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Mindful Matters: Reimagining a Sustainable World

Jacq Headshot Jacqueline Chen

Often, the question of sustainability in the modern global economy focuses on the power of consumer choices. Yet for those brands truly committed to creating products of value while also protecting the future of our shared global resources, the answer is more complex. It demands imagination, global cooperation and a mindful, patient approach.

Samara Croci brings to light global environmental challenges and opportunities as the U.S. communication manager and brand storyteller for Aquafil, a leading global nylon manufacturer. Aquafil’s unique ECONYL® brand of regenerated nylon yarn is reshaping the fashion and design industries with a focus on sustainability. The innovative brand is forging key partnerships with leading global brands such as Prada, Gucci, Adidas, Stella McCartney, Pottery Barn and Interface.

Jacqueline Chen Valencia, founder and partner of CONNECTIVE Agency, recently asked Samara to share her perspective on mindfulness and sustainability. Having worked with Samara and her team over the last several years to advance the dialogue around sustainable design, business and living, Jacqueline was excited to have a conversation with Samara and share her perspective.

JACQ: How do you think of mindfulness as it relates to your work as well as your life outside of work?

SAMARA: For me, the best definition would be to live with intention, and that’s right for business and for our personal lives. It’s a way to give order to complexity and be grounded, but at the same time remain fluid. It’s like being on a rock on a river.

JACQ: I love that analogy. The intention being the rock, while the world is constantly moving forward around us — the river.

You’re responsible for leading the Aquafil and ECONYL® brand and communications in the United States, and ECONYL® is focused on sustainability, which is closely related to mindfulness. What have you found to be the most important ways that we’ve communicated about Aquafil’s focus on sustainability and addressed the challenges?

SAMARA: I’ll start with the challenges of sustainability because I think they’re important. I think the biggest one is that sustainability is profoundly connected with human behavior. And we are irrational, and we are unpredictable, and it’s very difficult to change behavior.

Mindfulness can help us make sense of the complexity of the systemic challenges. From a human perspective, I believe our strongest tool is imagination. We see hope ahead in reconstructing and redesigning a new world that assures the planet survives and thrives in balance with the people who live here. How do you redesign the world? By imagining how it could be different — how products could be different, how companies could operate differently, how the global economy could adapt as well.

You foster that thinking with ideas and experiences that reveal the possibility and potential in reimagining the whole system. I think that’s the challenge and the biggest thing to consider.

It’s also important to consider the diversity of thinking and approaches. It’s a key point because we are on different paths into sustainability depending on the country where you live, the work you do, who you are, what you believe in. That’s something we should be mindful of when we try to communicate with stakeholders.

JACQ: Absolutely. You know when you talked about reimagining a new world you made me think of Walt Disney. When he embarked upon this idea to create this fantasy land, everyone told him, “Oh, you’re crazy. No one’s going to go. Who’s going to want that? What are you talking about?” And he created this fantasy land, and now it’s one of the most important, successful places all over the world.

SAMARA: Yes, and adding to that, I think the first narrative that introduced climate change was in science fiction. Because science-fiction writers have a more open mind to different ideas and different worlds. It started from there, and now it’s moving to a more normal narrative. It means that it’s becoming socially acceptable and a reality. Those who are imagining new worlds are the first ones who started the idea that we could reimagine a new, sustainable world.

JACQ: It’s true. Those with imaginative minds who can think beyond what’s in front of us today will help guide us toward the future.

If you were at a meeting or a conference with others focused on building brands that are sustainable, what would you share as advice or things that you’ve learned in terms of building the ECONYL® brand?

SAMARA: I think it was easier for ECONYL® because it’s easier if you start with a product that is sustainable by design. It is much more difficult if you are trying to re-engineer a product to be sustainable when it wasn’t designed that way.

I would suggest starting with a life-cycle analysis to find the largest area of impact and brainstorm solutions to that. Keep an open mind and be curious. Explore, imagine and disrupt. (Do you even have to sell a product? Maybe not.) Only after that process should you focus on reverse engineering your solutions, starting with desired outcomes and working your way back to what needs to happen to achieve them.

It’s also useful to start with smaller pilot projects. Collect the results, make adjustments and then go bigger. During this process, collect the data and proof you need internally to build leadership team support for your larger goals.

Very quickly into this journey, you will discover that the answer isn’t in one product or one company becoming sustainable. It doesn’t make sense to have one company that’s sustainable or a product that’s sustainable in a system that is not sustainable. It won’t go anywhere if we act alone.

You have to start looking more broadly at the larger context and invest in actions that bring the whole ecosystem in balance, beyond the products or services your company is creating.

JACQ: Absolutely. Companies have to consider the legislative context, the cultural context, and how to continuously evolve their operations and innovate. A case in point is Aquafil recently purchasing Planet Recycling to expand beyond materials manufacturing into carpet collection to build out its supply chain into a more circular process.

SAMARA: Yes, both our addition of Planet Recycling and build-out of our own carpet recycling facilities are examples of Aquafil looking at the broader context that we’re operating in and taking action. In order to accomplish real change, you realize that you need legislation, you need consumer demand, you need suppliers, you need many other elements to be successful.

It’s looking at the big picture, and it’s leadership, for sure. These things take years, and they require a lot of collaboration.

JACQ: So, if I were to summarize — you have to think broadly because you’re not just communicating about your product and your company. You’re really communicating about changing the whole system of the way the world operates.

SAMARA: Right. As I say, you cannot have a sustainable product in an unsustainable system. You cannot have a sustainable company in an unsustainable system, which is what we have now, because we’re not going to start tomorrow with a sustainable world all together. We have to work with the unsustainability of the world now. But as you work, you start having an input.

JACQ: Absolutely. And then the second thing I heard you say was about being patient, because when you’re at a mission-driven organization, it takes a while to impact those larger issues. And so to be patient.

SAMARA: Yes, be patient and celebrate incremental results! It is important to make that change happen in small bites. To approach the challenge so you can have more wins.

JACQ: Yes, so you can feel like you are making progress over time. That’s really important.

And then the last thing I heard you say was to be a really collaborative partner, being open to working with all different kinds of people from all different kinds of places, and all different parts of the system. That’s really good advice.

SAMARA: Yes, also because it’s thinking systemically. You’re not communicating just about the company or the product, because if you only do that, it’s going to be a failure. When you are telling your story, you have to connect it to the larger context — the bigger issues and opportunities — to solve them systemically. You need to think and communicate more broadly.

JACQ: Totally agree.

Now, turning to our last question …

You talked about having to think big and think about a whole new world. As a global community, what should we focus on to be more connected and more sustainable?

SAMARA: That’s a big question, and the answer is also broad. But if I had to choose one thing, first, we have to try to be good citizens. We need to deprioritize our role as consumers and focus more on our responsibility as citizens of our local and global communities.

We won’t change the world by buying sustainable products. That’s not enough. You have to be a good citizen. We have to ask for transparency and integrity and look at the whole picture of the impact the choices we make have on the world. We are trying to change social norms, and like it or not, policy and legislation is an important lever for cultivating change.

Many people say that technology is the answer to solving our issues. I think that technology will help a lot with sustainability, but I don’t think it’s the answer. For example, we know how to build toilets and houses, but millions of people still don’t have them. Instead, how do we apply and incorporate technology into the broader view of reimagining a different world?

JACQ: Right. Where’s the social will to make sure everyone has a house and toilet? It’s like, stop acting like a consumer, like you’re thinking of yourself and your needs. Start thinking like and acting like a global citizen who’s thinking about the community and our connectedness as you’re making decisions and behaving.

SAMARA: Yes, I agree. I think that’s the thing. And also maybe not trying to find hope in something outside of us, like in technology.

JACQ: Yes, because it’s within us.

SAMARA: It really is; we have the responsibility to change things, all of us, every day.

JACQ: Technology is just a tool. It’s not a panacea. It’s one of many tools that we can use. I’m so inspired. Thank you. We really appreciate your time, Samara.

Connect with Samara Croci and Jacqueline Chen Valencia.

Samara’s recommended books:

Positive tools/frameworks already in reach:

Abundance — About the importance of technology and innovation and how to accelerate.
Drawdown — Case studies of projects that just need to scale to solve our climate problems.
Doughnut Economics — An amazing book about how to work within a balanced system.
Factfulness — Helps us see the positives in recent developments. Start with this video.

How to make and communicate change:

The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind
Don’t Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate
The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization