Sustainability Events in Southampton: Local Activists Weigh In

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Two free events are running in our city this weekend, enabling the community to learn about and discuss sustainability. The Southampton Sustainable Fashion Fest is back for its second year, drawing attention to environmental issues associated with the fashion industry and running a clothes swap to revitalise everyone’s wardrobe, and the Sustainability Open Mic will have a free podium for anyone to talk about environmentally conscious lifestyles, or just to watch and listen with a drink. I asked the organisers about their motivations, their causes and the campaigning going on in our city.

Jack: I am a student here and have been a dedicated rainbow warrior for years. I work for multiple NGOs and do many green things out and about. This event is basically an excuse to get everyone from different sides of sustainability together to listen to each other. Change will only come when we collaborate – I want to engage everyone, not just the people already wearing hemp clothing.

Libby: I’m an artist living in Southampton, I graduated from Solent a few years ago in Fine Art and have been doing different art installations and events since. I run Southampton Clothes Swaps and help to run Curb: Southampton’s Real Junk Food Project, which tackles food waste. Soton Sustainable Fashion Fest started as an extension of clothes swaps last year. The event is about bringing the community together to focus on fast fashion and what we can do about it. Hopefully, it will get people to engage with sustainability in a way that is relevant to them, make them able to apply it to their lives in some way, and make them realise it can be fun!

A large pile of vegetables, fruit and ready meals collected from bins.
Sustainability activists in Southampton collect and redistribute tonnes of supermarket food waste annually. Courtesy of Libby Russell.

The term ‘sustainability’ is used a lot by businesses, politicians and NGOs. What does it mean to you, and why should we care about it?

J: That is part of the problem, greenwashing! It is becoming a trendy buzz word, so we need to be on the same page and know what standards it should meet. To me, sustainability is creating an environment and a society in which we can live happily and healthily for many generations to come. We should care because it applies to everyone – some think ‘green people’ are irritating or pushy, but don’t realise we are trying to help society by creating a place we all want to live in. That may sound incredibly entitled but it’s true – I don’t want to live in a grotty cesspit as much as anyone else, so we should care and work together.

L: Sustainability to me is the ability to be circular, to live in a way that is considered and long term. Unsustainable practices are those that are damaging and thoughtless. On an individual level, this means not thinking past yourself. You throw an old appliance away because you don’t use it anymore, and it’s gone from your life, magically taken away. People often don’t think about what happens next – that appliance is not going to rot, it’s going to take up landfill until it gets burnt or shipped or crushed or buried. We should care because our actions have an impact on others, and ignoring that on a mass scale is lazy.

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Jack, are there any specific issues you want to bring attention to?

J: There are many things I want to bring attention to which is why I have put on the open mic – to squeeze in as many people from broad backgrounds as possible. I’ve invited everyone I can think of.  I will keep some secret, but Greenpeace are coming, people from sustainable fashion and even someone who has just produced a movie on pollution. We need to be thinking about plastic and food waste, fashion, food, the air we breathe and the energy we consume. It’s all vital.

Libby, why the fashion industry?

L: I don’t have inside knowledge of the industry, but I started clothes swap 5 years ago, and from that alone I’ve identified the consumption, chain of production and way we interact with clothes as problems we should address. So let’s talk about it.

How sustainable is Southampton?

J: I have had the pleasure of being in the Southampton ‘clique’ and have seen great things. Many people are running their own great initiatives like Curb and Transition but we could be doing better as a city. We have horrendous air quality and our ‘recycling’ scheme pales against that of Devon or Brighton. I would say that the movement is there, but it is small and relatively underground.

L: I think there are lots of people doing great things, but we still have a long way to go!

What if we want to know more?

J: Come to the open mic and hear what people are saying. Do some reading, because educating yourself is vital. It may be depressing to hear, and it may be easier to bury your head in the sand, but as my favourite lyric goes‘ignorance is bliss until they take your bliss away’

L: Go to events like these, talk to people there. There’s lots going on, you just have to look for it. Just look at Jack’s line up as a starting point.

Are you optimistic?

J: I’d like to think so. Sometimes I get upset and feel like giving up and sticking a straw down a dolphin’s blowhole, but then I see the great things happening and unbelievable effort and care from some people and think ‘surely it can’t be that bad’. When consumers make it clear they want ethical and truly sustainable products, companies have no trouble adapting.

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L: Yes, but be critical – check everything. Businesses and governments will say what they need to, to take the pressure off, but look into every element of the practice as there’s no policing using the term ‘sustainability’ in an incorrect or misleading way. I assume the worst and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

Sustainability Open Mic starts at 7:30pm on Friday 20th April in The Bridge, and Soton Sustainable Fashion Fest runs 10am-6pm on Saturday 21st at Orange Rooms.

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Masters student, Biology & Marine Biology. Interested in tropical ecology, palaeontology and mass extinctions, and music and international politics on the side. Lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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