You don’t have to picket in the streets and live off the grid to call yourself an activist for sustainability. For Charmaine Seah — co-founder of marketing and branding collective Elementary Co — living sustainably means taking small but measured steps to preserve the environment — and in doing so, making it a way of life.
From shopping for groceries at surplus food distributors to toting around her own reusable cups and straws, Seah says that making sustainability part of her life has the added effect of educating her two daughters on the importance of preserving the planet.
“As parents, we’re always talking to our daughters about how we have to be less wasteful — and we lead by example,” she says. “So to them, sustainability is not even a movement, it’s just how we live our lives — it’s as simple as that.”
Some might question the effectiveness of an approach like Seah’s. But, as she explains, there is realistically so much an individual can do — but sometimes, that can be enough.
“We have the power as consumers to demand systemic change,” says Seah. “By opting to buy ethically and sustainably produced goods, we can vote with our wallets to affect the way things are produced.”
As part of the World Cleanup Day in September, Seah partnered with the non-profit organisation Alliance to End Plastic Waste for its All_Together Global Cleanup. The coalition was rounded out by Litterati, an app that keeps track of litter and turns the act of cleaning the streets into a game, replete with points and a global scoreboard.
Along with a group of other volunteers and notable figures, Seah headed down to East Coast Park, where they spent the morning clearing the trash that had washed ashore.
Seah acknowledges that beach cleanups can feel “disheartening”, given how the sands inevitably end up cluttered with debris once the tide comes in — but she says that she finds strength in others who think the same way.
During the Southwest Monsoon season in June, Seah and her parents noticed an increase in rubbish that was washing up on the East Coast Beach — so they planned for a cleanup of their own.
As they were picking up trash, a young family that was cycling by caught sight of them. They then “immediately dismounted their bikes” and asked if they could join the Seahs in their task.
“It gives me hope to know that there are more and more people who are stepping up and doing their part to tackle the problem,” she says.
Seah notes that some people in Singapore remain “apathetic” to the issue of sustainability. “We don’t have to come face to face with all the waste we generate because it’s removed and incinerated far from where we live and play,” she says. “So out of sight, out of mind — right?”
And while she acknowledges that some Singaporeans “have so many other things to worry about that waste is the last thing on their minds”, she’s less sympathetic to those who simply find bringing around reusable goods “inconvenient”.
“It’ll be pretty inconvenient for humankind when the planet we call home is completely uninhabited because of how badly we’ve treated it,” she quips.
Ultimately, Seah says that her mission to preserve the environment is not borne of some abstract crusade — but rather, the desire to hand over a planet worth living on to her daughters.
“I want my daughters and their children to not have to live in a world that’s polluted and destroyed,” says Seah, “And not have to suffer for the carelessness of our generation, and the ones before.”