How Model and Environmental Activist Lindsey Coffey Is Helping to Promote Sustainability and Climate Justice

An Interview With Monica Sanders

Monica Sanders
Authority Magazine

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Know your audience. It is important to educate everyone on the effects of climate change, however; if you have a call to action, know where and who to employ your efforts to create the biggest impact.

According to the University of Colorado, “Those who are most affected and have the fewest resources to adapt to climate change are also the least responsible for the greenhouse gas emissions — both globally and within the United States.” Promoting climate justice is an incredibly important environmental responsibility that is slowly becoming more and more recognized. In this interview series, we are talking to leaders who are helping to promote sustainability and climate justice. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsey Coffey.

Lindsey Coffey is a model and environmental activist whose talents led her to become the first U.S. representative to win Miss Earth in 2020. With a background in Political Science that focused on government, public policy, and political behavior, Coffey turned her public platform into a place of environmental awareness and green solutions. While campaigning for the protection of our natural resources and addressing the water crisis, she also advocates for ethical fashion, climate justice, wildlife conservation, and encourages global action towards sustainability.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up a country girl in the small town of Centerville, Pennsylvania. We had more cows than people and everyone knew your middle name! Growing up in the country I was outdoors a lot; we played sports and ran around outside covered in dirt and burdocks. I had a ton of pets, went four wheeling, and horse back riding. Being constantly immersed in nature has shaped me into the person I am now and carved the path of my journey today.

Everyone has a cataclysmic moment or marker in their life which propels them to take certain actions, a “why”. What is your why?

I’ve always had a love for nature and animals, however; it wasn’t until I travelled the world where I witnessed the destruction humans have caused. I’ve seen the deforestation of the Peruvian jungle, swam through the dying coral reefs off the coast of Australia, and suffered respiratory illness from the poor air quality in Mexico. I was trapped in the middle of a hurricane in New Jersey and lived through the worst water crisis in the history of South Africa.

My life changed while living in Cape Town, South Africa. The city began to count down to the day we would run out of freshwater. We couldn’t flush our toilets, take a shower longer than 90 seconds, or wash our clothes. All bottled water was sold out of stores and people were lining in the streets to fill buckets from city officials to take home. That was the first time I experienced an item of necessity turn into an item of luxury. I realized the consequences of our actions would change the course of humanity from living on this planet to surviving it. That was when I knew I had to take action.

You are currently part an organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change?

I’m blessed to be a part of several organizations that are making an impact. As a World Wildlife Fund ambassador I dedicate time to multiple projects a year focusing on educating others about the effects of climate change. These projects range from presentations, interviews, seminars, and volunteering. I also participate annually in Lobby Day where I team up with other panda ambassadors to speak with our state senators and representatives, advocating for global conservation programs. As the solution to the climate crisis lies within out legislative branch, I also support petitions and demand companies to hold themselves accountable by encouraging policy reform. I carry over these actions in my fellowship with Remake. At Remake we are fighting for climate justice as well as fair wage and safe working conditions for garment workers in the fashion industry. Lastly, as a Climate Reality Leader, I use my toolkit to teach others about our climate, train future climate leaders, and educate and inspire others to take action locally or globally. Climate Realty is an amazing organization to better understand the climate crisis while learning how to attract an audience and connect them to the cause. Each organization offers me a different skillset creating a well rounded understanding of the severity of this climate emergency.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I have an amazing team I work with at World Wildlife. It consists of individuals with different skillsets, different lengths of tenure, and different life experiences, but we all have a shared passion for the cause and the desire to succeed. I also admire the Founder and CEO of Remake, Ayesha Barenblat. The night we met, she was a panel speaker advocating for fairness and sustainability within the fashion industry. She spoke with conviction and passion, her light and energy filled the room. She was a game changer, a disrupter, and a true inspiration. I immediately fell in love and asked for her contact information. We spoke of our similar passions and how I wanted to do more in this world. After that night, I became a fellow at Remake to aid in the fight for fair wage and climate justice in the fashion industry. She is the woman I wish to be, dedicating her life to making a difference in this world and making a true impact on the lives of many.

As I continue my journey in activism, I’ve learned there is always someone to look up to for inspiration. There will be someone who knows more than you, and who does more than you. While acknowledging their success, you understand the impact one person can create, leading to the discovery of your own capabilities and potential.

Thank you for that. Let’s now move to the central part of our discussion. Let’s start with a basic definition of terms so that everyone is on the same page. What does climate justice mean to you? How do we operationalize it?

Climate justice focuses on social, economic, and environmental disparities influenced by climate change. Although everyone experiences the affects of climate change, each experience is different based on gender, geographic location, or socio-economic status. When you focus on climate justice, you’re speaking for those who are disproportionately impacted. The best way to operationalize climate justice is by utilizing your voice and taking action. Every person can make an impact by using their talents and the resources they have. If you are a speaker, use your voice. If you are a writer, turn to journalism. If you enjoy being in the field, take to the streets in protest or volunteer on mission trips. Making an impact is not difficult when you embrace your strengths and utilize your resources, skillset, and assets. If you are privileged, speak on behalf of those who are ignored. If you own a company, adopt fair and sustainable practices. If you work at a company that could do better, tell them so. To move forward we must change our mindset from, “What can I do?” to “I can do this.”

Science is telling us that we have 7–10 years to make critical decisions about climate change. What are three things you or your organizations are doing to help?

Firstly, targeting our legislative branch and speaking with our local and state representatives is a huge factor in enacting real change. Policymaking and legislative reform is the number one solution to the climate crisis. Secondly, bringing awareness to the masses is a critical part in encouraging change. You cannot act on something you know nothing about. Lastly, we peacefully protest. Whether in person or online, we make noise and gather attention to demand companies hold themselves accountable for the negative impacts of their actions.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you in your mission?

  1. Vote — vote for a politician with a pro-environment agenda and speak with your local municipality on ways to improve the environment surrounding your community.
  2. Take action — stay informed with factual information from credible sources, sign petitions, raise awareness, educate others, donate, or become an ambassador for a cause you are passionate about.
  3. Be mindful — discard your waste properly, look into brand transparency when you shop, become energy efficient, and eliminate single-use plastics. There are many ways to be environmentally conscious in your day-to-day life. You can learn more tips and ways to get involved on the “activism” page of my website at www.lindsey-coffey.com.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

Most businesses seek short-term gratification, making as much money as quickly as possibly as cheaply as possible, rather than visualize the long-term benefits of sustainable operations. The number one way towards profitability is by becoming energy efficient. Switching their company to renewable energy might have a hefty price tag during set up, but it will reduce their energy bill substantially in the long-term, paying for itself. Some other ways are by reducing your waste through reusing your material or by reselling, simplification of your supply chain with raw materials and less processing as it impacts labor and energy costs, and by switching to an eco-conscious mindset creating a positive reputation which may attract new customers, stakeholders, and attention. According to a study by Deutsche Bank, companies committed to ESG’s (environmental, social, and governance) decreased their debt and equity while outperforming the companies who did not. Similar research conducted by the Carbon Disclosure Project found companies that reduced greenhouse gas emissions had higher stock market returns. There are numerous ways sustainability means profitability, but it also means a healthier office environment, alignment with employee values, as well as a strong environmental impact.

This is the signature question we ask in most of our interviews. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started promoting sustainability and climate justice” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Know your audience. It is important to educate everyone on the effects of climate change, however; if you have a call to action, know where and who to employ your efforts to create the biggest impact.
  2. There is no action too small. Of course we dream of changing the world, but changing the world for one community, one family, or one person creates a positive affect. Altruism is contagious.
  3. You do not have to be perfect. A zero-waste lifestyle is the dream yet quite challenging. Meet in the middle by limiting your single-use plastics, compost, and up-cycle unwanted items. Electric vehicles are great too but expensive and inconvenient for some lifestyles; look into hybrids. Sometimes it’s about choosing the lesser of two evils.
  4. You are qualified. You don’t have to have a degree in environmental science to advocate for it. Equip yourself with the proper tools to increase your knowledge and stay up-to-date with world events. Utilize research studies, scientific articles, and documentaries. Fact check, read testimonies, and conduct research within your own life and community. Education takes place in and outside of the classroom.
  5. One voice can make a difference. You need 100 signatures on your petition but you have 99. A bill must pass in the Senate by 21 votes, you have 20. You influence a CEO, she implements new regulations for the entire company. One person can create an impact. One person can create an uprising. One person can make a difference.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Oh gosh, I have no idea! If I gave it a lot of time, I’m sure I could come up with a quite a few. The first one that comes to mind is Jane Poynter, the Founder and CO-CEO of Space Perspective (@thespaceperspective). She was at the Earth Day Network Climate Leadership Gala I attended in Washington D.C.. Space Perspective allows you to view our incredible planet from the edge of space. They use recycled and up-cycled materials and participate in carbon off sets, while honoring their mission of creating sustainability in space. Their inspiration also came from the “overview effect”, where you learn and connect to your surroundings and planet by looking down upon it. Jane was an intelligent and incredible woman whose had experiences I could only dream about. I would love to sit down with her!

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

I am most active on Instagram, you can find me @lindseymariecoffey or via my website www.lindsey-coffey.com

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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Monica Sanders
Authority Magazine

Monica Sanders JD, LL.M, is the founder of “The Undivide Project”, an organization dedicated to creating climate resilience in underserved communities.