Renee Elizabeth Peters is not your usual New York fashion model.
Living in Brooklyn with her pet dog Milla and her partner Philip Attar, a reiki master, the 30-year-old is a sustainability activist, who truly lives by her values. Not only does she practice living zero waste, she refuses work for fast-fashion brands and campaigns outside the industry to have greater impact.
That decision has cost her in clients who don’t match her ethics, but that’s a price Renee is at peace with for the good of the planet and her own mind.
But after years of trying to make an individual difference to the environment, Renee is now challenging us to think differently about how we can be a positive force for the planet.
In a post on her Instagram account, followed by 18k people, she questions what the Government and corporate institutions should be doing to stop the world spinning dangerously towards global warming.
What exactly did she mean by that? GLAMOUR sat down for a chat.
The truth about sustainable living
“In 2018 I tried to go zero-waste with the idea that anyone can make an individual difference as some sustainability influencers suggest”, says Renee.
But the model quickly discovered living waste-free and sustainably is “nearly impossible” if you are not “extremely diligent and privileged” with the “free time, money and access” to do so in the first place.
“The majority of people globally live below the poverty line, and often people are simply trying to hold down two-three jobs to support their families”, she says.
“Many don’t have the time to relearn how to eat plant-based or to avoid single use plastic, or the money to afford organic food and sustainable clothing.
“The same people who cannot afford sustainable fashion or organic food are the same people that cannot afford sustainable housing.”
For them, sustainable living is “out of reach” according to Renee – and she has a point.
In the UK, organic food and clothes are generally more expensive and harder to come by than cheaper non-organic food and fashion.
Finding alternatives to disposable tampons and sanitary pads, which contain the equivalent of four plastic bags, feels totally out of reach unless you shop online.
Train travel can be more expensive than flying and with subsidies for solar panel stopping this year, the choices for more sustainable energy seem baffling.
So what needs to change?
It’s not surprising then that Renee believes we need to governments to do more and less blame placed on individuals. She says governments need to introduce policies that make all sectors more sustainable and affordable; from fashion, agriculture, banking and energy to waste disposal and housing.
“Instead of placing the emphasis on individuals changing their diet, when vegetables are more expensive than cheap processed food, we need governments to change their approach to agriculture,” she says.
Renee believes that instead of subsidies for the dairy and meat industry which only ‘fuels climate change’, we need subsidies for organic vegetables so they are more of an affordable option for people.
“If they ban the use of single-use plastics for the table…and provided proper compost and waste disposal regardless of neighbourhood economic standing, then the environmental movement could really start to make headway”, she says.
A timely call for change for the fashion industry
Renee’s call for change couldn’t be more timely with the dust just settling on London Fashion Week. Research shows the world is consuming 400% more clothes since 1998 and without reform, the fashion could be responsible for a quarter of the Earth’s carbon budget by 2050. That’s pretty worrying given we only have 12 years to stop climate change disaster.
Mary Creagh MP heads up a parliamentary committee which has just wrapped up an inquiry into sustainability in the fashion industry.
Speaking to GLAMOUR, the Labour MP says low prices in high street shops have encouraged us to over consume and underuse clothes before chucking them away.
“Fashion retailers must take responsibility for the clothes they produce,” she says. “That means asking producers to consider and pay for the end of life process for their products through a new Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) scheme.”
Mary says the Government needs to enact a 1p charge to fund better waste collection, implement tax reforms to reward companies that offer sustainable designs and repair services and put lessons to design, make and mend clothes on the school curriculum.
A Government spokesperson told GLAMOUR they were committed to managing the
“environmental and social and impacts of clothing, particularly in this era of fast fashion”.
They said the Government was developing proposals for extended producer responsibility (EPR) to force producers to be more responsible for the environmental impact of their products. The proposals would also encourage greater reuse and recycling.
A look at who’s hot and who’s not in the fashion industry
Boohoo, Missquided, Amazon, TKMaxx, JD Sports and Sports Direct were heavily criticised for failing to take action to promote environmental sustainability and protect their workers, in a report released by the Environmental Audit Committee on Tuesday 19.
Boohoo welcomed many of the report’s recommendations and said it already had a strong framework in place to promote sustainable fashion.
JD Sports and TKMaxx said they had numerous policies and programmes in place to improve the environmental impact of their business.
Amazon declined to comment. Meanwhile Next, Arcadia, Debenhams and Asda were ranked as moderately engaged, meaning they had taken some steps to improve their sustainability.
M&S, Tesco, Asos and Burberry were the most engaged and all used sustainable or organic cotton and recycled material in their products as well as having in store take-back schemes.
A need for more education and awareness
Beth Summers, who co-directs the Women’s Environmental Network, says awareness is a big issue.
“For example, laundry detergents – the chemicals that go into various detergents can be really toxic for the environment”, she says.
“The difference in price may not be that high to make a change to environmentally friendly cleaners, but the reason why that doesn’t happen is because of a lack of awareness.”
The campaign group launched Environmentrual Campaign last year to lobby manufacturers to remove plastic and harmful chemicals in their products.
“We are also urging supermarkets and pharmacies to stock more eco-friendly products such as menstrual cups, cloth pads, reusable period underwear and organic cotton and plastic free disposable tampons and pads”, says Beth.
“Everyone should have the right to healthy products and this shouldn’t be based on your income or if you have access to a specialist shop that sells these products,” she says.
What else could be done?
In the UK a ban on single use plastics could be enforced as early as October, depending on the results of a Government consultation.
But Amelia Womack MP believes we need more investment in green energy and substantial tax reform among other things to make a difference.
“We need subsidies in taxes for companies that are doing better for the environment and higher taxes for those that aren’t”, the Green Party Deputy Chair says.
A Government spokesperson told Glamour the tax system was kept under constant review and any changes would be made as part of the normal Budget process.
“The UK is a world leader in tackling climate change and we were one of the first countries in the G7 to ask for advice on how to get to a net zero target, so we remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as we put into it”, the spokesperson told GLAMOUR.
“But one country cannot solve this alone, which is why we are pushing for more ambitious international action.
“We have invested billions to help developing countries tackle climate change and scale up clean energy, and the UK-Canada led Powering Past Coal Alliance aimed at phasing out dirty coal power now has more than 80 members.”
The individual steps that DO make a difference
1. In the words of Vivienne Westwood, “Buy less, buy better, mend more”. Did you know, extending the life of clothes by 9 months reduces carbon, water and waste footprints by around 20-30% per garment!
2. Eat less meat and more vegetables, pulses and grains
3. Take public transport for longer journeys, and take the train where you can rather than fly
4. Tweet/ Email or message your favourite brands on Instagram to tell them to be more environmentally friendly
5. If you haven’t already given up take-away coffee cups, do it today!
Renee’s top tips to hold the powers that be to account on climate change
1. Vote for council and parliamentary candidates who care about the environment
2. Write to your favourite brands to ask them to be more environmentally friendly
3. Ask your representatives to support Extended Producer Responsibility – the bill that force manufacturers to take more responsibility for the waste from their products
4. Support environmental non-profits calling for regulation changes in favour of a greener planet
5. Ask your representatives to push for steeper regulations on single-use plastics