You hear a lot about being more “eco-friendly,” but what does it really mean to make environmentally sustainable choices, from everything from what you eat to what you wear?

New AExME Council member Maya Penn – a three-time TED Speaker, activist, filmmaker, and award-winning founder and CEO of sustainable fashion brand Maya’s Ideas – breaks down for us how your choices (big and small!) affect the planet. Plus she provides tips on making your closet more mindful of Mother Earth, including choosing clothes made with more sustainable raw materials, like AE’s Real Good Collection.

Maya’s Top 3 Tips for Living a More Sustainable Life

1. Upcycle! Whether DIYing old clothes or turning plastic waste into an art project, find new ways to turn stuff you already have into something new and amazing.

2. Conserve! This could be as simple as turning off the lights when you leave a room or unplugging an electronic device you’re not currently using.

3. Be Creative! Discover new ways to make swaps in your life that are more eco-friendly, from everything from your skincare routine to what you wear and eat.

An Interview With Maya

Why does environmental sustainability matter?

Everything we do has an impact not only on our planet, but on us, too. Environmental issues are more humanitarian than we may realize. Micro-plastics from ocean pollution can show up in our food. Air pollution can cause health conditions like asthma. Climate change isn’t something to worry about in the future, because right now it’s already causing spikes in irregular and extreme weather patterns and natural disasters like hurricanes, which impact so many communities. Climate change is also affecting agriculture, and what kind of crops we can grow for food and clothing. Even though all of those examples can be scary, the awesome news is everyone has the power to help turn things around, and shape a greener future by living in a more eco-friendly way and advocating for environmental sustainability.  

How do you define “eco-fashion”?

Eco-fashion is about looking at the “life cycle” of your clothing (yes, your clothes have a life cycle!) and how you can extend it and make it less impactful on the planet. The design: starting with natural materials like cotton, hemp, and bamboo, or recycling materials like post-consumer plastic into a new design. The production: using production methods that reduce energy and water consumption. The wear: instead of throwing an item away because it has a small tear in it, look up tutorials on how to sew and mend your clothing. Then the next cycle: If you want to switch it up, go for a DIY project that will revamp an old favorite. Donate to a take-back program to have old items recycled into something new. There are so many ways to incorporate eco-friendly practices into your fashion. 

When it comes to what you wear, how do you practice sustainability?

My wardrobe is full of clothes that are either sustainably made, thrifted, or vintage, and of course I wear a lot of my own designs and accessories I’ve created since they’re eco-friendly and made from organic, recycled, or vintage materials.

What are some small (and BIG!) things we can all do to be more environmentally friendly?

There are so many things you can do that make a huge difference that the list is nearly endless! Trying meatless Monday, upcycling, planting a pollinator garden, turning off lights when you leave a room to conserve electricity when possible, and so much more. While you’re at it be sure to encourage and educate others on how to live more environmentally friendly. It’s also important to note that individual change and systemic change go hand-in-hand to make a lasting impact, and this is where being politically engaged, voting in presidential and state elections, filling out the census, calling and emailing local leaders, etc. are ways to make your voice heard and advocate for the eco-friendly future you want for your country (and ultimately the world!). 

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