Do the work anyway, it matters

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Greta Thunberg has made everyone painfully aware that “our house is on fire”, yet change seems dreadfully slow.

As individuals we can easily feel small and powerless to effect the kind of change we need to curb global warming and achieve a more sustainable world. As an environmental professional myself, I know all too well what we are up against and I often feel overwhelmed, and sometimes even disillusioned, realising sustainability and the environment are often considered a necessary evil rather than an real priority.

Yet, I am always impressed to see committed people do the work anyway. Many of them women, challenging the status quo, making inroads in their respective fields, and inspiring me to do the same. Meet some of the amazing women doing the work right here in the Netherlands.

Fashion that’s good for people and for the earth

Roosmarie Ruigrok has spent the last 35 years in the textile and fashion industries. She has seen the horrors of sweatshops in the late 80s, and she has seen how, when things are done right, everyone benefits.

Her first experience visiting a supplier in the Far East, witnessing the human predicament of workers, child labour, and unsafe working conditions, brought her to tears. While things have changed in the past 30 years, the reality is that fashion and the textile industry still have a high human and environmental cost.

Roosmarie has dedicated her career to turning this around. She works with brands who value quality, fair wages, good working conditions and transparency. She says that once they are on that journey to improving their environmental and social performance, there is no turning back. The brands and textile producers who work with her are committed to continuously improve. It may start small, she explains, switching to organic cotton for part of their production for example, and ending up with a fully circular model. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes effort and commitment over the longer term, but it can be done.

Because she understood early on the power of relationships built on honesty, transparency and trust, Roosmarie has an excellent network throughout the entire textile supply chain, where every partner along the line is working towards the same goal of sustainable and fair fashion.

Roosmarie is also involved in tackling textile waste, which is becoming more and more problematic. She is leading the Reflow project in Amsterdam, which aims to find solutions to upcycle textile waste.

Food in the city

People living in cities typically live far away from where their food is grown, and are completely dependent on food production and distribution systems over which they have no control. Urban farming has become increasingly popular as a way to address this.

Ann Doherty is one of the initiators of Pluk! Groenten van West a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that currently feeds 150 families in and around Amsterdam.

“This model is a simple alternative to the current broken food system, and a move towards local food production. […] So instead of consuming food grown in monocultures on the other side of the world, you can choose your own fresh ingredients and get to know your farmers personally.”

Customers, or “harvesters”, pay an annual fee so that the farmers at Pluk! can grow fresh vegetables, herbs and flowers for them. In that way, harvesters save money by cutting out the middlemen, decrease their carbon footprint by eating food produced close to home, and support local farmers instead of the big supermarket chains.

Everyone at Pluk! understands the importance of taking good care of the soil and the biodiversity on the land they cultivate. The farming is organic (no herbicides, pesticides or fungicides) and based on permaculture principles.

Ann is proud to contribute to developing an inspiring model for sustainable farming and circular living. Initiatives such as Pluk! And other CSAs show there is a great demand for fresh organic produce in cities. “We have waiting lists, we are training interns who want to grow food for the city, and the only obstacle at this point is more land to grow on!” Bonus: you can collect eggs from free-range chickens and pick many different kinds of fruit and berries at the Fruittuin van West where Pluk! is located!


Reconciling profits and sustainability

We know that the current prevailing way of doing business is not sustainable, that radical change is needed. Yet all too often, sustainability remains a separate agenda, something to pursue on the side, and not an integral part of doing business.

Andrea Orsag views the two as closely intertwined and her mission is to reconcile them to achieve better outcomes. In her work with MissionC (the consultancy she co-founded) and ACE + Company, she utilizes her business skills to embed sustainability into business models and strategy, showing that it can be a win-win.

Andrea is convinced that through systemic change, circularity can become the norm, everywhere. She has built an extensive network spanning the private sector, governmental and non-governmental organisations, startups, and individual activists, and uses it to raise awareness and form virtuous partnerships.

Andrea has been recognized as a changemaker: she is a One Young World ambassador and is regularly invited to speak at universities and conferences. She is passionate about spreading this message, as she strongly believes that the Earth is not only our home, but we are inextricably bound to it. “There is no divide between us and nature.” 

The power of community

Finally, this wouldn’t be LeanIn if we didn’t talk about community. Community is essential to achieve meaningful change. Dina DeHart created the Sustainable Community of Amsterdam Facebook group as a way to promote knowledge sharing and actively change collective habits towards more responsible consumption.

Any question you have, someone has probably had it before you; and if it’s new, then several brains trying to answer it are better than one. A community to turn to for questions, from the metaphysical (“Is humanity doomed?”) to the mundane (“where can I buy eco-friendly detergents?”), you will an answer, help and support there.

Sharing tips, experience, concerns, information, exchanging views, with no agenda other than trying to get better, individually and as a society.

The group is full of knowledgeable people, but it’s also a very inclusive group, so don’t worry if you’re a beginner, members are open and willing to help and support wherever they can. Topics discussed are very broad, and include anything from carbon footprint reduction, single-use plastics, food waste, energy efficiency, and sustainable travel.

If you haven’t come across her group, then I would recommend you join and see for yourself.

Another great way to leverage the power of the community and help you achieve your sustainability goals is through circles. Find out about LeanIn circles in your area, or even create your own circle!

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