Who: Alden Wicker
Occupation: Founder and editor-in-chief of EcoCult, a digital publication celebrating the sustainable life within, but not limited to, New York City
When and why did you decide to pursue an eco-conscious practice?
When I graduated from college, I moved to New York City. I wanted to live sustainably, but it was often presented as an either-or proposition. Either you grow your own food, and disengage completely from being a consumer, or you're not really sustainable. I wanted there to be a middle ground between being a hedonistic, ambitious New Yorker, and a homesteader, and I found it. And then I wanted to share all my favorite brands and findings with readers. So I started EcoCult, to prove that sustainable living can be cool and beautiful and current.
What was your lifestyle and practice like before the switch?
I wouldn't call it a switch. I've been indoctrinated from an early age. Living sustainably always just made sense to me—even though I certainly didn't grow up in a hippie household. My childhood was pretty conventional: McDonald's, family sedan, Southern fried cooking. But I spent a lot of time rambling around in the 180 acres of woods surrounding our home in North Carolina. And my mother was very keen on protecting those woods from poachers and four wheelers. Plus, I started picking up her Newsweek and Time magazines to read. I attended a summer camp in North Carolina, the Green River Preserve, where I met my first vegan and learned about ecology. On to a liberal private school in Maryland, where we learned about political action and went on camping trips. I was sustainable in little ways. When I heard we might run out of oil, I started saying no to plastic bags. That was in the sixth grade. And finally, an AP class in high school brought home just how f—excuse me—messed up our planet is because of our actions. From there, I changed little by little to get where I am today. First through reading books, like Fast Food Nation, and going organic. Then watching An Inconvenient Truth. Then moving to New York City and selling my car. Then picking up information on blogs about how to avoid toxins.
How did you educate yourself in being eco-conscious?
Reading. So much reading. I read non-fiction books, and blogs, and The New Yorker. There's no one textbook. You've got to take your information from everywhere. Well, every credible resource, anyway. I'm not a big fan of bloggers or advocates who spread misinformation—even if it's in the service of convincing more people to go sustainable. They do, and it drives me crazy! I'm a big believer in fact-checked journalism. That's why I started EcoCult. I wanted to create a website that is both beautiful and credible. Lately, I've been getting my information straight from the source: experts and industry people who are on the ground and using innovation to move us along. Then I share that with my readers.
What sort of obstacles do you face in your day-to-day life and within your industry?
It's a cliché because it's true: It's not easy being green. We live in a system that makes it hard to live an authentic, sustainable lifestyle. Plastic is so bad but ubiquitous and all but impossible to avoid unless you're homesteading out on the farm. There are more options for sustainable fashion than ever, but they're not being sold in your local mall or downtown. The global supply chain is opaque and complex, and we can't all spend the equivalent of a second full-time job researching and crafting and planning so as to be perfect conscious consumers. It's not fair to put all of that responsibility on us and let companies large and small continue to destroy the environment. I try to provide as many resources as possible to my readers to make their lives easier, but I hope to see more legislation someday that makes it so that we know no beauty products contain parabens or phthalates, and no fashion we purchase poisons the water in Asia, and none of the food we buy was grown using pesticides.
How has your life benefitted from your decision? Have there been any downsides?
I'm in a much healthier place than I was before I really dove in, both physically and mentally. My acid reflux disappeared and I lost all my excess weight. I'm breathing in clean air in my home. Doing this work keeps me mentally engaged and fulfilled. Because I'm informed, I'm able to step off the typical consumption treadmill and make choices that make me truly happy, and I shine that kindness back on people around me. Sure, sometimes I can get bogged down in the onslaught of bad environmental news. But I live confidently in the fact that I'm trying my personal best not to contribute to the problem.
What do your peers think of being eco-conscious?
Most of my friends support me, though they aren't rabid conscious consumers like I am. I don't guilt-trip my friends, and they've started coming around slowly. They'll email me and be like, "I want to redo my whole beauty routine! Where do I start?" or, "I read your article on toxic shock syndrome, and signed up for a service that sends me organic, unbleached tampons!" One friend has asked me to help her overhaul her closet. I just put the information in front of them, and they can take it and make changes, or just come to me when they're ready.
What is one simple thing we can all, no matter what lifestyle we lead, do to be more eco-conscious?
Buy less stupid stuff. You don't need to become a freegan—someone who dumpster dives for all their belongings. You don't even need to only buy "green" things. I'm talking about not buying the stupid stuff that's cheaply made, where the advertising makes you feel bad about yourself, that falls apart quickly, that makes you feel sluggish after eating it, that you buy just because you're in a bad mood, or because you want to fit in, or a celebrity was paid to carry it around. Buy useful, beautiful, long-lasting things that fill an actual need in your life, like a copper kettle for making tea every morning, a Peruvian alpaca blanket that you can snuggle inside to read, selvedge jeans that you break-in to fit your body, a beauty oil that you massage your face with before you go to bed, heirloom tomatoes from the farmer's market. These things are so lush and nourishing. If you bought less stupid things, you could buy these instead. Oh, and stop watching TV.
Alden wears Bite Beauty, Amuse Bouche Lipstick in 'Whiskey,' available at Sephora.