Lily Cole talks ethical banking and fast fashion
According to Banktrack, the top UK banks have poured nearly £150 billion into financing fossil fuels since the Paris Agreement was adopted. We sat down Lily Cole, ex-model, activist and eco-warrior to talk about the little lifestyle changes, including switching banks, that make a big difference to the health of the planet.
What exactly is environmental banking?
Banks carry a huge amount of money and while they are holding onto that money, they have the ability to invest that into different sectors. By investing in certain sectors you’re profiting from and encouraging a certain way of doing business. A bank like Triodos has a very clear outline of the types of businesses that they won’t invest in and then also indicators of those that they will invest in because they want to see organic farming or social businesses grow through impact investing. Even if you don’t have a lot of money, through banking you can be part of a larger collective which can have a much bigger impact in terms of where investments are made.
What is it that we don’t know about the banks and how they are contributing negatively to the climate crisis?
I first became interested this quite a few years ago and I was thinking about it more from the perspective of the arms trade. A lot of banks continue to invest in the arms trade and I didn’t want to be accidentally complicit in that. I was aware of the fossil fuels factor as well but I wasn’t aware of the stats until I was contacted by Triodos about their campaign. It’s pretty disappointing because you’d hope that there was a seismic shift after the Paris Agreement and that it would have an echoing effect through all aspects of society. It’s really hopeful that there are alternatives like Triodos and a few other banks that are trying to do things in a different way. Being with a bank that you can trust to make decisions under an ethical policy feels good.
How has/does fast fashion contribute to climate change?
I guess the bank conversation is the next natural step in the conversation we’ve been having for many years around money and the way we spend it. It’s more obvious when consumers direct corporate policies through our purchases and choices. Whether through fashion, food, or whatever, if you support brands that are trying to do things in a better way and that have environmental and social responsibility then you are supporting good practices. I think the different aspects within fast fashion that make it problematic are the social and environmental footprint in terms of sweatshop labour and problems for farmers and supply chain, and also the issue around disposability. Not always, but quite often, the approach to fast fashion is a disposable attitude where a huge number of clothes end up in landfill after hardly being worn at all, and there’s obviously a huge environmental and social cost to that. I’m not a fan of fast fashion: I’m a fan of buying things that you really love and will have for a very long time and will repair and look after. It’s about opting for quality over quantity.
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to cut down on their purchasing of fast fashion but doesn’t have the money to go for those higher price tags?
I think the most obvious thing to do is to buy second hand because it’s probably the most sustainable type of clothing you can buy as it has relatively no footprint. There’s a way of doing it that doesn’t have to feel like you’re compromising. I also think it’s about shifting our attitudes on how regularly we need to buy and how long things last. If you pay 5 times more for an item but you really love it, and you’ve saved up for it and will look after it for the next 20 years, then it’s actually offering better value. I’m wearing a jumper right now that I’ve had for over 10 years and it was expensive when I bought it but I loved it and it’s something that I’ll keep wearing and won’t treat as disposable.
Although I’m not a fan of fast fashion, I am supportive of the fast fashion brands trying to be more environmentally and socially responsible. We need these huge players to act, and their scale allows them to do things much cheaper than small brands would be able to.
What general changes have you and your family made to positively impact the environmental?
I always like to highlight that I’m not at all perfect because it’s nigh on impossible to be perfect in this day and age but I do try where I can. I try to be very conscious about what I eat, and I support local and organic when I can. I eat mostly vegan, but when I do eat any animal products I’m super careful about only eating them if I know it’s coming from a source that I trust because I don’t want to be involved in the factory farming industry at all. With fashion, I tend not to buy new, and if I do, I support brands that are organic or are trying to do things in a better way. I’ve tried to reduce my travelling a lot and I’ve swapped to Ecotricity for my energy supply. We’re really lucky that we live in a country, and in a time, where there’s quite a lot of consumer choice in many sectors whether it’s banking, energy, fashion, or food, if you want to find a better way to do business then there are usually businesses there to support.
What have you found most difficult to lessen when it comes to doing good by the environment?
Everyone has different struggles, but for me personally, it’s travelling. I love travelling, I’m requested to travel a lot for work, and I have a real traveller spirit. I think that’s the only one that I really find quite difficult, in a busy lifestyle I just don’t have time to travel everywhere by foot or by bicycle so I’m trying to reconcile that. My version of that has been to get an electric car, and fly a lot less and if I do I offset my flights. I do struggle with flying and part of me wants to stop flying altogether and maybe I’ll feel able to do that at some point but it’s one I’ve definitely found hard to work out.