Busting the Myth: What is a Sustainable Lifestyle? (With Catie St. Jacques from Pela)

What does being sustainable mean? We usually associate a sustainable lifestyle with aesthetics, DIY products, and more, but while these are great for a sustainable lifestyle, they neither determine nor define what a sustainable lifestyle is. Part of preserving the environment includes charging our mindsets and perspectives to understand what sustainability really entails.

As an intern for the annual Boston Greenfest festival hosted by Foundation for a Green Future, I am currently researching sustainable companies and organizations that are willing to create videos, performances, or activities for the four-day long, free festival. Creating this “Hit List” of sponsors and content creators introduced me to innumerable for-profit companies with sustainable products in a variety of industries. With climate experts imploring people to take action in preserving the environment, displaying alarming evidence that 2020 is the last year to generate change without experiencing extreme environmental changes, living in a sustainable lifestyle has grown more popular among people of all ages. Moreover, more people are starting to utilize sustainable products to set up a sustainable lifestyle.

But, what is considered a sustainable lifestyle? Does it mean solely using sustainable products? Many myths say that living a sustainable lifestyle is only for the wealthy. Is that true?

To find out, I decided to reach out to someone from Pela, a company that manufactures eco-friendly products, including phone cases, wallets, smartwatch bands, and AirPods cases. Pela is a Certified B Corporation, Climate Neutral Certified and member of 1% For the Planet with a mission to eliminate 1 billion pounds of waste from the global waste stream by designing eco-friendly products. I contacted Catie St. Jacques, Pela’s PR specialist, who lives her sustainable lifestyle, to join me in an informational interview.

Firstly, she provided me with a brief background of Pela’s inception and mission. Conventional phone cases pose a threat to our environment because the plastic that creates them is nonrecyclable. Thus, they easily make way into our oceans and waste streams through landfills and improper disposal. Pela created a compostable and biodegradable alternative to these types of plastic phone cases, eliminating plastic use at the source. Unlike other cases, Pela’s phone cases are simply compostable in industrial or backyard composters. They are also just as functional as flexible, plastic cases. The founder of Pela, Jeremy Lang, had discovered that nearby farmers grew flax and then usually burned it because it was a useless, dense material. With this in mind, Jeremy chose to combine the wasted flax into Pela’s phone cases to improve the cases’ flexibility. 

Then, we started to discuss what is considered a sustainable lifestyle. A crucial issue that permeates the minds of many environmentalists is how to encourage people to switch to a sustainable lifestyle. To many, convenience is a difficult factor to overlook when adjusting to a new lifestyle. The thought of reusing products, managing waste, or other sustainable practices sounds tiring and time-consuming for many. I asked St. Jacques if she had any suggestions as to how people can overlook that factor and be more eco-friendly. She replied saying, “sustainable products will save you money in the long run” and “it is actually more convenient”. Some people say that sustainable living is only for the rich, but that is not the case. She shares that by reusing products instead of repurchasing one-time use products, a sustainable lifestyle is cheaper in the long run. Sustainable lifestyles encourage people to consider what they can reduce instead of what they should buy. 

The first step to living a sustainable lifestyle, contrary to popular belief, is not to entirely dispose of unsustainable products and purchase sustainable ones. St. Jacques states that, instead, the first step is to keep reusing what you already have. “It is not necessary to buy a product unless you need to”, she says. Otherwise, you would still be inflicting harm on the environment. She also asserted that “ a sustainable lifestyle does not mean using eco-friendly products. It means use what you have”. This eye-opening message, breaking the generalization about a sustainable lifestyle, demonstrates that a sustainable lifestyle does not need to be associated with aesthetic images of plants, DIY products, and more. “Being sustainable is just a matter of shifting perspective”, says St. Jacques. 

Living a sustainable lifestyle does not entail a radical change in day-to-day activities. You can still experience a sustainable lifestyle by just altering your mindset to reuse what you have. Instead of throwing away plastic bottles when purchasing a reusable bottle, consider reusing them to water plants. Instead of throwing away unsustainable shoes and clothing, consider thrifting them or using them for other purposes. Instead of completely discarding all your plastic bags for reusable ones, consider reusing those plastic bags for storage. Owning unsustainable products does not ruin your “sustainable lifestyle”. Buying reusable water bottles, grocery bags, and other supplies is a great step to being sustainable, but keep in mind that you must also prevent this transition to sustainability from creating the opposite effect of what you had in mind. 

There are numerous other companies and organizations with the mission to improve our environment using sustainable products. If you are interested in starting your sustainable lifestyle, I recommend you explore the many options available to be sustainable!