Now in Our Sustainable Marketplace!
Guest Blog: “Sustainability and Community” by owner and creator of Atelier E , Emily Peters.
Community. It’s something we all crave, and for those of us who are deeply immersed in the sustainability and regenerative lifestyles, it is an integral part of the way it works. Without community, living just isn’t sustainable. Our individual choices feed into concentric and interwoven rings of communities. In our globalized and technology-infused worlds, our communities include those that are: local, regional, national, international, virtual, spiritual, holistic, and educational.
I am very grateful for all the circles of community that I call home. Over the eleven years I’ve been in business sustainably, I have been a part of many varied communities in an effort to connect more fully in the name of doing better for our Earth. In the beginning, there weren’t many options for gathering with the collective purpose of sustainability and regenerative living, especially in the form of retail. Both virtual and brick and mortar storefronts with the Earth at the center of their mission statements were hard to find. So, I found communities that were related . . . like local permaculture projects, land and food justice groups, “farmers” and makers markets, Earth and nature-centered spiritual groups, and herbalism communities. Without these communities, I would have felt isolated and alone in a harder-to-access lifestyle choice, and my business would have fallen into stagnancy and non-existence without their support.
In the earlier years of Atelier E’s inception, I even started a virtual community of my own, called Et Bon, which was a sustainable buying guide. It featured retail businesses that were trying to do better for the Earth. In those days, Green was the buzzword, and green-washing was just budding its sneaky head into society. I wanted a shopping guide that clearly laid out the ways in which each business was sustainable because there are so many ways and they don’t often all come in one package, especially not back then. For those who are just entering the sustainable lifestyle, some of those ways are:
- Ethical: doing business in a way that in some way benefits or improves the quality of life for those either directly engaged in creating the product, or indirectly affected by the creation of the product. For example, providing high-quality housing, education, nutrition or other resources for the workers who create the product beings sold.
- Sustainable: business practices can be foreseeably sustained. For instance, raw materials are not over-harvested and are acquired in a way that doesn’t harm the Earth.
- Regenerative: goes beyond sustainability and contributes to the regeneration of ecosystems, societal structures, and communities.
- Fair Trade: providing equitable payment for the goods being sold
- Artisan made: made by skilled crafts-people. This term can be misleading because the artisans are not always paid a fair and livable wage, and these businesses can be a perpetuation of the colonial and white-supremacist social structure that dominates world culture. By all means, support artisans from all walks of life (I am an artisan, but am white and live in a so-called ‘first world’ country), but research the company reselling these goods thoroughly. If there is any way to purchase from the artisans directly, and not through a middle-man, find it and follow-through.
- Natural: not man-made. This term can be misleading because ‘natural’ does not always mean non-toxic or not harmful. Cotton is a good example of this, as it is natural, but demands heavy pesticide usage and tons of water. If you want to go full sustainability on your cotton purchases, look for organic cotton.
- Non-toxic: made with materials that don’t harm the Earth, the water, land, plants, animals or humans. Toxicity is mainly an issue in the production phases, but can be a concern in the end-user phase, especially in the cosmetics and cleaning industries. An example of production phase toxicity are chemicals used in both tanning leather hides and in making pleather, or vegan leather, which can cause many severe health conditions (please see my article The True Cost of Cheap). End-user toxic chemicals are most commonly found in cosmetics, soaps and household cleaning products. That list is so long that I suggest a visit to the Environmental Working Group website, EWG.org.
- Organic: growing the plant or raising the animal in natural and non-toxic ways that either don’t harm the Earth, or do less harm, or do as little harm as possible.
- Recycled: the materials used to create the product have been broken down to create a new product
- Reclaimed/Upcycled: the materials used to create the product have been reused
- Green: can be any number of these terms, but if the manufacturer or brand isn’t transparent about the ways in which they are doing things in a greener way, then better to do deeper research and ask the company to list their ‘green’ practices publicly.
- Zero-waste: producing or living in such a way that nothing is wasted, or as little is wasted as possible
Well, to complete my story from above, Et Bon met a fate that is unfortunately familiar to many sustainability guides, hubs and marketplaces, because it wasn’t financially sustainable. While I am hyper-creative, and well-versed and deeply educated in sustainable art and design, I have a hard time with business – understanding it, navigating it, executing it, etc. Which is why my heart skipped a beat when I came across a sustainable business hub called Live Creative Studio.
The hub features resources for sustainable businesses, a blog for us to educate each other in the business and our clients, a lifestyle section, and a marketplace. Live Creative Studio is a complete one-stop gathering space for sustainability that brings both businesses and consumers together to prosper and proliferate. I am honored to have been welcomed in with open arms, and I am
just bursting to see how this community will unfold together, uplift each other, and bring our common passion – sustainability – more strongly into the mainstream and the mass consciousness. The industrial age has lasted over 140 years now, and modern living has done quite a lot of damage to our Earth, to its people, plants and animals. Unfortunately, the people who are most impacted by dirty, toxic and unsustainable production practices are Brown and Black. These populations are, more often than not, within the poverty spectrum, marginalized, and underserved. As a result, they are often also unheard. We have work to do, my friends, and that work likely won’t often be easy, comfortable or fast. However, if we want to live in a world that is healthy in every way, do it we must. This is work that will be so much easier the more we come together in community to engage in conversation and in direct action. This is work that has so much potential for being even more beautiful, worthwhile, valuable, and inclusive than it already is.
Thankfully, technology and science are beginning to integrate ways that are healthier, more sustainable, and even regenerative. At the same time, whole local and regional communities are also moving towards pre-industrial and pre-colonial ways of living. That’s right! Off-grid living is no longer only for Preparationists! (A Preparationist – or Prepper – is someone who is certain that the end of the world as we know it is near, and are preparing). This is not only serious business, but also successful business. These growers, farmers, makers, and artists are doing regeneratively amazing things in their fields. In the fashion tech realms, ecofriendly fabrics manufacturers are finding ways to reuse previously troublesome waste-streams, access regenerative and earth friendly raw materials like pineapple, cactus, and even kombucha SCOBY. As the technology advances, the old ways are making a parallel come-back in the fashion worlds too. Many artisans are immersing fully into ancestral ways of growing, spinning, weaving, knitting, dye-ing and making. Some brands are integrating both science and the old ways.
In my own business, my practices are decidedly more on the side of old world production methods. It took time, patience and perseverance to arrive in these old ways. Since I didn’t have access to capital for Atelier E, I did my best with what resources I could access at each stage of my business development. Atelier E has evolved from a handmade jewelry company featuring non-traditional wire wrapping and crystal gemstone beads – which is only eco-friendly in-so-far-as I hand-made very limited editions and used pull-marketing methods – to a fully sustainable studio. When I began my business, those non-ecofriendly materials were what I had and that’s where I could afford to start. Although I dreamed of being able to afford to venture into much more sustainable and Earth-friendly materials, I did the work until I built up the capital to invest in recycled, reclaimed, and conflict-free sheet metals and eco-friendly fabrics for a clothing line. Now, 11-plus years later, Atelier E is a fully eco-friendly artisan workshop which integrates sustainability, reclamation, and zero-waste practices. I chose the name Atelier E because, although I am not French nor do I speak the language beyond a few commonly used words in general western society and the fashion industry, the word atelier refers to not just a studio, but an artisan workshop. And the E does dual duty, as my name starts with this letter and begins the words Ecofriendly, Earth, and Environmentalist.
I truly hope that something, anything at all, inspires you who are reading now to integrate one more environmentally friendly practice into your life or your business or both. In the beginning, I know these changes can look intimidating, too expensive, or not worthwhile. They don’t have to be this way, and often they only have that appearance when we’re swimming in a current that seems to be the most populated and going only one way. Swimming in the environmentally friendly stream can be easy, and the more we all jump in and embrace sustainable and regenerative living, the easier and more accessible it will become. So come on in! The water is clean.