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10 questions about tomorrow for... Mimi Sewalski

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Portrait of Mimi Sewalski

There are so many issues that we need to tackle if we want to create a better tomorrow for us all. We asked Mimi Sewalski, Managing Director of Avocadostore, the online marketplace for eco fashion and a green lifestyle, what issues are at the top of her list, where we are at the moment and what needs to change for us to finally start making progress.

1. What are the three most pressing ecological and/or social issues for you right now – and why?

The preservation of biodiversity, the future of food and the conflict between digitalisation and sustainability.

2. When was the first time you really got to grips with these issues and how did it change how you think and act?

I’ve always had a keen interest in protecting the environment, perhaps because I grew up in the countryside and spent so much time in the forest as a child. Even back then people knew what kind of repercussions our behaviour was having on the planet. In the 80s, for a while at least, there was a lot coverage in the media and in politics about CFCs, the hole in the ozone layer, acid rain and the dying forests. When I was a child, I asked myself why spray cans weren’t being banned when it was so obvious what kind of problems they were causing.

And then later I asked myself: why should I, as a consumer, boycott the product myself? There must be a way to be more effective and faster. As a result, I question my own consumption as often as possible: how is the product made? Where is it made? What consequences, global or on the environment, will my purchase have? And also: do I really need this product?

Supply and production chains are a complex matter and of course you can’t be answering these questions constantly. But I have noticed that in the last few years the following solution is working well for me: less, but better. That means when I buy something, I pay much more attention to the quality and I buy less overall. Before I buy something, I inform myself better and try to avoid impulse buys as far as possible. That means that the things that I buy are more expensive, but I am aware of the value behind them. For me it’s worth paying more to know that a product has been sustainably and fairly produced or that my purchase is having a positive impact.

3. What needs to change politically and/or socially so we can finally make progress with these topics?

My grandmother once said to me: “If you really want something, you’ll find a solution; if not, then all you’ll see are the problems.” That is a fitting answer to your question. I think that people’s priorities need to change. The urgency of climate policy or other issues such as equality or human rights etc. is often not high enough. In my point of view, more priority should be given to issues that aren’t at the focus now. It’s astonishing to me, for example, that phasing out coal was put off for so long. There are so many scientific facts, figures and studies to prove that these topics need to have a much higher relevance due to climate change. After all, the social, ecological and economic consequences of not acting are far greater than they would be if we were to tackle the issues now.

4. How are you doing your bit?

I try to talk about the topic of sustainability – even when it’s awkward or unpleasant, for example among my own family or friends or even in a professional context, where it’s perhaps not expected right away. There’s no use in pointing the finger; my method is to inspire without nagging. Admittedly, that’s not always so easy. I also try to stand behind causes related to nature conservation and biodiversity. It doesn’t take much time or money to financially support NGOs and associations – even if it’s only with five euros a month. All you need to do is set up a direct debit, it’s that simple! I support Nepada Wildlife e.V., Greenpeace and a few others. Otherwise I try to live my life as I described earlier: less is more, which means consuming more consciously and buying less overall. I pretty much only wear eco-labels, try to eat organic food as far as possible and to only travel by train within Europe. But I don’t always manage to avoid food leftovers and when it comes to my finances my pension provision isn’t fully sustainable yet.

From my point of view, sustainability is a process in which everyone needs to decide for themselves when they take which step. Every step counts and I also believe that anyone who goes through the process goes forwards rather than backwards. So if you know what goes on in conventional meat production, you’re going to be more willing to switch to organic meat or vegan products and aren’t likely to change your mind and switch back because you made an informed decision. Conscious food choices often lead to conscious fashion choices, and then perhaps that will extend to sustainable banking or vice versa. Everyone can choose the order and the pace they do it in themselves.

5. If you were the country’s Finance Minister for a day, what would you do?

I would probably tackle the matter of taxes and increase the taxes on products, services and companies that have been proven to be bad for our climate and the planet. At the same time, I would reduce the taxes for fair trade and environmentally friendly products, services and companies. Of course the difficulty here lies in the definition of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, but I would obviously have a handpicked team of experts, who would come up with a smart way of figuring that out!

6. Who inspires you when it comes to creating positive change – and why?

Lots of individual people doing small deeds inspire me. For example, the homeless man I see on my way to work who stands there every single morning with a huge smile on his face as he kindly asks me ‘How are you today?’, even though he’s been out in the pouring rain for hours. I am inspired by the many little initiatives that are possible with a small budget but a lot of idealism and manage to achieve astonishing results. Something else that inspires me is global fair trade. Although it’s currently not perceived as being ‘cool’, it has achieved such great things in the last few decades and is way cooler than many people realise.

7. When I picture the future, I see…

…us all asking ourselves the question of why we didn’t do more back when we had the chance. But I also see that a lot has changed and for example consumer behaviour, the food we eat and our mobility are no longer taken for granted but are more highly valued and appreciated. This also has a lot to do with the fact that these three sectors will see massive changes. Hopefully for the better, with fair and environmentally friendly production chains, agriculture that has more of a focus on a plant-based diet and preserving biodiversity, and mobility that gives us the option, of travel and sustainable tourism, for example, without affecting the climate or putting a strain on people and animals. I also believe that our digital behaviour needs to change because it is using up so much damn energy. In the future there will hopefully be more sustainable solutions for servers and storage options.

8. What do you personally want to look back on when you’re older?

On a lot of good conversations and encounters, being active instead of passive, on solutions and not just concerns and ultimately on all the small decisions that I make every day, which at first seem trivial but then hopefully make a big difference in their sum.

9. One thing that always gives me hope is….

…how powerful we are as consumers. The fashion industry is a great example. For the past ten years the number of brands who are giving their all to revolutionise the industry has been increasing. Mocked by the big names to begin with, they have meanwhile developed into top brands who are proving that both are possible: cool styles AND sustainable production. Apart from the fact that such brands are doing a great job, every individual sustainable consumer also needs to contribute to this development. After all, it’s not the supply that defines the market, but the demand. A lot of conventional brands are meanwhile reflecting on how they tackle the topic of sustainability. Why is that the case? Because ‘eco’ is on trend – although I personally believe that it’s more than a trend – and because we consumers are asking more and more questions and shopping with more awareness. The total share of sustainable fashion is still under five percent, but things are really starting to happen in the fashion industry.

10. What’s your tip for anyone who wants to initiate change, but doesn’t know where they should start?

I’ve just published a book on that very topic! It’s called ‘Nachhaltig leben JETZT!’ (Living Sustainably NOW!). After almost ten years at Avocadostore, I have heard the counter arguments so often: ‘organic is too expensive’, ‘living sustainably takes a lot of effort’, ‘there’s always a disadvantage to green products’, etc… In my book I want to provide facts and background knowledge and break down all these prejudices because I’m a firm believer that sustainability always has a lot to do with being informed. If I had to condense it all into one tip, I would say: start small and don’t take on too much otherwise you’ll soon become disheartened or disappoint yourself. So saying something like ‘I’ll never fly again’ is certainly going to be a lot more of a challenge than simply saying ‘This year I’m going to take the night train to get to my holiday destination rather than fly with a cheap airline.’ It’s a good idea to find out what is easier for you and start there. It was quite exciting for me and I even enjoyed finding out about the correct way to recycle, about how to avoid waste and about packaging-free food shopping, but someone else might be more interested in natural cosmetics or saving energy. One step always leads the way to the next, but it’s important that you bite the bullet and start somewhere.