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Nikki Reed on Why It's Okay to Be an Imperfect Environmentalist

Actress Nikki Reed strives to be as sustainable as possible, but she's the first to admit she's not perfect. Here's what she has to say.

Written by
Morgan Cook

We love to celebrate small sustainability wins here. Whether it's making a plastic-free swap, reducing your electricity use, or cooking up a plant-based dinner, it's all a step in the right direction—even if you can't do it all. In fact, being 100 percent sustainable is actually pretty unsustainable when it comes to living life. Just the thought if it can turn people off to sustainable living altogether (or even lead to eco-anxiety).

This is why we encourage others to live imperfectly sustainable lives. After all, millions of people taking small sustainability steps can lead to big changes. And Nikki Reed agrees. While you may know Reed from her role in the Twilight movies, she's also a fellow planet enthusiast, having started her own lines of sustainable self-care products, jewelry, and now shoes.

In the latest episode of the Good Together podcast, Brightly co-founders Laura Wittig and Liza Moiseeva chat with Reed about all things eco-friendly. They discuss Reed's latest ventures, including her new vegan shoe line collaboration with LOCI, why imperfect environmentalism is necessary for change, and simple sustainability tips the actress swears by.

Nikki Reed's Sustainability Journey

What Inspired Her

Before gracing the big screen, Reed was living a childhood filled with animal rescue and rehabilitation.

"I think my path toward a more conscious way of living started with animal activism," says Reed. "And realizing that we can't really think about animals without thinking about ourselves, and we can't really think about ourselves without thinking about the planet."

This mindset stayed with her as she transitioned into adulthood, and it especially came to the forefront when she found out she was pregnant with her daughter.

"I was searching for things in the marketplace when I was pregnant that weren't as easy to find then as they are now," says Reed. "I'm Googling 'how do I find chemical-free underwear' when I'm pregnant, or chemical-free pajamas, or what kind of deodorant am I wearing? Granted, it might have been cruelty-free before, but now I was looking for things like synthetics and parabens, and all the chemicals that are going into my body. Because as women, unfortunately, we're only taught to think about our bodies when we're carrying another life—we're not told that from an early age."

BaYou With Love

It was through her scrupulous search for safe products that Reed was inspired to create what she calls her "first baby," her company, BaYou With Love. When first launched, the company was a multipurpose apothecary selling plant-based oils that could double as face oils or perfumes, and candles that could be melted down and used as body serums.

"To me, a huge component of sustainability is versatility," says Reed. "We can create new products all day long that are better for the planet than the previous products we were creating, and we can change infrastructures and age old systems all day long, which is great—that's a part of it, too. But also, less is really the way forward."

Very shortly after launching this line of multi-use apothecary items, Reed was approached by Dell (yes, that Dell—the computer company). They wanted to see if there was a way to repurpose the gold found in the motherboards of their technology into jewelry. Having come from a family of well-respected designers and artists, Reed immediately felt drawn to this opportunity.

"In my early 20s, I launched my first jewelry line," says Reed. "And it was short lived as it should have been because I was a baby, and the line was a baby. But a decade later, it made so much sense for me to step back into that arena—and so we use their repurposed gold to create fine jewelry, kind of merging two worlds that really had not been merged before: technology and fashion, together."

Vegan Shoes with LOCI

Now, in Reed's latest venture, she's turning her passion for the environment toward shoes through a collaboration with vegan shoe brand, LOCI. According to Reed, the upper part of the shoe is made with ocean plastic from the Mediterranean, while the bottom of the shoe is comprised of natural rubber, bamboo, and cork. Finally, the laces are made out of cotton with eyelets made from recycled brass. One thing she especially wants you to know is that these shoes are not trying to be imitation leather.

"Imitation leather oftentimes is using virgin plastics, synthetic dyes, and chemicals," says Reed. "And so, there's a whole world out there of vegan leathers that are actually really harmful to the planet. With this particular shoe, it was really important for us to create a material that was not meant to be confused with the leather, but meant to stand out on its own."

As a result, Reed says that when wearing the shoe, it doesn't even feel like leather.

"It doesn't feel like you're wearing your favorite sporty sneaker that's a leather material," says Reed. "It has a different kind of hardier, cooler, textured feel that's literally woven from these recycled ocean plastics. But you also don't feel like you're wearing plastic."

Reed noted that creating a product that not only looked good, but made people feel good, was of utmost importance to her.

"It's more important than anything to create a product that people actually love," says Reed. "That's wearable, that's versatile, that's durable, that's chic, that's cool, that makes you feel good about yourself. The added bonus is that you can learn about how this was made, and then start to care about incorporating that into the rest of your lifestyle."

Why It's Okay to Be an Imperfect Environmentalist

While Reed may be crushing it in the world of eco-friendly products, that doesn't mean she's perfect, and she'll be the first to admit it.

"I was a kid who grew up eating fast food," says Reed. "I threw trash out my window because I thought that that was okay, I smoked cigarettes, and I don't recall ever putting a cigarette butt in an actual ashtray. I'm sure I stomped on every single one. My favorite go-to meal was, like, a pound of bacon and cheese quesadilla. And all those things are a part of the journey, and if anything, show that—first of all—we're all human and people can grow and learn from things. And, also, that none of those things need to be vilified. I wasn't a bad person who turned good. We're just people and we're figuring out how to do things better all the time."

Additionally, in the sustainability community, it's often touted that the most sustainable thing you can do is buy less. However, Reed wants people to know that using what you have is equally as important as carefully selecting new sustainable products.

"I think there's a space where we can celebrate what we already have, and also celebrate the artisans and the makers of some of these amazing products, regardless of the materials used," says Reed. "There are small communities that rely on the creation of their products, and their whole livelihood is dependent on those handcrafted products. We can't forget about those people as well."

With that all of that said, Reed doesn't feel that we should be complacent.

"I don't think that we should make excuses for our humanness when we're aware of what we can do better and different," says Reed. "I think it's the moral responsibility of people to—you know—when you know better, do better. But I also think it's not fair to live in a space where we're constantly shaming people for not doing enough."

Nikki Reed's Small Steps for Being More Sustainable

So how can you practice imperfect environmentalism in your own life? You can take small steps. Here are Reed's top tips.

1. Set Goals and Timers

One way to do that, Reed says, is by setting goals. "Look at your trash can, and just think for a second: 'How much trash am I producing on a weekly basis,'" says Reed. "It starts with consciousness. Let's just be aware, and then set a goal for yourself."

By doing this, Reed says you're likely to think twice when making purchases. For instance, instead of buying groceries wrapped in plastic, you may opt to instead buy food in bulk. Another way to be more conscious about the waste you're producing is by setting times. This can be especially useful when it comes to water usage.

"When you take showers, set a timer," says Reed. "Instead of running through your entire weekly office schedule in the shower, wash your hair, get on out, and then run through that schedule."

2. Incorporate Reusables

Another great area to focus on is reusables. Whether it's bringing reusable grocery bags, Stasher bags, or using Tupperware, cutting out single-use items is a great (and easy) way to help the planet. And while the pandemic may have made the concept of reusables a bit more difficult in some areas, it's also made it easier in others.

"One of the things that people are being introduced to is the concept of bringing their own containers to restaurants," says Reed. "I don't know if this is all across the board, but in my experience, they're not allowed to package your food for you when you're leaving the restaurant now for health code reasons. So you can bring your own Tupperware and bring your food home, and I think these are the little things that might stick with people going forward."

3. Support Local Farmers

Finally, Reed emphasizes the importance of supporting your local farmers. "When we go into the grocery store, we don't often think about the fact that our fruits and vegetables are flown in from other places," says Reed. If you have access to a local farm, see if you can pick up food directly from them.

While this is what Reed often does, she knows that isn't an option for many people. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be discussed.

"I know that that's tricky for people, because not everybody has access to a local farm," says Reed. "But instead of shying away from that conversation and saying, 'Oh, well, that sounds really elitist,' I'd rather keep talking about it. Because the industrialization and commercialization of the farming industry is something that needs to be shifted and changed anyway."

Ultimately, encouraging sustainable living comes down to informing people about their options and then supporting them when they do what they can.

"We have to encourage people to do the best that they can in whatever area they're in," says Reed. "We don't close the door on something because it doesn't align with who we are. Instead, we build bridges. When we build bridges, everybody does better overall."