Canadian sustainability advocate Kristen Mandala, 31, returned to her hometown of Toronto in 2018 after having worked as a tour guide in Central and South America, and it opened her eyes as to how people can feel too overwhelmed to take action on the climate crisis.
“The biggest thing that I’ve learned, especially from that time of moving back, is that people really don’t respond to fear, shame [or] judgment in terms of a motivator for change,” she told Newsweek recently. “Oftentimes, especially when it comes to the climate, they want to feel hopeful. They want to feel as though they really can make a difference.”
That experience motivated Mandala to start The Greener Good consulting agency in 2019. It aims to “remove barriers between those who may not have previously felt able to participate in sustainable action by forging a connection to the natural world around us,” according to its website.
In a recent Zoom interview, Mandala, who is also a podcaster and a sustainability educator and speaker for Earth Day Canada, gave us a sample of the kind of guidance she offers, and outlined some of the ways that people can make a difference in their own lives regarding sustainability.
She advocated for bulk buying, thrifting and repairing clothing, favoring locally owned hotels and restaurants when traveling and just being part of the climate conversation, whether via following environment-focused accounts on social media or reaching out to government officials.
“I’m so grateful for the things that I already have that this need to constantly engage and buy and keep up with the latest trends has really gone by the wayside,” she explained. “I like making my coffee at home, I like having clothes that I’ve already worn, and I like repairing the holes in my socks.”
Besides consulting, The Greener Good offers virtual and in-person interactive workshops that highlight ways to increase the health of the planet and personal well-being and foster a greater understanding of sustainability. In her work with the Earth Day Canada nonprofit, Mandala is also part of workshops that highlight different ways people can incorporate smarter consumption into their lives.
“A lot of the things that we talk about is reducing food waste and how we move, like, engaging differently in transportation systems, growing our own food if that’s something that people are interested in,” she said. “If you really love cooking, look at some zero-waste recipes that include more plant-based ingredients.”
She said her next goal is to be able to deliver workshops at a greater scale and more frequently. Because she sees young people as the demographic who will be most greatly affected by the climate crisis, she wants to deliver more workshops in schools.
Constructive dialogue is central to Mandala. During her interview, she said something she is most proud of is people contacting her to say that they felt empowered to reach out to their government representative for the first time, even if they don’t feel like they are 100 percent informed on every facet impacting the environment.
That focus on active communication is a key quality of the podcast she co-hosts, called Accidental Friends. Along with her “accidental friend” Alene Degian, Mandala presents a weekly example of civil discourse.
The two hosts “don’t see eye-to-eye on almost anything,” Mandala said, singling out “anything pop-culture-related” as where disagreements may arise.
But, she added, “We’re still able to engage in nuanced conversation that’s super-respectful. It’s not like we’re always trying to change the other person’s mind, and I think that’s something that we could all use a little bit more of on social media, especially.”
Mandala said that social media, and its depiction of suffering in the world, has exacerbated her own sense of guilt at having access to first-world comforts like clean water and electricity that many people take for granted.
“I am trying to turn that kind of frustration and fear and anger into fuel so that I can keep showing up as a positive force that tries to empower people in the developed world, or in the Global North, to not feel like they can’t make a change,” she said. She also encouraged people follow her on Instagram and TikTok.
Along with clean air, soil and water, Mandala said that people deserve to have their voices heard, adding that she is happy to be a conduit for that engagement.
“What people really don’t realize is that they see this big word of ‘sustainability,'” she said, “and they don’t realize that sustainability is kind of a lens that you can use to see all the different things in your life.”