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What Does “Sustainable Living” Actually Look Like in Practice? | Architectural Digest


Since following Sophia’s valuable insight, I’ve noticed an excitement around discussing recipes with my partner and cooking something new—a sentiment I’ve never felt until now. And that’s a clear thread revealed by climate educators: that making sustainable choices should be about joy, accessibility, and healing, not chastising yourself for using plastic, or forcing yourself to buy the most expensive brand on the market.

“It really irks me when I hear from very wealthy or privileged sustainable fashion advocates shaming people, knowing that their prices are just inaccessible,” says environmentalist Leah Thomas, whose book, The Intersectional Environmentalist, debuted in March. “They’re telling people ‘you only need two shirts,’ and that doesn’t feel fair.”

As someone whose familiarity with sustainable living comes from an upbringing that necessitated it, Leah has noticed how there’s a huge disconnect between how we encourage sustainability across income levels. “We don’t see the same narrative rewarding people who are living this way out of survival, but we’re really quick to reward someone who’s wealthy,” she notes before citing the difference in reception of tiny homes (“remodeling your Sprinter van for $50,000”) that now have their own shows versus trailer parks. So, how do we rectify this?

First and foremost, Sophia argues that we should “acknowledge the neighborhoods that have pioneered [sustainable living] from a need-based perspective.” She points to her own in Brooklyn, where tomatoes grow out of two-liter bottles, to seeing coke bottles used as paint cans in Mexico; or being in South Africa and witnessing folks cover bubble wrap in fabric as a pillow. “Ask yourself: what can I make with the things that I have?” she emphasizes. “Just because it’s past the point of viability doesn’t mean it’s not still beautiful or useful.”

As an educator and recent author of The Intersectional Environmentalist, Leah Thomas actively amplifies Black and indigenous voices in the sustainability space.

Photo: Val Vega

Perhaps that’s taking the old fennel and using it as home decor, or washing a peanut butter jar as a vessel for pens. “I remember seeing foster moms use newspaper and distilled vinegar—cleanest glass in your life,” Sophia recalls. She underlines that it’s about consistently reverting to the past to inform how we approach our current futuristic lifestyle. “Our ancestors made it work without Tide Pods,” she laughs.


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