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How to help the environment without excluding minorities

Updated: May 13

Last week, the rush hour commute in East London was halted by Extinction Rebellion protesters who glued themselves to doors and stood on top of trains. In Canning Town, two men held a sign reading ‘Business as usual = death’ as commuters gathered below, angry at the obvious avoidability of their journey’s disruption - the cause of which stood in front as if on some moral, carbon emitting, world destroying pedestal. It wasn’t long before the men were dragged from the roof of the train and were beaten by the angry mob.

XR have already been criticised for their choice of stations, in areas with typically lower income families and ethnic minority communities. You don’t need to be a genius to know why this doesn’t work for their message. In fact, the protest was what we in the socially-conscious marketing industry would call ‘tone-deaf’. The cherry on top of this was a now-deleted tweet, stating ‘Rosa Parks refused to move from the white section of the bus and our rebels refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to #ActNow. Our #InternationalRebellion against the complicity of our governments in the climate and ecological emergency continues.’

All in all, Thursday morning’s Canning Town fiasco brought to life - pretty explicitly - an issue which most of us are all aware of: XR has a problem when it comes to understanding class and race. This time though, their problem became an outlet of aggression which causes everyone to re-evaluate where they stand.

Social and environmental values collided so harshly that the overarching message was completely lost. In other words, in fighting for the sustainability of the physical world, social unity has been compromised. The ironic thing is, both sides eventually funnel into the same interest - humans.

As an individual, an organisation or a brand, you don’t have to compromise and XR should not make you feel like you do. It is possible to be sensitive to the backgrounds and beliefs of wider society whilst being environmentally considerate.

So, putting all this mess out the way for a minute, here are four things you can do to integrate social and environmental responsibility into your daily life whilst amplifying the voices of those less heard:

Follow smart

Diversify who you follow. If you love the earth, don’t just follow travel bloggers who take beach selfies. As much as it’s criticised, if used considerately, social media can be a great way to learn about real world issues. Here are some suggestions to get started

Aja Barber is a writer and Instagrammer with plenty to say about sustainability in fashion. She champions this by intertwining her experiences as a black American living in London to tell us how the industry can be both sustainable and inclusive.

If you like your Instagram feed with bit more real world and a little less selfie, follow photojournalist Ed Kashi. His method of visual storytelling delves into issues affecting a diverse range of people and environments around the world, which you’re unlikely to hear about in mainstream news outlets. The impact of oil in Nigeria, the lives of Jewish settlers in West Bank and the epidemic of Chronic Kidney Disease among agricultural workers are just some of the topics explored. No over-saturated beach pics here.

Jamie Margolin is a 17 year old queer, Jewish, Latina climate activist from Seattle who, at age 15, founded Zero Hour - an intersectional movement of youth activists fighting for climate justice. Through campaigning and public speaking, they represent the youth most often left out of the climate debate.

Buy right

As a consumer, there are a few small changes you can make to your shopping habits which make sense for the environment and society as a whole. Some do this by donating to a cause, empowering marginalised groups and even through recruitment. It’s always worth doing a bit of research, especially into products you’re buying on a regular basis. Here are a couple of brands we think are nailing it:

It’s an everyday necessity we dare not speak of unless absolutely necessary, but even in buying toilet paper you can do your bit for humankind. Who Give A Crap deliver toilet paper made with bamboo or recycled paper, without the plastic wrap. That means no trees and none of the unrecyclable plastic as you would normally have. What’s more, they donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets and improve sanitation in developing countries.

We’ve spoken about Beco before, because as an inclusive business, it’s brilliant. They are fully committed to employing people with disabilities to make their products, upskilling and empowering them to progress in their careers - something which too few organisations fail to recognise the value in. The brand are also taking the next step to solidify their environmental credentials by rolling out plastic-free products.

Represent responsibly

To help the conversation of climate justice diversify, consider where your own expertise sits and the role you can play. Online resources provide some shocking statistics, as well as advice on progressive steps and ways to be inclusive in your respective industry.

We all know cycling is environmentally responsible, but it’s also very white. The Diversity in Cycling Report is a tool which British cycling clubs can use to naturally become more diverse and represent society as a whole. It amplifies the voices of people of colour, sharing their thoughts on cycling to help guide the sport into proper representation. There are also suggestions of BAME focused cycling groups and ways you can help, even if it’s not a conversation you would naturally be involved in.

Sustainability in design relies not just on the materials used, but also the people it represents, which is where Design Can comes in. Launched just last month, Design Can is urging the design industry to face its prejudice and eliminate discrimination by uplifting underrepresented talent and encouraging individuals and organisations to consider the designers, artists and creatives they work with. As it happens, many of these designers and makers are environmentally considerate too. Take a look at their growing list of resources for events, articles and designers to watch.

Listen up

Extinction Rebellion may be one of the loudest movements out there, but it’s by no means the only one. Stay up to date on what other groups are doing and what people are saying. After all, one group can’t speak for everyone, and that’s ok.

The No Tar Sands network was set up by Suzanne Dhaliwal to raise awareness of and campaign against the Tar Sands oil development in Alberta, Canada, AKA the biggest energy project in the world. Contrary to some of XR’s questionable methods, No Tar Sands target governments, banks and investors to slow down damaging development where it begins. They also highlight and empower the rights of Indigenous people who are often the first to feel the effects of such projects

Wretched of the Earth is a grassroots collective of indigenous and diaspora people of colour, providing a platform to form groups and communities and take a stand against the climate crisis together.

Don't give up

While Extinction Rebellion continue to fight for climate justice, their inability to demonstrate an understanding of minority groups has now become a serious problem. That’s not to say we disregard them completely, but instead re-evaluate our position as individuals, brands or organisations, to ensure that the actions we take to support environmental causes are inclusive of everyone - from the accounts we follow to the products we buy.


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