (in the long run this will also save you a lot of money!)
- Say bye to single use plastic razors! Investing in good safety razor will eliminate the need to buy single use plastic and save a lot of money. The only thing you would need to buy are razor blades which don’t cost a lot and can be recycled.
- Transition to a more plant-based diet: by doing this you are reducing your carbon footprint, as the energy used to produce plants is significantly lower compared to meat production! Eating less meat can be cheaper and healthier overall too.
- Buy “in season” foods! These are most likely to be locally sourced, so you are supporting your local farmers and if they are in season then vegetables are often cheaper.
- Only buy what you need – make a grocery list for the week, meal plan and stick to it! This way you’re not buying unnecessary products and it leads to less waste – another huge source of carbon emissions!
- Walk or ride a bike where you can – or try to take public transport where you can.
- Switch from plastic bottles to reusable ones! Or up-cycle something you already own to use as a cup (i.e. a glass jar)
- Make your own DIY cleaner at home. There are so many alternatives you can find on the internet. It will be cheap, non-toxic and zero-waste: we have recently made an all-purpose cleaner from orange peels and white vinegar!
Remember: always try to keep a positive balance between what’s sustainable for you and sustainable for the Earth.
Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues?
From our own personal experiences here in the UK, yes. We can’t think of many people in the UK South Asian community that are not only aware of the environmental impact but actively acting on it. We feel it’s a combination of a lack of awareness, language barriers and their life journeys.
Hardship was faced by our parents and grandparents when they came to this country, because they lived the lives they did, they focused all their energy and efforts in to teaching their children that the most important thing was to get a good education, grades and a stable job.
It’s a long-standing joke that every Asian parent wants their child to become a doctor, dentist, lawyer, accountant etc. and because children weren’t exposed to other issues like the climate crisis or left to find their own passions because the focus was career-based, we feel that it has allowed this ‘lack of understanding’ to manifest. But it is also important to point out that the world that our parents and grandparents raised us for isn’t the world that we live in now. Things have changed a great deal since they came to the UK.
Updates about environmental issues probably haven’t been communicated to them in a language they understand well enough – so a ‘lack of understanding’ is multi-factorial, and probably out of no fault of their own. As a result, not a lot of South Asians are aware of the impact their actions have on the planet, especially the older generation. So, changing the mindset of those around us has been somewhat challenging.
Like anything, it requires a lot of explanation and even then, sometimes certain aspects of living a sustainable lifestyle is not fully understood. For example, Ghee (made from milk) and has been used for generations to light candles and to cook with as a substitute for oil. In India and Africa over 50 years ago, milk could be obtained sustainably from cows as most people had their own cattle which they cared for like members of their own family. However, it’s a much different story now with current dairy farming practices and the carbon footprint associated with it. Most cows are exploited and milk is obtained unethically and unsustainably. To explain this to the older generation can be a difficult task as we feel they are still in the mindset that milk is ethically obtained, with no real impact on the environment.
We think having continued discussions and educating our family, friends and work colleagues about little steps they can take to help is the fundamental way that change can be inspired. In short, education and awareness are the solution.
What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?
It only takes one nature documentary to realise that our Earth and its inhabitants are worth fighting for. Watch documentaries with your family and friends about the reality of what’s happening to our world, (we of course recommend David Attenborough’s Life on Our Planet documentary as a starting point).
Use this knowledge as your inspiration. Your fuel. Your energy. And share your thoughts and concerns with your friends and family, keep the conversation going. Empower them to care. Talk about how you can collectively take small steps in your lifestyle to minimise your impact. Research how you can make more sustainable choices. Ask tough questions, especially when it comes to the status quo. Challenge it. Do we really need to use harmful fireworks for New Year’s Eve, Bonfire Night, Diwali? Do we need to always buy brand new? Read about why it’s unsustainable and harmful, make others think, and suggest some other alternatives.
For environmental activists that are already taking a stand – our advice is to keep going, but take breaks so that you don’t burn out! It’s easy to feel a sense of overwhelm when it comes to environmental issues, but you just have to practice self-care, take time off from your screens and do what keeps your heart happy. Go back to the root of what made you passionate in the first place. Remember: only by meeting the emotions you have about a problem, with the passion you have for solving it, are you going to be able to sustain your activism so that you don’t burn out! It’s so important to take breaks.
To find out more about Jaanvi and Paavani: https://linktr.ee/sustainability.sisterss