A sustainable lifestyle with Sanny van Heteren
This week on the blog, we had the pleasure of interviewing actress and activist Sanny van Heteren. Sanny shares with us some childhood memories, the beginnings of her transition to a sustainable lifestyle and her thoughts on sustainability in a digital age.
A sustainable lifestyle with Sanny!
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your career background!
I call myself an earthling… I was born in Germany, raised in Spain and I went to boarding school in England. I moved to the United States when I was 19 and have pretty much travelled the world so I don’t consider myself to be from any one place! I started acting when I was 14 in Germany and I’ve been doing that for a very long time now.
How has sustainability impacted your life so far?
To be honest, I was already a very positive and altruistic teenager and had many thoughts on sustainability back then. Bringing conscious awareness to our plant and our resources and how we use them has been on my mind for a long long time. I’m really happy to be alive at this particular time because it's becoming more of a mainstream thing. I remember feeling very alone with all of my questions and thoughts, why do we do these things? I grew up in Spain, but I also had a family in Germany. In Germany, people were recycling and bringing their own bags to supermarkets when I was a child. But in Spain, people were just dumping everything out of their windows and on the side of the roads. It would almost be like someone just came and took all of their trash and dumped it on the road. So I grew up seeing all of these things that just made me think, what’s going on? You know?
You kind of saw the bigger picture that although some places are working on sustainability there are the downsides of the places that aren’t!
But I do have to admit that like everyone else I remember the moment of thinking, where is throwing away? Where is ‘away’? It was kind of like when you realise your parents aren’t God and they have flaws it was the same feeling of where are we throwing this stuff? That really impacted me at a very young age. From there I’ve grown a lot and I’ve done things I definitely regret as a kid - things you don’t even think about. Whether you’re using plastic straws, throwaway cutlery. I think this happens when you don’t grow up around a culture that’s teaching you this stuff and I wonder what it's like for kids now and if they can grasp that concept from a young age. I learned along the way and the more that I realised what we were doing and the more accessible the information became the easier it was. With the interest starting to exist in my time, I know I sound like a dinosaur! All of a sudden you had this access to information - that blew my mind.
Did you have anyone to help or guide you? Or was it a self-made decision to start living more sustainably?
My mother was a very busy woman, she worked a lot and we had a lot of help. But I have to say that a lot of the women who worked in my family growing up were very humble simple people. I think I’m very blessed in the sense that I learn a lot from these women. Whether they were from the Philippines or Morocco, these people that had immigrated to Spain to make money for their families had really opened my eyes to so many things because to them, certain things that were normal to us kids growing up did really make us question everything. The simplest things that we don’t even think about if when growing up in a normal or ‘well off’ environment, we learnt about a different kind of life. Women who are leaving their families behind to work to pay for food because there’s so much scarcity. All of those things impacted me and I’ve always been a thinker so I would just lay up in bed thinking about all of these things at a really young age.
Would you say that there was a particular moment in your life where you began living sustainably or would you say it was more of a gradual transition?
I think it was definitely a gradual awakening for me, as a series of realisations. I started to feel like oh, I don’t want to be a part of that. I can’t tell you how many years I continued drinking out of plastic water bottles and not thinking. Knowing what I know now, my child has never drunk out of a plastic bottle.
We can see that you have a passion for yoga, how would you say yoga has changed your mindset?
I discovered yoga in the late 90s in New York. I remember thinking like wow, you can do things with your mind, you can quieten it down and stretch the body and feel alive. I remember in my first few classes all the information sort of went in one ear and out of the other. It wasn’t until after some time of that practice I thought oh, now I know what he meant. It was definitely a learning process and I wanted to kind of touch on something that we were just talking about because I think that’s really important too.
Being an actress, I always wanted to be like super, super famous and I’ve made my mark and done my thing. As a child, I think you dream of being at the top. But I remember that for me one of the reasons for that was because I wanted to use that platform to do good for the planet. I got to a place where I was going to a lot of red carpet events and I kept thinking, what are we doing here? Are we selling ourselves? Are we selling the project? And so one of the things that I started doing, way before it was a thing - because now there’s red carpet/green dress and a lot of big stars are doing - but I’m really proud to say that I was one of the very the first that started wearing eco-friendly, sustainable, organic, handmade designers at events and red carpets. And that was a way for me to start thinking now I’m doing something at this event! And then, when it came to interviewing it was a great talking point for sustainability when people would ask who are you wearing?
Would you say it was difficult at first to find someone sustainable and red carpet appropriate?
At first, yes! I would think well, I don’t want to show up in a hippy hemp dress. Then I started veering away from the more organic fabrics and more towards designers that were making things by hand.
How do you think social media plays a role in informing people about sustainability?
As little as I’d like to admit it, it’s huge. I remember when Twitter and other platforms came out, I thought I was too cool for that sort of thing and so I didn’t sign up for any of them. It was a huge revelation to me that I needed to get on board. I just watched that movie, Social Dilemma and it was really like a love-hate sort of situation. There's a lot of damage being done by social media. As actors in our world, there was already a lot of pressure to be skinny and look your best, always being retouched and spending hours in make-up. Now that is accessible to all young people. Using one filter to completely change the way you look and that’s a little bit scary and I really urge people to limit that time online and disconnect now and then. It's so normal to have your phone always in your hands nowadays. For me in my home, I encourage people to leave it at the front door with their shoes so we can connect without distraction. It’s a flip-sided coin because I’m very grateful for what social media can do, we’re able to reach people in all remote areas of the world. But for young people, it can become so important to them because that’s all they’ve ever known. At least people who are a little bit older and haven’t grown up with this technology, have that kind of detachment. So I’m really on both sides of the fence but I think it can be such a positive tool when used wisely!
Do you think influencers should have a responsibility to spread the message about sustainability?
This is my most frustrating subject! Because I know a lot of people that have gotten very lucky and have become huge influencers. I wish that there was a type of school that you had to go to before you find Instagram fame because I do think that its a great responsibility to all these people that have millions of followers to learn about what is really happening on our planet and not just try to make a buck promoting themselves for any brand. They don’t really realise what they’re doing, that’s the sad part. I think a lot of people don’t know what they’re actually promoting. When you’re in the social eye, no matter whether it’s in music, movies or just simply social media, you do have a big responsibility and people are not aware of it.
How do you think Aequem aligns with your own mission when it comes to sustainability?
Oh, you guys are like my sisters from another mister! I’m so happy to find brands and companies such as Aequem, you make my life easier and we have the same mission. I think that we should all be one big family constantly helping each other and pushing each other. One of the most beautiful things that I get to do in this project with @ecocouple and my blog is I have other brands that reach out to me with questions like hey, I’m trying to resource recycled fishing nets… do you know of anyone? And I can call one of the brands that if worked with and in this line of work everyone is so happy to share information and cooperate. We want people to produce sustainably and we want them to be able to connect to share those resources. Aequem is so great because you’re putting it all on one platform and you’re making it so appetising for young people to want to buy into. I love what you guys are doing and I’d love to collaborate and share resources because that’s what this community is about!
Where do you see the future of sustainability in maybe 5 or 10 years?
That is a difficult question! I want to believe that everything we are living right now is part of a large awakening. Some people get annoyed at me when I promote something from a brand that just has an eco line and they’re still doing everything else the wrong way. But I make a really big point of talking about this because it is us supporting those attempts that will make those changes over the next 5 or 10 years. Of course, there are always going to be people out there that are trying to make a quick buck on supporting an ‘eco life’. Who cares, that’s going to be a handful of people. Generally, the people who are getting on this train are doing it because they do actually care about the planet. Take me for example, it took me years to change all the aspects of my life. My headphones are now eco-friendly! Everything that I own is eco-friendly! I say give the big brands a chance instead of bashing them for just making one shoe or one line. Give them props because I think that most brands will be invited to make more changes as they see these parts of their brand grow and see the demand grow. That's why I think it's so important that every one of us thinks about everything we use, from our toothbrush to what we wash our clothes with to the shoes that we wear. There are so many people who are really sourcing things ethically and giving jobs to the right people. Keep putting your faith into these people and those brands and it’ll grow. It’ll be like a trickle effect and eventually, we will tip and that will be the normal resources.
@ecocouple has a slogan which means we are all one. That's what we’re working on and I think that’s a really good note to leave this with. Support small brands, big brands, anyone that’s making a move in the right direction.
Thanks so much to Sanny for sitting down with us! We hope you all enjoyed this insightful interview that really highlights the depths of sustainable living...
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You can also watch the interview with Sanny on our Youtube!