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Sustainability Burnout Is Real. Here Are Easy Tips For Going Green & Keeping It Up

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Our planet is in big, big trouble. If that thought sends chills down your spine, good — everyone should be concerned about the state of the environment. A recently published report done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) revealed the alarming extent that human activities have dramatically contributed to extensive and unprecedented changes to the land, air, earth, and sea; like a significant hike in global greenhouse gas emissions, which can be directly linked to sea levels rising to dangerous heights, an increase in inclement weather (tropical cyclones, hurricanes, droughts, and more), acute food and water insecurity, and an overall decrease in the quality of life for many people around the world. Like I said, big trouble.
With climate change occurring so rapidly and so severely in every part of the planet, it’s natural to feel frightened or even in despair. We only have one earth to live on, and space technology isn’t quite developed enough yet for us to live among the stars a la Interstellar, Passengers, or Zenon: Girl of the 21st Century. (Also, whether you believe that aliens exist or not, space colonization is still colonization — very bad.) This really is the only home that we have, and we’re not taking care of it. But, as terrifying as the thought of the earth legitimately melting each passing day is, now is not the time to fall into a state of helplessness. Climate change is real, but it’s also reversible. It’ll just take a lot of effort on a systemic and individual level.
Don’t be intimidated by that effort, says Timi Komonibo, a sustainability expert and influencer (and my sister!) who’s been creating original content about pursuing a minimal waste (a fusion of zero-waste living and minimalism) lifestyle since 2015. Like many people who are now actively advocating for eco-friendly efforts, Komonibo’s sustainability journey began when she first noticed the extreme consequences of human activities on the environment in real time. Years ago, during a mission trip to Reynosa, Mexico, she came across a small town that also doubled as a landfill. Seeing adults, children, and animals living among mountains of trash was shocking, and Komonibo wondered how and why the officials weren’t doing more to immediately address and remedy the civilians’ low quality of living. She looked deeper into the situation and found, just as the IPCC’s 2023 study reported, that the community was being severely affected by human and machine-made pollution that they weren’t actively contributing to. The trash accumulated all around them wasn’t their doing, but they were suffering because of it. 
Komonibo knows that she’s just one person, and climate change is a systemic issue that is beyond the carelessness of individuals; the warming of our planet is a clear consequence of capitalism. From oil and gas companies rapidly increasing their usage of fossil fuels and building new pipelines around the world, to housing developments bulldozing rainforests to build condos and shopping complexes, to companies using excessive wrapping for their products (like plastic and other nonrecyclable materials), to governments actively using policy to sign off and reward these corporate capitalistic endeavors, the biggest burden of slowing, stopping, or even reversing climate change must lay on the shoulders of the corporate entities contributing to it the most. 
Still, Komonibo reminds us, if we see climate change as the human rights issue that it is, then we as people living on this earth also have to be responsible and accountable for it. 
“We were given this earth to steward over it,” Komonibo stresses. “It’s our responsibility to take care of it. When I think about some of the things that have been done to our planet  — the habitual destruction of natural habitats of people and of animals — I realize that we have the potential to do so much damage. Sustainability is a collaborative community effort to prevent further harm.”

As Black people, and as Black people who are the children of immigrants, we grew up living lives that were sustainable but didn’t necessarily fit the mainstream look of sustainability. It’s embedded in us.

timi komonibo
Before you start rolling your eyes and grumbling about Teslas and paper straws (I feel you, though. There has to be a better way to save the turtles than paper straws!), it’s important to emphasize that going and living green isn’t something that’s foreign to Black people by any means. Across the diaspora, Black people have been practicing sustainability to some degree for ages. Pop culture would have you believe that green lifestyles are exclusively for privileged white crunchy granola types who live on a commune in the middle of nowhere with no electricity and grow everything they eat, but the reality is that sustainability and eco-consciousness are actually sewn into the very fabric of our day-to-day living. Your mom forcing you to wear your older siblings’ and cousins’ hand-me-downs (or sending your clothes and shoes overseas to your family back home), reusing old Tupperware until it’s permanently stained, repurposing grocery store bags into anything from bathroom trash bags to makeshift lunch bags, turning off the lights in rooms — all of that is sustainability.  
“Over time, the sustainability movement somehow became more about aesthetics, and it came to be associated with status and wealth, with buying things to show that you were concerned about the environment,” says Komonibo. “As Black people, and as Black people who are the children of immigrants, we grew up living lives that were sustainable but didn’t necessarily fit the mainstream look of sustainability. It’s embedded in us.”
It might feel difficult to start living a greener lifestyle overnight, but Komonibo maintains that this environmentally-friendly pivot is probably much simpler than you think; if you have a drawer in your kitchen dedicated solely to ketchup and hot sauce packets, or if you’ve ever found a sewing kit in a cookie tin, sustainability is already in you. Just ahead of Earth Day, here are four simple but meaningful steps that you can take to practice sustainability today.

Decide which aspect of sustainability matters most to you

Thinking about your role in the fate of the planet can be stressful. You’re just one person — how can you stop climate change all on your own? The truth is that you simply can’t do it by yourself. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything. The key to tapping into sustainability is to get in where you fit in, and go from there. Baby steps, people. Baby steps. 
“People tend to experience burnout when it comes to sustainability because they try to care about so many things at the same time and end up feeling overwhelmed and immobilized by all the issues at hand,” Komonibo says. “You have to figure out your ‘why.’ Which part of sustainability resonates the most with you, and why? Do you care about the ethics of sustainability — how people are being treated? Or are you more moved by the economics of sustainability — how cost-effective it is to reuse your Chinese takeout containers as lunch boxes? Once you’ve figured that out, it’s easier to focus your efforts.”

Green up your personal care routine 

For Komonibo, the easiest first step into sustainability was to start by switching out some of the items in her personal care arsenal, focusing specifically on products that were made from nontoxic (to humans and to the environment) ingredients as well as those that didn’t produce as much waste. More brands are going green these days, and you have many quality alternatives to add into your routine. 
“I personally wanted bath and beauty products to be nontoxic and come with less packaging, so I had to do some research on greener options,” she explains. “Lotion that’s not in a bottle but comes in a bar, bar soap instead of body wash, toothpaste tabs instead of in tubes, bamboo toothbrushes, period cups — almost everything that you already use has a more sustainable, more environmentally-friendly option.”
And if you have access to a washer and dryer, starting your sustainability journey might be as simple as doing your laundry. Not just the pile of clothes that’s been staring at you from the corner of the room for days, though, Komonibo laughs, but swapping one-time usage products for things that can be washed in the load like cloth napkins, period panties, or bamboo cotton rounds. These things are made to be used over and over again and are just as effective as single-use options.

Ditch the Uber & get on the bus

“I don’t like driving to begin with, so I’ve always preferred to live in places where I don't have to drive myself around,” Komonibo admits sheepishly. “When I lived in places like Washington D.C., I loved the fact that I could get on the train or on the bus and get where I needed to go. Those options streamlined transportation not just for me but for a ton of other people, all without all of us individually putting more toxins into the air.”
I get it: public transportation kinda sucks. As someone who's lived in New York City for seven years, I’m prone to picking an Uber Black over somebody’s MTA every single time. (It’s just easier!) But the consequences of everyone opting for a solo car ride are clear; stateside, the transportation sector is the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and all of these cars on the road aren’t helping. If you live in a city where public transportation is feasible — the infrastructure planning and budgets of many American cities unfortunately prioritize passenger cars over public transit, and many public transit options across the country are consequently underfunded and in need of overhaul — you should really consider folding it into your weekly routine.

Limit your fast fashion consumption

By now, we all know that the rise of fast fashion over the years has been a contentious subject in the sustainability space. The fast fashion industry is among the most egregious environmental pollutants, producing more than 10% of the world’s total carbon emissions while consuming the second highest amount of the world’s water supply. (Not to mention the disturbing labor rights violations that are common in the factories producing these products.) At the same time, we can’t deny that while fast fashion’s popularity can be linked to hyperconsumerism, it’s also directly connected to issues of class and inclusivity; people lean more into fast fashion brands because they’re simply more accessible than most ethically ethical providers.
Knowing this, Komonibo doesn’t believing in demonizing fast fashion. Her suggestion? Clothing swaps. 
“I used to really love fast fashion,” she recalls. “I used to love trying on a new look, but if I wore something a lot, I wouldn’t want to be seen in pictures wearing it again. So instead of throwing things away, I loved borrowing clothes. I’m the middle sister of three sisters, and I used to borrow clothes from my older and younger sisters. I’ve been swapping clothes my entire life, but it never occurred to me how sustainable and good for the environment that was.” (It’s true: she owns countless dresses of mine while I’ve stashed away tops and sweaters from her!)
“When I realized that I could do it with more people, I started hosting clothing swaps with my friends. I personally prefer it to going thrifting because you know where the clothes are coming from, and it’s a way to reduce your carbon footprint while still expanding your closet.” 
Unbothered’s High Impact is rewriting the rules of wellness, wealth, and weed for Black women and femmes with real and dynamic conversations that put US at the center.

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