5 Secret Superheroes of the Sustainability World


We’ve all seen the companies making bold, highly publicized sustainability claims and commitments. Sometimes, it seems like the leaders of those businesses care as much or more about making headlines than making responsible choices to benefit the planet and all its inhabitants. 

What about the people and companies that are quieter in their efforts or less noticed for their sustainability impacts? They need recognition, too. 

Learning about them shows you people are working hard every day to contribute to sustainability, often with no fanfare. Let’s learn about some now.

1. The Organizations Pioneering Vietnamese Recycling Efforts

Vietnam is one of the world’s top plastic polluters. The issue stems from multiple causes, including urbanization and a high dependency on single-use materials. However, some of the country’s organizations see opportunities within that prominent and growing problem. 

For example, the Center for Environment and Community Research (CECR) launched a model that relied on collecting plastics and other recyclable materials from homes and businesses in the area so that local Women’s Union committees could sort and sell them. That approach allowed residents to transition to a safer and more sustainable lifestyle. 

Previously, many worked as waste pickers who searched landfills for valuable rubbish they could sell to support their families. However, such roles posed dangers because most people did not have personal protective equipment. Individuals also faced sexual assault risks, especially when working alone at night. 

Another CECR program educated fishing boat crews about keeping and sorting their plastic waste while working. That’s a significant improvement since these employees used to throw it away while at sea. Additionally, CECR created a program where people go door-to-door while collecting plastics and then sell them directly to recycling companies. That method eliminates the potential dangers of visiting landfills to find the materials. 

Keep Vietnam Clean & Green is a different nonprofit group targeting plastic waste. It has worked with universities to encourage students to take anti-litter pledges and created children’s mascots to raise awareness and create excitement among younger people. 

These organizations and those participating in their programs typically don’t make international headlines. However, the associated work is undoubtedly remarkable, especially due to the community focus. When people can join others in their areas to work together toward a common goal, they’ll feel sustainability is an ideal within their influence. 

2. Urban Planners

Many people benefit from urban planners’ decisions daily, but they don’t necessarily think about how these professionals contribute to sustainability. Researchers in Singapore use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve environmental and traffic monitoring. The team is also interested in human-environmental interactions and how those influence urban planning decisions. 

Another study investigated how residents’ proximity to city centers impacts their urban mobility decisions. Other findings indicated families were more likely to have cars than single people and that income influenced people’s preferred transportation modes, too. Such insights could show urban planners the most appropriate places to establish mobility-sharing programs that reduce emissions by allowing people to use cars without owning them.

The more urban planners learn about such demographic patterns, the more information they can apply to constructing future sustainable cities. Decisions such as where to put walking and bike paths or how to keep areas cool during the summer heat will make urban destinations more enjoyable for residents and visitors. 

3. Street and Chimney Sweepers

Walking or biking is much more enjoyable when debris isn’t blocking your path. Street sweepers play important roles in pollutant and waste reduction in communities. Anyone who has strolled in a pedestrian-friendly area and noticed the clean surroundings can thank street sweepers for that pleasant experience. 

Although these vehicles first became part of city management in the 18th century, they’ve come a long way since then. Modern models can minimize fine pollutant distribution, preventing those contaminants from entering the air and water. Some municipalities have also invested in electric street-sweeping vehicles, making another sustainability commitment. 

Austria’s chimney sweepers have also transitioned to electric mobility, now using e-cargo bikes during their workdays. Their jobs feature another sustainability element because well-maintained fireplaces use 10% less fuel and have fewer emissions than their counterparts. 

4. Cate Blanchett

You probably know Australian actress Cate Blanchett for her movies but haven’t considered her a sustainability superhero. That’s because others have spotted her eco-friendly actions and highlighted them.

Many red carpet enthusiasts anxiously wait to see what their favorite celebrities will wear to each dazzling event. However, it’s not just Blanchett’s stylish looks that have turned heads. It’s the fact that she wears many pieces again and again, styling them in slightly different ways each time. Sharp-eyed celebrity watchers have also pointed out that Blanchett has recently prioritized older pieces, such as wearing an outfit made in 2009 to a 2023 event. 

Although most people do these things, celebrities have personal stylists and are highly encouraged to wear something different every time a camera might capture them. Blanchett refuses to comply with that trend. She doesn’t brag about that decision, but people who follow celebrity fashion have noticed and pointed it out. 

When you consider how unsustainable parts of the film industry can be — with its elaborate sets only used for one scene or the waste generated from a single day in the catering tent of a working movie set — Blanchett’s fashion choices prove her dedication to sustainability.It’s even more refreshing that she hasn’t gone out of her way to draw attention to them. Instead, others have noticed, and their awareness generated some media attention. 

5. Fairphone

Fairphone is a Dutch smartphone company that turned 10 in 2023. It’s a small enterprise trying to make meaningful changes in an industry full of e-waste and questionable labor practices. You can get an idea of the company’s scale by considering they sold 115,681 phones in 2022. That figure pales compared to the hundreds of millions of iPhones purchased that same year. 

However, Fairphone doesn’t intend to compete with the biggest brands. It wants to change the industry for the better, and from the inside out. One of the most significant ways it does that is by promoting easy repairability. Many phone owners can’t even open their devices to change the battery. However, Fairphones have removable batteries, and the company sells spare parts for people to buy when components break.

They also make repairability easy — even for people without previous experience or knowledge. You need nothing more than a screwdriver and some dedication to get started. The company also works to improve labor conditions for workers associated with its suppliers and service providers. 

Quiet, Powerful Sustainability 

These examples prove sustainable work and decisions can and do happen without fanfare. The next time you feel lonely when doing something to help the planet, remember how many other people and companies have made similar decisions, so you’re not alone, even if it feels like it. 

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