This week we had the pleasure of speaking with climate activist and founder of The Eco Gal, Lauren Ritchie, on intersectional environmentalism and the small things we can do to be more sustainable in our lives...
How did you first get to learn about environmentalism and sustainability and what do you do now as a climate justice activist?
“My introduction to sustainability and environmentalism came in high school during my Geography classes. We delved into social issues like poverty, migration and global health, as well as climate change and environmental degradation and I knew immediately that solving these problems was what I wanted to dedicate my life to. I became a member of “Keep Grand Bahama Clean” in my junior year of high school and participated in beach clean-ups, environmental protests, and educational programs to spread awareness about environmental protection on my island. Now, I'm a third-year student at Columbia University studying Sustainable Development and Political Science and I run the Instagram account The Eco Gal which is an online platform to raise awareness about climate and social justice through educational infographics. I also participate in panels and speaking engagements about intersectional environmentalism and the need for greater BIPOC representation in the climate movement.”
Who is your inspiration and what changes do you hope to achieve with your own voice?
“My mom has been my biggest role model for as long as I can remember. From a very early age, she taught me the importance of always standing up for myself, using my voice, and to never let anyone force me into silence or submission. She is easily the hardest working and most selfless person I know and she has consistently set an amazing example of what a strong Black woman who unapologetically speaks her mind looks like. I have learned, and continue to learn, so much from her and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without her. I hope to continue to use my voice to not only stand up for my rights but to also fight for other members of marginalised communities who aren’t afforded the privilege to have their voices and stories heard.”
Inclusivity is so important when talking about environmental changes. How can we help to understand marginalised communities more?
“It’s essential to recognise that we can’t pursue inclusivity, especially when it comes to intersectional environmentalism, without a good grasp on what allyship should look like. In order to promote an approach to justice that is inclusive of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, we need to be able to effectively ally together to support them by taking the time to listen and learn to understand their plights, amplify their messages, and give them a platform to speak and be heard to enact real change. Being a good ally for communities also begins with a lot of unlearning. From the harmful language that we use to stereotypes and incorrect assumptions, a good ally is someone who is tolerant and open-minded to learning about stories other than their own and understands how all struggles for justice are intimately connected. Effective allyship is also taking the time to centre certain identities in spaces where they are often neglected or ignored and it means using privileges to make space to amplify marginalized communities, without tokenising them or expecting them to teach you.”
Tell us more about how The Eco Gal started and where you are now?
“The Eco Gal began as an Instagram and website platform for me to educate young Bahamians and my college peers about sustainability in a way that would be engaging, digestible, and relatable. It was a place for me to share zero-waste tips, to spread awareness about fast fashion, and to encourage conscious consumerism in a format that would be inclusive for a younger audience that would normally be bored by or feel disconnected from the typical conversations surrounding sustainability. The Eco Gal has since expanded into an online community, mainly on Instagram, that promotes intersectional climate activism by highlighting the experiences of marginalized groups in the climate conversation, as well as educating on the racist, xenophobic, classist, and ableist systems that oppress certain communities.”
What can we all be doing to be more sustainable in our daily lives?
“When it comes to sustainability, the most important thing is to do the best thing you can do with the resources you have at your disposal and to not feel the pressure to be perfect all of the time! For example, buying ethical, using bamboo utensils, and being vegetarian are all great but they aren’t always accessible when I’m back home in The Bahamas. Because of this, I try to be sustainable by being extremely mindful of little things that some people may often overlook. I try to always make sure to switch lights and electronics off when I’m not in the room and turn off the shower when I’m shampooing my hair or the sink while I’m brushing my teeth! I try to avoid being wasteful at all costs and I recommend these small tips to anyone trying to practice sustainability on a budget or without access to sustainable zero-waste alternatives. If the thing that’s keeping you from starting your journey towards sustainable living is the fact that you feel like you won’t be able to commit entirely or that there are some things you aren’t ready to give up yet, that’s completely okay and valid too. There is definitely a stereotype that the sustainability community is very judgmental, which to a certain extent can be very true, but I think doing your best and making any changes you can is good enough! I’m definitely a huge advocate for compromise and I always tell individuals who are getting started on living more sustainably to consider keeping the areas that they aren’t quite ready to give up yet and work on other areas of their life. Change is change and sustainability is all about helping the planet and people over perfection!”
Find Lauren here: @laurenaritchie