the path to sustainability….

Negotiating a COVID ‘diversion’ on the path to sustainability: the road to SustFest21

As you can imagine, when COVID first hit the headlines in March 2020, we had the terrible sinking feeling that the Sustainability Festival would have to be cancelled. When the situation escalated to widespread social distancing restrictions, the festival organising group soon made the decision to postpone until 2021. It was a terrible time for us as a group, mainly because the 2020 was the biggest SustFest to date.


This week’s guest blog is from Jill Watson – Jill runs the Phase Out Plastic stall at St Albans market, looks after a young family and is the chair of #SustFest21. Jill we be at the SustFest21 Creative Ideas for organisers event on 25th Feb and 2nd March – all welcome see Eventbrite for more info and booking


Global awareness of climate and ecological emergency

..we were in a time of change and wanted to step out onto a new more sustainable road

On a worldwide scale, awareness around climate change and ecological emergency was becoming general knowledge instead of the ‘theories’ and extreme views that had kept it low on governments’ agendas for many years. We wanted this tide of positive impact to continue; we were in a time of change and wanted to step out onto a new more sustainable road, but we had hit a ‘COVID’ diversion sign.

We all know what the past year has done to us, individually, as a family, as a business, as a community, as a nation and globally. We will feel the effects for years to come. As this disruption has forced us to change in directions we couldn’t anticipate, do we really need a SustFest this year and what can we achieve?

We will feel the effects for years to come…

The pandemic actually changed some things for the good of the environment making significant differences in a short space of time: less commuting (less international business travel), switching to using local businesses/producers, increased community support for the vulnerable and even decreased worldwide oil production. Within homes it changed our awareness of personal actions like how our consumer habits drive industry and made us face up to what we really need to buy.

Now is the perfect time to make changes we’ve been meaning to do for so long…

The health of our loves ones is at stake, and will always be our priority, but the Climate and Ecological Emergency is also a danger to our health and welfare.  You can help by bringing along your ideas and deciding to join in with an event or activity for SustFest21.

Do you feel that some of your sustainable habits have been forgotten during the pandemic? …or did you have time to start some new sustainable projects?

The social/wellbeing aspect of our lives has suffered with strict social restrictions As human nature is sociable, with care for one another, this has been hard, and potentially damaging to us all.

By building an inclusive Sustainabilty Festival for 2021 we can re-emerge from our houses and reconnect with our friends and local community through nature and sustainability. We can use this platform to join with like-minded groups and individuals -whether online, or in socially distanced ways. We can find new initiatives to support and most importantly know that we can support each other.

..We can re-emerge from our houses and reconnect with our friends and local community through nature and sustainability…

Right from the beginning the festival has been community-based; it highlighted sustainability in existing groups and promoted better eco-friendly habits – swap shops, repair shops, gardening clubs, youth groups reducing plastic waste, cookery groups reducing food waste, cycle to work schemes – to name a few.

Even in lockdown these activities can still continue. Maybe not with large gatherings, or face to face events that we all love, but we can still act individually and share experiences through the vast amount of media we have available to us.

Love it or hate it – we’re all online experts now!

Love it or hate it, in the past year, we have all become experts in video calls, live streams, online chats and social media. Alongside traditional long phone calls, writing a letter, sending a gift or flowers, the ability to keep in touch is still important, and vital to remember this year. Your toddler group, your church group, your running club?

Can you adapt one of your ongoing activities to be part of SustFest?

Festival events can be private or public… maybe you can adapt a few habits or have a discussion, make your own energy bars, share news of locally produced food? Try out some ‘eco swaps’ and feedback at your next zoom coffee morning? All of our actions make a difference.

On a global level COVID has highlighted inequality and unfairness. In turn this revealed unsustainable industry practices previously quietly accepted in our consumer driven lifestyle. Often the global south has suffered the fallout from practices driven by richer economies. Climate change impacts many nations that do not themselves drive pollution and carbon levels.

Many have friends, family and colleagues impacted in different ways around the world. Hopefully this year’s COP26 Global Climate Change conference will pull nations together to legislate for better practices so that countries we impact directly do not have to suffer because of our nation’s’ industrial practices. SustFest21 will include events that oversee what’s happening in other parts of the world and will highlight the work of COP26.

  • Illustration of person washing in shower

Roller coaster

On a personal level, this pandemic has been a rollercoaster: fighting the instinct to panic buy when people stripped the shelves of stock, wondering how to ensure routine and stability for my family, what can I do to replace school lessons, and of course lockdown!? I became angry that our ‘eco-better practices’ were thrown out the window with no perceivable end to when things would ‘get better’.  The increased plastic, no use of public transport, limitations on exercise, all in all it was very hard to bear.

As people emerged from the shock of lockdown, I realised that some of the answers were in reintroducing more sustainable habits.

Buying from local shops or direct from suppliers you can limit waste packaging and reduce transportation/carbon footprint. By cooking from scratch, we can reduce food waste. We found ways of repurposing household items when the shops were closed. We’ve done more in the garden and allotment – great for wellbeing and for stocking up the fridge!

We need to use SustFest21 to share our experiences, our learning and our new ideas from this time….

The festival takes place from Sunday 23 May to Sunday 6th June. We are asking groups to register an event on the website www.sustfest.org from now until 4th April.

Or come along to the Creative Ideas event – repeated on Thurs 24 Feb and Tuesday 2nd March – to get inspiration for your #SustFest21 activity

I know there is a huge amount of enthusiasm out there to share and I encourage everyone to think about getting involved however big or small – we are all in this together. Let’s ride on this wave and support each other in our sustainable changes.

We do need a SustFest this year, and I know we can all make it a great success and a fantastic resource for our communities going forward. I’m looking forward to seeing you at a SustFest21 activity or event in whatever format we are allowed! #StaySafe

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