Spotlight Series: Q&A with Nishita, Freelance Communications Consultant

We chat to Communications and Public Relations Consultant Nishita about her experiences moving between public, private and third-party sectors within international law, politics and infrastructure

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background? 

I am an Australian Indian, born in Delhi and raised in Sydney.

I hold a Bachelors of Social Science and a Masters of Human Rights, Law & Policy and have over six years’ consultancy experience from the public, private and third-party sectors, primarily working in politics, international law and infrastructure.  

Since moving to London in July 2019, I have been a freelance PR/Comms Consultant. At present, I work for an infrastructure consultancy, Schofield Lothian as an Engagement Consultant. 

Can you tell me about your career in public relations, particularly your projects on social impact and ethical trading? What inspired you to take on this work?

As a Business and Human Rights Consultant, I worked on lobbying pharmaceutical companies in China to re-consider the supply chains and ethical trade. In my current role, I work within a strong Social Values rhetoric when developing consultation and engagement strategies for my clients. 

I was inspired to take on this role after many years of managing public relations as a Special Adviser to senior cabinet ministers in the New South Wales Government in Australia. 

Community participation and inclusion is key to everything we do irrespective of the sector. 

After leaving politics and moving to London, I was determined to make it a career path and feel rather blessed to combine my love for PR/Comms with sustainability in the infrastructure space. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

I would have to say my gig in Delhi straight after my masters. I was a Human Rights Adviser to the Secretary of Women of Child Development. I was not entirely sure what I had signed up for, however, I knew it was something I was incredibly passionate about. Being a NRI and working for the government was not a walk in the park to say the least. Despite the challenges at the time, it has shaped my resilience in driving collaborative PPP strategies in all the projects I have worked on. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to pursue a ‘niche’ career path? Has it been challenging? 

I was fortunate not to have any backlash. I grew up in a very liberal family and I was always supported and encouraged to follow my own path. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I have been playing my part by limiting the use of plastic, being a vegetarian for over 10 years and buying most of my produce from local farmers markets. 

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?

It’s hard to answer this question, however I think perspective is key when thinking about what the community stands for. Education is always an effective method to decrease ‘the blockers’. 

Being carbon conscious in 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?

Again, I think educating the community can go a long way. Sustainability and carbon conscious have become such buzz words these days that it has, in some ways, lost meaning. I strongly believe having a breakdown of what these terms mean in the context of day-to-day practices will help increase overall awareness and encourage the community to be active participants.  

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

Speak to people who have the role that you would like to see yourself in the near future, understand your strengths and develop the skills you need to work towards that position. Ask questions, reach out and establish the support system you need to get into the broad sector. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

My Grandfather was my inspiration, motivation and influenced my life in many ways. He was an electrical engineer and worked on major infrastructure projects across Asia, Europe and the Middle East. He did not go to university, however, he was a testament of hard work, resilience and determination.

Connect with Nishita on LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Jaineesha, Cruelty-free & Vegan Bridal Makeup Artist

We speak with Internationally renowned, award-winning, cruelty-free MUA Jaineesha about her transition to vegan makeup and sustainable living.

What is your ethnic and professional background?

I am a British born Hindu, Gujarati. I am a vegan make-up artist mainly working with Asian brides within the South Asian wedding industry. I’m also very passionate about creating awareness around taboo subjects such as periods, colourism, and gender equality. I’m passionate about talking about how to lead an eco-friendly lifestyle and sustainable living within beauty but also day-to-day practices. 

What are your main values as a make-up artist? 

So I initially started within the industry in 2011. I’ve always had a passion for makeup, but I never looked at the impact that the beauty industry had on the environment and also how the products were being made. In 2017, I came across the term cruelty-free beauty as I started researching on how the products are made and what the production line could look like. 

To put it in plain simple language I was absolutely shocked that our products are being tested on animals to be put onto the shelf so that we can apply them. I’ve always felt that beauty is a luxury and not a necessity, therefore it shouldn’t need to be at the expense of the environment or animals. I managed to change my personal care and my bridal kit which I would use on clients to 100% cruelty-free by 2018. It wasn’t an easy switch because at that point it was really difficult to find out which companies tested on animals, and which didn’t. I had to email companies because information wasn’t as easily accessible as it is nowadays. Usually you can go onto the website landing page and find a logo that will tell you about the company’s ethics. 

The cruelty-free change initially came because my little sister went vegan overnight and it made me think about the products that I was using on myself. So once I had a 100% cruelty-free kit I did start thinking ‘why should I be applying products that may have animal products within them especially because I am vegetarian.’ The whole process started over again and I managed to get 100% vegan kit by 2019. It’s been an investment and it’s not been easy as the quality of the products and the finish that I can create with the products is really important to me.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for more sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share? 

So my sister watched a documentary about the way the animals are treated within the dairy industry and she shared her experience with us and decided she would become vegan. We are already vegetarian in the family and instead of thinking about my diet, I thought about the products that I was applying on myself and also on my clients. I do feel we should be voting with our money and that’s why I think we should be researching how products are made and each company’s ethics. By the time I managed to have a completely vegan kit for myself and for my clients, it started filtering through the rest of my life. 

I started looking at the cleaning products, and what I use for my laundry, the types of clothes that I’m wearing, and the type of food we were eating. Now I pretty much eat a completely plant-based diet and have felt that it’s been better for me, but also I’m hoping that it has a positive effect on the environment. 

Being South Asian do you find any backlash about your career choice from family friends or society at large? How did you overcome it? 

Becoming a make-up artist definitely wasn’t something my parents thought I would pick. When I first mentioned it they were quite keen that I would attend university. I wanted to do makeup at university but they urged me to pick something else. So I went for Psychology which I did enjoy at the time, but once I finished university I think they saw that my heart wasn’t really in it and just let me pursue what I wanted. 

I think generally my parents are very happy with the path I chose. I do know that my friends and family are very proud of what I do, not only because of the business itself but also the awareness that I am able to create through it. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable? 

It’s something that’s happened over the past four years – I don’t think it can happen overnight. I found making small switches has been easier rather than completely changing everything. I also believe that using what you already have first, is probably the most sustainable option. 

If we were to buy anything new, we look at eco-friendly options that are more sustainable, but also buy less and try to upcycle what we already have – it is definitely something that we enjoy doing. I found it has been kinder to our bank balance and also kinder to the environment. We have actively changed our diet and gardening has become quite a big part of our life now, which it wasn’t this time last year and we are thoroughly enjoying it. All of my beauty products have changed from what I used five years ago. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate emergency among South Asian communities? What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving these issues? 

I think the South Asian community as a whole is a very adaptable community. So many of us or our parents or grandparents have moved to different countries for a better life, or have been displaced and have done their absolute best to give a better future for the generations to come. 

I do also think they have done the best they can with what they have at the time. I do think the climate change topic overall, isn’t spoken about that much, but I know I like to speak to my friends, cousins and family about it and share our views about what we think, what new habits we’re trying to make. 

I think money is quite a large part that plays into switching over and also it may seem like a not so modern way of living. I remember when speaking to my mum initially about new things that I was doing at home or trying out her response was ‘oh that’s what I did when I was younger and that’s what I saw my grandparents doing.’ So I do think sustainability is actually deep rooted within our culture and has kind of gotten lost or forgotten along the way, due to displacement or moving to a different country or not living within extended families and also being influenced by western cultures to some extent. 

Conversation is key – it might seem like a big change, it might seem like an inconvenient change, it might seem like it’s more money savvy to stay living the way you are, but what I found is that 

even though you might invest a little bit more now, you’re actually saving money in the long run. 

We should just keep talking about it, sharing ideas of how we can be more sustainable and talk about how our grandparents lived in the habits that they had. 

What have been your greatest successes and learnings? 

I think my greatest learning probably has been understanding that my grandparents actually lived a very sustainable life. They grew their own veg, upcycled pretty much everything, they fixed everything that they could – there was no such thing as single use and sharing and caring was a big part of life. I’ve also really love the fact that we are actually so much in control of the effect that we have on the environment. We can adapt new habits such as gardening, growing your own veg, shopping at a refill store, buying cruelty-free and vegan beauty that will all help to have a positive impact on the climate. Many popular beauty brands still test on animals, use harsh chemicals and are packaged in unsustainable packaging. 

Many popular beauty brands still test on animals, use harsh, unnatural chemicals and come in unsustainable packaging. A lot of these brands are actively promoted by influencers. Do you think a more vegan and sustainable lifestyle, particularly when it comes to makeup and beauty, is going to gain momentum? 

Absolutely, I think over the past few months and especially during the pandemic, we have seen a big switch more companies are talking about it. I think sometimes it might just be to gain more sales, but I do think a lot of companies are trying to do their best to change and have the least impact on the environment. 

When I am contacted by companies or brands to work with them, I do try and check that they are as sustainable as they say they are. 

I think we do forget that change doesn’t happen overnight and we can’t expect beauty brands to change their habits overnight. However, I do look at companies such as Estee Lauder and L’Oreal to make large changes more quickly than small brands, as they have the funds and resources to be able to do so. I do also hope that more influencers pick brands that are doing their best to be more sustainable, however 

one thing that I’d love to say to people reading this is try and follow influencers that have the same ethics as you in mind when promoting. 

How can sustainability be made “sexier” in the beauty industry, whilst ensuring the process doesn’t become another prey to greenwashing?

I think it’s getting there. I feel like people who didn’t even know what vegan, cruelty-free meant last year are now buying products that are. 

When I first started letting people know that I had a cruelty-free makeup kit and had change my products from Mac and Bobbi Brown to brands that were cruelty free, I did have quite a few clients say that they didn’t want me to use those products on them because they didn’t trust the longevity even though I had done all the research and trials beforehand. 

Whereas now I have Brides who enquire with me and the first line is ‘I love that you use vegan products,’ so I think the awareness is definitely there. 

I’m not sure if sexier is what it needs to be, I feel that the right education will help the penny drop for a lot of people like it did for me. Also something that is sexy now may not be sexy 20 years down the line and we want to make sure that sustainability, cruelty free beauty and vegan beauty is something that sticks. Hopefully in the next 20 years that is the only type of product that will be available. 

Are there any particular brands or sustainable businesses you encourage people to use? 

Generally a lot of small brands will be cruelty-free and maybe vegan. There’s such a huge list of them now and there’s more and more brands coming up every day. My favourite ones are Tarte which are cruelty free and have some vegan products, Nude by Nature, Lush cosmetics, Pixi beauty, & Illamasqua just to name a few. 

How do you check if a beauty brand is actually sustainable?

I think sustainability is different for everyone. For me, the main points are if they are cruelty-free and vegan. After that I will look at packaging however, for some people they may want to look at the actual ingredients and if they are organic and how they’ve been sourced. People could look at the carbon footprint of the product. 

I think the best place to start is to check the FAQ section and the information that is available on the website and if you are still unsure and you have certain questions, email the company and check if they have the information that you need. 

Another way to check if a brand is cruelty free is to check if it’s been sold in China. Many large brands like Tarte and CoverFx and Urban Decay don’t sell in China. However large brands like Mac and Bobbi Brown still do. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

I think this is difficult because we can get so easily sucked into what our friends are doing, what we see on the TV and social media. The main thing is to be true to yourself and do as much research as possible and don’t give into trends. I don’t feel like you need the new best thing around. Nowadays there are so many beauty brands that are cruelty-free and vegan at such a cheap and affordable price, so make sure you’re going with them rather than what you’ve seen on the last Instagram ad.

Find out more about Jaineesha here: https://linktr.ee/Jaineesha

Website: www.jaineesha.com

Instagram: @jaineesha_ & @jaineesha_mua

Image credits: MoonCup Ltd @emma_croman.

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Isha Kaur, Founder of Made Sincere

We chatted to Isha, Outreach Support Worker for victims of modern slavery and Founder of ethical fashion brand, Made Sincere.

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

My ethnic background is half Indian Sikh and Pakistani. I was born in Yorkshire, England and I still live here.

I have a BSc in Psychology, and I work full time as an Outreach Support Worker for Victims of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery. I’m the owner of the sustainably ethical fashion and home decoration brand, Made Sincere. I showcase bespoke products that are sourced and inspired by the world and nature. 

What is Made Sincere? How did it come about and what are your main values as a business?

Made Sincere is a bespoke fashion and home decor brand, where items are designed and handcrafted by me using sustainable, ethical and eco-friendly measures and materials.  

The development of Made Sincere has been years in the making. Initially, it started from my enjoyment of creating things and a way to make an extra bit of money. For years I have been talked out of pursuing creative and design based careers by many people, for a multitude of reasons. However, I’m just naturally a very creative person and the majority of society’s jobs today don’t cater well to artistic creative traits, even more so after COVID-19. Amidst all of these variables, I felt that this would be a great way to release my inner creativity and showcase my work for all to purchase and enjoy. The main values of Made Sincere are environmental, animal and human welfare. 

With the fashion industry being infamous for environmental damage, animal cruelty and slavery, I wanted to create a brand which actually enforces and acts upon these grotesque issues from the very start. 

This is achieved by many ways at Made Sincere, such as upcycling old materials and sourcing products from independent businesses and farmers.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

Many reasons have led me down this path of sustainability. In England, people throw trash everywhere; there are not many places where you will not see trash and fly-tipped objects. Personally, I think it’s unappealing, lazy and it’s harmful to so many ecosystems. I wanted to make a change within myself and to inspire and educate others to combat pollution and fight for rights. 

A particular story which shifted up my gears in the world of sustainability was a couple of years back, when a dead whale washed up onto a shore literally filled with plastic waste. As disturbing as the image was, it will forever be engraved into my memory and it was at that point I truly understood the magnitude of plastic pollution, let alone the other types of pollution, which I was yet to discover as the years passed.

https://traveltourism.news/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/tourism-plastic-pollution.jpg

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash for your sustainable business idea from family, friends or society at large? How did you overcome it?

Luckily my mother has been very supportive of my business, she knows that I’m an activist and I impose recycling measures within the household, so I don’t think she was too surprised that I built my business upon sustainability. 

As for other family members, they are impressed that I have opened a small business, but they don’t think anything much of the sustainability aspect of my business. In efforts to make conversations about climate change with my family, some don’t believe that it is real and have other theories as to why the planet is changing. My friends have been amazingly supportive throughout my business ventures and what my business stands for, as they have similar outlooks on the situation as me.

For the larger society, especially in England, sustainability is still a bit niche, as many believe that climate change and pollution is not real. I overcome this by staying positive, to continue raising awareness on the matter, making the changes I can and appreciating the small sustainable changes made politically within society. 

A combination of these aspects regains small but driving faith that the world is heading in the right direction to become sustainable. I can understand the many reasons why people may not agree or change their ways, but with political acts being carried out such as plastic straw bans and carrier bag charges, we are slowly but surely making progress. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

I try to recycle all my recyclable waste and inspire the members of my household to do the same. Similar to energy and water conservation – I turn off all electrical items and lights which are left on, ensuring that I don’t let the water run as I wash my face, brush my teeth and do the dishes. Clothing wise, when I buy new garments, I ask myself ‘will I wear this item 30 times’ based off the #30wears and are the materials used sustainable. 

Having an ‘upcycling-eye’ has definitely become a part of my daily practice. This is because I can create new products to sell from old items from my house, but also experimenting with random objects when I am bored – which is more than ever due to COVID-19 lockdowns! If items cannot be upcycled into anything, I will ask myself ‘will someone benefit from this?’ If so, I donate the old item to charity. 

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?

Yes I do feel as there is a lack of understanding on the climate crisis, but not much stigma. Personally I have not heard anything negative from any South Asians to suggest any stigma. I believe the blockers to be lack of knowledge, no willingness to investigate or change and demographics.

With regards to lack of knowledge, I don’t feel that there are many accessible resources and enough meaningful media coverage out there to stress the urgency of the matter; this is not just for South Asians but for everyone. 

As for willingness, it is a matter of ‘you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink it.’ If somebody does not have the interest to care or learn, you can’t force them to change. However, if you can stay true to yourself and your beliefs on the climate crisis, you could influence others around you. People often observe behaviour to learn, so if you stick to your sustainability-led routines, others may slowly but surely copy your behaviour. If this is the case, I would suggest praising others when you notice this behaviour change towards sustainability. Similarly, if others see how much the climate crisis means to you, your loved ones will soon follow your lead especially if you live in one household with your family members. 

Demographics come with large variability, such as age, location and gender. I feel that any combination of demographics can lead to different perspectives on climate change. This fundamentally boils down to what they have been educated to learn about climate change, if they’ve even been taught anything at all. 

Having open discussions, educating yourself, remaining understanding and respectful of others’ opinions, fighting for sustainability and staying calm, could be ways to solve these blockers I have mentioned. By following this combination, you will present yourself as educated, confident and graceful, which is important to gain others’ trust when fighting for a worthy cause such as climate change.     

Do you find the lack of understanding makes having a sustainability-led business like yours more challenging?

Yes, this does make it challenging. However, I do enjoy a challenge. From my perspective, sustainable and ethical produce is often pricier than non-sustainable or non-ethical produce. This is for the obvious reason that sustainable and ethical products are more expensive and time consuming to create. I think that this initially puts people off, especially when money is tight, which is also understandable, as privileges play a large part in consumer behaviour. 

Nonetheless, the world is shifting into a more eco-friendlier place, and with time, I know that the message will inspire and spread, which will eventually change behaviour. Using COVID-19 as an example, we are all aware of the safety measures to carry out to protect ourselves and loved ones from the virus, and how we have changed our behaviours to reduce the spread of the virus. We have all been provided with this knowledge through the media mainly. The media has the power to inform everyone about the adverse effects of our unsustainable habits and the repercussions of this behaviour, which can educate and change behaviours. This can facilitate sustainable businesses thriving in the future.

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

My advice to younger generations on sustainability is to do your own research and find a way to be sustainable that speaks to you. There is no one way of being sustainable. See your sustainability as your form of expression, through your fashion, eating and waste. Don’t let the stigma of others on how you live your life sustainably affect you. At the end of the day, if you know you have made any active changes, it is probably a lot more than what somebody else is doing and that alone should fill you with pride for yourself. 

There is no planet B. This world does not belong to you; it belongs to every single living thing and you need to protect this planet for you, your future families and future generations.

Animals are becoming extinct, millions of people die from pollution poisoning and climate change yearly. 

The World Health Organisation states ‘air pollution kills an estimated seven million people worldwide every year’, microplastics are now being found in unborn babies, and this is all a result of how neglectful we have been towards our planet. It’s within our hands to change it and if you’re inspired yourself, you will inspire others.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

One life story which deeply impacted me was the picture in the news of the 3-year old boy that died after falling off a boat filled with refugees washing up on the shores of Turkey in 2015. Even still bringing tears in my eyes almost 6 years on, that poor toddler should be 9-years old boy today. This truly showed me the extent of the Syrian conflict and the way the politics dice with peoples’ lives mercilessly.

In 2015, I had to decide on a degree to study; I knew I wanted to pursue a career in helping people, either through psychology or humanity-led. Not long after graduating university, my current job role was advertised, (Outreach Support Worker for Victims of Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery), which I was hired for. My full-time job consists of supporting clients that are refugees and asylum seekers, who have babies and small children. I do love my job. I believe that this job opportunity was presented for me to support people that are in dire need of humanitarian support.

That child has inspired me to take a humanitarian career path. Although I know it’s not the most money-making career, I know that it is the most worthwhile career. This is far more valuable to me than money could ever buy. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Despite all the negativity in the world today, I just want to let you know that you can make the positive changes that you want to see in the world, no matter who you are or where you come from, change is only within you. In order to make your changes successful, you must remain persistent and consistent, which will eventually pay off.  

References

Spotlight Series: Q&A with PhD Climate Change Researcher, Zarina Ahmad

We spoke to Zarina about her climate-equality based community projects, creating pathways for diverse groups in Scotland to have an active voice in sustainable solutions

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background? 

I was born and brought up in Newcastle and moved to Scotland when I was 16. ​Both my parents were born in India and after the partition were displaced to Pakistan. I hold a BSc in Psychology from the University of Glasgow and worked briefly with the Education Department. However, for the last 10 years or more I have been working with diverse communities to help tackle climate change.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?  

As a child I was always one with nature, a child that spoke to plants. I believed that trees had souls (still do), never ate meat however, growing up I wasn’t aware that my passion for the environment would lead to a career in this field.

Approximately 15 years ago I was at crossroads in my life and knew that I wanted a career change, one that would allow me to follow one of my passions; either care for the environment or Psychology and human behaviour. I had to weigh up my options in terms of retraining, looking at costs involved and the time it would take to get into a job. After some consideration, taking into account all the factors, the environment sector won and that’s how I ended up following a career in this sector.

Can you tell me about your recent role at CEMVO? What sparked the choice in career change? 

There was an incident at a Hustings where a candidate from a political party made a racist remark to me, the comment he made was “your kind don’t grow do they?”. This remark made me reflect on how white the environmental sector was.

At this time, I thought naively we lived in a society which was zero tolerant towards racism, we had moved away from a racist society and we were accepted and integrated into the wider society. Hence led me to working with a race equality organisation addressing both environmental justice and race justice.

My role developed into 4 main areas:
a) I support BME community groups to develop climate change projects, help access the climate challenge fund and ensure projects are implemented and delivered well.
b) I sit on a number of stakeholder and working groups which help influence policy change and decision making.
c) I help to diversify the environmental sector and environmental NGOs through collaborative work and representation.
d) I set up and run the Ethnic Minority Environmental Network across Scotland which provides peer to peer support, upskilling and training and opportunities for collaboration to individuals and organisations who are interested in environmental work.

Zarina speaking at community event. She's wearing a beige long cardigan and standing holding a mic.

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take a niche/ unfamiliar path, particularly midway through your career? Has it been challenging?  

The biggest backlash I’ve received, and this goes back to my childhood, was my choice of following a vegetarian/vegan diet which didn’t sit right within a Muslim family. Regarding a career path I think the biggest issue was that it was not a recognised or valued career. It took my mum years before she was able to explain to her friends what I actually did. Even some of my friends still struggle to conceptualise my job as it doesn’t fit in with a traditional or known career path. 

Also being an environmentalist in the third sector isn’t a well-paid job, at least it’s clear that I do this job for passion and not money. Some people find this difficult to understand, as growing up we are taught that success is measured on a monetary level. 

I think taking a step out of this competitiveness has its challenges as I can’t afford the same lifestyle as others but at the same time, I’m aware that I don’t want that lifestyle as it has environmental consequences. 

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date? 

My biggest success and learnings are both linked as I have been fortunate to have been in a position to create space for many people across the country from various diverse backgrounds (age, ethnicity, gender, disability, sex, education and socioeconomic backgrounds) to have meaningful and relevant (to them) conversations on climate change. 

From these conversations I have learned so much about the global impacts of climate change, traditional, religious and cultural sustainable practices, which have been passed down many generations. I’ve also learned about community resilience and adaptation to climate impacts and how there is still a lot to be learned from grassroot movements.

Never underestimate someone’s knowledge and ability to influence change. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable? 

There are a few things that I try to do. I only buy items that I need, I’m not a fan of shopping, and I try to mend and repair as much as I can. I’m a vegetarian and have been for all my life with only limited dairy in my diet, therefore I do try to source produce locally and cook from scratch. I try to source items that have less plastic packaging and look for non-plastic alternatives. There are more things that I would love to do but access and affordability are huge barriers. 

Do you feel there is a stigma or lack of understanding of the climate crisis amongst South Asian communities? 

I don’t think there is a lack of understanding. In fact I think there is more understanding of what a climate crisis can actually look like within a South Asian context.

I think the issue is more to do with the narratives, discourse and jargon used by policy makers and campaigners which can come across unfamiliar, high level or irrelevant to South Asian communities. 

What do you believe the blockers to be and how would you go about solving the issues? 

Some of the blockers are the climate language and jargon which is used, especially terms like carbon emissions and carbon footprint. This is too abstract a concept unless you are a climate scientist, or your work involves measuring carbon impacts. 

The other big blocker is embarrassment of and undervaluing of traditional sustainable behaviours, which have been passed down in South Asian communities. For example, reusing plastic ice cream or butter containers to store leftover food, growing your own herbs and vegetables in your front garden, no waste attitude – reusing and recycling wherever possible; however, these practices once in the west were looked down up i.e. perceived as behaviour of people who were unable to afford a better lifestyle. Unfortunately, a better lifestyle equated to overconsumption and a disposable society.  

Being carbon conscious in 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? 

If we consider small steps to sustainable lifestyles then this is accessible to all, however some of the bigger steps such as installing solar panels, driving an electric vehicle or even buying organic may exclude a lot of us, simply on the basis of affordability. The easy steps we can take are just trying to be conscious of what we buy, what we use and need and what we eat. Try and reduce our waste by buying less, recycling and reusing more. Sharing with others instead of competing with others. 

You touched on feeling a lack of representation and your work since has been about amplifying voices and engaging more diverse communities. Can you tell me more about this and why it’s particularly important for there to be greater representation in the sector? 

When I started out there was very little to no representation from any person of colour within the environmental sector.

A whole portion of society was being excluded from any discourse on climate change, mitigation, adaptation measures and looking at sustainable behaviours and lifestyle.

If we live in a democratic society, surely all people should be included and opportunities for all voices to be heard should be created. 

Firstly, it is important to recognise that one approach for certain communities will not be fit for another community. Secondly acknowledge that there is diversity within diversity; having one person from a BME background to represent the views of all the ethnically diverse communities of the country, is simply not good enough nor is it appropriate or fair. 

Then there is the issue of climate justice – those that are being most impacted by climate change are the ones least contributing, but also have the least power to influence change.

Climate justice is also a racial justice issue similar to what we have unfortunately seen over the recent months with the pandemic. If we want systemic and structural changes, we need to see and have different diverse voices around the table. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment? 

Firstly, you need to understand how we are connected to nature and the environment in order to understand where our produce, clothing and other consumable items come from. Look at nature-based solutions not just techno fixes going forward. Secondly, become active citizens, realise that you have power and are able to influence change by using your voice and actions, become more politically involved, don’t shy away from being involved in campaigning and activism. Lastly don’t be passive consumers become conscious consumers and try not to be influenced by fast trends or buy into the disposable culture. 

You’ve had much exposure to government processes in place, working on policies and engaging with grass-root organisations. Based on your experience, what do you believe the most important and effective methods are to have the largest climate impact? 

For me being interconnected in terms of dialogue and action is important i.e. policy makers, communities, industries and academics should all be working side by side, sharing knowledge and experience.

We should work less in silos and work more collaboratively to find solutions that fit the needs of society. 

Communities should be adequately resourced if they are expected to take local action. Adding to this, I also think it is important to act locally but think globally, we are connected to other parts of the world and what we do here does have an impact somewhere, our carbon emissions contribute to global warming – the UK is not in a bubble. 

Your example of actively using ‘positive environmental change’ rather than ‘behaviour change’ is really striking. Why do you believe our choice of language is important? 

The language we use is important as this is our main means for communicating and bringing people together however, it can also lead to pushing people away. Simply put, language can be inclusive or exclusive.

In the UK and indeed in the West, the narrative on climate change and sustainable behaviours very much focusses on “behaviour change”. From my experience of working with communities this terminology isn’t helpful because people become very defensive when they hear behaviour change. 

With the narrative of change as the premise, you are telling someone that how they previously lived and behaved was wrong and now they are going to be told how to live and behave better. The agency over their choices is not taken into consideration. Therefore, simply using a term such as “positive action” is more likely to result in people embracing change and steps to a better world for all. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you? 

Early in my career I was working with a Muslim woman’s group and engaging them with activities to build their understanding of climate change. One day I was taking this group out on a trip to see a demo house with a number of energy efficiency measures adapted into its construction. 

One of the elderly ladies (probably in her 70’s) thanked me. I thought it was for taking them out for the day on a trip, but she said it was for raising awareness about climate change. Her son is a frontline journalist who was posted out in Pakistan and covered stories about the floods caused by the ice melting on the Himalayas, which in turn caused huge devastation.

Many lives and homes were lost as a result of the vast amount of water and ice sheets hitting villages. She told me there were weeks, even months when she would not hear from her son and would worry that one day she would get the sad news of him passing away. She knew this was because of climate change and wanted others to be more aware and realise through our actions we can change these outcomes.

Is there anything else you’d like to add? 

I also think it is important to be connected to nature, be aware of our ecosystem, and understand the role we play within this system. Unfortunately, colonisation and capitalism have removed us further and further away from our connection to the land.  Only when we fully appreciate this, will we stop exploiting resources and relearn how to live as one with the planet.

Zarina on a boat, touching the ripples of the lake. In the background mountain ranges can be seen. She's wearing a tan coloured jacket

Find out more about Zarina and connect with her on Instagram and LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Sustainability Campaigner Nina Jatana

We caught up with Sustainability Campaigner and Corporate Social Responsibility expert, Nina about her global experience in community development and implementing SDGs in the not-for-profit sector

What is your ethnic, academic and professional background?

I am British-Indian and both my parents are from and were born in Punjab. I have a BA (Hons) in Economics from Manchester Metropolitan University and an MA in International Relations Theory from Warwick University. Professionally speaking this is more difficult to explain! I have a cross-section of experience but, I suppose you could say I am an experienced policy and campaigns generalist in the not-for-profit sector, working my way up to manager roles. The subject areas of which I have experience include community development, CSR and sustainable development issues including the United Nations SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

When I was studying my MA there was one module called International Business and it explored the role of business as a global citizen. At the time the premise of CSR (corporate social responsibility) focused on the roles of big businesses operating in foreign countries so the likes of Shell, BP, Nike. Their supply chains and the impact they had on local communities was only really articulated by the likes of Transparency International and Greenpeace – hardline campaigns which acted to raise public awareness of issues very rarely addressed by big business or in the media.

This led to me writing my dissertation on the role of the media and CSR and whether or not the media is a hindrance or support for good. After I completed my MA I looked for intern roles in London for organisations ‘that were doing that sort of thing!’ My first sustainability/ CSR role was as an intern for AccountAbility. 

Can you tell me about your career in CSR/ Environmental consultancy and policy and how you got into? 

It started from my role as an intern at AccountAbility (3 months long). Once that role finished I had to find a paid role to stay in London and managed to get myself a policy officer role for a consumer watchdog called Postwatch (part civil service but no longer exists). This was a stop-gap. It enabled me to stay in London and gave me much needed work experience, but the issue itself wasn’t of massive interest to me.

Whilst there I went on a one month course about international development issues from the perspective of a developing country; 20-25 graduates and non-graduates met in Mysore, India for a 4 week course led by fantastic development experts from India. I came back fired-up wanting to change the world. My line manager at the time told me she didn’t want to see me at Postwatch when she came back from maternity leave. Within 3 months of being back, I got myself a role as a researcher at New Economics Foundation and the rest is history really… I moved onto other roles for a variety of reasons (redundancies, leaving the UK, coming back to the UK etc.)

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

On a personal level, building up a cross-section of experience that has enabled me to move into different types of organisations at home and abroad. I used to think this was a disadvantage – not being specialised in one particular area but recently found it isn’t! On a professional level delivering and running the leadership programme in Mysore, India (I went back there in 2012) for the Global Institute for Tomorrow’s executive education programme. Taking 25 middle managers and executives from across Asia to India and organising a 2 week programme of lectures and field trips. To be able to reignite the networks and friendships I developed all the way back in 2005 was very rewarding as well as useful to other roles – a key learning.

Another key learning is that the range of commitment and understanding of sustainability is vast and it’s really important not to feel intimidated by those around you who appear to be fully ‘woke’. Being interested in sustainability isn’t a competition. If you don’t want to give up meat, it’s okay!

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take a niche/ unfamiliar career path? Has it been challenging or isolating over the years not having your peers fully understand your job?

I wouldn’t say backlash at all, just more indifference and a look of concern mixed with confusion. As I write this it does make me laugh. The lack of apparent interest in my work did annoy me when I was younger, you do feel a bit left out.

My parents had such low expectations that completing my MA was more than enough for them and living in London without needing their help was also quite satisfying. If anything it was the fact I lived away from home which probably concerned more them than anything else. I suppose I was also lucky in that we were very much a nuclear family – unusually the majority of both my parent’s families all stayed in India, so there was far less pressure surrounding myself and my brother. 

Yes, I would also agree that not being able to explain what I do, or present a really clear job title was and is sometimes still annoying. Once I moved into campaigning roles that was all a bit clearer!

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

Hmmm… Not massively. I don’t like to waste food and use my own shopping bags.

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?

I think it’s definitely a lack of understanding and dare I say a lack of priority for them (when I say them I am thinking of the older generation to some degree). No matter what, South Asians will fly home to see their families and visit for weddings etc. I would counter, that for specific communities in Asia there is more awareness. My family are traditionally farmers so they see the direct impact of climate change. Climate refugees in Bangladesh are on the rise each year. For those in developed countries their attitudes are somewhat removed and the issue is not so relevant.

Blockers – the mediums which they communicate and live within maybe don’t talk enough about climate issues. Zee TV and all those other channels just don’t emphasise the role individuals can play and how they impact. Businesses, and suppliers advertising on such channels should also perhaps make more on environmental credentials – consumers see these brands as an extension of their lifestyles. 

For the younger generation, I’m not so sure the stigma is there. I actually think they often seem slightly envious that someone has chosen their own career path, rather than following the path set out for them/ be approved of by their families. 

Another point – I think the way many South Asians consume food and understand its value is hugely impressive and positive. I think this should be celebrated – fresh, seasonal, cheap food is the staple for many families (lack of meat for many communities) and something other communities can only aspire towards. This is one way they can understand how they are already helping. Daily household chores are also quite carbon conscious without people even realising. The families I grew up with used their own shopping bags and recycled ones well before the trend was to do so!

I think if you break it down, South Asians are actually already doing a lot just by living their natural, cultural lifestyles.

Being carbon conscious in 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?

Firstly, people need to know what being carbon-conscious means. It always resonates more when you can say it saves you money etc. People need to be encouraged to do what they can manage, taking small steps and feel satisfied and accomplished in whatever they can do. In time, they will then learn what else they can do. I don’t think it’s costly in terms of money. It is costly in terms of research, understanding and then implementing it in your own lives. I think being sustainable is accessible to everyone – within their own parameters of how they can live. 

You touched on representation and generally only finding South Asians (majority women) working in D&I, but rarely ever in the environmental/ sustainability sector. Why do you think this is? Why is it important for there to be more representation in this sector?

I think it’s about some of the things I have mentioned above. A lack of peer networks going into similar careers but also I think a lot of it is down to understanding the types and breadth of careers you could have. It’s much easier to envision a career path as a doctor, optician, accountant etc.

It is really important to have representation in the sector to develop practices and research that can be applied across social and ethnic boundaries to affect change at a faster pace.

If you don’t have BAME representation you are perhaps less likely to get BAME engagement across the board through communities, business and families. 

You’ve worked in policy and community regeneration, across corporations and even in Hong Kong – what has been the most rewarding for you? 

That’s a tricky one! The community regeneration work was perhaps most rewarding because I engaged with beneficiaries more directly, whereas a lot of corporate work is directed to the goals of the company, no matter how ethical those are – it is hard to measure the ‘good’ you have done.

However, working with corporates is rewarding when, as I have, have those ‘penny drop’ moments when a senior executive sees a business issue through the lens of CSR and social justice issues. What’s more rewarding is seeing companies who have those moments make actual change.

Change is much easier and faster to achieve in a corporation than lobbying for local or national policy changes… If only more corporates realised this!

Having worked in such diverse organisations, can you confirm the industry is just as economically viable and stable as those of your peers?

Absolutely, if anything I would say it’s probably the safer long term industry than many others given COVID and the increasingly alarming impacts of climate change.

The insecurity of the industry lies in the roles that are in-house corporate ones. These roles are solely dependent on the success of the business however, business may well start to prioritise these roles more given the demand from consumers and employees to demonstrate ethical, environmental values. However, the industry operates in thousands of not-for-profit orgs as well as in local and national government agencies. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

I would say go for it if that’s your interest, passion or looking to be the next environmental entrepreneur. No business in the future can operate without understating diversity, environment and well-being. This is where CSR I believe is headed.

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

One of the executive education programmes I was part of for a company I worked for in Hong Kong took place in Balikpapan, Indonesia. This is one of the last resource frontiers in Asia with virgin forests being chopped down at a pace for their timber and agricultural land. It was an experience of a lifetime. It was a programme for 25 executives and middle managers from one company – a family owned Singaporean shipping company.

The CEO was relatively enlightened for a man of his background and age. He wanted a select number of employees per year to get a better sense of globalisation and open their eyes beyond their conventional business education. The trip was to the family-run new arm of the business – a palm oil plantation in what was once a virgin Indonesian jungle.

It was heartbreaking seeing hectares upon hectares of plantations all owned by different companies, the scale was breathtaking. It made me realise how much work needed to be done (or impossible to do) to accept that resource exploitation won’t end anytime soon.

The role of some of Asia’s biggest paper and oil manufacturers are on a whole other level. On the one-hand it made me think CSR is perhaps a futile exercise, on the other it made me realise how amazing it is when smaller companies can demonstrate the provenance of their products, at every point in the supply chain versus those who require a global supply chain where transparency will always be compromised.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I think I have said enough! Although I have sometimes felt despair at doing something that can feel like you are hitting your head against a brick wall, whilst also having to contend with the fact that you mates and your family don’t even know what you do! It is an industry which is finally having its day of reckoning. If it wasn’t for CSR we wouldn’t have seen Sainsbury’s taking the plunge (although that is a ridiculous way to describe it) to have a Christmas advert featuring an all black acting cast; we wouldn’t have a modern slavery act, a constant push to close the gender pay gap and a recognition of workplace well-being.

CSR has come a long way from the days of greenwashing; although it is still out there, social media and activists in particular are constantly keeping companies on their toes in their responsibilities towards consumers, employees and shareholders and this is perhaps the best we can hope for! 

Connect with Nina on LinkedIn

Spotlight Series: Q&A with Climate Change Journalist Sharlene Gandhi

We spoke to Business, Climate Change and Food Systems Journalist, Sharlene about her insights and experience covering stories from the point of view of marginalised communities

What is your ethnic and academic/professional background?

I am a Hindu Gujarati Indian, and I am a journalist with a focus on small business, climate change and food systems.

What inspired you to act as a catalyst for sustainable practice? Is there a particular story you can share?

In my final year at Lancaster University, I was chosen for a special bootcamp-style module to attend the World Business Council for Sustainable Development’s liaison-delegate meeting. Before this, I hadn’t had any specific interaction with the environmental sustainability movement, but I had always been involved in social justice and grassroots community initiatives. Going to the liaison-delegate meeting was so eye-opening because it not only revealed the science behind the climate crisis, but also all the many social, economic, cultural and community impacts it will inevitably have. That was in April of 2018, and I’ve since been enthralled with the subject, reading widely, going to talks and eventually embedding it into my journalistic practice.

Can you tell me about your career in journalism and how you got into writing about climate change and environmental injustice/race intersectionality? 

It was really a matter of luck – I had always wanted to be a journalist because I loved writing, but often struggled with the difficult question of whether to become a specialist journalist or stick to general reporting. I decided to start specialising as a climate and business journalist on a freelance basis, mostly to also be able to learn about some of the work that was being done on the ground by communities and small / micro enterprises. 

The more I researched and reported, the more I started to learn about the intersections between the climate crisis and marginalised communities and came across the term climate justice as a result. That’s been one of my key focus areas ever since, because once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

I’ve been involved in writing about agricultural justice, housing inequality and land redistribution, as well as Indigenous rights. 

Find Sharlene’s Portfolio here: https://muckrack.com/sharlene_gandhi

What have been your biggest successes and learnings to date?

For me, I’ve always been deeply inspired by the work of Indigenous, Native and Aboriginal communities around the world. There is just a wealth of information to learn from them and how they have championed an approach to living that is in harmony with nature. 

My biggest successes have just been people giving me the opportunity, time and time again, to write about, speak about and explore this deeply intricate and important topic. I was super honoured to be part of shado magazine’s editorial team for their Climate Justice issue, which was published in September this year, and earlier in the year, I also researched and wrote up an investigation about the design and psychology of emission tracking apps for the American Institute of Graphic Arts. 

Being South Asian, did you face any backlash from family, friends or society at large for choosing to take a niche/unfamiliar career path? 

I was luckier than most in that I didn’t face any particular backlash when choosing my career path, but I think being from an immigrant family – particularly one where money wasn’t always floating around freely – means that you have financial security in the back of your mind. So while I wasn’t pushed into medicine or engineering or law, I was certainly gently encouraged to do a degree that would lead me to a job. That is how I ended up with a business degree, because it would lead to a financially stable career.

And my parents weren’t wrong – I spent the first two years of my career as a consultant, with a very healthy paycheck attached. But ultimately I wasn’t happy with myself in that role and wanted to transition into a career that meant more to me in due course. 

How have you actively changed your daily practice to be more sustainable?

Shopping locally and from small businesses has been a large part of the shift for me. It takes more time and more effort, but at least I know that I’m contributing to someone’s wellbeing and financial stability much more directly than if I were shopping from a larger supermarket that squeezed margins for their farmers and producers to make sure the end retail price was as cheap to the consumer as possible. 

Nearly three years ago, I also gave up all fast fashion and high street shopping, favouring secondhand, vintage and charity shop purchases for clothes, accessories and shoes. That hasn’t been easy, particularly because of the convenience and speed that fast fashion affords you as a consumer, not to mention the attractive pricing. But for me giving up fast fashion is crucial not just to planetary health, but also to climate justice. It signals to these companies that we can’t put up with the terrible conditions that they expect their garment workers to produce in.

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?

I wouldn’t say there is a stigma more than there is a lack of understanding. But that is highly ironic because a lot of the things that South Asian families do naturally are sustainable. It generally starts with low-income, immigrant families championing these practices, with the most famous example being using containers repeatedly to store curries and daals. South Asian cooking often involves using entire fruits and vegetables in order to minimise waste. South Asian culture is slower and more deliberate than capitalistic, time-driven Western culture, and a slower lifestyle impacts our surroundings less. South Asian food practice has always been about buying local and supporting grassroots shop owners, where possible.

Religions and cultures that are prominent in South Asia favour a lifestyle that works in conjunction with nature as opposed to extracting from it.

So, in other words, sustainability comes to South Asian communities easier than we might think, but the way that modern day sustainability is wrapped up and packaged makes them feel like it’s far away and unattainable. 

Being carbon conscious in 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?

Naturally, being sustainable is supposed to be accessible to everybody, because it actually requires us to live slowly, more locally and more deliberately. A plant-based or vegetarian diet can be cheaper than a meat-based diet. Shopping locally shortens the supply chain from raw materials / ingredients to the final consumer, which reduces the end price and makes sure that the original producers are adequately compensated for their effort.

However, the marketisation and mainstream branding that has now been attached to sustainability has meant that there has been a premium price attached to it, which has also in turn made it unaffordable for a lot of people to make sustainable choices. Starting small and stripping back your routine is a good place to start though, rather than thinking you need to invest in additional products or services at a cost to you. 

What advice would you give to younger generations in relation to sustainability and the environment?

Personally I think younger generations are much more knowledgeable about social justice and environmental sustainability than we are, simply because they don’t have a choice. So there is probably more than we can learn from them than they can learn from us!

I think for those interested in making a difference, I would advise starting small. Start with yourself and your sphere of control, extend that to your social circle, then to any impact you can make in your local community through conscious consumption, volunteering and raising awareness. Only then can you learn about the issues on the ground, on a grassroots level, which help you understand the system at large and why it functions the way it does. Otherwise, starting with the system and its flaws can seem too monumental and overwhelming to be able to make a tangible change. 

Can you share one life story which has deeply impacted you?

I’m just humbled that I get to do so many wonderful things and continue spreading the word about sustainability! In the last couple of years, I’ve been so honoured to speak at the Almeida Theatre, at Global Action Plan, at Amnesty International, for IKEA, and for various smaller organisations looking to educate and inspire change. I’ve been able to interview amazing people, including Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm and Sana Javeri Kadri from Diaspora Co.

In one of my earliest pieces of work, while I was working with the Pentland Centre for Sustainability in Business, I got to interview Arctic climate scientist Dr Oran Young. He has dedicated his whole life to the study of climate and spoke so passionately about the links to aspirational lifestyle and the worsening climate crisis. It really hit home then that this is more than scientific. It’s about how we define happiness and success. 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

For South Asians, there is an absolute wealth of literature to delve into in terms of prominent writing about environmentalism, anti-capitalism and racism. Two perhaps obvious voices are Vandana Shiva and Arundhati Roy – they give a great introduction, in the content of South Asia, of why environmental sustainability needs to tie into social justice.

Find some of Sharlene’s work here:

Supply Chain Transparency: https://mailchimp.com/courier/article/building-transparent-supply-chain/

Carbon Tracking Apps: https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/principles/app-design/how-carbon-tracking-apps-are-designed-to-foster-responsibility-and-why-this-might-be-flawed/

How Green is UK’s New Deal?: https://www.ourstosave.com/feature?id=ckda46h78000p07234osxdkme

IKEA project: https://lifeathome.ikea.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/IKEA_Life_At_Home_Report_2020-2.pdf

Follow Sharlene on Instagram and LinkedIn