If I asked you to imagine what an activist looks like, you might imagine a loud, angry individual protesting in the street or in front of a large multinational. Most of the time, this isn’t the case, especially when it comes to climate activists and sustainability advocates. If you didn’t know by now, every little choice you make, you are advocating for a 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? Yup, super sustainable. Buying secondhand instead of fast fashion? That’s right down the sustainability advocacy lane.
Granted, the work of an activist isn’t as simple as these actions, but it’s to show that everyone can take little steps to make a difference. So, whether your activism is loud and proud, or on the quieter end, Audrey Yang shares how every step makes 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 discussions into digestible graphic snippets anyone can relate to. She shares how she has adopted a lower-waste lifestyle, the challenges of activism and what she does to be #Down4Earth.
What defining moments made you take a stand to advocate for sustainability in Singapore?
I didn’t plan to become an advocate, and there wasn’t a single event that made me “wake up” to the need for greater sustainability. It was a gradual process of constant learning and unlearning that got me here. Growing up, I was raised to not be wasteful (be it with electricity, food etc.) mostly because things cost money. So even though my parents ingrained in me the mindset of “don’t waste”, the purpose was usually just to save 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 such a lifestyle.
I think I crossed that point when I became aware of my consumption habits of single-use items. It dawned upon me that using something for a short while and then throwing it away simply did not make sense. I’m referring to things like straws, take-out boxes, cups and bread bags etc. And then it got me thinking about product packaging, materials, resources, labour etc. Now, I see “don’t waste” in a completely new light. Gradually, I became more conscious of the things I use and consume. I start to think about how things are made and where they come from. Also, I wonder if it makes sense to extensively produce something that we only use for minutes and then dump. Answer: no, it doesn’t.
Advocacy just fell into place because the kind of work I do tends to be more public. As a graphic designer, I am able to communicate information visually in a more interesting and meaningful way. For me, I am simply using my skills for a cause I believe in and with the hope that things can change for the better.
You break down complex topics on instagram via @a.tiny.warrior and your own personal page. Where has this outlet takenyou?
I’ve been making such content on @thisisaudsomee since 2018 and what started as ‘sustainability focused’ slowly evolved to be more reactive to current affairs like the NDP FunPack, helping migrant workers amid Covid-19 etc.
The main objective for my advocacy work has always been to inspire action for a better world, and 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 to share about issues on people, animals and the environment from 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 could more introverted individuals advocate for a greener, more just world?
For sure! There are so many people planting the seeds through quieter work that we mustn’t ignore. The label of “activist” is often associated with those who are loud and angry, but there are so many forms of activism. There is 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, cos I am 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 are not simply swapping to a greener version of our current system. And the word “authentic” is a reminder to be wary of performative activism which doesn’t 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 we don’t know about tomorrow.
It’s common for an individual to feel powerless, or that any action is pointless because after all “I’m just one person”. But what if 1 billion individuals changed their mindset? You get 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.