Lead Forensics

Q&A With Paula Miquelis and Stephanie Dickson, Founders of the Conscious Festival

29 May 2020


Green is the New Black, a lifestyle and media platform that seeks to inspire people to live more consciously, is running the UK’s inaugural Conscious Festival from June 12-14.

Crammed full of workshops and webinars with some of the brightest minds in the sustainability field – not to mention online marketplaces selling eco-friendly goods – the three-day virtual bonanza is an opportunity to connect with yourself, others and the planet.

Here, we talk to its co-founders, Paula Miquelis and Stephanie Dickson, about their hopes and expectations as we take little green steps towards a cleaner post-pandemic world.

What originally inspired you to launch the Conscious festival? Was there a particular spark?

The Conscious Festival started in Singapore, where Steph has lived for most of her life. It’s a City State favoured by multinational corporations as a place to establish regional headquarters; but it’s also exceptionally cosmopolitan and forward thinking in its mind-set, with technological innovation placed on a pedestal. This, coupled with the country’s close proximity to global powerhouses such as India and China – where many of our members are from – made it a logical location to start something.

Around this time, we were busy establishing Green is the New Black as a social enterprise. I was also working as a sustainability consultant in Singapore, and had recently completed an exchange year in Hong Kong. Like Singapore, Hong Kong is an English-speaking economic hub that is home to scores of big companies. We saw this as an opportunity we had to pursue: our mission was to inspire sustainable business and lifestyle changes in a region where carbon emissions are astronomically high.

What is your definition of a sustainable future?

Sustainability to us means safeguarding against the depletion of our planet’s finite natural resources while protecting the precious ecosystems so crucial to life.

Capitalism in its current form is underpinned by a thirst for endless economic growth. The problem is, this requires raw materials plundered from the earth. A sustainable future therefore depends on the decoupling of growth and consumption; when it comes to business modelling, finances and capital must become linked to sustainable practices. Otherwise, the long-term prospects for every brand on this planet will look bleak.

Another by-product of our capitalist society is the culture of competition it’s created; we have been wired to think that we have to be better than our neighbours to succeed. First of all, succeed in what? Having three cars, working like crazy and five weeks of holidays per year? This idea of success is intrinsically linked to consuming goods, which of course feeds business growth. While we are not advocating the end of consumerism per say, we do need to urgently address how much we consume and how we produce goods.

One way of achieving this is through a circular economy, where instead of extracting more raw materials from the earth, we reuse what we already have. We also need to think about a green tax for high polluters, and focus more on regenerative agriculture. Fundamentally, we must realise we are not conquerors of the environment, but participants within it.

A company’s green credentials are increasingly influential when it comes to purchasing decisions; how do you see the COVID-19 pandemic affecting this trend?

It’s been clear for some time that consumers are placing ever-greater importance on authenticity and sustainability when choosing which brands to buy from. This is only going to grow, as consumers tighten the purse strings. A recent survey found that over 50% of millennials have changed their purchasing habits as a result of the financial impact expected – or already being felt – from the pandemic.

What’s more, while the root source of this novel coronavirus remains up for debate, what is becoming increasingly clear is that environmental degradation and pollution have exacerbated COVID-19’s impact. As we destroy natural habitats, we are increasing our changes of coming into contact with wildlife that may be incubators for pathogens; a 2017 study about Ebola showed the virus had a 70% higher chance of spreading in zones that had been deforested.

People are waking up to the reality that their actions are having a direct impact on the health of the planet – and consequently our own. It’s evident in the cleaner air cities have been breathing since lockdown restrictions were imposed. With scientists predicting that climate change will drive millions of people into migration, the threat of another global pandemic causing even greater harm in the future is real.

COVID-19 has ultimately shined a spotlight on the interconnectedness of nature, and brands will be expected to take their responsibilities as custodians of the planet seriously.

What role do you see brands having in the development of a more sustainable society? What little green steps can businesses take?

The UK economy is powered by small to medium-sized businesses, which account for 99% of all registered companies. It is therefore imperative that they take little green steps to enable a cleaner, more sustainable future for all.

Brands have a uniquely powerful influence on culture; they are often zeitgeists for change, reflecting societal trends and anxieties in their communications. We need to therefore seize the opportunity to create a community of influencers and change makers who inspire collective action; this can be achieved through partnerships and authentic brand activism, but also by simply listening to what consumers want and need.

There are low hanging fruits to be found everywhere online, but we also need to think bigger; in a world sculpted by the interests of big business, we need to go back to a more localised system of economics where communal needs sit side by side with profit margins. Larger businesses can and must become a part of this solution, coordinating marketing efforts regionally to ensure they become a valued ally for communities across countries worldwide. An equal, thriving society can only be of benefit to business.

And finally, wherever possible, companies must ensure their supply chains and production lines are sustainable; more and more people will be demanding this as an absolute basic requirement.

The festival is arriving in the UK this year for the first time. What is the plan after this?

After the UK we’ll be switching our focus to Paris in 2021, where we hope to have the French Ecology Minister announcing some exciting new partnerships!

We are also in touch with Kering – owners of Gucci, Saint Lauren and Alexander McQueen – and other companies whom we hope will be creating meaningful content to present next year.

Perhaps most important, however, is our commitment to ensuring brands that have pledged to create greener business models follow through on their promises. And as always, we’ll be channelling our expertise to help individuals and communities take ownership of a better future.

What message of hope would you give to anyone concerned about a post-coronavirus future?

Normality as we knew it has been abruptly swept from under our feet, so it’s not surprising that people feel anxious right now. However, it’s important to recognise the fact that this normality was pushing us towards an existential catastrophe.

Though the current situation is hugely challenging for many people, it’s also an opportunity to reset the economy and create a future that benefits us all. The drastic drop in emissions seen during lockdown is a huge source of motivation; let’s build on this and develop a future powered by clean, renewable energy.

We should also be encouraged by the innovation happening in various sectors: brands such as Raze, Unspun and Patch Plants – to name a few – are harnessing an entrepreneurial spirit to develop products that limit waste and purify our air. Change is afoot, with companies increasingly working in collaboration with one another.

Ultimately, we must remember that things will get better. Though we are grieving for a world lost – with all the uncertainty, denial, anger and sadness that entails – time will do its thing and show us that change was needed.

There are some incredible people out there paving the way for a cleaner, sustainable future; let’s all take little green steps to ensure that the global tragedy of this pandemic was not suffered in vain.

Purchase your ticket to the UK’s first ever Conscious Festival here.

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