Why Safia Minney is calling for SDG18 – to be added to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Safia Minney writes:

“An additional Sustainable Development Goal: #SDG18, would recognise the power of communications, media, education, and activism to promote the existing 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals).”


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The power of the advertising and creative industries

What IF we could harness even 10% of the power of the advertising and creative industries for sustainability and social justice? Haven’t we made and sold enough fast fashion, micro-fibres, single-use plastics, fossil-fuel based, soil and soul destroying products? What IF advertising and creativity could be used ethically for social and environmental good to challenge, inspire, and change thinking, behaviour, and systems for the way we live? The old paradigm is shifting and we need higher public awareness and education to build inclusive solutions and promote sustainable living and business practices – and to create political will in government to make changes and AT SCALE.

Many of us are frustrated that we are not shouting about the crisis that humanity is facing. People, especially supposedly educated people in the first world, should no longer be complicit – run-away global warming threatens the existence of human civilisation and in our lifetimes. And yet we don’t ‘know’ about it? Because we don’t feel that anyone has ‘told us’? This is in part denial, it’s not nice to think that maybe it’s already too late, or as my 6 year old step-daughter sobbed after watching a video on climate change and mass extinction, “but I’ll only be 16 when that happens”.

Beyond denial, there’s a sense of disbelief, that if the advertising industry is prepared to go to such lengths to seduce us to buy this or that product, why, if it’s a matter of life or death of you and your family, would no one look you in the eye and tell you “sorry, there’s been a major miscalculation of resources and unless we change the way we live and work now, we will lose everything we love, but there may be another way”. There are many psychological reasons for denial and vested interests in the status quo, etc. and we need courage and a positive vision for a better future to move beyond. We need to raise awareness and support the growing campaigns for climate change action and put pressure on our governments to meet and exceed promised emissions reductions and hold businesses accountable to the SDGs. We need to enforce laws.

We have a crisis on our hands and we are pretending that sustainability is a nice thing to do. It’s not nice – it’s essential to our continued existence; it’s an imperative! There are still companies out there who think that this is all about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility), which went out in the 90s. This is about sustainability, which means doing what we can now to sustain some human life. Scientists argue that we are already in the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event and that we, along with many other species, are unlikely to survive. And what are we doing? There are no public announcements, no sirens, no major shifts in politics or public and private sector leadership. SDG18 would recognise that we need to hold up a maga-phone to the SDGs to educate all, create the will to shift our economy, and share best practices. There are many creative and communications professionals out there who would love to use their skills for sustainability and social justice.

The SDGs are great but the man at the bus stop thought I was referring to sexually transmitted diseases. My doctor hadn’t heard of them and nor, based on my consulting experience to date, do the buyers and sourcing professionals of most fashion-related companies. We have these great goals but most governments aren’t promoting them, let alone forcing businesses to act in accordance with them.

We desperately need vision creators and communicators to give us not only the education and motivation to move out of denial, but also to show us what an opportunity this is to develop a much fairer world, one where our fundamental interconnectedness, with each other and with the planet, is central to our happiness and mutual prosperity.

SDG18 Safia Minney

Why I care…

25 years ago, I founded called Global Village in Japan, and used my background in communications, PR and media to campaign for sustainability and social justice. We called for Fair Trade, corporate responsibility, accountability and transparency. We ran rallies and protests, submitted petitions on trade issues to the WTO, made short films, ran panel discussions and workshops on sustainable living, social justice and human rights. We ran fashion shows, hunger banquets and brought together a community of change makers from our fair trade partners in Asia, Africa and Latin America to local regenerative culture initiatives and local currencies. We worked with local organisations and social entreprises. Out of Global Village came the fashion company, People Tree, and People Tree products and shops brought this new thinking to supply chains, to our customers, and to a wider public and business community.

Yes, we did try to maximise positive social impact. We did significantly reduce environmental impact through Fair Trade and sustainable design and production practices. But those things have never been enough. We need to fight the causes of environmental destruction, social injustice, and climate change – and we need the political will to hold companies accountable; enforce laws, meet the carbon emission pledges – and for that, I believe direct action and campaigning like the school strikes last Friday, (which brought together 1.5 million young people), and Extinction Rebellion’s 15th April fortnight of action, will help us begin to hear the shouts of “CRISIS!” from the roof tops.

Along with this, I would like to see an SDG18 to recognise the power of communications, media and creative industries’ ability to turbo charge the 17 x SDGs. Buying some eco-ethical products is a start but it’s not nearly enough.
How are we going to put pressure on our governments, businesses and the ‘man’ on the street?

Comment here if you are in communications (advertising, education, media, PR or a creative) and believe that an SDG18 could help mainstream the 17 SDGs.

Or join in the conversation with Safia on twitter, LinkedIn, and instagram.

If you would like to interview Safia Minney, please use the press contact form here:

Plastic micro-fibre pollution from laundry in tap water

Flo Nolan, ethical fashion lifestyle writer, interviews Safia Minney and discusses plastic micro-fibre pollution in tap water, from laundering clothes.

You spoke at the Fashion SVP seminar “Sustainable Sourcing: Fresh Challenges, New Opportunities” bringing together specialsists to discuss what the fashion industry can do about micro-fibre pollution from clothing wash off.  Why should we care?

Mircro-fibres caught the attention of the public last year with Orb Media’s report that found that over 83% of the worlds drinking water is contaminated by micro-plastics, with one of the major culprits for this contamination being the fashion industry. Our drinking water is now full of plastic fibres, up to 5mm in length, as a direct result of fast fashion’s mass-production of clothes in synthetic materials.

The micro fibres are ingested by fish and filter feeders, like mussels and oysters, and are rapidly becoming part of the food chain.

This contamination happens when synthetic clothing is washed in washing machines and the micro-fibres they are composed of wash off and end up in water treatment plants but are not filtered out.

This contaminated water flows back into the water table systems and our drinking water, our fields, polluting the soil that we rely on for crops. They have polluted our oceans and some argue are as numerous as plankton so naturally they are ingested by fish and filter feeders, like mussels and oysters, and are rapidly becoming part of the food chain.

David Attenborough’s Blue Planet II, brought home the issues that face our oceans and the effect of plastic pollution on it – can we use this media attention and heightened public awareness to change the fashion industry and the way we buy clothing and care for it?

The fashion industry must reduce production in synthetic fibres and fabrics and producing in natural and organic fibres.  As consumers we should buy natural fibres and re-consider the way we buy clothing and shoes.  Buying less and demanding longevity and quality is a good start.  We can also wash the synthetic clothes we own less and when we wash them in a Guppy bag to collect the micro fibres and throw these in the trash.

I hope more consumers will switch to natural fibre and fabric alternatives  –  I’m surprised that people who embrace well-being that choose synthetic yoga wear rather than organic cotton yoga wear despite it being very affordable as well as allowing your skin to breath.

The fashion industry and government needs to be looking at a ban and regulation on the production of synthetics and how to filter water to reduce micro-fibre pollution.  I think there needs to be a ban like the micro-bead ban passed in 2017.  I fear that the vested interests from the fast fashion industry in synthetic fibre, acrylic, polyester, etc; because they are cheap, is just too huge.  We will have to raise awareness and campaign from within the industry, as Patagonia are, alongside ethical fashion pioneers, together with consumers and environmental organisations to push the Government for regulation.

If all else fails, I think we should ask fashion company CEO’s to drink water with micro-fibres in relation to how much synthetic fashion they produce!

So what can fashion brands do to avoid mircro-fibre pollution? How does People Tree and Po-Zu do it differently?

When I founded People Tree 27 years ago, I decided I would try to make clothes using only natural fibres because I didn’t want to use synthetics as they are unbiodegradable. It was on the basis of using fashion as a tool for change.  As a way of producing fibres like organic cotton, hemp, nettle and jute in a way that protects the environment and creating livelihoods for economically marginalised people and artisans in rural areas. The difference between brands such as People Tree and Po-Zu and fast fashion brands is that we think downstream, back into supply chain. We design our clothes and shoes using sustainable materials and avoid using toxic substances in the production process.

We build sustainable supply chains that reflect best practice with relation to people and the environment. Organic and natural fibres that break down in months rather than hundreds of years. People Tree worked to create standards for the farming of organic cotton, and we try to avoid synthetic materials even in our interfacings and accessories.   However it is difficult to eliminate synthetics completely – but as a company we have largely done so.

The dress I’m wearing today is 96% organic cotton with 4% elastane.   Po-Zu shoes uses organic cotton, cork, natural rubber and pineapple leaf fibre in its shoes and all these materials biodegrade quickly in the environment.

There are ways forward and quick wins.  We have a short time to reign in the huge levels of pollution from fast fashion production, these ‘externalities’ are not accounted for in our current economic modelling of fashion production, but they are fast destroying our health and the health of our planet.  We have evidence of the immediate effect of chemicals on people living near water waste and now mounting evidence that plastics can disrupt human hormones levels.

Safia Minney available for speaking engagements worldwide and also for consultancy work. Please contact: info@safia-minney.com

Further reading on the Fairtrade Coalition AGM on Anna Brindle’s blog