Climate Conversations: An interview with my host sister

"Roadmap for the Circular Economy" from the Ministère de la Transition écologique et solidaire
“Roadmap for the Circular Economy” from the Ministère de la Transition écologique et solidaire

 

Salut tout le monde ! It feels like forever since I last sat down and wrote a blog post for you, because this semester in Paris is really flying by – however, as what feels like a decidedly long summer has snapped into a frosty fall, we can’t forget about the climate crisis just because we’re starting to wrap up warm! As we head into the winter months, it’s easy to lose focus and energy because of the dark and chilly weather, but with Black Friday, Christmas, and end of season sales on the horizon, it’s more important than ever to keep an eye on how the mechanisms of consumerism affect how we perceive our ‘needs’, and how our personal choices can affect the planet we call home.

One person who really inspires me to keep the climate in mind in my daily life is my lovely host sister and housemate, Justine Saint-Hilaire. When she’s not sprinting out of the house in her bicycle helmet with a pre-packed lunch and reusable water bottle, she’s busy recycling anything she can, making her own low-waste products, and even devising card games about the interconnected effects of global warming, then travelling to events to educate students about the climate crisis! Moreover, Justine works with a company at the forefront of the Paris Circular Economy scheme, which is involved with certifying companies as viable for a more sustainable economic model, and building platforms to ensure organizations can aim for 100 per cent of their physical assets being recycled, forever (How cool is that?)! It was with Justine that I had the pleasure of conducting an interview, which you can read here :

 

Hi Justine, can you tell me a bit about your professional life, and how your job relates to protecting the environment?

Hi Alice, I’d be happy to! So, Paris is part of a big plan across France to move towards a ‘Circular Economy’ model, in which waste is minimized by maximizing re-use of resources, such that materials stay in the cycle of production and utility, rather than ending up in landfills or otherwise polluting the environment. In my company, we work on the basis of William McDonnell’s idea of a ‘cradle-to-cradle philosophy’, where items can be reused entirely – reborn, if you will! It’s a positive impact philosophy where the actions and effects are all intimately interlinked – we aim to create positive effects on health, productivity and the environment all at once, through effective product design. I firmly believe that in our economy, we’ve been designing products all wrong – not thinking of the end of life, and even integrating features linked to planned obsolescence in order to maximize consumption, which in turn has led to enormous problems with waste. In an ideal world, healthy products would represent the sum of different parts which could all integrate into two streams – the biological and technical cycles. If all the components of a product can either biodegrade, or be reused, then we would see a drastic decrease in waste, creating a positive impact on environmental health and well-being – that’s what we aim for.

My company aims to spread the cradle-to-cradle vision, confirming enterprises with a cradle-to-cradle certification, and working on a digital platform which facilitates resource management and connects users with the means to reuse and recycle the materials they use and replace. It’s important to remember that when we think about waste, many solutions exist – it’s a case of connecting the relevant fields and collaborating in order to find the best possible way forward – while my work is largely involved with buildings and construction, I definitely think this could apply to the fashion industry too!

 

What do you think about the balance between personal choices, government regulation, and corporate responsibility, in solving the climate crisis?

I recently read a really interesting study published by Carbon4 that concluded that in order to reach the terms of the Paris agreement, we need to be working on around 25% individual choices, and 75% collective (that’s industry, and government) action, and that’s a figure I really agree with. While personal actions may be small on an individual scale, they’re still necessary for us to be reducing our impact on the planet in the way we need to be. However, of course, the majority of action needs to be taken by larger collectives, and it’s the role of the government to enforce regulations on industry – that’s a lot of what I’m concerned with in my career.

 

What are some steps you take in your personal life to help towards ending the climate crisis, and which of these actions would you recommend to our readers?

Well first of all, I’m vegetarian – eating less meat is one easy step to reduce your carbon footprint straight away! I think it’s important to start with the small, easy and accessible steps to help the environment in your everyday life, and build up from there. I’d encourage anyone to try walking, cycling and using public transport if possible – it’s great for your health as well as the planet – and cooking food yourself, buying ingredients in bulk to minimise waste. It sounds contradictory, but I actually don’t like to narrow the topic of lifestyle changes to just climate change! The changes we make have many interconnected impacts, and I’m a firm believer in making lifestyle changes which make us healthier and happier (that way, we’ll stick with them) and have the added benefit of being great for the planet’s health as well!

 

What are your thoughts on the fashion industry with regards to the future of our planet, and how would you describe your personal philosophy on how to dress with the earth in mind?

It’s hard for me to speak about fashion and the environment, because I really try and disconnect from the fashion industry – it’s something I feel quite strongly about. I feel like the fashion industry thrives on creating a false sense of need where there is none, in order to encourage people to buy more new things that they don’t truly need. Of course, fashion plays a really important role in society – people deserve to look good and feel comfortable in their clothes – but the whole notion of following trends seems to encourage overconsumption in a way that’s really dangerous for the climate.

 

How would you describe the changes you’ve made over the years, as you’ve become more dedicated to your personal and professional climate activism? Are there any final words of advice you’d like to share with our readers?

Oh my goodness, where to begin! When I think about myself five years ago, I’ll be honest, I’m embarrassed; I wasn’t mindful about my choices as a consumer, and I was definitely buying too much. I think the turning point for me, especially with regards to clothes and fashion, was asking myself, “do I really need this?” and if the answer was “maybe”, just waiting for a short while to make an informed decision. Most of the time, the answer is no, and I can be just as happy with the clothes I already own! I really feel like the more I think, the less I need to buy, and that’s been really helpful for my wallet, my space (nobody likes having far too many clothes!) and my carbon footprint.

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