Chapter 1 / Collective
Words by: Courtney Chew
Photography: Lilian Liu
The health of our earth and our oceans are taking a significant seat at the forefront of current conversations addressing our lifestyle habits, our global consumption, and business practices. But there are some key organizations and individuals who have dedicated years ‘behind the scenes’, unwavering in their commitment to educate us on the consequences of our impact on the planet, and tirelessly spearheading actions, campaigns, initiatives, and policies for the benefit of our resources, our earth, and our communities.
Lilian Liu is one of those individuals and has become an admirable resource for our team, in our quest to push to be better, to improve our processes, and to manage our impact, as we grow. Originally from Sweden but now living in NYC, she is the Manager of partnerships and UN Relations at the United Nations Global Compact – the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative. In her day to day, she is responsible for training, advising, engaging, and bridging global companies with government and the UN, to create one large collective in support of a more sustainable world and economy. But also as an individual she inspires us with her genuine passion for doing her part in leading a more conscious life – from co-founding her own sustainable fashion brand, to launching a sustainable fashion movement in Asia with NGO Redress, to being an approachable voice and resource for her network, sharing tips and tricks that we can all do, no matter how big or how small they are. We are humbled to include Lilian in our OCIN Collective. Get to know Lilian and the story behind this UN powerhouse, sustainability queen and OCIN Human.
@lilianliu | lilianliu.co
CC: Tell us a bit about yourself - Who is Lilian and what was your journey that led you into managing partnerships and UN relations at the United Nations Global Compact? Were you always a champion for sustainability or did that come later in life?
LL: I’ve always been drawn to sustainability and social justice issues. Having grown up in two very different cultures – born in Sweden, but raised by Chinese parents, I am a child of multiple cultures. Sweden is a society that is very progressive and egalitarian in some areas – such as gender equality and providing free education for all. Growing up, I would also spend my summers in Shanghai, where I would witness the aggressive growth miracle of China – not always a balanced or fair development. I became inspired to somehow balance these two worlds.
Throughout my education, I found the less traditional development methods, such as partnerships that involved both public and private stakeholders, were the most exciting and innovative. I have been very lucky to get exposed to many different angles of global development through work – from textile waste and environmental sustainability in the fashion industry in China, to human rights in supply chains in Brazil, to now managing Partnerships and UN Relations at the UN Global Compact – the world’s largest corporate sustainability initiative.
CC: What is the vision of the United Nations Global Compact?
LL: The mission on the UN Global Compact is to mobilize a movement of stakeholders to create the world we want. To achieve the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we need companies to contribute, and government need to work together with business and civil society.
It’s essential to work in partnership with the private sector to achieve development and the SDGs. According to the Better Business, Better World report by the Business & Sustainable Development Commission, using the SDGs to unleash innovation and economic growth could be worth more than $12 trillion each year in market opportunities and generate up to 380 million new jobs by 2030. So there is an enormous benefit for both sustainable development and for economy. That’s huge to think about!
In brief, our work is to help companies deliver on the 17 SDGs and work in partnership with the UN and others – to thrive as a human collective.
CC: There are so many words associated with sustainability these days. Can you define “sustainability” for us. In your opinion are there any differences with the terms eco-conscious, green, environmentally friendly, and conscious?
LL: The S word! It might be ‘trending’ now, but sustainability is actually an age-old concept. Being resourceful and smart in your business or the way you consume, being kind to the earth and to people around you, is going to help you survive in the long-term – to me, sustainability is simply about longevity and resourcefulness.
CC: To an individual that is just starting to understand how to be more sustainable in their every day, what is your advice? What are three easy steps they can take to ease into being more sustainable?
LL: You can’t do it all at the same time, but you can start with some. With any type of change, break it down into smaller steps and then become more ambitious.
A few guidelines to start with:
• The way you consume (how often you buy and what you buy - always ask yourself if you really need the product and if you will use it for a long time)
• What you eat (meat vs vegetarian, local vs imported?)
• The way you move (transportation and carbon footprint)
Being in sustainability and fashion, here are some resources I recommend:
Films: The True Cost, A Plastic Ocean, River Blue
Reads: Elizabeth Cline’s “Overdressed” (incredibly interesting book about the story of fast fashion), Redress’ Dress with Sense (practical tips for greening your wardrobe) and of course the Fashion Revolution fanzines which I love!
You can’t do it all at the same time, but you can start with some. With any type of change, break it down into smaller steps and then become more ambitious.
CC: What are some of your personal goals for being more conscious and sustainable, that you’re taking into this 2019?
LL: Recently, I’ve really tried hard to minimize my consumption of single-use plastics – through simple actions like bringing my own coffee cup or saying no to free stuff that I don’t need. It’s great that more and more places are banning single-use plastics (go Jamaica!).
Also, I am trying to be more intentional in terms of flying to reduce my individual carbon footprint. I already bike commute and live without a car (hello NYC) and eat a largely meatless diet – both large factors in individual contribution to climate change. However, flying is also one of those. And I am obsessed with travelling to obscure/exotic places, so this is a tough one! But I am asking myself – can I plan trips in closer proximity? Can I take the train or transportation modes with lower carbon footprint? Also, I plan to at least carbon offsetting any flights I take from now on.
In terms of brands, if I buy something, I check to see if their mission align with ethical practices and if they have a sustainability ethos. Beyond the ‘we care about the people and planet’, what kind of action are they actually taking? Do they have any environmental or social certifications? For clothes, I try to mostly buy second hand and wear natural textiles.