The 7 Step Pathway To A More Sustainable Life (Spoiler Alert: it involves resilience)

Jul 23, 2022

Hey Underswell Crew,

We’ve been feeling nostalgic lately and I think it’s good to take a walk down memory lane. We’ve been thinking a lot about our sustainability stories and how fortunate we feel to work in this awesome industry with so many great people.

Derek’s flashpoint moment was after watching An Inconvenient Truth and realizing this could be applied to his role in the fashion industry. Along the journey, there were a lot of trials and tribulations, most notably asking himself “why don’t I already know this?” With two college degrees and ten years in the apparel industry, Derek had to wonder about the path he was on. 

My flashpoint moment came while I was in college working on one of my many research papers. 

Choosing to focus on sustainable apparel and consumers’ understanding of what that means, I quickly realized I knew almost nothing about sustainability and the apparel industry. With hundreds of peer-reviewed articles and resources, I felt overwhelmed and lost. Fast-forward a couple of months and I became one of Derek’s students and his intern, where I learned about the complexities of the industry and some of our biggest social and environmental impacts. I was hooked.

Now, you may be wondering “what is a flashpoint moment?” Put simply, it’s the moment you realize the weight of the issue and decide to get involved; no looking back. And, not just that you’re going to get involved, but you’re also going to do everything in your power to create real change. 

Your flashpoint moment is the spark that lights your fire and from there your passion and dedication lead the rest of the way...

Let’s circle back to Derek’s original question - “why do I not already know this?” We’re willing to bet that a good chunk of you guys have asked this same question and the short answer is that the old way simply doesn’t teach us about sustainability. Business, finance, education, and virtually all other sectors haven’t incorporated sustainability education or practices into the mainstream. We could sit and criticize the past, but why look back? We have a bright future ahead of us. 

If you’re sitting here wondering what sustainability even is, you might be disappointed to find out that we don’t have a hard-set definition. However, we have some guidelines. In 1987, the Brundtland Report - also known as the Our Common Agenda report - defined sustainability as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Another way you could define it - especially in business - is striking a balance between People, Planet, Profit or an emphasis on The Triple Bottom Line, rather than just the “bottom” line. Lastly, Derek and I heard a well-known marine scientist simply define sustainability as “do no harm.” 

No matter how you define sustainability, I think we can all agree that it requires action

Like most change, sustainability is all too often met with resistance. But you have a special skill - resiliency. Resiliency is the ability to get back up after you’ve been knocked down, time and time again. Nature does this too. Ecological studies define “resiliency” as the capacity for an ecosystem to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly. We could learn a thing or two from nature.

We know you guys are excited and I’ve dragged it out long enough - let’s get into the 7 step pathway to a more sustainable life! Watch the video here, or keep reading to get the 7 steps…

1. Allow Inspiration

 

Congrats, you’ve decided to start making the shift to a more sustainable life and we’re psyched to be part of your journey, but you may be wondering “where do I start?” Start with an open mind. At this stage in your quest for a more sustainable life ( and tbh this will be important through all stages) you get to spend all your time researching, reading, asking questions, watching videos, and any other form of content you can sink your teeth into. Maybe at this stage you’ll even find an area of sustainability that interests you most (materials, emissions, or my personal favorite - supply chains).

2. Become the Understander

 

Now that you’ve mastered the art of research you’re ready to start understanding some of these complex and intertwined topics. Becoming the understander means you’re going to continue questioning what you’re consuming, but you’re also going to engage in dialogue. Talk with those in your circle to get different perspectives and reach out to others who you may not know as well and grow your circle. 

3. Graduate to Explainer

 

As an explainer, you’re going to be seen as the expert in the room. People will look to you for education and leadership. You’ll be able to share your knowledge with others and chances are, you’ll be the person in the office that people associate with sustainability. Being the explainer means you have to be vocal, so get ready to speak up and share your thoughts/knowledge. People will need your expertise and hopefully, with the support of leadership, you’ll be able to start creating change in your organization.

4. Embrace Collaboration

 

This one is pretty straightforward - reach out a helping hand and offer support to another department or organization or ask for help. If you’re feeling stuck, confused, or just plain burnt out, there’s no harm in asking for some support and guidance. Here at The Underswell, we encourage collaboration with all stakeholders. Talk to employees, suppliers, customers, and anyone else you can get in touch with to learn about the pressures they’re facing and how you can help. 

5. Advance to Motivator

 

Nice, you’ve leveled up to motivator! Now it’s time to get to work. As arguably one of the hardest phases, you’ll have to find a way to motivate yourself and others in your organization to start making the change. Luckily, at the root of this process, you have your passion and resiliency to rely on. If you face pushback, don’t give up! Regroup, collect your thoughts, and try again. You and your team will probably have to go through this process a few times, but you’re prepared and will come out on the other side.

6. Evolve to Creator

 

After all your hard work, you’ve finally made it to the creator. You’ve been greenlit to start coming up with projects and initiatives to create a more sustainable world from the inside out. Get ready to put the pedal to the metal, your team has a lot of work ahead of them. Take time to celebrate - you guys are creating a new world that will be better for all stakeholders and future generations to come. 

7. Arrive at Transformer

 

We made it to the last stop - the transformer. Think of yourself as the sage. You’ve acquired all this knowledge and wisdom over your years of work and research and it’s time to put it all to use. You’re making an impact and helping create the world you’ve always wanted to see. Not only this, you’re inspiring a new generation and eventually the time will come to pass the proverbial torch to the next generation. In a way, we’re creating our own version of circularity - constantly bringing new people into the fold and expanding our horizons. 

I should add that this process isn’t linear. You’ll jump back and forth from these stages and there’s even more out there for you beyond these seven steps. This is our framework for transformation, but everyone follows their own unique path. 

Have you already had your flashpoint moment? What’s your sustainability story? Leave us a comment below or head over to our LinkedIn Group and share your perspective. Don’t forget to head over to our website to check out how we can help you get your sustainability career going.

Thanks for joining us and we’ll catch you guys next time!

McKenzie

Top 35 Things to Know if  you're learning about Sustainability in the Apparel Industry. Have you downloaded the guide yet?

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