Being a minimalist in the Philippines

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Recently, I’m slowly learning that the way I think consists of the typical traits of a minimalist.

I don’t like fancy clothes and prefer to keep my wardrobe as ‘minimal’ as possible. I’ve always been the guy in our family who keeps saying to donate our things, so that our house can ‘breathe’ a little easier with more space. I prefer spending on things that I really need (but of course, I have some occassional guilty pleasures also like food — no one is perfect!). I also find the concept of ‘essentialism’ very pleasing; I find solitude just by hearing the word.

Ultimately, what minimalism means is that you only get what you need given your current resources. What that ‘need’ is would depend on your individual preferences. It’s not the same case for everyone.

Coming from a developing country like the Philippines, minimalism sounds like a very foreign concept. People from developing countries tend to be hoarders of material possessions — take for example our families. This is why being a minimalist in the Philippines can be challenging.

But if you’re like me who identifies as a minimalist, there are many ways we can achieve a minimalist lifestyle despite our social circles. Here are some of the ways you can do this.

Understand what things you really need based on your personal context

In Filipino society, we’re constantly driven or encouraged by our peers to own, own, and own things, because they represent a status symbol or your purchasing power. But we also have to remember if these things actually add any value to our lives.

The question to ask is: What value do the things I buy add to my life? Do they merely satisfy my consumerist desires, or do they address something valuable in my life?

Make sure you are buying into sustainable products or services

The world is burning — literally. As a minimalist, it breaks my heart for it to have reached this point. People consume a lot, capitalists keep on developing without thinking of the environment — what you get is a world order working under the notion of ‘infinite growth’ but ‘finite resources’.

Which is why the minimalist movement can help in this battle. As minimalists, you learn to get only what you really need. And what better way to do that but by supporting sustainable products and services.

Now — I am aware that some sustainable products and services are expensive as hell. Avoid those. There are many other ways to become ‘sustainable’ apart from being a ‘green consumer’. Ultimately, it is a lifestyle, not just a “consumer lifestyle”.

Declutter, declutter, declutter

We tend to own too much things. We think that they would fill the emotional voids in us. At one point they actually do, but later we realize that we get too fixated and dependent on material possessions to satiate our emotional well-being.

Try decluttering your things and see if it would have any changes to your mindset. I understand how difficult this can be, but as a minimalist we need to understand what we really need and what works best for us.

The things that would remain may end up to be still a lot of things, but what matters with minimalism is that you only keep the things that really matter to you. And this can be a few things that can be counted by your fingers, or even several things. It is a case-to-case scenario.

Remember — ‘clutter’ is something that doesn’t add value to your life.

There’s nothing cognitively dissonant with being ambitious and a minimalist

Being a minimalist doesn’t mean you should forego of your dreams in life. Again, minimalism is about organizing your life and getting only what’s really important to your context.

The key concept is consuming with intent. Don’t just buy into things simply because it adds status, power, or prestige. In the minimalist world, having what you need and having inner peace are what matters.

… and that’s my list. I am constantly learning about this concept, and would want to know your experiences also! Hit me up through ianbrmia@gmail.com.

What I learned (so far) about the sustainability profession in the Philippines

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For quite some time now, I’ve been grappling with the thought of a sustainability career in the Philippines. I’ve asked people their thoughts, researched some degrees in local universities, joined some sustainability initiatives, and even posted in reddit to ask for advice. And while indeed it is difficult to start a career on sustainability in my country, there are some insights I learned along the way.

The sustainability profession is not yet clear

What I mean by this is that the sustainability profession is not yet defined in the Philippines. If you were to pursue a scalable career on sustainability, you’re going to have to do it in another country. This will most likely be in developed countries with fast-growing industries on green technology and renewable energy, among others.

On the other hand, if you’re fine with pursuing the ‘grassroots level’ kind of sustainability, non-profit and environmental organizations are good places to start with in the Philippines. While doing so, you can decide to go higher up the ladder and enter corporate sustainability, for instance.

Since the profession is not yet defined in the Philippines, I think the best way to go is through a grassroots approach. You can also decide to take a masters program in environmental science, environmental planning, or urban planning, among others, and gain some related experience along the way through internships.

There is the notion that sustainability is only about the environment

One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that sustainability is only about the environment. While it is true that the sustainability movement was mainly influenced by the current environmental state of the world, it is not just about that. You also need social, economic, and political structures to make sustainability possible. For instance, environmental policies are integral components of urban and regional planning.

There’s a big debate on this — on the fact that sustainability is not just about the environment. While I appreciate this, personally speaking I don’t find the debate to be necessary. Like the systems that make up the world, sustainability works the same way. It is a systemic field. This means that it involves a lot of industries and perspectives. So rather than debating on the fact that it involves more than just the environment, I think it’s high time that people talk more on ‘how’ sustainability can be pursued.

The profession is typically reserved for higher-ups in CSR and environmental organizations

One of the big barriers to entry in a sustainability career in the Philippines is that the position is typically reserved for higher positions. One of these include top positions in corporate social responsibility. Before reaching such a position, you’re going to have to climb the ladder in whatever way possible. While this may sound discouraging, it’s the reality of the profession.

I was advised before that — to enter a sustainability career in the corporate world — it would help to get into a marketing field. Since sustainability is still a developing field, learning how to communicate it through a marketing field sounds like a viable path to take.

The job hunt is pretty scarce 

A Google search for sustainability careers in the Philippines would most likely leave you frowning. Like I mentioned, if you were to pursue a scalable sustainability career, I think you’re better off pursuing it in another country. One of the reliable sustainability career resources would be Sustainable Career Pathways.

Lack of opportunities means plenty of room for development

I want to end this list on a positive note. While there is, indeed, a lack of opportunities for a sustainability career in the Philippines, this just means there is plenty of room for development. This means that as a sustainability advocate, you may even decide to start a project involving your local community, or engage with initiatives on recycling, green living, or low impact, among others. The insight here is that you start creating the change that’s needed for this field.

In general, these insights are not meant to discourage us from pursuing a career in sustainability. They are, instead, meant to challenge us and teach us to become creative. A simple metaphor to it would be: if life gives you lemons, you make lemonade out of it.

An open letter to aspiring sustainability professionals in the Philippines

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Since you opened this blog post – like me, you’re probably trying your best to start a sustainability career of your own. Whether it be on energy, waste, green cities, communications, etc., sustainability is very broad. In the Philippines, how much possible is a career on this field?

I’ve spoken with many people on what they think about the industry of sustainability careers in the country. People tell me that careers in this field are typically reserved for higher-up positions in corporate social responsibility and environmental organizations and institutions. It’s also very course-specific, such as environmental science and agriculture.

There is the notion that sustainability is mainly about the environment. For starters, there is no sure way to get into an entry-level sustainability career, because the field itself is still very young in the Philippines. It is not yet as developed, but we are learning more about it.

Let me be the one to say that you’re not alone, and like every aspiring sustainability professional, the field is, indeed, so vast and wide. There is so much to explore.

So where do we start?

Since sustainability careers aren’t as professionalized yet as we hoped them to be – in my thought – starting from the grassroots level is the best way to go.

Two of the ways I do this is by engaging in sustainability-related projects and reading related materials. Some of the projects I got involved with tackle social entrepreneurship, sustainable agriculture, peacebuilding, women empowerment, youth empowerment, and this blog, Triple Bottom Line. On the other hand, one of the main reading materials I’d recommend is eco-business.com, since it focuses on the Asian context of sustainability.

The process varies from person to person – these are just the ways which I personally find helpful.

Trish Kenlon, founder of Sustainable Career Pathways, provides a more general advice that I think is applicable in whatever context you are in. She lists down several reasons and tips and explains why it’s just ‘darn hard’ to launch a career in sustainability.

Just looking for a career in sustainability can be mentally exhausting. I find myself sifting through tons of local job openings and find ‘sustainability specialist’ as the most common one. Then again, however, these job openings are environment-focused.

I think it’s important to remember that to create a suitable industry for sustainability careers in the Philippines, it’s not always just about the environment. There are also the elements of culture, politics, and economics in sustainability. This is, however, a topic for another day.

Considering that the sustainability field is still very young in the Philippines, the only real way I can think of is for aspirants like me to explore until we find the ‘sweet spot’. With this, I’m wishing all of us the best. If you’re an aspiring sustainability professional yourself, message me and let’s talk about it.

Is sustainability for the elite?

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If their goods and services continue to be priced as they are, is the sustainable movement only for the demographic that can afford it? If so, can it even still be called sustainable?

Originally published at https://www.offcrowd.com/

Written by Anna Cayco

Art by Chelsea Caritativo


These days, “sustainability” is instantly associated with metal straws, tumblers, or bamboo toothbrushes.

But beyond these innovative yet trendy products, the United Nations defines it as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” which includes gender equality, labor rights, education for all, and more.

Various social enterprises, whose industries range from ethical fashion to organic agriculture, are indeed attempting to establish the sustainable movement in the Philippines. In a review by the British Council, many of these social enterprises are producer-based organizations that collaborate with low-income laborers and suppliers to distribute their products to the general market.

And there is definitely a demand for these businesses. According to a global survey by Nielsen, the Philippines placed 5th among the top countries that demand for programs to improve the environment.

Considering 21% of Filipinos is below the poverty line, much of the population cannot rely on regularly buying organic food priced higher than competitive prices. Many Filipinos would find it impractical to purchase ethically-made clothing that sells for thousands instead of second-hand clothing – whose sustainability is actually ambiguous – at only a tenth of that price.

With low minimum wages, many cannot afford to make the switch from cheaper and more ubiquitous plastic-wrapped necessities to more expensive non-single-use, eco-friendly, and ethical products.

Thus, the rise of social enterprises has been met with hostility, particularly towards its authenticity and its sustainable impact. If their goods and services continue to be priced as they are, is the sustainable movement only for the demographic that can afford it? If so, can it even still be called sustainable?


Climate change has never been more observable, especially this year’s summer, which has reached to a scorching 35.9 degrees Celsius.

GOOD INTENTIONS, MISGUIDED ACTIONS

Erwin Lizarondo, a professor of social entrepreneurship, explained that the hostility towards sustainability is due to the demographic that owns these businesses.

“The people who lead the sustainable program are the elite… The elites are actually funding these projects or social enterprises… The middle class and even the lower socioeconomic status are suspicious of these elites simply because of our politics. It’s the politics of the rich and we continue to see that,” he said.

There is no harm in wanting to engage in sustainability, especially if one had the resources and quality education to do so. The problem arises when these business owners are unable to properly engage with a market outside of their own, Lizarondo said. Good intentions can become savior complexes due to a preconceived notion of proper livelihood by living in metropolitan cities.

With a lack of understanding of their beneficiaries’ environment, livelihood, and etc, social entrepreneurs can have a tendency of treating their laborers as just a means of production. Businesses should prioritize investing in people holistically – not just in their skills – rather than just the brand.


“The teaching of sustainability at least is often mistaken that it’s all about environment. It is not. It’s a whole lot of issues under it. And I don’t think we’re getting at the root cause of what sustainability really is,”

MORE THAN METAL STRAWS

For Pang Delgra, a member of Habit, which provides alternative products to help transition to a more sustainable lifestyle, she believed these harsh criticisms are aimed towards the more popular yet less systemic solutions towards sustainability.

At Habit, their metal straws and collapsible cups are just a first step for their market. “But, as we now realize, aren’t the cheapest or best solution. It’s a good first step for those who can afford it but it’s definitely not for everyone,” Delgra said.

The following steps should consider beyond products and more onto habits. Because to claim sustainability is only for the elite is to only talk about the consumerist side of things. Lizarondo said, “It’s simple practices; all of those small practices. And they do make a difference.”

These practices even include age-old reminders from the older generations, such as bringing one’s own shopping bag or bayong to do the groceries, saving food scraps for compost, and cutting on electricity and water use – all which don’t necessarily need to purchase new eco-friendly products.

Alongside new innovations, old habits and practices before a time of plastic and disposable waste are returning. In Britain, milkmen have begun their operations once more in delivering bottled milk from door to door.


There is no harm in wanting to engage in sustainability, especially if one had the resources and quality education to do so. The problem arises when these business owners are unable to properly engage with a market outside of their own, Lizarondo said.

EXPAND AND ENGAGE

Is it possible to argue that eventually the prices of sustainable products and services will go down as the demand increases? Possibly, yes. But Lizarondo countered that there is no time for “eventually.”

“Yes, we’re making a dent. But it’s not quick enough for us to actually make significant difference. Because if we look at it, unless we involve those who are in the lower socioeconomic status, you won’t be able to hit critical mass. And we are not the critical mass,” he said.

The alarms have been ringing loud and clear for exactly that critical change needed. Last March 18, a young whale washed up on Compostela Valley with its stomach containing 40 kilograms of plastic trash. Climate change has never been more observable, especially this year’s summer, which has reached to a scorching 35.9 degrees Celsius.

“If you really want to make a dent into this whole sustainability thing, it’s important to actually get to know those who are not in your market to understand why we’re asking these people to use these things,” Lizarondo argued.

“If you actually look at the social entrepreneur scene in the Philippines, how many are really being led by grassroots level? Who supports ideas from the grassroots level? How much of the elite can really bring it down to the grassroots?” Lizarondo continued.

For Habit, they make it a point to make their products cheaper or at par with the rest of the market. “This is a deliberate choice because we want to be able to say that we did our best to make our products available to as many people as possible,” Delgra shared.

Yet, they don’t see themselves selling directly to the lower socioeconomic status. Instead, they channel 1/8th of their profit to community-related work such as beach cleanups or for conducting research on the waste flow from the consumer to post-consumption stakeholders such as basurero, mambobote, and junk shops or what they call their 8th Partner Initiative.

There are other social enterprises that have the capacity to provide straight to their beneficiaries and make their products affordable to most. Sinaya Cup, a menstrual cup provider, uses a percentage of their profits to donate their products to women in need as well as fund seminars on female hygiene for school children. Ritual, a package-less, organic, eco-friendly, and fairtrade grocery, has been operating since 2010 and is now able to sell their products at much more affordable prices.

But the burden should not fall on the consumer but more so on big corporations and the government. By asking whether sustainability is limited only for those who can afford it, the attention is diverted from solutions that can actually make impactful change.

“The teaching of sustainability at least is often mistaken that it’s all about environment. It is not. It’s a whole lot of issues under it. And I don’t think we’re getting at the root cause of what sustainability really is,” Lizarondo claimed.

The current sustainable movement needs proper government intervention to not only require these corporations to ban single-use waste, unethical labor policies, and accountability for their carbon footprint but also encourage and support local social enterprises.

Government policy on sustainability is indeed taking place on a local level. Since 2012, San Fernando, Pampanga has cut back on its landfill from 88% to 20%. The local government unit collaborated with both its citizens and the nonprofit organization Mother Earth Foundation to implement a zero-waste strategy through material recovery facilities and closely regulated waste management.

Such case is a microcosm as to how sustainability should be on a national level. For impactful sustainability to occur, all sectors of the community must be engaged; not just the upper and lower socioeconomic class, but every single member of the community.

Why our Filipino engineers need to become entrepreneurial

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I attended a research event in the Technological University of the Philippines’ (TUP) Electrical Department recently where I was a keynote speaker and part of the board of judges. My fellow judges and I assessed the research presentations of engineering students where they presented their machine prototypes. Some of these machines have already been deployed to the university’s community beneficiaries.

The caveat though, as what is present in most other educational institutions, is that these machines would usually be shelved away once the students graduate. It could be due to a variety of factors including the difficulty of establishing terms and profit-sharing with partner organizations, partner communities not wanting to adopt the technology, lack of entrepreneurial drive of engineering students, lack of capital, and lack of market access, to name a few.

These are all valid issues and challenges, but what I want to look at specifically is the lack of entrepreneurial drive among engineering students.

For starters, many engineering students just want to get college or university life over with, and find a job later on to tend to their families’ needs. It’s a reality.

One of the professors in TUP mentioned to me that they already tried introducing a technopreneurship elective in their engineering curriculum, but only a handful of students were interested to pursue it.

So then it begs the question: how do you ignite that entrepreneurial drive among engineering students so that they won’t be the usual job seekers?

Not that there’s anything wrong with being job seekers, but the reality is that many of our engineers in the country either become skilled workers abroad or stay in the country to work for someone. I just think they’re going towards a different direction when they become purely job seekers, because engineers are meant to create something tangible to benefit society.

So again, what can be done?

For one, several state universities and colleges in the country are undergoing incubation programs. These programs are at varying stages, from conceptualization down to some that are already functional.

But again the challenge is on how to entice engineering students to become entrepreneurs — it is something that surely can’t be forced upon them.

The approach I want to take, however, is on enlightening them on society’s problems today. In my talk, my topic was about how to transform existing and emerging technologies into sustainable businesses. I just wanted to send across one very simple message: that the technologies these engineering students create can be used as valuable tools to form sustainable businesses.

I wanted to give the engineering students another perspective on how they can bring their machines to fruition by looking for a market, creating a business model, and refining their prototype, to name a few. Later on, it’s up to them whether or not this entrepreneurial path would entice them, because let’s face it — they can still create impact along the way by working for someone.

My only hope, however, and this is something I reiterate in my blog — is that we continue to find sustainable solutions to society’s problems. Technology is but one enabler of that.

On sustainable tourism and tribal communities: What makes it truly sustainable?

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What makes sustainable tourism, ‘sustainable’?

My team and I at MakeSense Philippines hosted a panel discussion yesterday, March 11, 2019 to talk about exactly that. We had speakers from the local sustainable tourism sector talk about their initiatives, best practices, and things to improve on for the sector. For this discussion, we focused on tours held in tribal communities.

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It’s important to note that sustainability is nowhere near the realm of “simple”. When you talk about a sustainable kind of tourism, it becomes even more complex because now we’re talking about three sides of the equation: social, environmental, and economic impacts of tourism activities. In the case of sustainable tourism initiatives such as those highlighted in our panel discussion, there’s a lot of things to consider. However, there are nonetheless a few important things that need to be highlighted.

Impact assessment of sustainable tourism initiatives. It’s hard to measure impact. It’s still a young practice in itself. We can go very technical and quantitative about it, and we can also become qualitative. But one thing’s for sure, sustainable tourism activities would need to have a comprehensive set of impact metrics to measure their actual sustainability. From carbon footprint, plastic waste, higher income of the target community, number of trees planted, demographics of the community — you name it. There’s a lot to measure, and these kinds of initiatives would actually need to spend a lot to be able to track all these different kinds of impact.

But why measure impact in the first place?

For one, it lets the project or initiative know more if what they’re doing actually created changes in their communities. Since our panel discussion talked about sustainable tourism in tribal communities, they would need to know the social, environmental, and economic impacts that their initiative created for their target tribal communities.

One of the most commonly cited experiences in the initiatives when talking about social impact in tribal communities is how one interacts with the community. This brings us to…

Traveling etiquette in tribal communities. One important thing to note when visiting tribal communities is that you’re mainly there to visit. Realistically speaking, you’re not obligated to give donations or cash to these communities, because not only are these dole outs or unsustainable, they somehow create an ‘imbalance’ in the community.

What does it mean that it creates an ‘imbalance’? For one, it gives the tribal communities the impression that they can just rely on cash and donations from tourists all the time. When that happens, it’s going to become a cycle until the tribal communities would just become dependent on tourists for alms. While the hearts of the tourists are at the right place, that is honestly not the right time to give cash or donations. We would rather immerse ourselves in their culture, understand where they’re coming from, hear out their stories, and come home with fresh ideas on how we can contribute to this initiative. If you want to further get involved, you can simply join a relevant organization, volunteer your time, and create initiatives that will actually last long-term for these communities. The bottom line is to not rely on dole outs to help these communities — we’d rather help them through more sustainable ways.

Designing travel experiences that cater to both travelers and the targeted community. What’s unique about the projects and initiatives in our panel discussion is they have different designs and business models. One enterprise is focused on environmental preservation, a second on poverty alleviation, and the others on cultural immersion. One thing in common, however, is that they are all ultimately trying to design experiences that matter, experiences that promote social impact.

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Another thing to note is that when designing sustainable tourism initiatives, it’s important to keep all your stakeholders in mind. For instance, in the case of one of the initiatives in the panel discussion, their focus is on providing a booking platform for impact-driven tours managed by local tour guides. It aims to give travelers local experiences.

In this sense, it goes beyond the traditional notion of travel wherein you go to a place to take Instagram-worthy shots or visit the most famous landmarks. You can say these are the types of tours that involve off the beaten tracks. But in this case, they are off the beaten tracks that promote social impact, and I think that’s beautiful.

Making sustainable tourism initiatives truly sustainable. This is not easy. The whole discussion around sustainability is not easy. What more if you’re going to actually make a sustainable tourism initiative a truly sustainable one?

I’ve been to a number of similar events and one of the running and typical questions when the open forum comes is on the aspect of the initiative’s sustainability. Let me be the one to address the elephant in the room that there can never be a “perfect sustainability”. All we can do is make the most of what we have.

To give a better perspective on this, one of the speakers in our panel mentioned positive and negative externalities. He explains that there can never be a perfect kind of sustainability because there are always externalities on both ends. This means that what we should be looking at instead is the net impact of sustainability once you’ve accounted for all the positive and negative externalities. It’s simple as saying, “There may have been negative things that happened, but when the overall result is positive, then we can consider that a success”.

At the end of the day, sustainability merits a ton of discussion and systemic thinking. I’m even confident to admit that what I talked about here merely scratches the surface of sustainability in tourism. There needs to be more discussion on this area. Lastly, if we’re going to be solving the challenges of our time, we’re going to need to think beyond and into the complex systems that make up these challenges.

Sustainability education and why it should be everyone’s priority

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In my regular work in the academe, one of the things we’ve recently done is create a syllabus draft of a new sustainability management course. It consists of five main topics: (1) an introduction of the current global sustainability landscape, (2) integrating sustainability into business, (3) integrated sustainability management, (4) product life cycle management, and (5) sustainability strategy and action plan.

The main goal of the course is to present sustainability as a complex system with social, economic, and environmental factors intermingling in business. It promotes the practice of systems thinking, and attempts to enrich the students’ learning experience through timely and relevant class activities and examples.

Initially, it was rather difficult to design the course considering it is new practically in most colleges and universities in the Philippines. They may not admit it, but management education is too old school in the country, which is why shifting the focus on emerging and critical topics such as sustainability call for a more forward-looking and progressive education.

Since it is new for most educational institutions in the country, as a benchmark we turned to the sustainability management courses being taught in other countries. Their courses are already well-developed and consisted of challenging and interesting topics. It was the perfect pool for us to pick up ideas and transform them based on our needs locally.

It’s also important to note that sustainability has no universal definition, and that each educational institution would share different perspectives and topics. But for the spirit of having a center point for discussion, we turned to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which is a framework being used globally to achieve the sustainability agenda.

With over 17 goals, the SDGs are essentially a blueprint to ‘save the world’ by 2030. We have 11 years, or around 4,000 days left before we reach climate change levels that would be too difficult or nearly impossible to mitigate. The fact that the world is forcing a deadline to save itself tells a lot already. What could be done in that time frame to practically overhaul the world?

Sustainability education is one of them, but the academe should not be the only one teaching and enriching this into the minds of people.

It’s important to note that sustainability is multi-faceted, as represented by the 17 SDGs. This means that it penetrates every fiber of society, from technology down to people and education. Considering the changes we’re seeing in the world today, it should go without saying that everyone has to take part in understanding and contributing to the sustainability agenda. After all, this is the only livable world we have, unless our space explorations and current technologies would allow us to finally find the nearest, most apt, and most habitable planet next to earth.

Educating one another on sustainability involves changing one’s lifestyle and mindset. From our excessive usage of plastic, the amount of paper we’re using to print our documents, the carbon emission caused by our flight to another country, the electronic waste that gets dumped in landfills, and many, many more, a sustainability mindset goes a long way. It’s not easy to implement such changes, but they are definitely doable.

So whenever we think about sustainability or try to educate others and ourselves, we should look into it beyond just a trend or buzzword. It’s also a lifestyle and mindset.