Social Media Influencers and Sustainability: An Interview with Sustainable Valerie
Social media has provided a platform for positive messages and viral content to be spread. More recently, social media has increased awareness about the sustainability movement, with more and more individuals using their voice to spread sustainability messages and tips.
With over 4,000 instagram followers, Sustainable Valerie is not just any ordinary social media influencer. Based in Perth Australia, she focuses on a specific aspect of sustainability known as sustainable minimalism, spreading useful advice on low-waste and intentional living.
In this interview, we discuss the rise of sustainable influencers, the importance of authenticity, how to approach climate deniers and much more!
So just to start off, when and how did you start your sustainability journey?
I think it really started when I attended this talk about plastic waste and recognising the extent of the crisis, like how animals are dying because of the excessive amount of plastic waste. But back then I didn’t take it super seriously, so I only did things like swap my plastic toothbrush to a bamboo toothbrush and bring my reusable bag everywhere.
Apart from that I didn't do too much. It was only a year and a half ago when I was watching “Our Planet”, particularly the episode that showed walruses having to migrate onto land due to melting icebergs. And because it was so overcrowded some had to go up cliffs. As a result, many tumbled and fell to their deaths when attempting to go hunting for fish. It was that scene that really moved me and got me thinking about how I could do more to help the animals; I felt that it was so selfish of us human beings to exploit our resources like that and cause other beings on this planet to suffer because of our actions.
What is the most struggling thing about being a sustainable blogger/influencer?
Probably that feeling that you’re not doing enough. I feel like when you’re starting out you may feel like “oh as long as I stop using straws or bring my own containers the more I’ll change the world”, but the more you go down that rabbit hole the more you realise that individual action isn’t enough - you need to think about ways you can promote more systemic change.
In your opinion, how do you think social media influencers are paving the way to spread sustainability messages?
I do think there are 2 sides to this. I think a lot of people will go into zero waste space/minimalism for the aesthetic, where people are really drawn to things like reusable cotton bags and nice glass jars in their pantry. I think what's important is balancing the two; it's more than the aesthetic of zero waste and minimalism. The core message is about how your actions are impacting the environment, so whenever you do something just have a think about it. Is buying brand new glass jars just so your pantry looks nice the most sustainable option, compared to just reusing your old glass jars? Social media influencers that do highlight the fact that it's more than the aesthetics of sustainability are the influencers that I strive more to become.
Is there any sustainability topic or area that you’d like to learn more about or become an expert in?
At the moment the most confident aspect of sustainability I have is probably with recycling and low waste living. I’ve never been someone who speaks into politics, but now I’m starting to realise that if I want systemic change it's about speaking to MPs, governments, and people in power. I’d also like to understand intersectional environmentalism a bit more, such as how environmentalism and racism go hand in hand. So yeah, those are areas I’d like to become an expert in.
Are there current influencers that share/promote that awareness that you know of?
@Greengirlleah on instagram is someone I look up to, and also Lauren E Diaz who runs a podcast known as ‘Eco Chic’. She touches on so many different aspects of sustainability and sparks conversations in other people.
What would you say are your current favourite eco friendly products or brands?
Probably the most life changing one at the moment are my reusable pads. I started using them about a year ago and they’re so much more comfortable and less irritable than disposable ones. The ones that I use are from a local brand from where I’m based in Perth, and they’re called Henry & Martha handmade. They’re a really small business with just a facebook page and yeah their pads are really good quality. I also really like Ethique’s shampoo bars and Naked Asian Grocer, who’ve recently launched asian ingredients in eco-friendly packaging - it’s really hard to find asian ingredients that don’t come in plastic packaging so it’s really cool that they do that.
How important do you think authenticity is to the message you are trying to get across to your audience?
Oh extremely important! You don’t want people to dive into this journey without realising it’s challenges. The more your audience is aware of the ups and downs associated with this kind of lifestyle, it makes it more approachable for them.
Do you sometimes feel like it is difficult to be authentic on a platform that is rooted in selling across a certain image?
Yes definitely. Even though I do mention in my story/posts that I’m not perfect, I feel like I’m just saying it rather than showing it. Whenever I’m buying something with plastic packaging I don’t whip out my phone and say “look at me I’m buying this with plastic packaging”. I think there needs to be a balance where you also share the unsustainable habits you do to make people realise that you don’t have to stick to this perfect standard.
Do you see a shift and rise in sustainable influencers and bloggers ?
I have asked myself that question, is there truly a rise in businesses and individuals who are more aware of the environment, or is it just because I’m invested in this space? But I do feel that there is a rise in eco-consciousness within governments, and just a lot more initiatives that governments and big corporations are starting to implement. People can see that there is this trend in environmentalism. I do follow a few podcasts and blogs that talk about running businesses, and a lot of these people outside of the sustainability space have also mentioned that environmentalism is becoming more and more present in society.
Is it difficult to find brands who align with your values to collaborate with?
Whenever brands reach out to me, I do my research first before saying yes to them. I’d say 80% of the people who reach out to me do have sustainability and ethicality at heart. More businesses are becoming aware of how their actions impact the environment, so no it hasn’t been too hard for me to collaborate with brands who align with my values!
As you are a climate activist, how would you approach climate deniers?
I’m someone who doesn’t like confrontation, but I feel like I should be able to stand my ground and voice out what's true or not. I’m not eloquent enough to give facts and statistics to support my argument, but I’m lucky enough that I haven’t come across too many. I tend to say to them “there could be truth in that, but have you gone about it this way?”. I feel like if I was more confident in my facts, I could be able to convince them otherwise.
I also do believe to lead by example. For example my parents were quite hesitant to recycle more things at the start, but just showing them how easy it can be can definitely help al ot instead of just lecturing people!
What will be the sustainable future of our planet?
In an ideal world, there’d be less people eating meat and companies taking responsibility with their packaging and inventing sustainable products - even from the start of the production line where they should be aware of the amount of resources they use, what they use, and their waste management. There’d also be individuals who realise their actions impact the environment, so hopefully less climate deniers.
Lastly, what's one sustainability tip or message that you’d like to share?
I think understanding that it's okay to start small, so basically whatever you feel comfortable with doing. Some of my friends have noticed whenever I get bubble tea I’ll bring my own straw and jar, and they complain that carrying around a jar is too heavy but they’re okay with bringing their own straw. Once they do that, they can see how easy it is to carry your own straw, then a jar won’t be too much harder. Just slowly along the way you build up momentum, where one small action can lead to bigger actions and bigger changes.