Reza Cristián: SUSTAIN
As a woman of color from a low income family, Reza Cristián struggled to find platforms normalizing sustainability for marginalized communities.
“To me, sustainability could have this denotation—at least when I first went into it—that it was all forty year old moms drinking smoothies. People often feel that the space isn’t for them, that they needed to have money, that they needed to act or look a certain way to be involved.”
She also noted that many sustainability efforts were lackluster in their presentations of sustainable living.
“Many [sustainability] brands often seemed very plain, because being sustainable can tend to look and feel boring. This can turn people off to it,” she explains.
Reza realized that the sustainability industry needed to be tapped into, so she created SUSTAIN the Mag, an ethical media site emphasizing inclusivity.
“We’re opening our arms—I wanted to create that space that made [sustainability] more for everyone.”
Indeed, the SUSTAIN team—including Alexis Gaskin, Julia Le, Alyssa Ford, Caitlin Ruggero, Samantha Baselice, Kate Puthota, and Alla Rickett—focuses on producing content for people from all backgrounds about all sorts of sustainable living: food, culture, fashion, wellness. SUSTAIN also works to normalize sustainability, writing material in a style that “makes it seem like you’re reading regular content off of Refinery or Teen Vogue, but it’s about sustainability.”
In addition to their media site, SUSTAIN is dedicated to contributing sustainable efforts in their local community. They went to the Governor’s Island Earth Matters Compost Center to compost and garden as a team last year, and they participated in a beach clean up this past summer. They have also hosted an Eco Arts showcase.
“I wanted to bring sustainability through all aspects and cultures,” Reza explains about the showcase, “I wanted to bring together, in one weekend, twenty different artists with content that could be eco-friendly and sponsors that were all eco-friendly.”
In the future, Reza plans to provide more events and workshops in the New York City Area.
“I’m a big advocate for lower communities to know what sustainability is,” Reza says, “so I want to teach at schools to explain eco-consciousness.”
She also emphasizes the importance of asking questions, especially when first working towards more sustainable living.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. I was afraid to ask questions because I thought people would look down on me for not knowing everything,” Reza admits, “but it’s okay. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself: if you can’t afford something, it’s okay. Don’t think you need to be 100%, we want to applaud anyone trying to be eco-conscious at all. If you want to focus on veganism, only food intake or low waste, that’s all great.”
SUSTAIN’s message is all about being “low waste, not zero waste”—because, for many, zero waste is simply not attainable nor maintainable.
“We can’t keep feeding people this illusion—we need to make things easier and more comprehensible for people to understand. Low waste is the next step because it makes people feel motivated and included; it’s less time, money, and effort, so people are more able to sacrifice it. It’s a better alternative and an easier way to deal with the sustainable everyday lifestyle.”
One way Reza suggests to reduce waste is to buy less. She also suggests shopping small business and composting, as both also allow you to give back to your communities. Reza also stresses the importance of each individual to do what they can in the push for sustainable living.
“When people think of sustainability living, they think ‘it should only be the government and companies, I don’t need to do anything,’ or they think ‘you recycling isn’t gonna do much.’
One conversation won’t make change, but it can get the conversation going.
Our biggest vote is our money and what we put our money into. That’s how the big capitalist government is gonna change: if we stop using a certain brand, they’re going to do something to change their way because they’re going to see profits decrease. People need to be more careful who they put their money into and who they trust.”
Though the fight to save our planet can sometimes seem discouraging, Reza has faith in the future generation. “SUSTAIN has a large Gen Z readership,” Reza says, “and they truly seem to care. This generation is going to keep things going.”
In a world where sea levels keep rising and the American president refuses to admit climate change exists, organizations like SUSTAIN—inspiring all people to live more sustainably, regardless of ethnicity, income, or generation—are more important than ever. If we want to save our planet, it’s going to take all of us; even if we take small steps individually, together we can shape the path forward.