Sustainability—to use less, reuse what we do use and, generally, promote practices that benefit the Earth and don’t blindly perpetuate consumerism—has reached mass exposure. Read the word itself on a menu, hear a politician work it into a stump speech, see it in a corporation’s marketing materials, and your eyes will glaze over before you get to the third syllable.
What the movement needs is a refresh. It needs more voices, more people showing how sustainability can be integrated into fun, colorful lives. It needs, maybe, a little bit of sex appeal.
Enter Hudson County-based activist Forest Feminist, the creator of the multi-platform eco-advocacy network Sexy Sustainability, who brings people into the sustainability tent through her aesthetic, passion, creativity and connections. From local organizing to cosplay and gaming streams, Forest Feminist is teaching her community to make small, sustainable changes in their lives, without sacrificing their entire identities to the movement.
Forest Feminist, who chose to remain anonymous, uses both online (Instagram, Twitch, Discord, TikTok) and in-person networks to organize community clean-ups, gardening and composting, as well as share calls-to-action, email campaigns, and information drops on projects and issues. Working mainly in the North Bergen, West New York and Union City area, Forest Feminist’s activism is aimed at making Hudson County a more environmentally conscious community, and promoting projects that would make the area a greener place to live.
Take the proposed Essex-Hudson Greenway, for instance, a collaborative effort led by the Open Space Institute to purchase and repurpose nine miles of abandoned track from Montclair to Jersey City into a 100-foot-wide mixed-use trail and linear park. If you grew up in North Jersey, you know that the abandoned train tracks are currently occupied by a lot of trash and the occasional “hidden location” party. Repurposing the land can provide access to nature for thousands of residents in the area, while plugging into larger trail networks like the September 11th National Memorial Trail and the East Coast Greenway.
The Greenway would be a boon for communities and the environment, but long-term infrastructure projects are definitively unsexy and so Forest Feminist is working on gathering local support for the project by using Instagram reels to ask her followers to call or email Governor Murphy’s office and ask to ensure the project gets the funding it needs to proceed.
“This project will bring nature to the abandoned train tracks in our counties and give us clean air to breathe,” she says.
Forest Feminist has also been working on bringing a community compost bin to North Bergen. The 48-gallon compost bin would be located next to the North Bergen Community Garden in 80th Street Park. New Jersey’s composting facilities are scattered across the state with the bulk of services offered by nonprofits and small composting companies; to improve the composting system in the state—which would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from landfills, and can be used to boost the soil health in area gardens—grassroots projects like the North Bergen compost bin need support, which Forest Feminist is working to build.
“It’s a spot that not many people are super aware of,” she says. “I’d love for more people to be involved and get to the place where we can—this is a long-term dream, long-term, but it needs to kind of happen now—be a self-sustaining community and be able to grow our own food and feed each other off of the food that’s on the land.”
She and other local activists are collaborating with Community Compost Co., which offers a variety of compost collection services for individuals and businesses and which has already helped establish community composting locations in Hoboken and Jersey City, to bring the bin to North Bergen.
These projects and others—the Hudson County tree-planting fund, community clean energy petitions and more—that Forest Feminist shares with her community might have a narrow audience of people who are already engaged with environmental action. And while other activists build their entire platforms around a very narrow view of environmentalism, Forest Feminist expands her sphere of influence by including elements of her life into her platform, and filtering sustainability through them.
For instance, Forest Feminist uses Twitch to show that sustainable living does not have to limit us from being able to participate in some of our favorite hobbies. She streams every weekday from 8 p.m. to midnight ET. and covers topics like cosplay, gaming and astrology. The stream takes each activity and turns it into something that can be made sustainable.
“People think of cosplay and they think, ‘Oh I have to spend thousands of dollars to make this costume perfect, to make it look like exactly what I want,’” she says. “But the creative element of cosplay is to make it however you can and however you want to express the character as and so I usually go thrifting to pick out my materials.”
Forest Feminist frequents Gonzalez Thrift Shop on 34th Street in Union City, often looking through the bedsheets section to find fabrics that match the color that she needs for a costume. Dumpster diving and side-of-the-road pickups, too, have helped her find things that will come in handy for a future costume.
“It’s more sustainable, as a community effort, to support local businesses and support local thrift stores that are not creating new materials that don’t need to be in this world,” she says.
Thrifting also adds a degree of novelty to costumes that are constantly being recreated. “It obviously takes a lot of time to build the craft but I think that starting there, with things that you can find and piece together makes it just wholly you,” she says. “It’s not like, ‘I bought this body suit on Amazon and I look like every other cosplayer that is this cosplay.’”
Next to cosplay, gaming is another huge part of Forest Feminist’s stream, but she does not stream newer and more popular games like ACNH, as she refuses to buy a Nintendo Switch. Instead, she streams older video games like Cooking Mama, Resident Evil, and The Legend of Zelda to show her followers that gaming can be a sustainable activity as long as you buy old and used.
Since becoming more conscious of her impact she tries to work with gaming systems that she already owns, like the PlayStation 1 and 2 and the Nintendo Wii. She encourages others to buy used games on Ebay or Facebook Marketplace or trade with other gamer friends.
It is easy to feel cynical about the environment; that it’s doomed and that tight-knit communities like Hudson County do not have the power to change the course of the climate crisis. But activists like Forest Feminist remind us to keep the positivity and, critically, make environmentalism and sustainability fun. Sexy, even.
“We do live in a reality that is very uncertain at this point in time but that does not mean that we’re not living it,” she says. “We should try our best to live through it in any way that we can and be there for each other.”