I am probably not the only person whose connection with climate change was sparked by a screening of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. Say what you want about the documentary, but in 2006, as an impressionable 13-year-old, this transformed my life. I could not understand how the world could be equipped with this knowledge and continue its business as usual. To me it just seemed unfathomable that we could watch images of places in the world that had already been transformed by human activity and not change anything. And this is in fact what continued to happen for almost another decade until the 2015 Paris Agreement.

While I chose to study environmental sciences at school and have a degree in international relations, I did not fundamentally alter my day-to-day after this documentary. Yes, I decided I wanted to dedicate my life, studies and profession to climate change, but I cannot remember any dramatic changes I made to my behaviour. I continued to eat as I did, use all my pocket money to buy cheap clothes that I wore less than a handful of times and continued on my usual way. Was it a lack of information, the fact that I was only 13 and had little agency or that at this time I felt it wasn’t up to me? I had a sense that this was a problem for adults, for businesses, for governments but not for me, not yet. Greta Thunberg has shown that this is not the case today.

Either way, it was not until my final years of studying international relations that I realised I absolutely could not rely on governments and international agreements – this was pre-Paris of course. I wanted to understand why this was, so I started a master’s degree in environmental policy and regulation. It was in these years that I did start making changes to my life, becoming a vegetarian and becoming conscious of how my purchasing decisions impacted the environment.

I attended a London Fashion Week side-event on sustainability in 2015 and was told by a sustainability consultant there not to waste my master’s and my dissertation on this sector. She said that fashion is not willing to change, and to put my energies into something that is.

When I started my role as client manager at the Carbon Trust (a non-profit with a stated mission to accelerate the move to a sustainable, low carbon economy), I had to pick a sector to focus my business development on, and at this point in 2018 it seemed like the right time to focus on fashion. There had been documentaries focusing on fast-fashion like The True Cost, these issues were beginning to be picked up by mainstream media and, crucially, some businesses were taking the lead and others beginning to follow. This was the perfect time for our business to focus on helping this sector to decarbonise, and for me to align my interest in fashion with my passion for the environment.

This role allowed me to become fully educated in the complex value chain of the fashion industry and how this sector impacts climate change. With this knowledge I have been able to target clients, some who were ready to take on the challenge and innovate their businesses, and others who were very much at the beginning of their journey. With this expertise, I have now spoken at many corporate conferences and panels to educate on the impact the fashion sector is having on climate change and how we can turn this around.

Fashion is something we all engage with. Whether we follow trends or just clothe ourselves to be warm and comfortable, at some point in our lives, and to varying degrees of frequency, we have bought clothes. How it got here, where it was made and what it was made from is not information available to us at the point of purchase, and rarely something that brands celebrate. As such, the average consumer is unaware of their clothes’ hidden environmental cost. We all know that fossil fuels are bad and can engage with this clearly, but understanding the climate change impact of fashion is more complex to understand, and equally difficult to change, as a consumer.

For this reason, I find my career absolutely fascinating. It has been exhilarating to see the media pick up this topic and for consumers to connect with the issue of climate change and how it relates to something that touches and protects their person every day. In this series I want to break down the current sustainability issues of the sector, what a sustainable apparel economy looks like and how you can help.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own as an individual.

  • Sannah van Balen

Pauline Op de Beeck is our second opinion piece author with her series "Fashion sustainability and your closet", where she discusses the state of the fashion industry and what we can do with our individual closets.

As the Carbon Trust's lead on sustainable fashion, Pauline helps the industry overcome multiple challenges including resource constraints, supply chain transparency and their need to adopt business model innovation. In recognition of this, she is part of Forbes 30 under 30 2020 cohort in the Retail & E-commerce category - congratulations Pauline!

Pauline regularly speaks at conferences on the topic of sustainable fashion such as the Financial Times Future of Retail Summit and the Royal Geographic Society. Pauline has an MA in International Relations from the University of Edinburgh and an MSc with distinction in Environmental Policy and Regulations from the London School of Economics.

Connect with Pauline on LinkedIn

Before I end my opinion piece series on psychology in the climate emergency, I want to address one final thing: the importance of a personal narrative in the climate emergency. This is the story your grandchildren will be telling their grandchildren and that features you as the main character.

Let’s say it is the year 2100 and I am looking back at the past. I would see that the Earth was a place covered by sunlight. The sunlight gave warmth and energy to all living things including the people. It gave them the energy to engage in different activities and that is exactly what people did. They travelled all over the planet and invented devices that made their life more comfortable. The Earth was also a place covered by shade and darkness. This gave the living things fresh air and the opportunity to relax and distress from all activities. It was a nice place to live and many people found a way to be happy on Earth.

Around the year 1970 people started realising that their activities may impact the mechanisms of Earth’s nature. Some 50 years later most people understood that a continued exaggerated use of resources would lead to an impactful climate change. They also understood that action was required to ensure the existence of human life on Earth.

Some people felt threatened and chose to ignore this new state of emergency but others saw it as a challenge and started taking action. The magical turn-around moment in the climate emergency story happened when the people discovered there was no villain determining the fate of the world. Instead, it was the heroes and heroines taking initiatives that decided how the story would end.

That magical moment is now, in 2020. We have a chance to take action and choose to become the heroes and heroines of our narratives. Both people, governments and organisations can take the heroic approach in the climate emergency. Here are a few you can explore:

- Find green investment opportunities that can give you or you organisation exposure;

- Be faithful to your own values and explain your actions;

- Show that you are a leader capable of transitioning and/or innovating;

- Highlight the potential benefits to the quality of life that come with your actions;

- Take the stage and engage with others on climate change.

In taking initiatives such as these, we can make sure we end up living happily ever after. Not as a newly-wed Disney bride but instead as our beloved humankind.

- Jacobien Kamp

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