Sparking an ‘ECOrenaissance’: An insider’s guide to sustainability

The cover of “ECOrenaissance: A Lifestyle Guide for Cocreating a Stylish, Sexy, and Sustainable World.” (© Courtesy of Marci Zaroff)

You’ve read about plastic drinking straws choking the oceans. You’ve heard about the human cost of your affordable shrimp — not to mention the toll on the environment. Even your holiday shopping is a climate-change culprit.

While public awareness of critical environmental issues is at an all-time high — “green” is officially mainstream — the trickiest part can be deciding where you, the individual, should start.

A new book, “ECOrenaissance: A Lifestyle Guide for Cocreating a Stylish, Sexy, and Sustainable World” by environmental pioneer Marci Zaroff is here to help you with that. Zaroff, a 30-year veteran of the industry (and coiner of the now ubiquitous term, “ecofashion,” back in 1995), offers up her insider knowledge on who and what to watch, read, listen to, eat, make, buy and wear to live an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Human Nature sat down with Zaroff to learn more.

Question: After all your work with big brands such as Whole Foods and Target, why did you decide to write a book for the individual?

Answer: What I’ve seen in my almost three decades as an eco-warrior is that for most human beings, when something resonates with them, and they feel good about a decision, they change their belief systems, and ultimately, their behavior.

What we’re experiencing right now is that more people are reflecting on what really matters to them, especially in the context of the world that we live in and that they’re leaving for their children and their children’s children. Through their social commentary and purchasing choices, individuals are voting with their dollars, changing how companies operate and plan for their futures in order to stay relevant. Consumers are expecting — and even demanding —transparency and accountability like never before.

Q: How should people use your book, and what do you hope they take away from it?

A: I explored all the different sectors of lifestyle, similar to spokes in the wheel of change within popular culture, to bring people into the ECOrenaissance journey and movement. I offer inspiration, guidance and easy fun tips, such as podcasts, what to look out for on labels, documentaries to even and brands to check out.  In each one of my chapters, I interviewed five to seven people that I call my “Illuminartists”— the modern-day Michelangelos of the ECOrenaissance. Did you know that notables like Rosario Dawson, Stella McCartney, Amber Valletta, Lauren Bush Lauren and Alysia Reiner are leading by example — using their platforms to spread positive and powerful messages of making a difference, while becoming game-changing forces in the design world?

On a larger scale, it’s important for people to recognize that you don’t have to give up accessibility, affordability or authenticity in order to embrace sustainability. You just have to know where to go and how to find better products, companies and services.

Marci Zaroff. (© Sarah Marthinsen)

Q: For someone overwhelmed by all of these “green” choices, where would you tell them to start?

A: Well, I think if you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our first basic need as human beings is food. So, it’s not uncommon that the way people enter this world is generally by learning something about the food they’re eating — where it comes from, how it was grown, who it was grown by. That’s a great place to start, and a perfect representation of how accessibility and “farm to table” dining is absolutely shifting into the mainstream. Suggested: Superstores, such as Costco, Target and Walmart, are beginning to carry foods that are produced in sustainable ways. You don’t have to go out of your way to find eco-friendly foods, just check labels. In fact, “superstores” such as Costco, Target, Walmart and Amazon, which recently acquired Whole Foods, are offering more and more certified foods produced in sustainable ways. And not only are more retailers offering eco-friendly foods(and the internet has further propelled these offerings), but more people are connecting with the source of food by growing their own, shopping at farmers markets, supporting online at-home delivery services and/or joining co-operatives.

In the food chapter, I start with general guidelines about how to approach healthy, holistic eating:

Sustainability depends on enjoyment — new habits will only last if we take pleasure in them. It all comes down to bringing love back into our relationship with what we eat, and having true appreciation for the source of our food.

Most of the time living an eco-friendly lifestyle is actually much easier, and much more fun, than we might expect. Today, you don’t have to seek out some obscure eco-boutique, you can go in to these corner stores and they’re lining the shelves with eco-friendly beauty products. Just look at stores you most likely already frequent, like your local CVS or Duane Reade or Walgreens.

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Q: You’ve had a front-row seat to the industry’s changes over the years. What do you hope the future looks like?

A: My vision has always been for the “norm” to become the “alternative” and for the “alternative” to become the “norm.” I believe that we can change the world with creativity, connection, community, collaboration and consciousness — the pillars of the ECOrenaissance.

When you’re buying food, you absolutely want it to taste delicious, but why shouldn’t it also be healthy, nutritious and produced in an eco-friendly way? Or if you’re drawn to a beauty product by its awesome scent and functional claims, wouldn’t you want to know that it’s truly nourishing and free of harmful chemicals as well? And if the future of fashion is ecofashion, you can be stylish while also making a difference to human and environmental wellness, farmer and worker welfare and future generations. Why not look good, feel good and do good in the world? From source to story, we can have it all.

Sophie Bertazzo is a senior editor at Conservation International.

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