‘I have a dilemma with the word ‘career’; I don’t really know what it means. Somehow it sounds negative to me but at the same time I think that anyone who is involved in something that makes the world a better place should have a career.’
Sustainability enthusiast Sophie Gripenberg is quickly creating herself a name in the sustainability jungle. We got the chance to talk to her about her best tips to live sustainable, if it is possible to live like everybody else while taking care of the planet and about mental health.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your story?
I am a sustainability consultant and enthusiast, very passionate about how humans can contribute to a better world but also how we can become better versions of ourselves. I am currently coordinating the sustainability work done at the Swedish Red Cross and I am doing minor consulting work such as seminars and educational material. I am very proud to join the first hydrogen power company in Sweden making clean energy out of plastic waste. I also recently joined an e-commerce focusing on sustainable clothing.
I have a trans-disciplinary background in peace- and development studies, economics and a master in socioecological resilience for sustainable development from Stockholm Resilience Centre. I have done three field works; one in Kenya about Agroforestry farming, one in Indonesia about oversea migration and one in Nepal about empowerment of youth and women. I love science and traveling and have visited a total of 44 countries, most of them by backpacking and hitchhiking. Travel is the best way to learn about our beautiful world. I am also balancing my passion for sustainability with my interest in increased consciousness on an individual level, mostly through my own practice in yoga and meditation. I have just started to write on my book about how I escaped depression and anxiety for good (hopefully).
Since 2016 you’ve been working with sustainable development at the Swedish Red Cross. Tell us a bit more about it!
I started as a volunteer within the youth organization and later on did my internship at the Swedish Red Cross to help them to create educational material for our local branches in sustainability. According to the strategic guidelines (2015-2019) the organization decided to accelerate the way they conducted their mission to prevent and reduce hummer suffering, to make it more sustainable according to our sustainability policy (2010). What we realized, was that there were so many things we could do but we had to invest in human recourses and that’s where I came in. Since I started, I have coordinated a project with regional volunteers called sustainability ambassadors to implement the educational material and so far, we have reached more than 1200 Red Cross-volunteers all over Sweden. The organization has also created a climate strategy to reduce our emissions according to the Paris Agreement, we do sustainability reporting and has been rewarded as the best one within our field, we have also changed our investments guideline and so on. Sustainability has been decided to be a part of everything we do, that’s why the transition is taking place in so many areas and I’m proud to be the coordinator.
How did your interest for sustainability start?
I became a vegetarian when I was eleven years old, without anyone in my family or anyone of my friends being vegetarians. It was so obvious for me that you don’t eat your friends and you don’t have the right to take another living being’s life for your own pleasure. I believe I was born with my passion. It became even more clear after a trip in the favelas of Rio de Janerio when I was 21 years old that it was my duty as a privileged born Swede, to do everything I can to stop inequality.
What are your three best tips for a sustainable life?
– Be grateful, happy and look after your health. A better world starts with a smile. If you are not sustainable in your own life, how can you help others? Too many people are suffering from depression and anxiety and we always need to help ourselves before we help others.
– Donate money! I have been surprised lately when I ask around among people that donate a part of their income. Optimally it should be around 10%. There are so many good and amazing organizations out there and they are saving lives every day. Choose a few of them and start with a few hundred SEK and then increase it.
– A monthly consumption change! To know everything and to everything at the same time is hard. Start for example with food. The theme of the month is food, where the tasks could be finding greener and seasonal recipes, organic crops, Fair-trade coffee, chocolate and tea, ways to cut your food waste, bringing your own take away cups and eating out options that are more sustainable, for example.
By following you on Instagram, we have noticed that you usually travel by train. When you have to travel by plane, do you have any demands about the aircraft or about the company, like any specific sustainability claims?
My travels in Scandinavia and sometimes in Europe are done by train. It is so easy to replace these flights so I can’t see why not everybody does it. You just need to schedule your trip a little bit better and my tip is to sit in the silent section to get some peace while working. When I fly internationally there are airlines that are better than others. Norwegian have invested in new aircrafts and cut their CO2 emissions per passenger more than others and SAS are together with Preem creating renewable energy for aircrafts. The flying industry is not really there yet and I would highly recommend everyone to start to calculate emissions for every trip they are planning and see if they can travel differently. If you still have to fly, COMPENSATE! More money needs to be invested in clean energy and I find it very reasonable that people pay for this. Look for a Gold Standard certified project. There are even Fair-trade certified projects available now that also guarantees social sustainability in the projects.
In your bio on Instagram, you have ‘To change the economic system is my mission’. Can you elaborate?
Yes, I actually took that away recently not to confuse people. But it is my dream to work full time with this. Of all sustainability questions, nothing interests me more than how we measure welfare. GDP has been (and still is) an environmental disaster resulting in injustice and inequality. We can definitely replace it with a better system. Increased growth has become the new religion and is not serving it’s people anymore, rather our economic system and the strive for revenue and money are hindering true prosperity. I have collaborated with professors from Stockholm University on an academic article called Prosperity – a socioecological system perspective soon to be published at Ambio. I am considering doing a PhD on this subject.
Besides sustainability, you work as a yoga teacher. Why and how did you start with yoga?
I started when I was 17 years old since my father’s fiancée is a yoga teacher. The first time I tried it felt very natural to me. It was like coming home. I have been on and off in my practice and it have changed a lot. It is becoming more and more a philosophy and a lifestyle where the asanas are only tools to get in touch with my body, not goals per see. That is also why my yoga practice is not very evident on my Instagram even though I practice almost every day.
Being as strict as you are with a sustainable lifestyle, can you sometimes feel like you are missing out on things?
Yes, I find the flying part very hard since I am not a big fan of winters in Sweden and have considered moving to India and only work as a yoga teacher. I also find it hard when it comes to clothes. I prefer to travel and stay abroad because every time I live in Sweden I have an interest in style, you kind of want to look good, but the choices are limited. Otherwise I find no difficulty at all. I like to bring my own cup, look for better investments and funds and a vegan diet have just made me healthier. It feels good to live ethically.
You have written about the need of reducing the stigma about mental health issues. Why is this important for you?
Because when I realized I suffered from depression and anxiety and started to talk about it, so many people said they felt or have felt the same way. It is almost like we are expected not to be happy and at the same time we are constantly chasing happiness in materialistic stuff or ego-based things. I believe we can free ourselves from suffering, not from pain; death will still come for example, but from suffering. I discovered how much of my suffering was a result of my own mind and it is insane we don’t get to learn more about our brains, our hormones and our consciousness. We need better tools in life and we need a society that promotes wellbeing and not the other way around. Sustainability and wellbeing goes hand in hand. It’s not good for us or our planet that we consume too much, chase materialistic things and eat too much meat. A transition to a sustainable world requires increased consciousness of our own being.
What is your biggest accomplishment in your career?
I have a dilemma with the word ‘career’; I don’t really know what it means. Somehow it sounds negative to me but at the same time I think that anyone who is involved in something that makes the world a better place should have a career.Simply so they can reach higher positions, more people and have a larger impact. My biggest achievement is when people write, or tell me, that they got inspired to change their lives to become more sustainable and happy. That’s my reward.
If you could give one advice to your teenage self, what would it be?
Love yourself sweetheart. You are enough just the way you are. I keep telling myself that.