If asked to imagine what an activist looks like, some might imagine the stereotype of a loud, opinionated individual protesting taking to the streets to protest. In today’s day and age, however, activism can come in many forms, especially when it comes to climate and eco-advocacy. In fact, through every little choice you make, you’re advocating for the type of world you want to see. Refusing a plastic bag at the grocers? That’s activism. Taking the bus or a bike ride across the city instead of driving? Good on you. Choosing secondhand instead of fast fashion? That’s a form of sustainability advocacy.
Given the democratisation and level of access we have to information today, anyone can take steps to make a difference, something Audrey Yang believes in wholeheartedly. Whether your activism is proudly loud or quietly powerful, she shares how every step can make a difference, from starting a conversation to signing a petition. When it comes to translating intention to action, Audrey uses her illustrative skills to break down complex, intersectional topics—from greenwashing to climate change—into digestible snippets anyone can relate to. We chatted to her about how she’s adopted a lower-waste lifestyle, finding her form of activism and what it means to her to be #Down4Earth.
As an individual, what led you down the path of environmental advocacy?
I did not plan to become an advocate, and I can’t pinpoint one single event that made me “wake up”. I arrived here through a gradual process of constant learning and unlearning. Growing up, I was raised to not be wasteful (be it with electricity, or food and so forth) mostly because things cost money. It was also easy to get used to a convenient use-and-throw lifestyle once it became affordable, and it’s tough to see a need to reflect or change.
I crossed that point when I became more aware of my consumption habits of single-use items. It dawned on me that using something for a short while and then throwing it away just didn’t make any sense. I’m referring to things like straws, take-out boxes, cups and bread bags etc. This then got me thinking about product packaging, materials, resources and labour. This helped me see waste in a completely new light. Gradually, I became more conscious of the things I consumed. It became clear that extensively producing something only to use it for a few minutes didn’t make sense.
Advocacy just fell into place because the kind of work I do tends to be more public. As a graphic designer, I’m able to communicate information visually in a more interesting and meaningful way. For me, I’m simply using my skills for a cause I believe in, with the hope that things can change for the better.
You break down complex topics on instagram. Where has this outlet taken you?
I’ve been creating such content @thisisaudsomee since 2018. While I started by focusing on sustainability, this has slowly evolved to be more reactive to current affairs like the NDP FunPack, helping migrant workers amid Covid-19 and more.
The main objective for my advocacy work has always been to inspire action for a better world. Eventually, I felt that to be able to do so in a more consistent and organised way, having a dedicated space would help. That is why I started @a.tiny.warrior too, to share about issues on people, animals and the environment through a Singaporean lens. We cover a new topic over a span of 1 month. As we learn about the topic, I provide resources for further reading and avenues for taking action in Singapore. It was heartening to see that the content was able to reach audiences I otherwise would not.
Can you campaign for change without being an ‘activist’? How can more introverted individuals advocate for a greener, more just world?
Definitely! There are so many people planting the seeds through quieter work that we shouldn’t ignore. The label of “activist” is often associated with those who are loud and angry, but there are so many forms of activism. Recently, we’ve seen a rise of “quiet activism” where people are provoking thought and conversation in non-confrontational ways like through art, writing, or their day-to-day interaction with others. In fact, I think this method might be more effective than traditional activism since it is more approachable.
It’s funny how people like to ask me this, because I’m actually an introvert! So really, it is less about whether you’re an extrovert or introvert, but more about translating intentions into actions. Participation can come in different ways, whether you’re leading a protest, making art or signing a petition, the act might differ but the work still counts. Choose a way that is meaningful to you, something sustainable (so you can continue doing so without easily feeling drained) and the rest will follow.
What do you feel are the most important steps Singapore and the SEA region needs to take towards authentic climate justice?
This is a big one. Other than cutting emissions, converting to greener energies, conserving nature and reducing plastic consumption (a.k.a. the popular big problems), achieving climate justice also means taking into account how we can support the communities that are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. There needs to be a just transition; we shouldn’t be simply swapping to a greener version of our current system. And the word “authentic” is a reminder to be wary of performative gestures that do not actually address the issues. I believe that even though we lack natural resources, Singapore is rich in other areas. We can definitely implement much more than what we currently have in place.
Finally, tell us the ways you’re #Down4Earth and how you feel individuals or brands can be too.
I’m #Down4Earth in several ways, from changing to a lower impact lifestyle to my advocacy work. What keeps me grounded in the belief that what I practice is meaningful. The impact might be small today, but who knows what could happen tomorrow.
As an individual, it’s common to feel powerless, or like any action you take is pointless because you’re “just one person”. But what if 1 billion individuals changed their mindset? The result would be a cultural shift. While a top-down approach is seen to be more powerful and can create a more significant impact, oftentimes the ones setting the policies need to be “convinced” that “the society is ready for it”. Change is only meaningful if there is genuine buy-in, so we see how individual action also drives systemic change. The two have to work in tandem and it’s not about placing responsibility in one or the other.
For brands, the perspective has to be cast wider — is it environmentally-friendly, animal-friendly or people-friendly? The challenge is to start, so just pick one. It’s the same with businesses and individuals; there needs to be an entry point before they can do anything more significant.
#Down4Earth is a social awareness campaign launched by ZERRIN on World Environment Day 2021. The campaign features Singapore-based sustainability advocates with a passion for urban farming, circular fashion, composting and more. They prove that there’s more to sustainability than the quintessential 3 R’s and there’s something everyone can do. Discover more about the campaign. Photography, styling and production by ZERRIN STUDIO.
With a background in fashion and textiles, Durva is an ardent photographer and advocate of social justice. She enjoys writing about fashion, socio-political issues within sustainability and partakes in the occasional 'who wore it better' banter on Diet Prada.