I've Interviewed Hundreds Of Environmental Thought Leaders — Here's Why I'm Optimistic About Our Future

Image by Amina Touray / Contributor

Kaméa Chayne, a writer and integrative health coach, has long lent her voice in the environmental movement, first through her blog, Conscious Fashion Collective, and then her book, Thrive: An Environmentally Conscious Lifestyle Guide to Better Health and True Wealth.

Her latest endeavor is the Green Dreamer podcast, a collection of 100-plus conversations with some of the most inspiring sustainable thought leaders of today—everyone from actor-turned-activist Adrian Grenier to the first zero-waste advocate Bea Johnson. Each episode is a lesson in living in line with your values. As mbg's sustainability editor, it's one of my go-to listens.

I recently asked Chayne to go on the other side of the mic and talk all about the top lessons she's taken away from the project. Here's what she's learned talking to some of the most impressive green leaders of our time and what she wants everyone else to know, too.

What inspired you to start Green Dreamer? What is the vision behind it?

Since sustainability can be overwhelming, I was hoping to break down some of the complexities and create a space where listeners can learn more with me. I knew I wanted to highlight the good and lean into solutions. There's so much gloom and doom in this world—but we know that when people feel hopeless they become apathetic and unmotivated. That's the opposite of what we need in sustainability right now: We need everybody to participate and do what they can.

You have such an amazing scope of guests across different industries! How do you go about choosing them?

A lot of times it's intuitive. The main thing I'm interested in exploring is intersectional sustainability; how we can tackle these issues in a wide variety of ways. This is why I have thought leaders from various fields including people focusing on policy, business leaders, entrepreneurs, influencers, journalists, artists, filmmakers, etc., as well as people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.

You don’t have to leave whatever you’re doing to work in a nonprofit to make a difference.

This helped me see how everyone is able to contribute to the movement in some way. I'm hoping that this helps listeners, who may also come from different backgrounds and have different skills, see themselves in that narrative and find inspiration to contribute something too.

You don't have to leave whatever you're doing to work in a nonprofit to make a difference. Collective shifts happen when everyone makes change within their own circles of influence.

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Which guest surprised you the most and why?

Peggy Shepard is the founder of WE ACT for Environmental Justice—a New York, community-based environmental nonprofit. She said something I had never thought about before: A lot of times when we think of what organizations to donate money to, we often go for the most established ones, which operate at a national scale. But these national organizations measure national measures, but that doesn't necessarily improve the environmental injustice that's still ingrained in communities throughout the country. So it's also important to support community-based groups.

Someone I just interviewed, named Judith Schwartz, who wrote the book Cow Save the Planet, also surprised me. Her idea, which you can probably get a sense of from the title of her book, is counterintuitive, and I felt a little resistance when I came across her work. We're told all the time that cows and livestock are huge greenhouse gas emitters. But from her, I learned that view really oversimplified the issue, and when cows and ruminants are able to behave as they naturally do in the wild, it helps to restore our carbon and water cycles. Using regenerative agriculture and thinking of the farm as an entire ecosystem can be really helpful in tackling these huge issues.

What advice from the podcast have you been inspired to implement in your everyday routine?

The one that sticks out to me the most right now actually has to do with mindfulness: Parneet Pal, MBBS, M.S., talked about the importance of mental and emotional well-being when you're working in sustainability and activism. When we're stressed and in fight-or-flight mode, our perspective on the world literally narrows and becomes self-focused so we're less able to act empathetically. We also won't think as clearly or be as creative.

Over the past month or so, my mindfulness and workout routine got thrown off and I haven't been feeling as healthy. I was starting to feel myself not being able to think as clearly too, so I was really seeing how that episode was playing out in my own life. I'm currently working on building up my meditation practice and workout routine again because as people who want to make a difference in sustainability, we have to first take care of our personal sustainability, our health.

After conducting all these interviews with thought leaders, how has your perspective on the environmental movement changed?

When I started the podcast, I thought conscious consumerism and individual lifestyle changes were what would change the world. But once I started to understand how deep-rooted a lot of these environmental and social issues are, my focus shifted to be less on the individual and more on how we can create systems that invite people to do things that are better for the environment.

I don't think we should expect everyone around the world to "go green" because everyone has different levels of accessibility and may be dealing with their own issues. Instead, we need to assess the system we set up: Right now, it promotes consumptive, mindless behaviors. Instead of blaming the individual for being consumptive, let's shift our culture to be more mindful and thoughtful.

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What are the biggest hurdles standing in the way of a more sustainable future?

Money and politics. We already have the technology to address a lot of the issues we're facing today—it's really the influence of money getting in the way. It's kind of like as humans we work for the economy rather than having the economy work for humans. The economy should improve our livelihoods. But right now economic growth almost equates to environmental destruction and declining public health, when it should be improving people's quality of life.

Are you optimistic about the future of the planet?

I am. I'm always trying to find the good. I think as humans we suffer negativity bias. When 100 things are going right and one is going wrong, we're going to focus on that one thing. It's a survival instinct. But if we consciously look around, we're definitely heading in the right direction, and people from all walks of life are contributing in their own unique ways.

Do you have a dream guest?

Of course I'm grateful for the people I've already been able to chat with. For dream guests, there are so many: the authors of some of my favorite books, like Sapiens and The Hidden Life of Trees, Dan Barber, Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia, and of course the big ones are Leonardo DiCaprio and Jane Goodall—and Trevor Noah! It would also be an honor to interview more indigenous environmental leaders too, because they have a lot of important native wisdom on how to restore native lands that has been marginalized.

My advice to anyone looking to live more sustainably would be: Just do you.

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What is the biggest lesson you've taken away from working on Green Dreamer?

Everybody is going to contribute in their own way. For me personally, that means I don't have to be doing everything perfectly. I'm focusing on progress over perfection and leaning into my areas of expertise and passion to fill my own space in this movement. Everyone is unique, and we need everyone to come together to spark bigger change.

My advice to anyone looking to live more sustainably would be: Just do you. Pick the area you're most passionate about. Leverage your strengths and talents. And don't be afraid to contribute your unique perspective and ideas, because those are what can help us think outside the box and come up with more powerful answers and solutions.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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