Sustainability has become a buzzword. The #cooltobekind movement has seen a seismic shift in the way we perceive eco-warriors and ethical production – no longer the realm of lentil-loving hippies, sustainability is something most of us think about daily.
Sustainable fashion, homewares, and lifestyle products and practices are as commonplace as keep-cups. And with major fashion brands like ASOS launching their Responsible Edit, it seems eco-conscious living is becoming more and more accessible.
Dr Lisa Heinze is ahead of the curve. One of Australia’s leading authorities on sustainability in fashion, her book Sustainability With Style was first published in 2012, well before most of us had even realised coffee cups weren’t recyclable. With a PhD in Fashion and Sustainability, Dr Lisa is a key researcher with the Sydney Environment Institute, a co-founder of Clean Cut Fashion, and a mother.
So when we asked Dr Lisa for her advice on simple changes families could make to reduce their environmental impact, we knew her answers wouldn’t be at the expense of style. From how to get the kids excited about sustainability, to what you can do beyond recycling and composting, Dr Lisa shares her practical advice. And it’s not all doom and gloom: “I think taking a positive approach with kids is so empowering – help them see all the possibilities of a greener, more sustainable world.”
Read on for her tips, her favourite sustainable brands, and why making more considered wardrobe choices has helped to define her personal style.
How did you become interested in sustainability?
I think I always had a latent interest in the environment, due in part to growing up amidst the beautiful Rocky Mountains in the US. But watching An Inconvenient Truth really brought home to me the urgency of the climate issue specifically, and ultimately caused me to change my life trajectory.
As someone with an interest in fashion and style, what was the hardest thing for you to give up?
I think one of the hardest things is just this idea that I could see a look in a magazine or at the shopping centre and buy it and wear it. Now because I know so much about the issues in fashion production and overconsumption more broadly, my days of carefree shopping have come to an end. Though I will say that the silver lining is that I now have a much more considered wardrobe, I love all the things I own, and feel like I’ve really honed my own personal style as a result.
Do you have any suggestions about getting kids involved with a sustainable lifestyle?
Aren’t kids just the most beautiful little sponges?! I think it’s really useful to meet kids where they are and connect in with their interests. For example, my little boy loves plants and animals, and so by doing things that show him I also value these things – going on bushwalks to enjoy nature up close, growing (some!) veggies and herbs to show where our food comes from, and respecting the various animals that we encounter around home (including bugs, birds and neighbourhood possums) I like to think I’m demonstrating care of our land and its living things, which is at the heart of sustainability. Older children can be more engaged through composting, recycling, and learning to cook, to limit the waste associated with food production including its packaging.
For a family wanting to reduce their ecological footprint, what's the best place to start?
My advice is always to start with what is easiest and most practical for your family, but some great ‘first steps’ toward a smaller footprint include:
- Take your own: coffee cup, water bottle, straw, shopping bag
- Examine your commute: can you use public transportation, bike or walk instead of drive?
- Meal planning (which many parents are already pros at!) can save a lot of unnecessary food waste
- Plan a local holiday or staycation in place of an overseas holiday
- Engage more with nature – it will influence your other behaviour
- Opt for ethical buying – Fairtrade and Organic where available, local as much as possible, reduced packaging and food co-ops are great starting points
What about families that already have the basics covered - what can they do to live a more sustainable life?
Switching to a renewable energy provider has an enormous impact, and the costs for renewables keep coming down making it more affordable to more people. If you have the means to install solar panels, that’s another way to make a big impact.
Pay attention to your local government officials, and vote in line with your ecological values. If you don’t feel they are doing enough, write to your Member, your Mayor, anyone you think can make a difference.
Make your money create the world you want. Divestment is a very impactful tool – from your Superfund to your everyday banking, there are options available that invest no money in fossil fuel projects. Head to Marketforces.org.au to learn more.
If you could get every Australian family to make just one lifestyle change, what would it be and why?
Ooooh, I think that one is too tough to answer! Though takeaway coffee cups have long been a particular annoyance of mine.
Are there any suggestions we can make to our schools, daycare centres and workplaces about making more environmentally-friendly changes?
Change is only made when there is a local champion – you can be that champion! There is a lot that can be done in terms of changing energy providers, reducing unnecessary waste (whether in the form of disposable plates/cutlery or excessive printing or other issues unique to the setting) and being water-wise. But each site will have its own unique set of challenges so the first thing to do is an environmental audit to see where the biggest improvements can be made.
Is there a product or practice that might surprise people to hear is damaging to the environment?
I find many people are surprised to learn the environmental impact of fashion. It is one of the most polluting industries on the planet due to the production of (increasingly) synthetic materials, the processes used for dyes and other finishes, and the sheer volume of cheap and poor quality clothing that is produced today. There’s been a slow shift over the past 15-20 years in how fashion is created and sold which has shifted consumer expectations of how much fashion should cost, and unfortunately it ends up being the planet and garment workers who ultimately pay the price of our cheap fashion fixes.
How can we talk to our kids about sustainability without scaring them?
I think taking a positive approach with kids is so empowering – help them see all the possibilities of a greener, more sustainable world. There is so much innovation out there that can turn things around if properly funded on a large scale. Older kids (and their parents!) may enjoy watching the film 2040 for a positive take on the climate crisis. Also, show them you really care by making some changes around your house – Ghandi was right, we need to be the change we want to see in the world, and it is even more important as parents.
What are your favourite sustainable brands in fashion, food and lifestyle?
There are way too many to count!
Check out Well Made Clothes for a great selection of sustainable fashion, they’ve done the hard work for us and curated a lovely collection.
KITX by Kit Willow is definitely my go-to designer brand, and Carlie Ballard makes stunning yet practical pieces from hand-dyed and handwoven fabric.
Download the free app Good On You to look up your favourite brands and see how they rate on environment, labour and animal welfare, and get suggestions for other brands.
When it comes to food, I am lucky to live in a community with a Food Co-op (the Manly Food Co-op!) and so I have easy access to local, organic and packaging-free foods. It took me a while to get in the habit of bringing my own containers (and honestly my husband does most of the grocery shopping) but it’s a real life-changer.