Dear Climate

As the climate crisis shows no signs of slowing down, it has required interdisciplinary action between academics and activists to prove that this is a race that can be won. The perspectives of social and physical sciences are increasingly valued, with philosophical and historical research intensifying the exploration into anthropogenic activities. To ensure that the approach to fighting climate change is truly collaborative, the powerful prospects of the creative arts need to be appreciated, as a voice for sustainable change.

From art installations, performance works and numerous film screenings, our world has been audience to social and political dimensions, explored and prevailed by creativity. Amid our planet’s suffering, artistic philosophers have stood to attention, producing some of the most stimulating and radical material the world will ever see.

“Dear Climate: Power to the Porous,” 2018 by (from top) Marina Zurkow, Una Chaudhuri and Oliver Kellhammer, known collectively as Dear Climate.

Dear Climate is an ongoing creative research project that was founded in 2012 by Marina Zurkow, Una Chaudhuri, Oliver Kellhammer and Fritz Ertl. The project is comprised of a meaty collection of posters, sound recordings, letters to the future and guided meditations, meant to engage with the audience’s consciousness, challenging and playfully teasing around the metaphysical aspects of global warming and biodiversity. The work is free of the typical and unproductive political discourse that surrounds climate change and accepts flatly that crisis is happening now.

The posters are at once serious, in monochromatic clarity, making dire warnings, questions and call to actions (“The climate’s changing, shouldn’t we?”) and at times taking on flippant and satirical tones (“Climate change? Will it make me look fat?”).

Through artistic activism, Dear Climate has used these posters in the varied contexts of art exhibitions, schools and environmental protests. The artists have made all forms of art available to download for free from their website: and further encourage people to “shop-drop” – taking posters into shops, offices and centers, in order to leave them there for others to see. By culture jamming, it has broadened their audience, making them aware of the immediate problems that warrant their attention.

Through the application of human imagination and by tapping into the interdisciplinary perspectives of our pressing climate emergency, has Dear Climate created the artistic nerve center to foster progressive change?

How Ghana Changed My Shower Habits

My flat in Ghana wasn’t worth writing home about: two bedrooms, two nets, one lightless toilet, a kitchen and a basic shower cubicle. However, after a nine-hour flight and a full day of travelling from London to West Africa, I was in desperate longing for a shower. As I stepped barefoot under the shower-head, I encountered my first culture shock… without realizing, I had stepped on and killed a cockroach. After the squeals of horror subsided, I turned on the tap and took refuge as I let the cold water wash away the remnants of pollution, sweat and cockroach from my body.

I quickly learnt that living in a developing country during the wet season, meant battling against the elements. With frequent storms causing flooding, power cuts, high humidity levels attracting malaria-carrying mosquitoes and unclean water; somehow, this simple and monotonous part of my hygiene routine had become an impenetrable labyrinth. I had gone most of my adult life without needing to ask for cleansing advice, yet I found myself, at the ripe old age of 24, in deep conversation with my Ghanaian colleagues about how to have a shower in Ghana. Turns out, the advice was astounding and armed with this knowledge and a pair of flip flops to protect my feet, I waltzed into my future showers like Len Goodman to a dance floor and I never looked back.

Unfortunately, on more than one occasion, I was taken ill with ‘traveler’s diarrhea’ after accidentally ingesting the poorly sanitized water and because I had insurance and access to healthcare, I was fortunate enough to be treated. Many are not so lucky and I realised how naive I had been and I promptly stopped making superfluous complaints about my showering facilities. Unclean water and lack of sanitation systems in Ghana is a severe public health concern, leaving people vulnerable to water-related illness and disease and as I traveled through rural Ghana, this issue became very apparent and it was the wake-up call I needed to change my habits. Data collected by UNICEF revealed that 76% of households are a risk of drinking water contaminated with faecal matter. Furthermore, The Ghana Demographic and Health Survey revealed that while more than half of households have a designated place for washing hands, only about one household out of five has water or other cleansing agents available at home.

Since living in the vibrant city of Accra, and witnessing first-hand, the day-to-day poverty that people are subjected to, I limit my showers to three minutes or less – cleansing my body before I enter the shower and using as little water as possible to rinse off. Although I now live in the UK and the fear of catching malaria or squishing a cockroach isn’t a concern anymore, I still believe I have a responsibility to not take my access to clean water for granted.

West Africa cottons on to the raw material opportunity

While in Ghana, I had the pleasure of working alongside development and raw material consultant, Mark Bennett, before he tragically passed away. I didn’t know Mark for very long, however, after working alongside him for just shy of two weeks, I realized how important his work in Sub-Saharan Africa was. After cutting his first evening in Accra short to “get some rest before solving poverty in the morning”, Mark’s expertise in development and arrival in Ghana teased an auspicious future for the textile industry. Before travelling to West Africa, I had an unexplored interest in raw material sourcing and suddenly found myself being coached on this subject by one of the most highly regarded experts in the industry. Armed with his compelling nature, Mark was making tangible progress in developmental interventions such as vertical integration in agricultural supply chains.

Our clothes were born in the soil. Cotton is grown in tropical and subtropical locations and needs roughly 200 days of sunshine to flourish and bear fruit. After six months, the crop is picked, ginned (to remove the fibre from the seed), cleaned and then spun into thread. Once woven into the material, it is light, breathable and easy to wear, making it the most popular fabric in the world.

The notorious cotton sector shows off the best and the worst of human nature. On one hand, there is the undeniably clever use of the renewable natural resource to provide textile material and the re-purposing of cottonseed oil to create food, animal feed and fertilizer. On the other, the production of cotton sees serious abuses such as trade inequalities, slave and child labour and environmental degradation, due to intensive farming, overuse of pesticides and high-water demand.

West Africa is the sixth-largest cotton-growing region in the world, with the potential to supply organic, quality cotton in abundance. This cotton is almost exclusively grown by smallholders, with few large plantations. However, the sector’s growth has been stunted by structural problems like weak infrastructure and investment. This could be down to local management and previous production methods. The more specific problems include erratic rainfall (with frequent periods of drought, excess rain and flooding), poor seed quality and water pollution.

Cotton is a thirsty crop and according to the World Wildlife Foundation, it can take up to 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton. Alongside its need for warmth, it does well in the dry or humid savannas of Africa. The climate, with its high temperatures and alternation between dry and wet seasons, quenches the thirst of this natural fiber crop.
The West African wet season lasts between May to September although due to climate change, the weather seasons have become increasingly unpredictable. Without basic irrigation infrastructure, cotton farmers are at the mercy of mother nature and without an adequate, reliable water supply, crops suffer low yields and decreased quality – all adding up to a grueling blow to farmers’ livelihoods. In recent years, development agencies and NGOs have worked in partnership with farmers to provide access to training in better soil and water management practices, implementing inexpensive irrigation infrastructures and seed breeding development.

Luckily for West Africa, advancements are being made to feed the appetite for a vertically integrated raw material supply chain.

Vertical integration is a strategy whereby a company takes full responsibility to control its entire value and supply chain. Although significant amounts of capital investment are required, the benefits allow the companies to control every stage of the process, improve efficiencies and reduce costs. In the context of West Africa’s textile industry, vertical integration would allow the protection of raw materials from start to finish, ensure product quality and will improve efficiencies in the transfer of products in the value chain. By controlling the raw material supply chain, it would ensure economic growth in African regions.

On January 30th 2020, the International Cotton and Textile Fair opened for the second time, a biennial event promoting the processing of cotton and textiles from Burkina Faso. The event was a platform for exchange and reflection, attracting professionals from all-cotton chains to work around the concerns and development opportunities in the raw material sector. At this event, Burkina Faso’s President, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, inaugurated the region’s very first ginning plant for organic cotton. Based in Koudougou, the plant is designed to process 125 tonnes of cotton per day and it will be operated by the Organic Cotton Ginning Company (SECOBIO), a joint venture which is 51% funded by the National Union of Cotton Producers of Burkina.

The plant will facilitate the creation of sustainable jobs – employing 40 permanent workers, 100 daily workers and more than 200 seasonal staff. The Minister of commerce, industry and handicrafts, Harouna Kabore expressed that the facility – part of the National Plan for Economic and Social Development, will be spearheading the fight against unemployment among women and young people. He added “the cotton fibre will be produced under rigorous conditions and by international certification standards. It will allow organic cotton from Burkina Faso to be more competitive on the international market for sustainable cotton.”

This is a major innovation and the first of its kind in the region, proving that there is a tangible opportunity for West Africa to become competitive organic cotton producers in the future.

Make Planet Earth Sexy Again

Britain is currently trying to recover from a historic breakup with the EU, entering into the single market, much like Brad and Angelina or Sonny and Cher. Feelings of bewilderment, uncertainty and sadness overwhelm much of the UK, as we try to figure out how to move on. Although the UK is single and not ready to mingle, planet Earth has been longing to flirt with new possibilities.

As a result of being stuck in a toxic relationship with a linear economy, the world is swamped by waste, pollution and a depletion in natural resources. Today’s manufacturing involves taking raw materials and processing them into products that are then thrown away after use, all contributing to a carbon footprint for environmental degradation.  With this economic relationship on the rocks and a tub of Ben & Jerry’s chilling in the fridge in anticipation, the current paradigm of the lineal economic model could be coming to an end, as the world turns its attention to a better match. For decades, one approach to sustainable development has gained traction among economists, scientists, policy-makers, activists, businessmen and women. This approach is called the circular economy.

The aim of advancing into a circular economic system is to tap into the continual use of resources, reviving products and materials at the end of each service use, to minimize and streamline end resource waste. This regenerative approach represents our best chance of being able to consume comfortably and maintain our current lifestyles.  As well as creating new opportunities for competitive growth, closing the loop will drive innovation and productivity in manufacturing processes, waste management and consumption patterns. Additionally, circularity will position the world to better address resource security and scarcity issues while protecting biodiversity. By implementing a supply chain like this, we will take positive steps towards decreasing our collective weight on the planet and increasing the life of our natural resources.  

The circular economy sits on the pedestal of the triple bottom line, an infrastructure that boosts long-term resilience, creates business and economic opportunities and delivers societal and environmental benefits through technical and biological cycles. However, in order for this model to reach prominence and implementation, a systemic shift in attitude needs to happen. We need to realise the toxicity of our current economic system because if we don’t, there won’t be “plenty more fish in the sea”.

Sustainability in Practice

In the wake of global warming, deforestation, pollution, species extinction, resource depletion and poverty, and under the scrutiny of the powerhouse, Greta Thunberg, the corporate world is now acknowledging that there is more to sustainability than just reducing energy usage. Although still in its infancy, a growing number of companies are prioritising greener initiatives on their agendas.

With the end goal of streamlining their processes to achieve operational and beyond-compliant excellence, stimulating growth and positively contributing to their value chains, companies often face challenges when trying to go green. Depending on how they approach these obstacles is what separates the mice from the men.

Misinformation is rife as the climate crisis escalates across the world, perpetrated by the marketing practice of green-washing. The damaging practice involves a discrepancy between an organisation’s sustainability claims, against their actual environmental performance. Since the 1980s, green-washing has seen a troubling evolution in popularity without showing signs of slowing down. For consumers and business owners alike; trying to navigate through sustainability truths is like an unfathomable collection of greys and although that may be heavenly for E.L James, we don’t do so well with the mid-tones. Instead, we need clarity and trustworthy sources to make informed decisions.

Sustainability is a broad discipline that is often defined as “meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs”. Often represented diagrammatically, sustainability has three main segments: social, environmental and economic. These areas of focus are informally referred to as the: people, planet and profits and when considered together, they form a compelling framework known as the Triple Bottom Line (TBL). The TBL theory recommends that companies equally split their commitment between social and environmental responsibilities as well as profits. By focusing on these three interrelated elements, the TBL framework plays an integral part in supporting a company’s sustainability goals.

A pie chart outlining the three sections of the Triple Bottom Line

Other potential areas of focus to consider in this discipline are: technical feasibility, political legitimacy and capacity building.

Alt Text: A pie chart outlining the other potential areas of focus.

In this series of posts, I will be exploring the six different areas of focus in the TBL framework, spotlighting on successful initiatives that have been implemented in businesses from varying sectors.

To conclude, if you are thinking about going sustainable, just remember that better information = better business = better planet.

From Worker to Wearer

For many years, Emma Watson has been walking the green carpet, shining a spotlight on highly fashionable and ethically conscious clothing. This exposure has rippled throughout social media, combating notions that sustainable clothes are unimaginative and full of vanilla-flavoured minimalism, whilst showcasing the importance of transparency and traceability within the fashion industry. Prompting the question: is ethical fashion finally desirable and commercially attainable?

The world is becoming more aware of our environmental and ethical footprint and these concerns are gaining genuine scale and momentum within the socioeconomic matrix. But corporate organisations don’t always practice what they preach and not all companies understand what it means to trade ethically.

Ethical trading is not just about avoiding child labour. It ultimately represents an approach to the design, sourcing and the manufacture of garments and accessories, which maximizes benefits to the workers and their communities; while minimizing the impact on the environment.  Most retailers and fashion brands do not know the actual people who make their clothing but this is not the case for the fashion company, Birdsong London.

Birdsong London was founded in 2014 and is an honest representation of ethical trading and sustainable fashion.  With a fresh and innovative take on current fashion trends, each garment is sustainably sourced and handcrafted by women local to London.

With the fashion industry often re-touching modelling shots and knowingly or unknowingly exploiting garment workers worldwide, an ethical fashion brand supporting both the worker and the wearer was born. From hiring migrant seamstresses to knitting grannies, Birdsong connects women through fashion.

The brand’s knitwear collection is made by the skilled hands at the Bradbury Center in Kingston and the Knit & Natter group in Enfield. Both groups donate revenue from their knitting to worthy causes.  And finally, the company works with skilled seamstresses to hand cut, sew and finish the garments at their workshop on Brick Lane.

It is estimated that over 60 million women worldwide, aged 18-35, work within the retail industry earning less than minimum wage. Unlike traditional retailers, Birdsong is a feminist retailer, working solely with local women’s groups and charities to produce wearable and on-trend clothing with a mind to the future.

The workers are all paid a London living wage, have access to a range of holistic support services and between 30 and 50 per cent of the sale profit goes back into these groups and their chosen charities.

“Fashion is our worst enemy but also our best mate. Loads of women workers are exploited for the sake of covering our bums in fabric – beautiful, inspiring fabric but still, not cool when you think about it,”

Birdsong London

The London based brand want to revolutionize the way people dress and the company works under the promise of no sweatshop, no Photoshop®. Modeled by women, their organic sweatshirts and t-shirts are hand-painted by a group of low-income migrant mothers based in Tower Hamlets, London. The women spend the day fine painting for Birdsong, while their children attend school. 

Not only does Birdsong London directly provide women with employment, they are a pro-active and forward-thinking company that lives and breathes ethical sourcing. With the boost from grants and the experience of the ‘Year Here’ program for social entrepreneurs, the company has channeled thousands of pounds into women’s organisations in London, from funding retirement home improvements in Enfield to contributing to sewing classes in Bow.

In light of the fantastic and progressive work that Birdsong London is doing, are the days of fast-fashion numbered, and are there enough people and organisations that think ethically and are prepared to vote with their wallets?

The Wins and Woes of Wearing Wool

Since BBC’s Blue Planet shocked viewers by showing the disastrous environmental effects of single-use plastics and Stacey Dooley’s equally as damning documentary named Fashion’s Dirty Secrets, consumers are becoming more ethically aware. While it is nearly impossible to buy products that are 100% sustainable, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. One way we can buy more consciously is choosing to invest our cash in clothing made from biodegradable textiles.

Biodegradability is integral to the environment. Products that biodegrade are part of the natural cycle. They come from nature and decompose back into nature, enriching the soil and nourishing new life. According to studies, in the UK alone, around 350,000 tonnes of used clothing and 370,000 tonnes of carpets end up in landfills every year.

Comparing natural and synthetic fibres is like comparing apples and oranges. Synthetic textiles are man-made and are created using chemical synthesis to produce fibres like Nylon, Acrylic and Polyester. As they are chemically bonded, synthetic fibres are not biodegradable. According to Down 2 Earth Materials, nylon clothing can take a whopping 30-40 years to decompose in a landfill site.

Unlike synthetic fabrics, natural fibres originate from natural sources like plants or animals and, as a result, are breathable, non-depleting and biodegradable. A prominent example of a natural and renewable fibre is wool. If you are at peace with the fact that wool derives from animals such as sheep, alpacas and llamas, then choosing to invest in this fabric is a clever environmental choice, as decomposition life expectancy is a shorter 1-5 years.

In an article from May 2018, Environmental Fashion Campaigner, Livia Firth reported on Tasmania’s wool production. After meeting with wool farmers, Firth reported that their “careful approach to land conservation and sustainable wool production was inspiring”. While she acknowledged that not all wool production is as thoughtful, she considered it important to shine a light on the companies that are providing a better blueprint for sustainable production. Amongst the controversies of wool production, is the practice of mulesing which still remains an ethical dilemma. Mulesing involves the removal of wool-bearing skin from around the tail-end of the animal to prevent parasitic infections. However, as reported, farming companies are currently looking for kinder approaches to this, for example, using painkillers when performing the necessary procedure. For Firth, it still poses as a justifiable predicament as although “it is not a nice practice, but when done properly, it can save a sheep’s life”.

Like many other textiles – natural or synthetic, wool has a slew of environmental foibles due to the increasing demand of fast-fashion. In larger production, pesticide use, greenhouse gas emissions, the washing, dyeing and treatment of the wool are the areas that can leave a tainted and unsustainable footprint. However, Firth was convinced that, when compared to the evils of synthetic fibres, wool came out on top because man-made materials shed microplastics each time they are washed and as a result they are not compostable.

When stripped back to basics, wool can be a planet-friendly fibre. Sheep are part of the planet’s natural carbon cycle, consuming the organic carbon stored in plants and converting it into wool. As a result, 50% of wool’s weight is that of pure and organic carbon. In addition, woolen textiles are not only the most recyclable but, if cared for, age well, meaning that they are an investment and, therefore, more likely to be treasured and worn for longer than a synthetic textile.   Finally, woolen textile products tend to be washed by hand, less frequently and at lower temperatures, resulting in reduced water usage.

 If you are an environmentally conscious consumer who is looking to invest in a quality textile with a relatively green footprint then wool, with its warts and all, may be a really good option.

The Kinks Were Right About Our Planet

The Kinks Apeman “Back to Back hits” Record, Credit: Lambert

Stories spiced with juicy and scabrous anecdotes are inherent to the debauched, carefree lifestyle of rock stars and I wonder if their charm would be the same otherwise. Throughout much of the 20th century, Rock ‘n’ Roll saw the rooster-haired vocalist Rod Stewart and his band The Faces, trash countless hotel rooms, Ozzy Osborne snorting ants and excited groupies embroiled in sexual acts with band members. But were they all bad boys?

Although the genre was responsible for the rise in recreational drug use, anti-social behaviour and the practice of unsafe sex, it also caused raucous but necessary drifts from societal expectations, by tackling social causes using the common, hippy themes of love and peace: During the 1950s, Rock ‘n’ Roll proved its global importance during the Civil Rights Movement by heralding the way to desegregation in America and notably, John Lennon was vocal in his anti-war sentiment, “Imagine” which has stood the test of time as an abstract evocation of peace.

One of the most influential rock bands of the era, The Kinks were no strangers to challenging issues of importance. In 1970, the band released their eighth studio album, Lola versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One, from which the featured song “Apeman” reached No. 5 on the UK singles chart. The song lays bare Ray Davies’ wishes to leave his fast-paced urbanized lifestyle because the “air pollution is fogging up my eyes”, in order to revert back to a simpler, pre-evolutionary state. He discusses his desire to escape the “over-population and inflation and starvation and the crazy politicians”. Although goofy in delivery, the hippy sentiment leaves a sting to be remembered when he sings, “I don’t want to live in this world no more, I want to sail away to a distant shore and make like an Apeman”.

The hit was released during a wave of environmentalism in the United States and Great Britain, and it soon became an anthem for sustainable activism. It is fitting that in the same year, Earth Day was founded. “Apeman” is now approaching its 50th anniversary and its meaning is still incredibly relevant today; reminding the world that we need to continue acting on sustainable change, in order to have a better future.

Few things can capture a movement quite like music and for over half a century, Rock ‘n’ Roll has led a rich seam of eco-conscious artists who have brought awareness to climate change, sustainability, political and social issues. The genre has not only produced some of the greatest artists of all time, but it has proven that honest lyricism and unparalleled instrumentation is all we need to spark the sort of change that will last for generations.

All in all, The Kinks were right about our planet: the air pollution is fogging up our eyes and it’s about time we did something about it.