The Intersectionality of the Sustainability Movement Can’t Be Ignored—Here’s Why

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Throughout the month of April, Well+Good is celebrating the Earth and those who are working hardest to protect it and promote sustainability. Our recently released Climate Issue features pieces about food waste, microplastics, and sustainability in healthcare, and ultimately centers on the people walking the walk and talking the talk when it comes to caring about the planet.

No social issue affecting the world right now exists in a vacuum, though. And some experts want to shine a light on the intersectionality of the sustainability movement. Two of them are this week's Well+Good podcast guests: Leah Thomas, founder of the nonprofit Intersectional Environmentalist and the author of The Intersectional Environmentalist, and Whitney McGuire, a fashion industry lawyer, sustainability consultant, and co-founder of Sustainable Brooklyn.

Photo: W+G Creative

Thomas explains to Well+Good's director of podcasts Taylor Camille that the term intersectionality was coined by lawyer Kimberly Crenshaw in 1989 to describe the ways that the court system was treating Black women and how they were not equally protected as a result of their overlapping marginalizations in both their race and gender. The concept of intersectionality points out the need to take in the whole picture and consider numerous circumstances at once.

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"It's so important to consider those nuances. And then when applying it specifically to climate justice or environmentalism and sustainability, for example, I get so annoyed when I'm on Instagram, and I see sustainable fashion bloggers that are like, you're a horrible person if you're not buying this $300 t-shirt—and it's just not accessible to the everyday person," says Thomas, who is also known as Greengirlleah on Instagram. Her work centers on the overlap between environmentalism and racism, focuses on how the push to save the planet needs to include everyone. 

But it's not just individuals who need to get mobilized. Corporations also have a responsibility to think about intersectional sustainability as well, and McGuire points out that they shouldn't avoid making eco-friendly products and business decisions out of fears of being accused of greenwashing.

"As we address these really huge issues, especially when it comes to our planet, we cannot be afraid of f'ing up, right? Right. And so I would say that you know, corporations really need to have more courage, and more of an understanding of their responsibility across sectors, across industries," says McGuire, who opened a law firm to support the sustainability of marginalized artists in 2013 and is currently the Guggenheim's inaugural director of sustainability. "Engage and utilize collaboration and partnerships. Get rid of this idea of competition only for, you know, achieving the profit, the bottom line. And use competition to inspire creativity, and focus on how we can all really collaborate and work together."

Because once again, the solutions lie in taking in the whole picture. To hear more about how an intersectional approach could change the sustainability movement, check out the Well+Good podcast, below.

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