We are living in uncertain times. There is a war raging in Ukraine and the latest IPCC report released recently draws urgent attention to the climate emergency the world is facing. But moments of crisis are also moments of re-set that can lead to transformational changes. As the pandemic recedes and sustainability becomes a mainstream conversation, there are reasons for hope when we think of the future. There is more recognition than ever before of the imperative to forge a sustainable future for ourselves and the next generation, and the shift is being led by women.
Sustainability may not be a gender-specific priority, but whether it’s ‘Big Tech’ like Google or an entrepreneur close to home, women are driving sustainability efforts across the world. This is borne out by research that shows globally diverse companies choose women to lead their sustainability initiatives. A report by Credit Suisse suggests that over 45 percent of global sustainability leaders, or “Sustainability Heads” are women.
Source: Credit Suisse
It may not be an exaggeration to say that women are holding the reins of the future. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is quite vocal about climate change and under her government, the country has set a laudable example — they contribute to only 1 percent of global emissions. The country’s focus is to be on a decarbonization track. In one of her interviews, she also said, “In New Zealand, we’ll transition towards 100 percent renewable electricity and the choices that will move our transport fleet towards clean energy sources like hydrogen and biofuels.”
The leadership qualities of empathy, compassion, and transparency are integral to caring for the environment. Women, who are the most vulnerable to climate change and bear the brunt of its impact, have also displayed fortitude to climate-related adversities. We already know the ills of fast fashion, which puts women at risk; about 80 percent of the workforce in the fast fashion industry is female. These brands produce garments and accessories in sweatshops that don’t meet basic hygiene, health, and safety conditions. Women employees are subjected to physical or psychological abuse, endure long working hours, and exposure to toxic chemicals. A report by Fair Trade Certified states women workers in Bangladesh make around $35 monthly, barely meeting their basic needs. No wonder female-run slow fashion or sustainable brands rank women empowerment and upskilling on top of their brand ethics.
Female leaders offer perspectives that are inclusive, long-term, and socially responsible. Whether it’s politics or activism and advocacy or a small business, women ensure a seat at the table for other women, thus enabling opportunities and a collective voice.
Whether it’s politics or activism and advocacy or a small business, women ensure a seat at the table for other women, thus enabling opportunities and a collective voice.
Women At The Helm
There are many brilliant women changemakers spearheading the sustainability movement around the world and the list is ever-growing. Naomi Klein is a leading activist of the climate justice movement. A bestselling author and a strong supporter of eco-feminism — Naomi shuns fascism and capitalism. She has inspired many to lend their voice to the fight against climate change — in fact, she also inspired the climate activist and youth icon, Greta Thunberg.
“Naomi Klein’s work has always moved and guided me. She is the great chronicler of our age of climate emergency, an inspirer of generations.” – Greta Thunberg
Naomi’s writing mobilises her readers with hard facts and information that equips them for the future. One of her books, How to Change Everything, is a conversation starter, and many environmental experts call it an essential read. More recently, she has written about how the Russia-Ukraine conflict can catalyse the move away from fossil fuels and to renewable energy.
Source: TED Talks
Orsola de Castro, the founder of Fashion Revolution, a movement that started in response to the devastating Rana Plaza tragedy in Bangladesh in 2013, is one of the most vocal voices advocating sustainability, fairness, and transparency in the global fashion industry. Their campaign “Who Made My Clothes?” has become a rallying cry for improving the lives of workers in clothing manufacturing factories around the world.
Ellen MacArthur, the founder of the eponymous Foundation, champions the cause of circular economy; Safia Minney, author, activist, and founder of the pioneering conscious clothing Fairtrade brand, People Tree, recently launched Fashion Declares!, a grassroots movement to transform the fashion industry. Each of these women is deeply committed to making our world better and is, in turn, inspiring women everywhere.
Source: Vaishnavi Rathore/The Bastion
“We are either going to have a future where women lead the way to make peace with the Earth or we are not going to have a human future at all.”
– Vandana Shiva, environmental activist, and author
India has a long history of women at the forefront of environmental movements, from the Chipko movement to Narmada Bachao Andolan. Vandana Shiva, the globally renowned environmental activist, author, scientist, and founder of Navdanya, has long championed the paradigm of ecofeminism that places women at the center of safeguarding nature and the environment.
Many women-driven initiatives and enterprises are taking the sustainability agenda forward. Not enough is said about Himachal Pradesh’s Mahila Mandal which concentrates on waste management and women empowerment. Tucked away in Dharamshala, this group conducts trash clean-up drives once every 15 days. Owing to excess tourism and government recklessness, a lot of waste and plastic waste ends up in their village, polluting air and water. Apart from residents, animals are also prone to falling sick. In an Eco India video, a member of the Mandal says, “We also clean up the water bodies and the areas around it, by handpicking litter.” They’re also taking a firm stand by holding the government accountable with their peaceful protests and walks. Apart from handling waste management, the Mahila Mandal actively works with the underprivileged women of the village to educate them about welfare schemes and upskilling.
Avani, started by Rashmi Bharati, is a community based in Kumaon in Uttarakhand that is built on the principles of conserving the environment, empowering the local women, and promoting local crafts and textiles. Avani Earthcraft, their social enterprise, works with locally sourced natural materials and artisans to create sustainable lifestyle products across categories.
The baton has been picked up by young women passionate about the environment and sustainability. Disha Ravi, the young climate activist, is a household name for fearlessly standing up for the cause.
Entrepreneurs like Sahar Mansoor, the founder of Bare Necessities, are crafting businesses that encourage conscious and sustainable living. Sahar is a zero-waste enthusiast and UNESCO green citizen. Her environment-conscious brand works with local farmers and emphasises female employment. Sahar’s journey has always been about giving back to the community — her book Bare Necessities: How to Live a Zero Waste Life is a deep dive and an extension of their online course, Zero Waste in 30. This social entrepreneur also upcycles waste and hosts sustainability awareness events that create value.
Source: Sahar Mansoor
And finally, there are inspirational women right in our homes! If you think about it, our moms and grandmas have been championing sustainability at home for years, though without the new age vocabulary and jargon. From urging us to reuse our possessions to recycling and mending clothes or offering toxin-free alternatives for our needs to buying local produce or carefully preserving heritage textiles, crafts, and jewellery that are handed down from one generation to the next — they are conscious of our role as custodians of what we have and the need to conserve for a better tomorrow.
There is much to celebrate, learn from, and be inspired by women who are driving change in homes, in rural communities, as activists, social entrepreneurs and business leaders, and are moving the needle on environmental sustainability, making a difference every day.