Sustainability Good News: 2021 Year in Review

After a second full year of adjusting to a new normal, it's safe to say that we're all in the mood for some good news. Here are four exciting stories of sustainability news that prove we're making progress even if it doesn't seem like it.

Garment workers are better protected with fair pay and improved working conditions. 

In September, after decades of coordinated effort, the Garment Workers Protection Act (SB62 was signed into law in California. Los Angeles is the garment manufacturing hub of the United States with over 40,000 (mostly immigrant women) workers producing our American-made clothing. For too long, these garment workers have been grossly underpaid and mistreated by manufacturers producing many of the top fashion brands.The Garment Workers Protection Acteliminates the exploitative piece-rate system of payment and replaces it with a minimum hourly wage. In the wake of worsening conditions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this law helps hold fashion manufacturers accountable for the fair treatment of workers. 

Nineteen cities around the world have pledged to divest from fossil fuels

In November, Michelle Wu, Boston's first Asian-American and woman mayor, signed an ordinance to divest the city from fossil fuels. She joins 18 other cities - including Seattle - in this pledge. The transition to more sustainable energy sources isn't just an environmental decision but a financial one as well. Together, these cities represent over 50 million people and over $400 billion in assets. The leadership in these cities understand that due to the dwindling global reserves of fossil fuels as well as the harmful impact their carbon emissions have on the environment, they are no longer a smart financial investment. In their joint declaration, these cities have expressed their intention to "promote the transition to a more resilient, prosperous and sustainable economy." 

Europe takes big strides towards reducing electronic waste

In 2019 alone, over 50 million metric tons of laptops, TVs, smartphones, and other electronic waste were thrown away worldwide with no plan for reuse. Oftentimes, this e-waste could be saved from the landfill with simple repairs. However, it is often easier to replace your broken electronics than to fix the broken part. As of March,  the European Union guarantees citizens the right to repair  by passing legislation that makes it easier for individuals or independent technicals to fix broken electronics. The right-to-repair movement spans the entire globe and advocates for the idea that we should all be able to easily repair the technology we own. This big win in Europe will create ripple effects in other parts of the world. We're already beginning to see companies like Apple and Microsoft respond by investing in the repair economy which makes it all the more likely that we'll soon have the right to repair our electronics in the United States too.

Gray wolves return to Colorado after decades on the endangered species list

In November 2020, Colorado passed a bill to reintroduce gray wolves to the state. This law was one of the missing pieces of the puzzle to return the gray wolf population to what it once was before they were largely killed off due to the destructive efforts of the animal agriculture industry. Prior to this, the gray wolves population spanned the entire country and was in the range of 250,000 - 500,000. Now there are only a few thousand left living in isolated pockets of the country. In the summer of 2021, three gray wolves - part of what some are calling the Pioneer Pack - were spotted along the Green River in Colorado. This return signals to conservationists that their efforts to create a more habitable environment for the wolves are working.

While there are so many other important pieces of good news to celebrate this year, it is important to recognize that specific wins come as a result of the committed work of people just like us. As we demand better for ourselves and the people around us, we create ripple effects that positively impact the larger structures of our society. We're building a more sustainable world brick-by-brick.

Essay written by Moji Igun