Freelance Life

What is Personal Sustainability?

We talk a lot about sustainability here at CBU because it's one of our three educational pillars. To us, sustainability is a holistic approach to our living and working practice as beauty professionals and active citizens.


An illustration of people with various abilities taking care of nature

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When we hear the term “sustainability” today, it’s easy to assume that it only speaks to environmental considerations addressing the waste and the climate crisis. While these conversations are vitally important – if we don’t address social injustices and financial consequences, at the same time, we will never be able to grow our economies sustainably. This “economies” concept can be as big as talking about global economics, but it’s equally the same for our personal finances too. 

Sustainability vs just environmental sustainability is the consideration of several factors working together to achieve ecological, social and economic prosperity. If these three systems aren’t working together, then it’s not sustainable. 

I advise that you start with a plan

Understand the basics

There are a lot of easy everyday actions you can take towards improving your impact on the environment. This concept or approach is what is known as environmental management. Activities like going low-waste  (let’s face it, as a freelance beauty professional zero-waste is near impossible), effective recycling, considering our CO2 emissions, switching to an electric vehicle, etc are fantastic actions. While these are often easier to achieve in our home life, if our clients, production companies or employers don’t provide us with the means, it’s often more challenging to accomplish while at work.

But the truth is, environmental management on its own is not the same thing as sustainability and thereby, not sustainable. What I mean by this is, everything has an impact. What might appear like an excellent ecological choice may have many unforeseen consequences, and depending on your variables (where you live, what the local infrastructure is – from recycling to energy generation) might not, in fact, be the most sustainable option?

A good example of this would be wet wipes. We all know that wet wipes are bad for the environment. These handy single-use wipes (which are historically made from plastic) end up in the ocean, clog sewers and litter the natural environment. Therefore choosing to using non-compostable wipes seems like the worst thing you could do as a makeup artist. However, consider your immediate environment and what the other extenuating circumstances are. If you happen to be in a country with extreme water scarcity or restrictions, for instance, wet wipes might actually be a more “sustainable” option over cleaning your hands with water every five minutes or having to wash face cloths between uses – as long as you dispose of them effectively. (Ie: Ensure they go to landfill and not end up in nature.) But if you’re in a place where water is flowing freely, a reusable wipe/cloth will absolutely be a more eco-friendly choice. 

A new way of working

Another misconception with the misplaced “sustainability” narrative, is that if we don’t denounce capitalism outright,  we are part of the problem. While the current capitalist system is clearly not working, and I genuinely admire the idealistic philosophy of packing in the day job and volunteering full time with an environmental organisation – that is a privileged outlook. I might be a white woman in her late 30’s, but I can assure you that I cannot afford such an existence – even after working non-stop for the past twenty years in a career I love.  

We still live in a society that functions on the exchange of money for goods and services – and will for the foreseeable future. However, I wholeheartedly support the concept of a green economy. One in which people earn enough money to feed themselves and their families, keep a roof over their heads and even have enough to save for old age – through building businesses and creating (and accepting) jobs that consider their environmental and social impact. This is what rebuilding an economy for the long term means.  

Yes, we are in a climate and ecological emergency, and we have to act! But acting doesn’t mean not working. Acting means being discerning of who you provide your services and talent too – whenever and wherever you can. Acting means continually learning the facts about climate science and playing your part in reducing emissions and waste and sharing best practice with your friends and peers. Acting means learning about the social injustices happening around the world, in particular ones that related to your industry. Acting means setting goals and identifying what actions you need to take to achieve them.

Aside from needing to pay the bills, as creatives, our wanting to “work” goes beyond just earning money. It speaks to our mental wellbeing too. It’s a part of who we are as creative individuals. If it weren’t, the thought of corporate jobs wouldn’t make us break out in hives. When I cannot create, my wellbeing suffers. This desire to work – for physical, financial and mental survival – is part of your “personal sustainability” plan. What you need to do and how much you need to earn to survive will vary according to your circumstance. For example: If you have children, you will need to make more than if you are single and live in a house-share.

While I am fortunate enough to pick and choose my clients based on their ethics these days, I am only able to do this because of my personal set of circumstance and because I have been working towards this goal for many years.

Remember, a goal without a plan is just a dream
- and we can no longer afford to just dream.

Define your ethos

There is no denying that we are inundated with worthy causes daily. This constant flow of societal and environmental issues can be overwhelming and be emotionally taxing if we try to address them all. Start small. Focus on the issues that matter to you the most and grow from there. Write your personal ethos and values down.  If you’re already doing this, fantastic! If you’re not yet, today is the day to start. But don’t forget to do an “audit” now and then. Check-in from time to time to see if you’re still having a positive impact on the things that matter to you most.  For instance, if the ethical treatment of animals is your “thing” (or as we call it, your “point of no no compromise”) and you’re committed to only using vegan brands, that’s brilliant. But are you looking beyond just not using animal-derived ingredients and also considering the impact of those products and ingredients on the environment? Perhaps you’re buying products because they are certified vegan, but they contain petrochemical ingredients that are a by-product of the oil industry – which is detrimental to all living species. Or are contained in bioplastic – but aren’t aware that much of the renewable feedstocks used to produce plant-based plastics are, in fact, made from genetically modified (GM) crops, which have a massive impact on insect life and biodiversity – and ultimately our own food supply.  Or, you’re actively non-racist and proudly supporting the BLM movement, but you’re not supporting black-owned [beauty] businesses or championing under represented artists, or you’re still shopping at fashion retailers whose social and environmental practices don’t uphold the very systematic changes we are marching for – are you really reaching your ethical goals? Authenticity is key. Do less, but do it well! As you work these values into your daily practices, they will become established and easy to achieve – opening up space for you to engage in other important issues. By having a plan – something written down somewhere – in which you can always refer back to when you’re feeling like everything is spiralling out of control can really help when too many causes are vying for attention. That’s when we potentially land up doing more harm than good.


Let me be clear. I am not suggesting that you should start using wet wipes again because they are convenient or that you shouldn’t use vegan products if that’s what you believe is right, or the you mustn’t prioritise products that come in “eco-friendly” packaging. I am merely asking you to stop for a minute. Think about the things that matter to you and define how you plan to uphold those values – at work and home – before you forge ahead with best intentions. Because often, you will discover that by considering your variables and current circumstantial obstacles, what you might think to be the most “sustainable” choices might not be the case. 

In essence, personal sustainability is the plan you put into place that ensures your environment, wellbeing and finances are working together to support you, your family and society for the long haul. 

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