keeping it conscious

Ethical and sustainable living becoming a globally-beneficial student trend

Tanya Keskar | The Chronicle

A few eco-minded Mason High School students are battling today’s issues by focusing on the impact of their footprints.

Last year, senior Preston Meyer decided to become vegan after learning how meat consumption and animal exploitation are some of the worst factors in the climate crisis. According to UC Davis, a single cow belches 220 pounds of methane every year, stays in the atmosphere for 12 years, and is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“I went vegan for the planet,” Meyer said. “In the beginning, it was a little hard to do, but now, after a year and a half, it’s like the back of my hand. I know what I can eat and I’m happy with what I am eating as well.”

Animal products are often hidden in unsuspecting items. Common culprits include gum with gelatin, clothes with fur, leather or silk and even cane sugar refined with bone char. Meyer is actively trying to live a fully vegan lifestyle by seeking out vegan hair and skincare products, thrifting to cut the tether to carbon emissions and saving electricity.

Going vegan as Meyer did is not the only way high schoolers are stepping up to help the environment. Junior Jackson Kehl has found a unique yet effective approach when it comes to being more sustainable.

“I haven’t sworn off meat,” Kehl said. “I try to reduce the amount of red meat that I eat, because that is worse for the environment.”

Instead, Kehl focuses on thrifting for most of his clothes and using reusable water bottles and straws, and he has made the deliberate decision to use E85 in his car instead of regular gasoline. Differing from petroleum, E85 is made with 15% gasoline and 85% ethanol, a type of fuel usually made with corn.

“It costs a little bit more, but it’s better — it’s a renewable resource,” Kehl said.

Much like his other classmates, senior Andrew Levin is also focusing on living an ethical lifestyle, but he has a humanitarian basis for his interest. He learned about the internment and forced labor camps focused on assimilating ethnic Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang province. According to the Center for Global Policy, over 20% of the world’s cotton was produced in that region, and with blurring supply chains making products difficult to trace back to their original materials, this unethical cotton is in many garments sold by fast fashion brands.

“The ethical part is so important to me because there’s an emotional connection to that — the hands that touch the clothes,” Levin said. “I knew I morally needed to do the best I possibly could to not support that.”

Levin took this opportunity to reassess his lifestyle.“I used to be really big on Abercrombie and Fitch, but the more research I did, I realized that I just can’t continue to do this,” Levin said. “I can’t keep buying stuff from a store that I know isn’t right. We should be paying more for our clothes and we should be buying fewer clothes.”

Levin feels that reducing your rate of consumption is one of the best ways to make more ethical purchases and stay sustainable. He continues to adapt his life to follow this ideal and utilizes thoughtful shopping practices to stay with these morals.

“A lot of times, I’ll literally wait two months if I see a shirt I like, and then if I want it two months later, I know I should actually get it,” Levin said. “I’m not just wanting to make an impulse purchase.”

While Levin prioritizes sustainable and ethical shopping, stores have not necessarily been doing the same. In the past few years, with it becoming increasingly trendy to go green, some popular brands, such as Zara and H&M, have tried to convince people into buying their product by loosely labeling it as ‘sustainable’, ‘recycled’, or even ‘organic’, as many of these marketing terms have no regulation. At the same time, they keep prices extremely low by hiding their supply chain and continuing to exploit people, animals, and the environment.

Meyer said that more transparency is needed to understand which brands are actually sustainable, and which brands are just trying to check labels to attract more customers.

“It’s sometimes a challenge to notice those and try to avoid those [brands],” Meyer said. This practice is known as greenwashing — labeling your product as sustainable when, in reality, it is an exaggeration.

Kehl feels that one big challenge in trying to be an ethical and sustainable consumer is the isolating feeling of not doing enough.

“I am one person,” Kehl said. “Companies blame people for not fully being sustainable. Duke Energy comes around and says, ‘put these ultra-efficient light bulbs in your house, put these shower heads in to reduce water,’ which is great, but ignore the fact that Duke Energy has massive coal plants. They dump oil in the Gulf of Mexico, and it burns. The ocean is burning, and I’m just one person.”

Levin believes that bringing sustainable solutions to our school and increasing environmental awareness is an important step. Mason High School has over 3000 students, and everyone working together can make a big impact.

“Conscious consumption [is key],” Levin said. “Because if we all do it, that will make a change.”

Graphic by Allison Droege