I interviewed Ashlee Piper, the sustainable living author of Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet, on her book and her work with sustainability. She was able to give me the insider’s details on her inspiration, extra advice for millennials, and her successes as an author.
“What inspired you to write this book?”
I had been doing TV segments about sustainable living and writing about more niche aspects, like green beauty and ethical fashion, for mainstream publications for about 4 years. After each segment or piece would run, I’d get tons of viewer and reader questions and comments saying how that bite-sized content really helped them to make small changes they could feel good about and wouldn’t it be nice if there was a book that had a bunch of these types of tips for every aspect of our lives? As I was embarking on my own journey to live more sustainably, I’d found lots of books that covered seemingly disparate aspects of eco-friendliness, like vegan cookbooks and books on how to be zero-waste, but I hadn’t found anything that comprehensively covered eco-friendly living in all aspects of life. So, I decided to write one. 🙂
“What is the one thing you want a reader to get out of reading your book from cover to cover?”
That small shifts make a difference. It’s really easy, especially nowadays, to get downhearted and apathetic about sustainability. The planet is in peril and we have a President who doesn’t even acknowledge climate change. So much emphasis has been placed on government regulation and people in power legislating changes to better the planet, but in focusing only on that, we ignore the strong individual influence we have that got us in this situation in the first place. Climate change really ramped up during post-war industrialization. Demand for cheaper, more disposable and readily available goods and services was created by individual people, just like you and me, wanting those things, so industry pivoted to give us those. And in turn, the planet suffers. So, I want readers to acknowledge they’re powerful. Our small changes are powerful and make a difference.
I also want people to understand that sustainable living is not a zero-sum game. You don’t need to be perfect at it. You don’t need to upend your entire life and spend a fortune. Do what you can with what you’ve got. I think the optics around sustainable influencers seeming so perfect, or the thoughts that one change doesn’t make a difference, deter people from making convenient, small changes that actually do add up to an enormously positive collective impact. So, yeah, I want readers to think, “Shit, I’m powerful. I can make a difference here. And I don’t need to be perfect or ascetic or uncool in doing it.”
“What advice do you have for young millennials/ gen z who are looking to have an impact on the sustainable movement?”
Lead by cool, open, informed example. I’ve been involved in many different activism approaches in my life. There’s a place for all of them – the super in-your-face stuff does occasionally grab peoples’ attention and help to spark a difference. But the most potent and enduring changes I’ve seen in others have come from when I simply do my thing and stay cool and open to positive dialogue. Everyone is learning and no one is perfect. My personal sustainability is always evolving, as should everyone’s! So, keep doing your thing, and you never know who might see you bringing your own reusables to a coffee shop or responding to a wardrobe compliment with, “Thanks, it’s secondhand!” with genuine curiosity that could spark a positive change in their own habits.
We all have a fire and impatience in us. We feel impassioned and we know change needs to happen like, yesterday. But channel that in a way that ensures your interactions with others who have yet to be in your same “place” of thought and action are positive, respectful and thought-provoking. It’s incumbent on us to stay open, well-informed, and understanding. People admire cool people. Just keep being a cool person who makes caring for the planet, animals, and others look effortless and cool. That’s how this will really catch on.
“What has been the best part about becoming an author about a topic you are passionate about?”
The absolute best part is the reader feedback. It never gets old being tagged in someone’s IG story or post, or reading a review from someone in another country. Some people have said the book has “changed their life” and that just blows my mind and I feel so grateful. This was a passion project for me, for sure. I have a regular day job and I basically wrote the book in my off hours. It was a true labor of love and I feel extremely privileged to have been able to bring it to life and to the public. And the fact that folks love and are inspired by it is just gravy.
“In what ways can you make sustainable fashion affordable?”
Secondhand first! It’s the gentlest on the planet and one of the most exciting and inexpensive ways to shop. I’m also a huge fan of clothing swaps because they kindle two of my favorite things: eco-friendliness and sparking connections among people (which we could all use more of in our online-obsessed world). As far as bringing sustainable fashion more to the fore and making it accessible for every price point, it’s incumbent upon us who can afford eco-friendly fashion as its priced right now, to buy from those makers and companies whenever we are able. Supply and demand is real, so the more folks demand sustainable fashion, the more it can be brought to scale where it’s priced more for the masses. I stress minimalism a lot in the book because I really do believe the ethos of “fewer, but better” is part of sustainable living. Investing in one pair of well-made, eco-friendly shoes made in a responsible, fair-wage factory, for instance, is going to be more expensive – those values don’t come cheap in a society riddled with fast fashion, environmental degradation, and human and animal exploitation – than a fast-fashion version. But, most of us don’t have just one pair of fast-fashion shoes, we have MANY (some studies show an average woman, for instance, has an average of 40 pairs of shoes). By paring down, you’re able to invest in fewer items of more sterling quality, and that means you can support a small maker to grow her responsible business or support a woman-run factory in a developing part of the world. Those things matter, and if we can afford it, we should, and that support is what will bring sustainable fashion more to scale and accessible for everyone else.
“Do you have any upcoming events, like clothing swaps or TV features, that I can tell my readers about?”
You’re so kind to ask! I’ll be speaking about Sustainability as Self-Care at the Good Fest in Austin next weekend, and I’ll be doing a CBS Weekend segment on easy eco-friendly tips anyone can try for Earth Month on Sunday, March 31st at 8am. There will be more things, too, as we embark on Earth Month, so folks can always see the latest on my Events page and subscribe to my newsletter for articles and upcoming fun!
Thank you Ashlee Piper for allowing me to interview you on your book, Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet. Feel free to check out her work!