All Sustainable Everything

by Jordan Cooley

When I sat down to write this essay, I felt at a loss. I know the topic of sustainability is incredibly nuanced, something that people devote their entire lives and careers to trying to understand and improve. I’m a 24-year-old woman living in Austin working as a bartender and a writer and I do my best, but I’m not an expert on what is best for everyone or what will truly make a difference.

What I do know is that if we don’t make an active change in how we are living as a society, our future generations will reap irreversible consequences, socially and environmentally. Without figuring a way to incorporate sustainability into our lives, we risk not being able to maintain our quality of life, the diversity of life on Earth, or Earth’s ecosystems.

Of course, it doesn’t make sense to live a sustainable life if you can’t sustain it. So, we must take measure what unique changes we can implement in our life that we can keep and forgive ourselves for the changes that we can’t make.

For me, I’ve taken Ethical Unicorn’s ‘Begin Here’ guide and made it my own by breaking it down into four categories : Personal, Financial, Political, and Environmental. Then created check-in questions for those categories using the definition of sustainable : of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.

  • Personal : am I efficiently and effectively using my energy and time that not only fills others’ cups, but fills my own?

  • Financial : am I using my money to support companies that either stand by sustainable morals (both in physical resources and labor) or purchasing items that are more than just a one-time use? Am I conscious of my spending habits, both creating a financially stable life while also still allowing myself to spend to enjoy life?

  • Political : am I participating in my local government, voting for and supporting causes that promote sustainability?

  • Environmental : am I conscious of my own footprint? The foot print of others? Of the companies that choose to make a difference?

I ask these questions when I feel torn about making any decision. Sometimes, I need to rephrase them when they still feel too big : will that dress spark joy? Does that senator / politician seem authentic? Is the company that I work for doing its best to incorporate sustainability? Have I had enough water, slept enough, or eaten enough today to consider any and all of these questions? 

Living sustainably isn’t something that’s innate. It’s something we need to learn and be conscious of, especially in a society that is so material focused and so focused on our deficiencies to sell of us stuff and experiences that may not be in our (or our society’s) best interest.

So, in addition to asking myself pointed questions based on my categories, I also have brands, companies, and people in my life that I know I can support or follow because of how their transparency, approach, and intentionality : 

It’s incredible to see how companies like Allbirds not only use ethical materials and sources, but do their best also to educate on a high level the impact that making the sustainable decision they do can make. It’s incredible to have politicians like AOC who are vocal about how to create a sustainable society, from her Green New Deal to paying her interns a livable wage. It’s incredible to see small businesses like Stardust Vintage create a space for people to resell old and vintage clothes and knickknacks, making a stab at fast fashion. And it’s incredible there are influencers and artists like Francesca Willow who use their platform to educate about sustainability as a whole.

I think it’s important to point out my privilege in this instance: I am a white woman who lives comfortably in Austin, TX. I have the space, the spoons, and the time to research and care about these topics. Because of that, I understand there are people who can’t actively participate in a larger social, environmental, political, or financial conversation. I understand that I need to use my privilege to the best of my ability to create a more equal and more sustainable world.

Hopefully, this essay sparks in someone else who has the energy to start a conversation in their life. And maybe that sparks someone else and then another and then another, and then maybe we’re living in a more sustainable society; a more humane world; some place less driven by superficial wants or needs, to a place that teaches these values from childhood. 

So that maybe living sustainably is just as innate as breathing.


This post was made possible by the incredible folks at Allbirds. Allbirds makes the world’s most comfortable shoes out of all natural materials. As of 2019 the company has gone carbon neutral and has big plans to go further in reducing carbon emissions globally.

Jordan Cooley is a writer and self taught artist in Austin, TX. She graduated from Texas A&M with a degree in English and has worn many hats, including Slam Master and President of a poetry non-profit called Mic Check, financial analyst for JP Morgan, researcher and executive assistant for AmeriCatalyst and now bartender at Better Half Bar. Each day, she is feverishly working towards becoming a better ally, a more nuanced writer, and a woman who accepts the goofy slips and slides of life. Follow on Insta @jarcy_ and on Twitter @jrcooley_ to see what kind of falls she makes on the daily.

Chelsea Francis