When I’m Afraid of Something, I Should Go Towards It

sophi-robertson

Sophi Robertson first started thinking seriously about the environment when she and her husband, Mick, began contemplating starting a family.

Before Nyla — now five — was born, Sophi had mostly looked at green initiatives through the lens of her own health: the safest foods and skin-care products. “But the more I thought about bringing somebody else into the world, the more the lens widened” — to include the health of her community and the sustainability of her city. She now considers not only the impact of her own decisions, but how collective action can lead to large-scale change.

Sophi R wedding outfit rented from Fresh Rents
Mick, Nyla and Sophi at a wedding: Sophi’s outfit is rented from the Fresh Fashion Library in Toronto.

A massage therapist by training, Sophi, 40, recently sold her practice and cut back from five to two days a week in the clinic so that she could focus on her environmental work. She’s the Zero-Waste Events coordinator at the Toronto Tool Library, an organization that rents out thousands of tools to do-it-yourselfers in the city. She recently appeared on CBC’s Marketplace, where her family switched places — and shopping habits — with another family for a week to illustrate how difficult it can be to buy food that’s not packaged in plastic. As the Environmentalist in Residence at the Toronto Public Library, she advises library patrons on environmental issues and waste diversion. “People can come in and ask questions — like what to do with clothing that’s too stained or torn to donate to the thrift store.”

Sophi R live podcast on sustainable fashion
Sophi at a live podcast event about sustainable fashion (photo by Amanda Dell’Aquila)

Sophi’s goal is to make the concept of zero waste less intimidating. “It’s not possible to do everything, so we shouldn’t feel guilty that we can’t. I want to give people the power to make small changes so they’ll think, ‘If I was able to do that, maybe I can change something else.’”

Added up, all these seemingly minor individual actions — like bringing our own shopping bags to the grocery store, refusing single-use straws or cutlery, and backyard composting — make a difference, says Sophi, who documents her family’s journey at @yourecofriend on Instagram. “Individual actions are the first step. But we also need to make our voices heard to our representatives so that we can create change at a societal level.”

To that end, Sophi has joined the City of Toronto’s Circular Economy Working Group, helping the city meet its waste reduction goals. She’s also involved with GreenPAC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that identifies the strongest environmental leaders in provincial and federal elections to enable voters to make informed choices. “Politics always kind of intimidated me, but I know I need to understand it. [Learning more about politics] has really confirmed for me that when I’m afraid of something, I should go toward it because it’s clearly something that I need to work on.”

Sophi R Picking up litter along oceanside Newfoundland
Picking up litter on the Newfoundland shoreline

Since her daughter was born, Sophi has continued to move toward what scares her, and in the process discovered that change is far less scary when you have the support of your community.

“Before doing this kind of work, I shied away from getting to know my neighbours. Now I have this deep love for my community. Toronto can feel like a huge place. But getting involved has made it feel smaller.”

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