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Women in sustainability are powerful and intelligent, using their voices to warn us of the consequences our actions have on the planet. Sadly, women are overlooked in a lot of industries, including politics and environmental science. International women’s day is the ideal time to remind ourselves of the awareness women have raised about climate change. Women are crucial in the development of vital solutions to the climate crisis. Without women, the sustainability industry would look very different.
We have curated a list of female sustainability and social justice icons that have changed the way society thinks about the environment.
Caroline Lucas has been the leader of the Green Party in the UK since 2010. The Green party is the only political party in the UK prioritising the earth in all of its decisions and policies. In every general election, Caroline has gained an increasing amount of support. She has continued to fight for climate change to be widely recognised as a problem for many years. Despite other political events such as Brexit overshadowing the climate crisis in news outlets, Lucas’s focus remains on the environment.
She may not be in the sustainability industry, but Zarifa Ghafari is an incredible woman. In November 2019, she became mayor of Maidan Shahr, capital city of the Wardak Province, Afghanistan. Zarifa was the youngest Mayor ever to be appointed at the age of 26. She is well known for advocating for women’s rights in Afghanistan.
There were multiple protests from local politicians about her age and gender. Her position as Mayor was delayed by nine months until the protests calmed down. Sadly, she was faced with an angry group of men who stormed her office on her first day of work. She received assassination and death threats, making it too dangerous for her to reside in the city. She moved to a town nearby for her own safety. Despite the adversity she faced, she remained Mayor and a role model to women in her town.
Kolbert is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, and observer and commentator on environmentalism for The New Yorker. She is one of the most influential authors on the Anthropocene. Representing women in environmental science, Elizabeth was a member of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board from 2017-2020. She continues her career as a writer, warning people of the impact of human life on the planet.
Born in 1970, Naomi Klein is one of the most accredited environmental authors. After attending the University of Torronto, she became a non-fiction author, specialising in eco-feminism. Her notable works include This Changes Everything (2014). She draws attention to problems often overlooked by other environmentalists, writing a compelling and devastatingly real text on the reality of global warming.
Her recent novel Hot Money (2021) is part of the Penguin ‘Green Ideas’ collection, a series of 20 short books focused on how we can make our world greener. Hot Money dissects the link between climate change and capitalism, calling on the public to reconsider the structure of society and how we spend our money. At only 100 pages long, there is no excuse not to read it!
Despite the fact they are not in the sustainability industry, Judith Butler has made vital contributions to feminist literature. They are an American philosopher and gender theorist whose work has influenced political philosophy, ethics, third-wave feminism, queer theory, and literary theory. Their most famous book is Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990). They made the radical suggestion that we learn to perform our gender as the concept of male and female is merely a social construct. Gender performativity is central to their work.
Autumn is an advocate for safe and clean water for all. Her success is admirable, especially considering her age. At only 17 years old, Autumn has been appointed the position of chief water commissioner for Anishinabek Nation. This position is a huge achievement for anyone. Autumn was destined for success from age 13 when she addressed world leaders at the UN General Assembly. She raised the of water protection, talking to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The fact that she spoke out at such a prestigious meeting, confidently stating the needs of the people, is something we can all learn from. Young women like Autumn are inspiring for all of us - we can be the change we want to see.
It goes without saying that Greta Thunberg is a sustainability icon. After starting the school strikes for climate change in Switzerland, referred to as ‘Fridays for future’ - students all over the globe followed her example. Greta has spoken at several important conferences. At the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit she gave a famous speech ‘How Dare You?’. She called out world leaders for looking to young people for help, claiming they are stealing her dreams from her with their ‘empty words’. She drew direct attention to the fact politicians make serious statements about climate change but none of their actions suggest they are taking it seriously.
Greta is bold in her assertions to politicians and influential authorities. At only 19 years old, this incredible woman has already done so much for our world, showing no signs of stopping.
Just after leaving university, Josephine Philips founded the UK’s first clothing alterations and repairs app, Sojo. Rather than purchasing new clothes the minute an item breaks, Sojo allows users to easily arrange to get their items repaired. Fashion is kept circular as you can keep loving the items you already own rather than buying more. You can also get clothes altered - perfect for when second-hand steals don't fit the way you want them to.
Josephine has secured over £300,000 of investment, enabling her to take her solo business venture to the next level and hire a full-time team. Following this success, last year Sojo announced they have partnered with Ganni. This partnership will allow all Ganni customers to get free alterations or repairs on their Ganni clothing pieces with the Sojo app. Josephine is pioneering the alterations and tailoring industry for millennials, making it easier than ever to get involved with circular fashion.
After breaking the world record for the fastest solo sailor in 2005 (beating her male competitors), Ellen MacArthur has continued to excel. In her travels, she witnessed marine damage as a result of climate change. It moved her to set up her own foundation, known as The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. Following its launch in 2010, in 2018 the foundation announced its New Plastics Economy Global Commitment project. In collaboration with the UN Environment, the aim was to encourage companies to reduce plastic waste. This project saw major companies significantly reducing their plastic packaging. Brands like H&M, L'Oréal and Unilever were all involved. MacArthur also makes a significant effort to reduce the damage of fast fashion production by funding circular fashion projects.
VENETIA LA MANNA
Venetia uses her platform to speak out on the unjust treatment of fast fashion garment workers. As a fair fashion campaigner and podcaster, Venetia shares information on the dreadful reality of fast fashion brands. She exposes CEO’s and prestigious figures in the fast fashion industry, unashamedly calling out Molly Mae for her insensitive comments regarding Pretty Little Thing factory workers.
She is the founder of Remember Who Made Them, an Instagram account dedicated to supporting garment workers. Venetia continues to remind her followers of the workers involved in making clothing. She encourages people to consume more mindfully as they understand their clothes have been made by someone. In order to boycott fast fashion, we must understand the horrific places some of our clothes come from. Venetia does not let anyone forget.
Aja Barber is a slow fashion writer, stylist and consultant, positively influencing and educating people on the issues of fast fashion. Barber is the author of Consumed: The Need for Collective Change: Colonialism, Climate Change, and Consumerism (2021). Her book comments on the link between consumerism, capitalism, and climate change - providing an interesting insight into a side of fast fashion not always considered.
She posts educational content regularly, making it easy for her followers to understand the impact of their actions on the planet. She does more than educate on slow fashion, she provides advice on how to live a well-rounded life. Aja will expand your vision of fashion, encouraging her followers to understand the knock-on effect fast fashion has on all aspects of life.
Luxiders want to celebrate the women in sustainability and social justice movements that have inspired so many people to see the reality of the climate crisis and take action. Who would make your list?
Florenne Earle Ledger