Getting personal with Christina Cobb; an Advocate for Sustainable Living
I met Christina who is a sustainability and communications consultant at The Assemblage, a co-working space in NY that gathers conscious community together.
I was excited to learn about Christina’s personal and professional evolution through our synergistic chat at The Assemblage and the Q&A below. Christina created UrbisEco, a new platform to help urbanites live sustainably and find passion for nature. She is an expert on all kinds of green products, especially furniture, fashion and food, vetting their the eco-friendliness.
Through her personal experience living in NYC, Christina feels most joy when biking, hiking, or digging in her local community garden – and connecting with nature. She consults to mission-driven businesses, and blogs on topics to help inspire awareness on what it means to live more consciously with our environment. Themes range from eco-fashion that gives clothing a new life through upcycling, a “How To” on composting in the city, or the detoxifying benefits of indoor plants. We are so fortunate to have beautiful people like Christina helping our planet be a better, more sustainable place to live.
What sparked your interest surrounding sustainability and when did it enter your life?
My first ‘aha moment’ about the environment and sustainability was in the grocery store. I was about 12, probably staring at the candy shelves at checkout. I saw my mother pulling out used grocery bags. She had brought them back to the store and handed them to the baffled cashier. I was kind of embarrassed actually, and didn’t understand. I asked her why she was doing it. She said, “Why shouldn’t we use them again instead of throwing them out? Think of all the waste.” From there, I grew more aware of the effects of every day habits on the natural world. Later, in college, I started connecting the dots between food, agriculture, and the environment – which led to my first stint with an environmental group as a canvasser for PIRG (Public Interest Research Group of Michigan). After getting degrees in political science and art history, I began to envision a career that used communications strategically and creatively to promote sustainability. Although it hasn’t been a clear, direct path, I’ve been guided by that vision ever since.
How did your marketing business grow “green”?
My first career was in the arts. I originally wanted to be an art dealer, and my marketing work was all about artists – explaining and selling their work. I thought my passion for the environment would have to be a sideline or only expressed in my personal life. When I became manager of an art collection for the Macarthur Foundation, I saw how art could be a communications tool for social and environmental issues. That was when I realized many of my skills were transferrable to cause marketing. A few years later, when I moved to NYC, I made the decision to only take clients that were making a positive impact on the world.
You mention your areas of expertise include sustainable consumer goods, furniture, organic food, and green building. Are these things you incorporate into your lifestyle and if so, in what ways?
The most fun part of my work is discovering solutions and alternatives that are more sustainable than the status quo. So, my own life is a lab for researching and uncovering lower impact, regenerative or sustainable products, services, and ways of living. I’m always on the lookout for new eco-friendly fashion and furniture, organic foods, non-toxic beauty products and new tech solutions. It can be overwhelming sometimes, always thinking about impact. In my daily life, I try to follow a few core guidelines that keep me pointed toward true north: What is it made of? How was it made? Where? By whom, and under what conditions? Is it recyclable, upcyclable, biodegradable, non-toxic?
What are the biggest day to day hurdles you face in weaving sustainability into your life?
Getting information and facts on the sustainability of products and practices is challenging. You have to do a lot of digging, including figuring out which info is accurate and from reliable, independent sources. Another difficulty is simply finding sustainable options that are well designed, affordable and available in the USA. A lot of great products are being made in Europe and other countries, with limited distribution. Plus there is the carbon footprint of international shipping. The next biggest time-sucker in living consciously is end of life issues – what to do with my old blender, down quilt, videocassettes, broken lamp, etc. It’s a lifestyle decision to not do the easy thing because at this time and place in history, the easy thing is usually not the sustainable thing.
What would you say is the first step to creating a conscious home. Where do you start?
“Start where you are” is one of my favorite expressions. Really, where else can you start? Go for low-hanging fruit first. For example, if you love plants, buy or propagate them. They will clean the air and provide visual beauty. And start composting you can reduce your food waste while making fertilizer for your houseplants. Then move to your next purchasing decision. Let’s say you’re about to buy a new sofa. Ask the key product questions outlined above – what, where, how, in terms of materials; and by whom. Is it well made, durable? For more on eco friendly furniture I wrote a guide laying out what to avoid, what to look for and where to find it. Or if you’re about to go clothes shopping, and looking for new jeans, seek out organically grown cotton fabric. Conventional cotton is the most polluting crop on the planet.
How do you balance your personal style while remaining eco-friendly?
When I really want the style of a non-sustainable brand or product, I try to buy it second hand. That way you’re extending the life of clothes that would otherwise go to the landfill. Also, I’m not a saint – once in a while a few non-sustainable brands come into my life if they bring some other big benefit that helps me be a happy, productive person. But there are definitely some straight up no-go’s, such as no single-use plastic; fur; vinyl; personal care products with toxic ingredients; endangered or old growth wood; or apparel brands known to use sweatshop.
Does eco-friendly furniture exist throughout different furniture period styles and movements?
Yes – well really, most vintage or antique furniture is at least in part sustainable simply because they’re so durable, and because the majority of toxic materials weren’t invented yet. Standard craftsmanship and quality of materials was much higher than they are today, meaning much longer life cycles.
What is your favorite décor period or style, and what about it are you drawn to?
Art deco – I love the balance of Japanese Zen influence and the emerging machine esthetic. The beauty of form meeting function.
What feels most joyful in your life presently?
Getting out into nature, sailing in the Bronx, cloud-gazing under a tree in a city park. And in the bigger picture, I get a lot of joy from sharing ideas and ways of being to make the world a healthier, happier place. Which is why I’m launching a new blog, UrbisEco. It’s a platform for sustainable, regenerative living – for city people wanting to “do the right thing” and connect to the natural world. I hope it makes readers’ lives easier and inspires them to be more positively impactful.