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Zero Hour Story: Athena, Activist for Environmental Justice

Athena is pursuing her Master of Science in Public Policy & Management, at Carnegie Mellon University. She currently resides in D.C. as part of her second year program. In addition to going to school full time, she is also the Communications Coordinator for WE ACT For Environmental Justice (WE ACT), an environmental justice nonprofit that empowers and organizes low-income, people of color to build healthy communities in Northern Manhattan. When she’s not working or studying, you can find Athena eating, working out (so she can eat more), and spending time with friends.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
For me, sustainability means doing what I can to keep the natural state of the Earth in balance. This includes actions such as composting and conserving to ensure there are enough resources for future generations.

How do you incorporate sustainability into your life?
I always take public transportation to work, which is easier now that I live in DC. I bring my own lunch packed in Tupperware and use a reusable mug. I’m also lucky to work in an office that composts, recycles, and provides silverware for employees.

Why have you decided to dedicate your life to the protection of the environment?
For as long as I can remember, I have always cared about the environment. Growing up Persian, nature is a huge part of our culture. The Persian New Year starts on the first day of spring to symbolize ‘new beginnings.’ During this time, our house is filled with flowers, such as the Hyacinth. About 13 days after the new year, we celebrate with friends and family by getting out of the house and being in nature. Nature has always been a huge part of my life. Before I could even speak, my parents and uncle would take me hiking and camping. My grandpa also exposed me to nature through his interest and knowledge on plants. He could name any flower. He had a farm and taught me how to garden at a young age. In elementary school, I always created art projects relating back to earth, such as using construction paper to create the earth in 1st grade, or creating a recycling poster for my classroom in 4th grade.

You are very educated and up to date with environmental issues. How has that affected your perspective and action?
My life is dedicated to environmental issues and I try to raise awareness of environmental injustices as much as possible. I tend to forget that people are often unaware of policies and activities happening at the federal, state, or even local level. It’s important to have conversations with people and discuss current events that affect them and the environment. For example, many people don’t know about the proposed EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) budget cuts. The EPA is already working with a tiny budget, and with a task as important as protecting human health and the environment, they need the proper resources to do it. We can’t advocate against unjust policies or activities until we are aware of them first.

“I feel positive about the new generation and am excited for their involvement in the issues they care about. Since the [2016] election, more women and POC are running for office and that’s empowering to see.”

Is there an environmental issue you want our readers to know more about?
Overall, environmental justice issues don’t get enough coverage. People of color (POC) and lower income communities are more likely to be affected by climate change. Take for example, the recent hurricanes. Communities of color were hit first and worst. Often times, they don’t have the resources (such as time or money) to recover from these events. In addition, racism, although not overt, still affects them. Decisions are made without their input, leading to issues like the Flint, Michigan water crisis. It’s extremely important to put the very people who are affected in every step of the decision-making process. Policymakers should be translating documents and offering opportunities for meaningful community input.

Tell us more about your work. How do you hope to combat issues that affect communities of color?
I currently work for WE ACT, an environmental justice nonprofit based in New York City. The Executive Director of my organization founded the nonprofit when she realized a sewage plant in her community was negatively affecting the community’s health, a majority of whom are low income and people of color. They went on to fight for other causes including the new bus depot that brought additional toxic emissions into the air. They filed a lawsuit for the civil rights violation –– and they won! That’s one example of why we need to raise awareness of organizations like WE ACT who empower and advocate for environmental justice issues. This situation is not uncommon and happens all over the United States.

As a POC, have you noticed any injustices in the environmental space?
Professionals in the environmental field are primarily white and male, especially at higher level positions. They are unaware of what environmental justice is and do not understand the importance in incorporating community input into environmental policy decision making. Some organizations do emphasize the importance of diversity, but I find it is only on a superficial level. To put it simply, many do not know how to work with people of different backgrounds. I think reports like Green 2.0 will bring diversity to staff, and as a result, more inclusive policies. However, organizational change is necessary to retain these new staff members.

We think our readers would love to get involved. Any environmental nonprofits you recommend looking into?
The New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance is an alliance of New Jersey organizations working to build healthy communities across their state. They are trying to pass an ordinance regarding cumulative impacts, which is the result of a combination of pollution.  There’s also the East Michigan Environmental Action Council, a nonprofit that was recently concerned with the amount of incinerators concentrated in their community. There are so many in California as well – California Environmental Justice Alliance, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Asian Pacific Environmental Network and Pacoima Beautiful just to name a few. I would suggest looking for some in your community – they do not always have environmental justice in their title but are still doing important work.

How do you hope to implement change after you graduate from Carnegie Mellon University?
I realize my strengths lie in education and outreach. Ideally, I would like to conduct my own research on how policy decisions affect lower income and communities of color. Using my data visualization skills, I would create reports and fact sheets that share my findings. For example, I would really like to look into Superfund sites (land contaminated by hazardous waste) and where they are located. It would be interesting to see how many are located in communities of color. There are many toxic sites in communities of color that are not yet listed in the National Priority List (contaminated sites that have been chosen by the EPA to be cleaned up) that should be.

“I hope the people who don’t prioritize the environment begin to realize how essential it is to your everyday life. It’s not just about the birds and public lands; it’s also about the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat.”

Are you hopeful about the future of our planet?
Yes. I think it’s a little scary having Trump in office, especially with cabinet members who deny climate change, but I know there are compassionate people in the world who care about the environment. I feel positive about the new generation and am excited for their involvement in the issues they care about. Since the [2016] election, more women and POC are running for office and that’s empowering to see. In general, women and POC tend to vote in favor of environmental legislation. Additionally, mayors across the US are beginning to step up. The last presidential election has people fired up and ready to get involved. Positive changes are definitely happening.

Do you have any advice for someone who don’t think they can make a difference?
It depends on what you think “making a difference” means. Change doesn’t mean you have to alter every little thing you do. You can start with small steps, like sending a letter or calling your members of Congress, volunteering once a week for a cause you care about, or joining an environmental organization. When I was an undergrad entering the Office of Sustainability at the University of California, Riverside, I used to feel overwhelmed because I felt bad for simply writing on paper or taking the elevator instead of the stairs. The pressure was so much that I had quit. I realized that I needed to relax and that I couldn’t do this on my own. Don’t overburden yourself, but keep making small changes. It will become easier as you go along. If you want to make a bigger impact, encourage companies to divest from fossil fuels. Those actions will make a bigger difference than what I do at home, but that’s not to say small behavioral changes won’t make a difference. I suggest following campaigns like the The Last Plastic Straw Movement.

Any last words?
I hope the people who don’t prioritize the environment begin to realize how essential it is to your everyday life. It’s not just about the birds and public lands; it’s also about the air you breathe, the water you drink, and the food you eat. If you care about people, then you would care about your actions and how they affect others. Communities of color are the most affected by pollution in their air, water, and soil. It’s important to learn more about environmental issues and how it affects not just our everyday lives but others as well.

what's your #zerohourstory (blog)

Zero Hour Story and what’s it all about, here.


*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.

Photo of Stephanie with her dog

Zero Hour Story: Stephanie, Realist (& Dog Lover)

Stephanie is currently a software engineer at Nuna Health in San Francisco, where she is working to improve the American healthcare system. Outside of her career, she spends her time writing, reading, caring for her dog, trying to make her parents proud (viva Mexico!), and worrying about whether she’s having a positive impact on the world around her.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
Sustainability to me means thinking about the future. How can I help to ensure that this planet and all the creatures on it have one? It’s about considering others before yourself in every aspect of life. We don’t live in bubbles, so every decision we make ultimately affects those around us. I think sustainability means making choices that are hard, but will benefit everything and everyone in the long run. (Not that I always do, but I’m consistently learning to be better.)

When did you become aware of your impact and how have you acted upon it?
I don’t really recall an exact moment. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been conscious of our collective damage to the planet. When I was a kid, my access to knowledge and ability to really do anything was limited, but I did bother my parents about the importance of recycling until it became second nature for them. These days I still nudge those around me, but I focus primarily on myself. As I mentioned, it’s a process, but I constantly try to learn more. I try to hold myself to a high standard in my day-to-day actions. And, of course, there’s the political aspect of it; I may not be in a position to make policy decisions directly, but I like to believe that we can still have some influence, so I do my best to attend rallies, sign petitions, and donate to various organizations.

How do you incorporate sustainable practices in your everyday life?
Currently, it means riding public transportation, bringing Tupperware to restaurants for leftovers, carrying a reusable coffee cup everywhere I go, buying vegan household products, and trying to make my devices (phones, laptop, etc) last as long as possible before replacing them, among other things. There are so many things to think about when buying something or going somewhere, and I try to consider it all — when I’m buying clothes (do you really need this? how was it made?), when I’m going to take a trip (what can I do to reduce my impact during travel? once I’m there (how can I be a responsible and respectful tourist), etc. These thoughts are constantly going through my head, and it can be overwhelming, but ultimately it’s worth the effort.

“There are so many things to think about when buying something or going somewhere, and I try to consider it all – when I’m buying clothes (do you really need this? how was it made?), when I’m going to take a trip (what can I do to reduce my impact during travel? once I’m there (how can I be a responsible and respectful tourist), etc. These thoughts are constantly going through my head, and it can be overwhelming, but ultimately it’s worth the effort.”

You’ve visited a number of countries in your life. How has traveling abroad shaped your views on sustainability?
More than anything, seeing the diversity of life and beauty on this planet has only instilled in me a greater desire to preserve it. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a lot of natural wonder in my life, and the thought of having it vanish, having it no longer be available for those after me, inspires me to make sure that doesn’t happen. We create borders and divisions among ourselves, but at the end of the day, we’re all dependent on this planet, and it’s been amazing to see that people everywhere share my desire to keep Mother Earth safe.

Do you think social media plays a part in sustainability and the amount of travel people do today? If so, how do you think that affects the preservation of our natural places?
This is a question for which I don’t quite have an answer. Social media is a great tool for getting information to the masses, with both good and bad consequences. I’ve discovered new places through these channels, and I see people (like Tinycaravan) who are providing us with important knowledge to which people may not otherwise have access. Unfortunately, not everyone is going to be as mindful as we’d hope them to be. We’re seeing these surges in visitors to places like Zion National Park, for instance, and I’m ecstatic that people are finding joy in the wilderness, but it seems not all those people understand how to take care of these areas. I hate to be the sort of person who complains about technology/social media, but sometimes I wonder if certain people travel for the sake of taking a picture, or because they truly appreciate the experience. Whatever the answer, I just wish people would be more mindful of their impact on the world, and understand they have a responsibility to preserve the beauty of these destinations for future generations.

How has living in San Francisco, one of the few eco-friendly cities in California helped with living a sustainable lifestyle? What are still some of the challenges you encounter?
SF makes it pretty easy to be sustainable. There are recycling AND compost bins everywhere, and so many small stores dedicated to selling sustainable merchandise. It’s a dream come true, but the hardest part has been the inequality in this city. Silicon Valley is famously known for its wealth gap (and I say this knowing that I, as a software engineer, am part of the problem), and that means that not all communities have access to the same healthy food options or natural products that I do.

“We create borders and divisions among ourselves, but at the end of the day we’re all dependent on this planet.”

Are you hopeful about the future of our environment?
I’m not sure. It’s promising to see so many nations rise up to the challenge and try to combat all the damage we’ve done, but sometimes I fear it’s just not enough. Still, I keep pushing forward.

What would you tell someone who isn’t hopeful?
I get that it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but maybe that’s not what we need to worry about. At the end of the day, we as individuals have to keep living as though we were overflowing with hope. Fake it till you make it. We simply can’t give up on doing our part.

Any last words?
I’ll leave you with this quote from my childhood hero, John Muir, to remind us we are all connected and all rely on each other. Be kind to all life. When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.’

what's your #zerohourstory (blog)

Zero Hour Story and what’s it all about, here.

*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.

Milky Way and lodgepole pines; photo by Neal Herbert

Why We Need to Protect the Dark Sky

Can you remember the last time you looked up at a starry night sky? How about the last time you looked up at the Milky Way from your backyard? Chances are, if you live in a metropolitan city or even suburbia, you don’t get to see much of a view. Today, many areas of the dark sky are polluted by artificial lightning and most of us have to drive hundreds of miles to a dark, secluded area to experience a dark sky.

Exploring the boardwalks at night carrying bear spray; photo by Jacob W. Frank

Photo by Jacob W. Frank. Yellowstone National Park Flickr.

We both feel very lucky to have been able to sit under a dark sky and gaze up at the stars. If you’ve ever done it, maybe you’ll agree – it’s a special memory. When we’re camping or backpacking, we always look forward to the time when we get to set up camp, wash up, slip into our sleeping bags, and look up at the sky. The dark sky have always contributed to our sense of wonder and feelings of being “small” in this big, endless universe. Even on road trips, during the dead of night, we feel the same sense of excitement when we see a shooting star fly across the sky. Once, we even saw a comet (we think!). It was a green ball that shot down from the sky before disappearing in the distance. Experiences like these remind us of how lucky we are to be in the outdoors and take pleasure in the moments nature offers.

Apart from our sense of wonder, we owe our health, the balance of the ecosystem, and fundamental research to the dark sky. All living thing things rely on the dark sky to keep our internal clock in balance. Without it, our sleep is disrupted; leading to sleep deprivation and normal functionality. Animals need the dark sky to preserve survival behaviors such as sleep and reproduction, and for protection from predators. Explorers use the night sky to discover and study new stars, in addition to learning more about humankind and life on Earth. Have you ever walked by a building after hours and notice it is fully lit? Economically, unnecessary outdoor lighting leads to wasted energy and money too.

Where Can We Find a Dark Sky Today?

Artificial lighting has obscured the dark sky in many urban areas of the world. Luckily, there’s the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA), a leading organization dedicated to combating light pollution. Public and private places must meet strict requirements to be IDA certified and receive an official IDA seal of approval. Certified dark skies are Dark Sky Communities, Dark Sky Parks, Dark Sky Reserves, and Dark Sky Sanctuaries. The NPS website lists 18 certified Dark Sky Parks in the US. Other great news: central Idaho recently became America’s First Gold-Tier International Dark Sky Reserve. A promising step in the right direction to preserving the dark sky!

Here’s How We Can Help the IDA Protect the Dark Sky

Some of this information is taken from the IDA website (as of 3/03/2018), but we listed them here for your convenience.

  • Make a donation to organizations and communities working to preserve the dark sky.
  • Educate your community on the importance of the dark sky and encourage night sky appreciation events.
  • Encourage your city to adopt dark-friendly or IDA-certified light fixtures.
  • Participate during Earth Hour or International Dark Sky Week to bring awareness.
  • Become a citizen scientist through these organizations or using these apps: Globe at Night, Cities at Night, Dark Sky Meter app, and Loss of the Night app.
  • Attend a “star party” and learn from passionate amateur astronomers about the night sky. Do a quick Google search to find a star party near you. They’re really fun!

You can learn more about becoming a dark sky place here.

Have you ever experienced a dark sky? Mind sharing the importance of the dark sky with your friends? We need all the help we can get to protect the dark sky for generations to come.

Jennifer and Vivian

Photo Credit:

Featured photo – Yellowstone National Park. Milky Way and Lodgepole Pines. NPS photo by Neal Herbert. Second photo – Yellowstone National Park. Exploring the boardwalks at night carrying bear spray. NPS photo by Jacob W. Frank.

Frances on UCLA campus

Zero Hour Story: Frances, Student & Community Organizer

Frances is finishing up her last few months as a graduate student in both Asian American Studies and Community Health Sciences. Her life revolves around Chinatown in Los Angeles where she volunteers with Chinatown Community for Equitable Development, a grassroots organization rooted in building the power of working-class immigrant communities and fighting for truly affordable housing. She also loves to hang out with the elderly.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
It’s a working definition because I’m still learning, but right now it means not taking more than Earth can provide or restore. My views on sustainability aligns with community spaces and people. We shouldn’t look at Earth as a commodity or something we can profit from, but as a place with environmental, social, and spiritual value.

Can you explain what you mean by ‘spiritual value’?
It goes back to my Buddhist faith and thinking beyond myself as an individual; valuing the people around me and the interactions I have. Spiritual values are the emotions I feel when I think about Earth and what it has provided for us so that we can live the life we want.

When did you become aware of your impact and how have you acted upon that?
I’m glad I can reflect on this now that I’m older. I really do believe my elders had a huge impact on me, mainly my parents, grandmas, and aunt. They really taught me how to take care of the environment, to be more frugal, and to be less wasteful. I became aware of my impact on Earth and the things I consume when I started grad school. I’m currently studying Public Health and obtaining a Food Study Certificate; its been interesting because these courses have made me more critical about food – something we interact with everyday, but don’t think much about.  I’m more critical about what I put in my body and the conditions and ethics surrounding the people who grow it, pick it, prepare it, and cook it.

Has the experience made you more conscious of your waste?
A lot of folks who grow our food are undocumented immigrants who don’t have the best working conditions and are oftentimes exploited, given our current food system. For me, to throw food away feels like an insult to the folks who put so much labor into it. Going back to my childhood, my parents always told me to never waste food. I think that speaks to their working class experience. Both of my parents grew up in very poor areas in Vietnam. My grandma used to pick up rice from the ground and worked really hard to provide food for our family. I’m privileged to be able to afford nutritious food and it would be disrespectful to their experiences if I didn’t appreciate what I have.

“My elders had a huge impact [on my views], mainly my parents, grandmas, and aunt. They really taught me how to take care of the environment, to be more frugal, and to be less wasteful.”

How have you incorporated those values when trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
I want to be more intentional with the purchases I make. This year, I’m trying to commit more to slow fashion and to not buy anything new, especially because I already have so much stuff. I’ve been repurposing my mom’s old clothes and creatively incorporating the items she grew up with into my style. If I do need something new, I’ll purchase clothes from ethical companies like Everlane or small local businesses led by women or people of color. These include small shops in Chinatown as well as shops like Proclaim and Conrado. With beauty, I’ll look for products with natural ingredients or ones that don’t have harsh chemicals. With food, it’s really about not being wasteful, choosing healthier options, and purchasing locally grown produce.

Have you encountered any struggles with trying to shop more intentionally?
In terms of sustainability, a lot of the things I do is on an individual scale. It’s important to understand not everyone can make lifestyle changes for various reasons. For example, my parents are accustomed to the things they use because it’s familiar and it’s cheaper. But this is where we need to demand companies to commit to ethical practices, produce products without harsh chemicals, and make changes on a community and policy level.

Your work is very focused on the Chinatown, Los Angeles community. Has that affected your views and actions on sustainability?

Lower income communities and communities of color are definitely negatively impacted by environmental issues. There are a lot of health disparities, but there’s a need for more quantitative and qualitative data about the health impacts on communities like Chinatown. This can make it hard to research and organize for new programs. I’ve spent a lot of time talking with folks about their living conditions and you really begin to see what they have to go through. They have a need for more resources. They have to travel out of town to go to a good doctor or to find quality foods. They live near lots of pollution or in houses that are old and moldy.

“I think people who work on housing or the transit system need to work with environmentalists and grassroots organizers. There needs be a more diverse group of people at the table when they create plans and make decisions that affect the community.”

What are some ways Los Angeles can become more sustainable while still keeping its lower income and people of color (POC) communities in mind?
Based off of my own experience, many working-class POC are left out of the decision making process. I think the way the system is set up is just inaccessible. Public input meetings are held at times when the working class is working, like on a Monday at 1:00pm. Meetings are held in English. Notices that get sent out are in English. Sometimes fliers have a Spanish translation, but it’s usually a small blurb that doesn’t provide a lot of information or context. I know Los Angeles needs to improve our transit system, but transit-oriented developments are usually built near lower income communities, which displace the very people who use them the most. That doesn’t make sense to me. I think people who work on housing or the transit system need to work with environmentalists and grassroots organizers. There needs be a more diverse group of people at the table when they create plans and make decisions that affect the community.

If our readers wanted to help, what is the best way to get involved?
There are pros to the system, but I think it’s important to not be limited by the options provided in city government. We can do a lot of different things to address inequity. There are a lot of nonprofits and grassroots organizations that are fighting for more accessible decision-making processes, equitable development, and social justice. Center your research and actions around the experiences of lower income communities and communities of color.

Are you hopeful about a more sustainable future?
I’m hopeful, but I’m also scared. I’ve been trying to balance hope, fear, anger, and so many emotions with our current government. The truth is, we live in a capitalist society, and I don’t think capitalism is sustainable. The things we’re doing, how we produce our food, and our ways of doing business are not sustainable. These practices disproportionately and negatively impact working-class people of of color because businesses profit off of them. Still, I’m hopeful because I see a lot of progressive organizations and individuals who demand we change these systems to make them more sustainable, just, and equitable. All I want is for everyone to be able to live healthy and happy lives.

Any last words?
I think it’s important to think beyond of ourselves as individuals and to think about the people and the spaces around us. For me personally, sustainability ties into everything I do at school, in Chinatown, and at home. My actions and my lifestyle affect you and yours affect me. How we exist as individuals is interconnected with everything and everyone.

what's your #zerohourstory (blog)

Zero Hour Story and what’s it all about, here.

*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.

Photo of Vicki, Community-Driven Enthusiast

Zero Hour Story: Vicki, Community-Driven Enthusiast

Vicki is a 25-year-old female living in Issaquah, Washington. She is a manager-in-training for the Golden Corral franchise and was formerly involved with many environmental non-profits in the Seattle area such as Washington Environmental Council, CarbonWA, and Fund for the Public Interest. In her spare time, Vicki enjoys attending concerts, cooking, and consuming lots of boba milk tea.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
Sustainability is doing what I can to not harm the environment or deplete its natural resources. We may not be here when the environment will be at its worst, but our children might and I want to make sure they have a good life. It’s so important to do our part to help sustain this life for everyone after us.

Why is it important for you to live a sustainable lifestyle?
I’m constantly asking myself “what can I do now to help future generations?”. If we don’t take care of the planet, there isn’t going to be a world for anyone to live in. There are some people who don’t think it’s a big deal to drive their cars every day or not recycle, but just because we don’t see the effects, doesn’t mean the negative impact isn’t there.

How did you become interested in caring for the environment?
I became more accustomed to a sustainable lifestyle during my undergrad at the University of Washington (UW). At UW, there were many opportunities to learn about living “green.” The campus is very forward thinking with many student organizations promoting sustainable awareness and expressing environmental dedication. We were exposed to green practices too. Each of our classrooms had separate bins for trash, recyclables, and compostables; and our dining halls had posters with examples to show which items belong to which category. There were also tons of student-led sustainability projects throughout campus aimed at reducing the university’s environmental impact.

Is that a reason why you decided to major in Environmental Studies at UW?
In my second year of college, my counselor recommended an introductory Environmental Studies course and I quickly fell in love with the subject. I enjoyed the program because it’s broad and interdisciplinary, allowing me to take classes from different departments; such as wildlife, global health, and food studies. We learned to listen to different perspectives and collaborated on issues such as climate change, water, energy, policy, and education. It was also very hands on; we got to work in small groups as well as work closely with our professors. The best part was getting to visit all of the stunning natural and urban landscapes Washington has to offer.

“I’ve learned the importance of reaching out to communities and educating legislators because that’s how you get the ball rolling and how bills are passed.”

What’s something you learned from your courses that you think is important for everyone to know?
I’m big on recycling and recycling properly. When we recycle improperly, we risk the cause of contamination and whole batches of recyclables may need to be thrown out. It also creates chaos for those whose job is to separate the recyclables. Did you know when recycling plastic water bottles, we need to remove the bottle cap? Additionally, we need to make sure the bottles are washed and clear of previous residue.

How have you incorporated sustainable practices into your everyday life?
I try not to drive my car as much and take public transit when I can. Luckily, it’s really convenient and efficient in Seattle. I’m conscious of my diet and try limit my weekly intake of meat. I also carry a reusable water bottle and use reusable bags for grocery shopping. That’s all I can think of for now, but I do want to find more ways to be sustainable.

How has living in an eco-friendly city like Seattle helped shape your views on sustainability?
It has greatly impacted me in a positive way. I learned a lot through my classes and the people I meet. When I see locals ride bikes, wear fair trade clothing, and canvass on the streets for environmental justice, I’m inspired to do more. I’ve learned the importance of reaching out to communities and educating legislators because that’s how you get the ball rolling and how bills are passed. There’s a lot of environmental awareness in Seattle, and I definitely believe that kind of exposure pushes me to do more. If I still lived in the Los Angeles area, I wouldn’t be as sustainable as I am today.

What do you find challenging in trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle?
It takes a lot of time and effort to make a conscious change. I wish I’d stayed involved in environmental causes after college, but sometimes I am too lazy. It makes me feel guilty. It’s an internal struggle I go through. However, I try to remind myself that small changes can have a huge positive impact and that makes all the difference.

“If you really believe in something, you can do it. The power of a community runs deep.”

Being more mindful is a constant learning process. Are there things you do to motivate yourself or others to continue the fight for a more sustainable world?
I’m very aware about sustainable practices, mostly because it has become a habit for me. So it’ll bug me when I see someone throw a plastic bottle in the trash and not the recycling bin. I think it’s important to speak up and say, “Hey, you know you could buy a reusable water bottle, right? It’s easier.” At one of my previous jobs, we didn’t even have a recycling bin. I asked if we could get one and the company said they would try in a couple months. There was no sense of urgency and it makes me wonder why it’s so difficult to make changes? When I worked in retail, our products were packaged with ridiculous amounts of paper, plastic, and cardboard. It’s just so unnecessary and wasteful. Now that I’m in the service industry, I hope to actually implement sustainable practices (limiting food waste and proper recycling for example) into the workplace!

Any last words?
I’ll end with a story: I joined an environmental grassroots organization called Carbon Washington back in 2014. It was founded by a former UW professor/stand up economist who wanted to implement carbon pricing through a revenue-neutral tax shift similar to the carbon tax in British Columbia. There were only a few of us in the beginning and we would meet in classrooms on campus to discuss our plans. Within a year, we evolved, and created a huge movement. Then, in 2016, we created a statewide campaign to pass Initiative 732. We spent countless hours getting word out during events, building partnerships and coalitions, and gathering signatures. Our initiative was endorsed by social and business leaders, scientists, public officials, etc. and although the measure didn’t pass, it inspired the state government to design carbon-reduction policies. Even today, CarbonWA is still focused on making an impact. I was lucky to be a part of it; it was a huge deal! Being able to do something that big was amazing and it just started with a small group of people who wanted to make their world more sustainable. My take-home message is if you really believe in something, you can do it. The power of a community runs deep.

what's your #zerohourstory (blog)

Zero Hour Story and what’s it all about, here.

*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.

Grocery Shopping Tip: Reusable Produce Bags

Grocery Shopping Tip: Reusable Produce Bags

This year, we want to make a conscious effort to reduce our plastic waste. It has been a learning process and while it’s not always easy (sometimes we forget our glass bottles when we buy boba milk teas, but that’s okay!), we want to be open about the process as well as share simple ways you can make more conscious efforts in your everyday life too.

Since grocery shopping is an activity most of us do weekly, we thought it’d be a practical place to start incorporating plastic-free practices. Introducing, reusable produce bags – a simple switch that’ll save millions of plastic bags from traveling into landfills. They’re easy to use, super lightweight, clutter-free, machine-wash friendly, and long-lasting. Reusable produce bags are available in cotton, canvas, mesh, or netted drawstring bags, and most are compostable or recyclable at the end of their life cycle. We got our bags from ECOBAGS, Simple Ecology, and Earth Junky.  

Cotton drawstring reusable produce bags

Before Usage: Make note of each bag’s tare weight. The ‘tare weight’ is the weight of an empty container, and will be subtracted from your total amount paid. This makes sure you are only paying for the food inside the bag. Most reusable produce bags will have tare weight labeled on the tags. If they don’t (e.g. glass jars), you can get them weighed with the cashier before filling your bags.

How We Use Our Reusable Produce Bags

Brussel sprouts in reusable produce bag

Photo of carrots and leafy greens

Fruits, vegetables, and other produce. No longer will you be struggling with those sticky plastic bags at the store – plus, you’ll be reducing large amounts of plastic waste. Reusable bags are available in many different sizes so there’s one to fit each of your produce. Cotton bags are great for delicate, leafy greens because they are better for retaining moisture. Mesh bags are great for starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, peas, carrots, and beets.

Photo of trail mix in reusable produce bag

Photo of a bulk bin filled with rice

Photo of a bulk bin filled with quinoa and in reusable produce bag

Bulk Food. We love using our cotton/canvas bags to purchase foods such as rice, quinoa, beans, nuts, coffee, and other small grains. This has made a huge difference in our waste reduction as we’re no longer purchasing foods packaged in non-recyclable plastics. Another perk is having the option to buy as little or as much as you need, reducing food waste.

Photo of bulk bins

Photo of bulk bins and dispensers

Photo of bulk bins

A list of bulk food grocery markets in Los Angeles: Cookbook Market, Co-Opportunity Natural Foods, Rainbow Acres, Sprouts, Whole Foods, and of course, tons of farmers markets.

Please be aware, some markets don’t allow the usage of your own containers (make sure to ask before you do so!). In these situations, give the plastic baggies a longer life span and reuse them until they are deemed unusable. When you’re ready to recycle the plastic bag, check with your local municipal recycling facility to confirm if they accept plastic bags. Then, before throwing them in the recycling bin, knot each bag, and gather all the plastic bags into one large one. It’ll help with the sorting process.

One last tip: Use smaller sized reusable produce bags to store snacks, lunches, and other traveling essentials, while helping to eliminate the use of Ziploc bags. According to the EPA, in 2014, over 33 million tons of plastic ended up in our landfills –– only 9.4% of them were actually recycled. Plastic bags can take up to 500 years to decompose and potentially leech into the soil and water. By using reusable produce bags, you are making a huge positive impact for the environment, our planet, and all the animals that live here.

Do you try to limit your plastic waste when grocery shopping too? Know any stores that sell bulk food items in your area? Please share with us in the comments below!

Jennifer and Vivian

Phillip on top of a mountain

Zero Hour Story: Phillip, Progression Not Perfection

Phillip is a lifelong scholar, student of life, and hopeful futurist. He is the type of person who likes to travel to new places, eat great food, cook new dishes, and try new things (only in that order). Having spent five years living in Northern California as a native Angeleno, Phillip is optimistic that Southern California can be a leader in sustainability. He believes in the future of Los Angeles and wants to be involved in making the city a greener space for future generations to come.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
Sustainability in its purest form is the ability to do something indefinitely. In regards to environmental sustainability, it means understanding our past, enjoying the present, and thinking of our future. Sustainability happens everywhere without people thinking of it. Growing up in an immigrant family, my family was “sustainable” without thinking of “sustainability”, at least the way it is known today. I firmly believe everyone can live a more sustainable life without having to try too hard.

Was there a profound moment that sparked your interest in the protection of the environment?
I was seven years old when I realized the negative effects of humans on Earth. In my elementary school, we were served lunches in styrofoam trays and at the end of each lunch period, the trash bins would overflow with styrofoam and wasted food. The next day, like magic, all the trash would be gone. As a curious kid I wondered, “Where does all this trash go?” I asked the adults around me and they told me about landfills –– how we dug these very deep holes in the Earth to throw away trash. It was strange to me how adults would tell kids not to litter, yet, landfills were essentially the same thing; the difference was, one was hidden and one was in your face. As I’ve gotten older and learned more about the Earth and endangered species, I knew I wanted to be in this fight. If I didn’t work towards a better environment, how could I expect others to?

Why is this cause personally important to you?
I care about the future and everyone in it. We only have one place we call home. Every human, animal, and living thing in the history of the world came from the same place and we’re all connected. If you care about anyone on planet Earth, then you have a stake in the future.

“I feel optimistic because there is so much more we can do and so much space for change. There’s a lot of work to be done and I am excited to be a part of that.”


In 2014 you were a part of a summer sustainability program. Can you tell us about that and how the experience shaped your views on sustainability?
The program was called Sustainable Cities of Northern Europe (SCONE) and we covered five major cities: Stockholm, Malmö, Copenhagen, Freiburg, and Lucerne. It helped me rethink what sustainability actually looks like when progressive policies are enacted. On both ends, it made me feel both pessimistic and optimistic. I haven’t seen all of America, but in California, we are a leader in the green space, yet it feels as though we still are not doing enough. I wondered why we can’t be more like the countries in Europe? It’s a complicated question and there are many factors to it. One major difference is the population in California hovers close to 40 million people, which is five times larger than the entire country of Switzerland. So implementing policies in that massive population is incredibly difficult because getting a consensus can be near impossible. A more sustainable future will demand investments in the right infrastructure, better education, and so much more, but I believe we can get to that future.

What’s an example of a sustainable effort you want to see applied in Los Angeles?
Cycling and public transportation are both near and dear to my heart. While it’s nice to see people biking, I get more excited seeing someone biking to work than seeing someone biking for exercise. Someone biking to work is making a necessary trip and minimizing their carbon footprint. It’s that meaningful effort that matters to me. For a sustainable future to take place, we need all people to have a safe place to walk and bike (i.e. more bike lanes in Los Angeles). I would like to see more change in transportation, green space, waste reduction, and energy.

How have you used your passion to engage in conversations with people around you?
There was a time when it was okay to not speak up so that we didn’t make people feel uncomfortable. That time has passed. I won’t ask someone to be perfect, but I will ask everyone to try. I’m a realist and I know I’m not perfect. There are days I won’t bike because it’s too hot or it’s raining really hard and that’s okay. But if I bike whenever I can, then I will take those wins because small changes do have a profound impact. No one wants to be told what to do, but it is an important conversation to have. You have to ask yourself, if I don’t start this important conversation, will someone else? If the answer is no, then it’s time to step up and be bold. There are times when it’s also okay to not speak up, because every moment is different. I think every opportunity we have to subtly change the world, even if it’s one person’s world, even for just a day, we need to take it. Every chance you have to make a difference is worth it, so go out there and take that chance!

What keeps you motivated to fight for a more sustainable future?
The people around me give me hope. When I see someone cycling to work or a person bringing their own grocery bag to the market, I feel so much hope for the future. Kids are also inspiring because they are the future and they can continue this fight. I think it’s amazing to see people come on board –– especially those who weren’t in the fight before. It’s motivating to see that light bulb come on for people and having them make that connection between their lives and their impact on the environment. Seeing people realize the powerful impact they can make and the change they can create to make this a better world; that’s powerful.

“I won’t ask someone to be perfect, but I will ask everyone to try. I think every opportunity we have to subtly change the world, even if it’s one person’s world, even for just a day, we need to take it.”


What do you say to someone who thinks they can’t make a difference?
Realistically you can’t change the world alone, but that’s why I’m here with you (haha). Millennials and the youth of today are known to be idealistic. They want to change the world, and I believe we will. We need to show people the depth of their impact and the power of their actions. For example, if you use one pair of reusable chopsticks a day, in one week you’ll save seven pairs of disposable ones. In two weeks, you’ll save fourteen, and so on. That small change over time becomes big changes! You may not be changing the world, but you’re changing your world and that’s better than no change at all.

Any last words?
American author, Marianne Williamson once said, “As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence actually liberates others”. I know from my own experience, living a “greener” life has slowly influenced those around me to do the same. When I stepped away from my fear of being judged for speaking up for the right thing, others around me began stepping up too. Don’t underestimate what you can do. Keep doing it because every little bit helps. There will be days where you think to yourself, “what’s the point?” and it’s okay to feel that way. I’ve been fighting for the environment ever since I was seven years old and I’ve been picked on for it. It’s not always easy to believe in yourself and to believe in the future, but it will always be worth it.

what's your #zerohourstory (blog)

Zero Hour Story and what’s it all about, here.

*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.

Photo Credit: Yellowstone National Park. Enjoying the night sky, Mammoth Hot Springs. NPS photo by Neal Herbert. 

What We’re Watching: “Under An Arctic Sky”

We’re missing the outdoors a little too much this month. In an attempt to fill the void, this month’s documentary is focused on adventure with Under An Arctic Sky.

One of our favorite adventure inspirations is Chris Burkard, a self-taught photographer and well-known explorer. Burkard’s work focuses on exploring some of the coldest and most remote parts of the world, taking him to some of the most epic places on the planet. Under an Arctic Sky is a 40-min documentary in collaboration with Sweatpants Media. The film follows six surfers on their quest to ride the best waves in Iceland, in the middle of winter, with one of the most brutal storms to hit the island in 25 years. Why? Burkard says, “winter provides the most ideal conditions for surf in the country, and our main goal for the trip was simple: to find world class surf.”

The film spoke to every single adventurous bone in our body. We. Could. Not. Stop. Smiling. It was so beautifully shot and truly showcased adventure in its purest form. Even during moments of uncertainty, they trusted one another and kept positive attitudes. It was raw and real. Burkard says, “The risk is kind of key to the joy. Without risk, the reward isn’t as sweet.”

If you love the outdoors and want to watch a group of free-spirited and adventurous surfers riding waves, we think you’ll enjoy this.

You can find Under the Arctic Sky on Netflix now.

Jennifer and Vivian

Photo Credit: Yellowstone National Park. Enjoying the night sky, Mammoth Hot Springs. NPS photo by Neal Herbert. 

Photo of Annie

Zero Hour Story: Annie, Curious Soul With A Creative Mind

Annie currently works in social media for global brand, Daniel Wellington and as a sales associate for Madewell. During the weekends you can find her exploring coffee shops and restaurants, or at home sleeping. She’s been taking small steps to improve important aspects of her life, specifically in her health and finances. For Annie, small steps tie into her goal to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

What does ‘sustainability’ mean to you?
I don’t have a technical definition for sustainability. The way I define it is with the three R’s: reduce, reuse, and recycle.

What led you to be more aware of your impact on the planet?
Growing up, my mom and grandmother had a huge influence on me. They taught me how to conserve toilet paper and reuse cloth scraps for napkins. Recycling is a big thing in my family too, which makes me frustrated when I see people throw bottles and cans into the trash bins instead of the recycling bins. I’ve also seen videos about how plastic can travel through different channels and end up in our oceans. Reading Tinycaravan’s articles, seeing companies practice sustainability, going to national parks, and educating myself through museums and classes have also helped me with this journey.

How have you changed your actions after learning more about our impact on the environment?
When I used to visit national parks, beaches, or any natural areas, I would take home shells, pine cones, leaves, or rocks to commemorate the trips. After visiting more parks and educating myself through the information placards, I’ve learned that taking these resources away from their natural space hurts the environment. If I take a pine cone home, it’s just going to sit on my desk and collect dust. It’s nothing more than just a decoration. Now, I don’t take anything home because they benefit the park, decompose at some point, and start their new life again.  

That’s so great! We love that you practice the “Leave No Trace” rule. Do you also practice sustainability in your everyday life?
A lot of my practices are made through my  purchases. If I shop online on Amazon, I’ll wait for two weeks to combine all the items so that it can be delivered in one shipment. I think it helps to reduce energy. Last year I also stopped buying Christmas presents. Most of the time, they end up being material things that don’t hold value and are left in the closet. These practices have helped me be more conscious about what I ‘want’ versus what I ‘need.’

“I’ve stop buying more things because (a) I don’t want to waste money, (b) I don’t have anywhere to put it, and (c) it’s just wasteful.”

Are there other ways you practice sustainability in addition to your purchasing habits?
Tinycaravan talks a lot about this on their blog: I bring my own reusable utensils. My company eats out often, so I’ll keep a set of utensils at work (a butter knife, spoon, fork and a pair of chopsticks). It’s so easy to bring your own utensil set; you don’t even need to go out and buy a new set, you can just bring what you have from home. Two of my co workers took notice and even started to bring their own. I find that really cool.

What is one of the biggest changes you’ve made since living a more sustainable lifestyle?
One of the biggest changes I’ve made is cutting down on the amount of time I spend in my car. I take the Metro to work and commute about 3.5 hours per day. I figured since driving to work would take the same amount of time, there and back, I would be decreasing my carbon footprint  by taking the Metro. Also, I would probably be angry and cranky 24/7 if I sat behind a wheel for that long of a period.

Are you constantly finding ways to live more mindfully and with intent?
I’ve always wanted to practice ‘less is more’ in regards to my personal wardrobe. One of my goals moving forward is to add less to my closet. It’s so easy to cave into trends rather than invest in timeless and classic pieces. I’m slowly eliminating purchases from fast fashion companies. I used to shop at Forever 21, H&M, and Zara. They were affordable, but the quality was poor. Overtime, I learned that many of those companies do not engage in ethical business practices. Since I’ve stopped shopping at fast fashion companies, I realize I don’t care about trends as much. I’ve stop buying more things because (a) I don’t want to waste money, (b) I don’t have anywhere to put it, and (c) it’s just wasteful.

The unfortunate fact about brands who engage in ethical practices is that their products are more pricey. How have you managed that?
I will spend more money on something with better quality. That’s especially true when it comes to my makeup and skincare products. Since this is something I use every day, why not buy from cruelty-free brands? When I found out that some of the brands I used were not cruelty-free, it was upsetting. I did my research and stopped buying from those brands (e.g. NARS, Laura Mercier) and started buying from cruelty-free brands like Tarte, Glossier, and RMS Beauty. They are more expensive than drugstore brands, but I’m willing to pay that much knowing they’re cruelty-free.

What brands and blogs do you follow that inspires you to be more eco-conscious?
I admire brands such as Tesla, Everlane, RMS Beauty, Coconut Bowls, Beeswrap, Ecotools, Madewell, and Reformation. I also follow blogs like Tinycaravan, Sustainyoself, and Matchbox Kitchen.

“You never know who you’re going to impact.  It’s being a positive influence on your peers, family, or friends, for the greater good.”

Are you hopeful about the future?
Yes, I’m definitely hopeful. I say that because the more we study and practice sustainability, see companies be more environmentally conscious, and hear about it, the more awareness we have for the issues. If you tell a friend and they tell a friend, word will spread. I see more compostable and recyclable bins at restaurants and in parks now too. There are recycling centers today for cans, plastics, wood, and electronics. I think it’s a big deal for companies like Madewell to engage in philanthropic activities like their denim recycling program – Blue Jeans Go Green. If more companies see others practicing something similar, they’ll want to start too. From a consumer point of view, if I see a brand engaging in sustainability, I’ll rather buy from that company than others that don’t advocate for the environment.

What would you say to someone who isn’t as hopeful?
I would encourage them to take easy, small steps. You never know who you’re going to impact.  It’s being an influence on your peers, family, or friends, for the greater good.

Any last words?
The thing with the environment is there will  be people who care and people who don’t care. But if more people see action being taken, they’ll be curious and want to learn more or even do more. The people we surround ourselves with and the issues we educate ourselves in have a huge effect in the bigger picture.

what's your #zerohourstory (blog)

Zero Hour Story and what’s it all about, here.

*This interview was modified for the purpose of the series.

Cindy hiking with her repurposed backpack

To DIY: Repurposed Daypack

When you’re about to ascend the highest peak (14,505 feet, 4,421m) in the contiguous United States, it’s important to have a sturdy backpack with good frame support. However, such backpacks can cost hundreds of dollars. Instead of buying a new backpack, our friend Cindy repurposed one of her old daypacks. The DIY repurposed daypack worked perfectly on her 16-hour hike up Mt. Whitney and only cost her $8 extra dollars. Cindy was kind enough to share a step-by-step guide below.

Materials Needed

  • Body: ~3-year old REI 18-Liter Flash Pack (or any old pack)
  • Hip Belt: ~6-year old LL Bean 27-Liter Day Pack (or any removable hip belt)
  • Frame: 1/4 inch Aluminum Window Frame + Frame Connectors (bought at Home Depot)
  • Tools: 4 Velcro Strips + Metal Handsaw (bought at Home Depot)

Total Weight: 1.2lbs or 19.2 ounces (10 ounces from the body)

A Step-By-Step Guide With Photos

Photo of materials: LL Bean 27L Daypack for hip belt, roll of velcro, frame, REI 18L Flash Pack, metal handsaw, and frame connectors

From left to right: LL Bean 27L Daypack for hip belt, roll of velcro, frame, REI 18L Flash Pack, metal handsaw, and frame connectors

Photo of frame with metal handsaw and connectors

Frame with metal handsaw and connectors

Step 1: Cut the frame into four pieces, two for width and two for length. Subtract about an inch from the dimensions of your bag. We used the trial and error method.

Photo of inserting the cut frames into the connectors
Step 2:
Fit the connectors into the frame to form a square.

Photo of the REI 18L Flash Pack with velcro strip

REI 18L Flash Pack with velcro strip

Step 3: Cut four strips of velcro and position across bottom of body.

Photo of the REI 18L Flash Pack with hip belt from the LL Bean 27L Daypack

REI 18L Flash Pack with hip belt from the LL Bean 27L Daypack

Step 4: Stick hip belt onto velcro and slide straps into the body’s hooks.
Tip: Most backpacks’ hip belts already have velcro on them. We only needed the ‘prickly’ velcro strips for this.

Photo of the backside of the REI 18L Flash Pack with frame and hip belt

Backside of the REI 18L Flash Pack with frame and hip belt

Step 5: It’s a good sign if your frame is smaller than your daypack. Before sticking it in the bag, make modifications here.

Photo of frame being put into the REI 18L Flash PackStep 6: The Flash Pack has a padded back that you can open. It’s a tight fit so we disassembled the frame to put it inside the pouch, then reassembled it inside the pack.
Note: The padded back is NOT the bladder pouch.

Photo of the frame inside the padded pouch of the REI 18L Flash Pack

The frame inside the padded pouch of the REI 18L Flash Pack

Step 7: We probably could have shaved off another centimeter, but it is important that the frame itself has enough infrastructure to provide support. Otherwise it’s just extra weight.

Photo of the final product: REI 18L Flash Pack with frame support and hip belt

The final product! REI 18L Flash Pack with frame support and hip belt

In the end, Cindy’s makeshift repurposed daypack saved her money and showed us how easy it is to choose a sustainable alternative to buying a brand new and expensive backpack. In her Zero Hour Story interview, Cindy says, “One of the most impactful ways to be sustainable is to simply stop buying ‘stuff’ and repurpose things you already own.” We hope her story inspires you to be creative with what you already have.

Jennifer and Vivian

*Photos and Step-By-Step Guide directions were provided by Cindy and Erick.