Getting stuff done with Lauren Ritchie

Meet Lauren Ritchie, a Bahamian-born climate activist, founder of The Eco Gal, writer, and student at Columbia University.

Meet Lauren Ritchie, a Bahamian-born climate activist, founder of The Eco Gal, writer, and student at Columbia University.
Tell us about your career journey.
My introduction to sustainability and environmentalism came in high school during my geography classes. We delved into social issues like poverty, migration, global health, climate change, and environmental degradation, and I knew immediately that solving these problems was what I wanted to dedicate my life to. I became a member of “Keep Grand Bahama Clean” in my junior year and participated in beach clean-ups, environmental protests, and educational programs to spread awareness about environmental protection on my island. After high school in Grand Bahama, I moved to New York City in 2018 to attend Columbia University to further my passion for creating a better planet. This summer, I also created The Eco Gal, an educational platform to spread awareness about social justice and intersectional climate action.

Who inspires you and why?
I would definitely have to say my mother. She’s been my biggest role model for as long as I can remember. From a very early age, she taught me the importance of always standing up for myself, using my voice, and to never let anyone force me into silence or submission. She is easily the hardest working and most selfless person I know, and she has consistently set an amazing example of what a strong Black woman who unapologetically speaks her mind looks like. I have learned, and continue to learn, so much from her and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without her.

What cause or causes are important to you?
Although the focus of my work lies within promoting global climate and social justice, the cause that resonates with me the most, and is honestly the reason why I am so passionate about these issues today, is protecting my island and my country at large. Grand Bahama Island has borne the brunt of climate impacts in the form of extreme natural disasters for the past four years and will continue to be susceptible to shifts in the climate for many years to come without the resources to appropriately adapt. The reason why I, and so many other environmentalists of color, continue to expel our time and energy into a field that often feels like it wasn’t made for our voices and stories is that we are fighting for our communities and our loved ones. For many of us, the existential threat posed by the ongoing climate emergency is not simply a distant threat or a rumor of impending doom—it is already here.

What change do you hope to see in the rest of 2020?

There is a quote by Dave Hollis that reads: “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” As much as we may crave a sense of normalcy during these grievous times, we must reflect on whether the “way things were” is even worth returning to in the first place. The system that we currently live in has been strategically handcrafted over the centuries to benefit those at the top whilst oppressing everyone else. It isn’t broken, it’s functioning exactly how it was designed. I am thrilled to see so many more people bringing the oppressive systems within our society to light, and I am proud of the great strides that have been made to push intersectionality to the forefront. But this cannot be a fleeting moment. For the rest of 2020 and every year thereafter, I want these important conversations to continue to be held, for BIPOC voices and stories to continue to be amplified, and, most of all, I am ready to see some action. It is not enough for governments and companies to acknowledge these issues without actually doing anything to resolve them.

How do you incorporate sustainability into your life?

The biggest way that I incorporate sustainability into my everyday life is by being mindful of my consumption and waste production. Buying ethical, using bamboo utensils, and being vegetarian are all great, but they aren’t always accessible when I’m back home in The Bahamas. Because of this, I also try to be sustainable by being extremely mindful of little things that some people may often overlook. I try to switch lights and electronics off when I’m not in the room and turn off the shower when I’m shampooing my hair or the sink while I’m brushing my teeth! I recommend these tips to anyone trying to practice sustainability on a budget or without access to sustainable zero-waste alternatives!

Who has made an impact on your journey?
I am thankful every single day to have such incredible people in my life who are the first people to read my articles and to share my content without me ever having to ask them to, friends who are my shoulders to cry on sometimes on the days when I’m feeling a little drained or hopeless. This journey definitely hasn’t been easy, and I am certainly just getting started, but I am grateful that I never feel like I have to go on this journey alone.

What first got you interested in sustainability?
In addition to my introduction to sustainability in the classroom, a lot of my interest in environmental protection came from my love for nature and being outdoors. Although I’m definitely not much of a hiker or a camper, I have always loved being in the water, having swum competitively for several years, and the beach is still my favorite place on earth to be. It’s my happy place. Thus, my desire to protect the environment as a whole came from my desire to protect the place that I call home and the beaches and marine ecosystems that I have adored for my entire life.

What are some projects you’re working on?
The project I’m most excited about right now is the podcast that I will be launching with my friend Makeen (@makeenz), founder of @blkgirlculture on Twitter, called “Black Girl Blueprint.” We wanted to create a platform for and by Gen-Z Black girls that we noticed was severely lacking within the podcast sphere. We intend for this to be a space to highlight Gen-Z Black girls doing amazing work and to be able to talk about an array of topics in a way that is relatable and approachable! Additionally, I’m definitely still working to expand The Eco Gal to continue to grow the platform and spread awareness. I am currently conducting an “Instagram Live Collab Series” where I bring on different guests in a variety of fields to speak about their experiences and then I save the videos to my IGTV.

What are you studying at Columbia University?
Sustainable Development with a concentration in Political Science. It’s a major that focuses on improving the global community socially, economically, and environmentally, with a particular emphasis on the protection of marginalized groups.

Tell us about The Eco Gal.
The Eco Gal began as an Instagram and website platform for me to educate young Bahamians and my peers about sustainability in a way that would be accessible, inclusive, and relatable. It was a place for me to share zero-waste tips, to spread awareness about fast fashion, and to encourage conscious consumerism in a format that would be digestible for a younger audience. The Eco Gal has since expanded into an online community, mainly on Instagram, that promotes intersectional climate activism by highlighting the experiences of marginalized groups in the climate conversation, as well as educating on the racist, xenophobic, classist, and ableist systems that oppress certain communities.

How do allyship and intersectionality work together?

It’s essential to recognize that we can’t pursue intersectional environmentalism or any type of intersectional fight towards justice without a good grasp on what allyship should look like. In order to promote an approach to justice that is inclusive of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, we need to be able to effectively ally together to support them by taking the time to listen and learn to understand their plights, amplify their messages, and give them a platform to speak and be heard to enact real change.

How can people make sure they’re allying communities effectively?

Being a good ally for communities begins with a lot of unlearning. From the harmful language that we use to discuss certain identities and circumstances to stereotypes and incorrect assumptions, a good ally is someone who is tolerant and open-minded to learning about stories other than their own and understands how all struggles for justice are intimately connected. Effective allyship is also taking the time to center certain identities in spaces where they are often neglected or ignored and it means using privileges to make space to amplify marginalized communities, without tokenizing them or expecting them to teach you.

What are the challenges of living sustainably while in college?

Money is definitely one of the biggest challenges for most people! Whether it’s suggesting that students take notes on a laptop instead of handwritten notes or urging students to shop ethical clothing brands and go thrifting, many sustainable suggestions may be unintentionally classist or exclusionary. I am a firm believer that one’s socioeconomic status is absolutely NOT something for which anyone should be discriminated against, and I think that any contributions that a college student can make within their means are equally valuable. Some of my recommendations include taking shorter/colder showers, unplugging electronics when they aren’t in use, and donating their old clothes instead of throwing them away!

What is eco-fascism and how does it relate to environmental racism?

Eco-fascism is defined as a totalitarian ideology that advocates for authoritarian governance for the greater environmental good. Those who ascribe to eco-fascist philosophies are usually in favor of Malthusian ideas of human population control, often in the most marginalized communities, as a means to preserve the planet. It is unfair and racist to justify overpopulation control, often in poorer regions, as a means to benefit the planet as this shifts responsibility away from the role that the wealthiest countries and corporations play in causing climate change. Thus, whilst poorer Black and brown communities contribute the least to climate change and often experience the most of the harmful effects, ⁣they will be the ones most likely to suffer from eco-fascist rhetoric as they make the easiest targets.

What do you think is a big misconception about living sustainably?

(The biggest misconception about living sustainably is) that you have to be perfect all of the time! There is definitely a stereotype that the sustainability community is very judgmental, which to a certain extent can be very true, but I think doing your best and making any changes you can is good enough! I’m definitely a huge advocate for compromise, and I always tell individuals who are getting started on living more sustainably to consider keeping the areas that they aren’t quite ready to give up yet and work on other areas of their life! Change is change and sustainability is all about helping the planet and people over perfection!

What do you enjoy about writing for Brown Girl Green?

My favorite thing about Brown Girl Green is honestly the team as a whole! Kristy and August are some of the nicest people I have ever met and their passion for the work that we do with Brown Girl Green is so evident by all of the hard work that they have put into building this platform. Amauf is also such a great person to have on the team because he is so supportive and he’s an incredible writer! Brown Girl Green feels like a family and I’m so grateful to be able to spread the message about exclusionary sustainability, racism, and so much more within a space that makes me feel so seen and validated in drawing from my own stories and my experiences.

If you could star in any movie/show, which one would it be?

Acting has always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl and as an avid tv-show and movie lover, this is such a tough question. I’m a HUGE Marvel fan and I’ve seen every single movie so it would definitely be a dream come true to star as a superhero (or maybe even a villain!) in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, preferably alongside Spider-Man, The Avengers, or The X-Men! Keven Feige, if you’re reading this, hire me!

Do you have any pets?
I do! I have four dogs (Rufus, Zeus, Dodger, and Sampson) and a turtle (Twinkle… who I named in the third grade).

What’s the best thing you found shopping vintage?

I bought a super cute black plush North Face jacket from L Train Vintage in New York for only $10! I wore it almost every day this winter. Such a steal!

The best place to eat in The Bahamas?
This is such a hard question! I would really have to say that nothing beats a home-cooked meal made by my dad. He is an amazing chef and baker, and it’s his cooking that I miss the most when I’m off to school in New York. Other than that, I would definitely suggest getting authentic conch fritters, cracked conch, and conch salad from local vendors at Fish Fry or in West End on Grand Bahama!

What are you bingeing right now?
Blacklist and Avatar: The Last Airbender! I’m planning on starting Legend of Korra when I’m done. I binged Criminal Minds back when I was in New York (biggest crush on Spencer Reid!) but it, unfortunately, isn’t available on Netflix in The Bahamas.