Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of discussing ‘Why Everyone Should Be Following Eco-Educators‘ with Aditi Mayer, the sustainability activist who focuses on decolonising fashion and sustainability. Our conversation was kindly hosted by ECONYL, and organised by Eco-Age, who have taken a strong interest in eco-educators over the last few months.
As a generalist in this space, it’s always a delight to speak with activists, industry specialists, and people who are so very cause-driven in their work. Aditi was no exception; she combines her photojournalism with important conversations around the intersectional nature of fashion (often lacking, requiring so much more work around inclusion) and sustainability.
If you missed our chat, you can rewatch it here:
What Is An Eco-Educator?
I was first made aware of the term eco-educator in Megan Doyle’s piece for Eco-Age late last year. She loosely defines the term eco-educator as:
“A new generation of Instagram accounts, influencing through education rather than centring themselves in their content.”
What’s interesting with this approach is how social media is being used for education over social connection. Sure, it’s nice to get to know people online. But it’s seemingly much more powerful to share information – often suppressed in general media and marketing campaigns – and see it spread like wildfire.
Why Do People Set Up As Eco-Educators?
This was the question Aditi and I set about to answer at the start of our conversation. It turns out, both of us had our awakening to the impacts of the fashion industry on people and planet while at university, setting up our respective platforms in 2014.
Aditi is driven in her work to create power amongst the workers, through collective action such as promoting the Garment Workers Protection Act SB62, and speaking with key people within movements, like Vandana Shiva and India’s Farmer Protests. Underpinning this is both her heritage, and her identification that race and identity need to be recognised and respected (often with reparations owed) rather than treated as distractions.
Conversely, my approach is a lot less involved. I still find it hard to inject myself, my heritage, or my emotions into such wide-reaching issues like the climate crisis, or the exploitation going on in fast fashion. I stick more closely to Megan Doyle‘s original definition – removing myself from my content somewhat – and instead sticking to the sidelines, simply highlighting how exploitative the fashion industry is, and hoping to provide signposts to better alternative. However, it’s done in two ways – first, with clickbait-style images that make things look personal enough (the suit here being second-hand, and the Casa Raki swimsuit being a nod to ECONYL) when really what I want you to do is engage with my writing, and second, with quotes, facts, and statistics, as shared on Ethical Influencers IG.
It seems, whether you prefer a personal or impersonal approach, everyone is welcome to become an eco-educator. Plus, your background may inform your work, but it’s not everything – my degree has nothing to do with sustainability, and yet here we are!
The Peaks & Pitfalls Of Eco-Education Online
When it comes to eco-education online, there are both advantages and challenges, for creators and the followers alike.
First, let’s highlight the benefits of social media: it’s provided us with a platform that facilitates worldwide connections, that can be sought out based on interests and values. It’s given people without voices a voice. It creates community where there may otherwise be none.
However, social media is riddled with issues. First, it promotes rampant consumption, simply to sustain itself. Second, it creates echo chambers, where progress feels like it’s being made, but in reality, is siloed off from wider society. And third, the visibility of certain people can be much wider reaching than others – often falling into the same societal pitfalls where the beautiful and the privileged are seen, while many others are ignored or even erased.
Part of the reason why I started Ethical Influencers was because I recognised this issue around visibility. The fact that ‘influencers’ were seen to only influence consumption seemed ridiculous. We must recognise our influence goes much further than the buyer-seller conversation. We are citizens. We have rights. And we can advocate and call for better.
Second, there’s the pro’s and cons of eco-education content. First, its benefits: access. It gives us instant access to learning where there may otherwise be none. It’s more meaningful, and often much more engaged with, than the traditional outfit post or flatlay.
However, while it’s great to see collective campaigning around social and environmental issues, information is bite-sized at best. Just like statistics can be framed to fit a certain narrative, social media often wipes out the context or nuance of complex issues. I make it a habit to read longer-form content before engaging with or speaking on a subject, but the addictive like-scroll-like-scroll reflex can undermine that.
Whether you’re an eco-educator, an enjoyer of eco-education, or somewhere in-between, I recommend the following when engaging in this space:
- Do your own due diligence,
- Follow and amplify different voices,
- Credit your educators and sources,
- Gather information from legitimate sources, and
- Don’t be afraid to learn more about difficult issues, and confront your own beliefs.
Eco-Educators To Follow & Learn From
(I want to preface this list by noting that while I follow and learn all of the accounts listed here, not everyone will consider themselves an eco-educator. Many on this list are journalists, consultants, and work on active, meaningful projects that go further than social media. At the same time, they all provide eco-education that I truly value.)
So, Should We All Be Following Eco-Educators?
Yes! Of course. Just make sure to diversify who you follow, and practice fact-checking, alongside reading up on subjects that interest you and motivate you to act. Learning is the first step to making real positive change happen, but it’s also a powerful tool that requires awareness and nuance.