What does “sustainable living” actually look like in practice? | Architecture Digest

Since following Sophia’s valuable insights, I’ve noticed an excitement when discussing recipes and cooking something new with my partner – a feeling I’ve never felt before. And that’s a clear thread uncovered by climate educators: that sustainable choices should be about joy, accessibility and healing, not about punishing yourself for using plastic or forcing yourself to buy the most expensive brand on the market to buy.

“It really pisses me off when I hear about very wealthy or privileged advocates of sustainable fashion shaming people because they know their prices are just out of reach,” says environmentalist Leah Thomas, whose book, The intersectional environmentalist, debuted in March. “They tell people, ‘You only need two shirts,’ and that doesn’t feel fair.”

As someone whose familiarity with sustainable living stems from an upbringing that required it, Leah has noticed how huge a disconnect there is in the way we promote sustainability across income boundaries. “We don’t see the same narrative rewarding people who leave survival that way, but we really quickly reward someone who’s rich,” she notes, before citing the difference in small-home reception (“Remodeling Your $50,000 Sprinter Vans”), which now have their own shows versus trailer parks. So how can we correct this?

First and foremost, Sophia argues that we should “recognize the neighborhoods that have pioneered [sustainable living] from an on-demand perspective.” She points to her own in Brooklyn, where tomatoes grow from two-liter bottles, to Coke bottles used as paint cans in Mexico; or being in South Africa and witnessing people covering bubble wrap with fabric for pillows. “Ask yourself: what can I do with the things I have?” she insists. “Just because it’s passed the point of viability doesn’t mean it isn’t still beautiful or useful.”

As an educator and recent author of The intersectional environmentalist, Leah Thomas is actively amplifying Black and Indigenous voices on sustainability.

Photo: Val Vega

Maybe take old fennel and use it as home decor, or wash a peanut butter jar as a holder for pens. “I remember foster mothers using newspaper and distilled vinegar – the cleanest glass in your life,” recalls Sophia. She emphasizes that it is about consistently going back in time to inform how we are approaching our current futuristic lifestyle. “Our ancestors made it work without tide pods,” she laughs.

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