While some people struggle to get one thing right in their life, Dia Mirza has too many feathers in her cap, more than we can speak of in a single sentence.
20 years ago, Dia Mirza was Miss Asia Pacific International and Reena Malhotra from Rehnaa Hai Terre Dil Mein, her Bollywood debut. Today Mirza is producer, UN Secretary General’s Advocate for Sustainable Development Goals, UNEP Goodwill Ambassador, Ambassador Wildlife Trust of India, Artist Ambassador Save The Children, Board Member Sanctuary Nature Foundation, Global Ambassador IFAW. She also championed the campaign #BeatPlasticPollution along with the UN leading to World Environment Day in 2018 when India was the host nation leading to the historic declaration by PM Modi to make India Single-Use Plastics Free by 2022.
Not only on a professional and global front, but Dia Mirza has stolen headlines on several occasions for her unabated passion for sustainable living in modern times. Her eco-friendly wedding to Vaibhav Rekhi earlier this year was a no-waste affair. And she actively voices her concern over climate change, too.
Now that’s character development! Using your influence for worldly good is not easy, but Mirza makes it seem so doable. Here, we speak with Dia Mirza on activism, conservatism, sustainability, and more.
When did you decide to lend a voice to wildlife conservation? What inspired you?
I grew up observing squirrels and birds in my backyard and their relationship with the surrounding foliage and the trees. When I started interacting with wildlife activists and the people who protect our forests, it became even more important to speak up for disappearing species. Conserving wildlife habitats is key to human existence because if they disappear, so many other species depending on them will cease to exist. We also need forests for our survival because if the forests go, so will the rivers and ecosystems that sustain us.
I also realised along the way that it is important for us to educate our children about their relationship with the environment and animals. That is why I did my bit to sensitise them through projects like ‘Kids for Tigers.’ I believe investing capital and energy in such campaigns is essential. Awareness is the key to change. I’ve been looking at data and statistics about the level of participation by young people across the planet and the incredible way with which they are using social media to spread awareness. What inspires me is the thought that sooner or later, this momentum will create more pressure on governments, policymakers, and industry to walk their talk and save our environment and biodiversity.
#BeatPlastic Pollution’s raison d’être is to promote green living and eradicate the use of single-use plastics. How does it speak to you personally?
As part of my role as the UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador, I championed the #BeatPlasticPollution campaign in 2018, which did its bit to bring about the official historic declaration to make India Single-Use Plastics Free by 2022. You have to read the statistics to know just how much plastic that we use daily ends up in oceans, rivers, landfills and even in the most pristine parts of our mountains. We cannot keep consuming non-biodegradable stuff. Change is a process and requires consistent time and effort, but I believe we will get there.
#Beatplasticpollution is one of the most relevant campaigns that I have associated with, and it has inspired people to refuse plastic bags, straws, cutlery, crockery, cups, and mugs. Still, there are over 50% of single-use plastics that we use in our everyday life. I will hence continue to work towards sensitising people to this issue so that one day we can eliminate single-use plastics by simply refusing them.
How are you implementing a green living ethos in your personal life?
I was raised to be mindful of consumption and waste from a very young age. And even though I work in an industry where you see a lot of investment in glamour, I have tried to steer clear of excess in any form. My clothing choice over the years has become more edited. I don’t buy things unless there is a specific need and purpose for them. I live with classic furniture and in some cases upcycled and there is not an ounce of plastic in my home or office. When I address youth and children, I try to talk about consumption patterns and plastic use and tell them to be mindful about every item that they use and throw.
That is also the thought that I try to apply to all forms of consumption in my daily life. From refilling detergents and shampoos in old bottles to carrying my mug for takeaway coffee, I try to adopt as many green and practical lifestyle solutions as possible.
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What is the biggest challenge we face right now in terms of climate change?
The lack of interest in climate change is a matter of great concern. The lack of seriousness, disdain and levity that even a discussion about climate change at times evokes is unfathomable, especially when its impact on our planet is manifesting in natural disasters across the world. No problem can be solved if we don’t address it. Young activists across the world are refusing to buy in the narrative that policy discussions in board rooms can solve this issue. They are demanding action, and they are working towards mainstreaming this subject so that people can get interested and join the movement to save this planet before it is too late.
We live in a digital world with easy access to information. Why do you think people are still not (as much as we’d want them to be) pro-environment in India?
The reason is that this issue has not been mainstreamed as much as it should. Very few people relate to the idea that sustainable development is the key to a healthier planet. It is baffling that there is such a push back against even accepting climate change even though it is already impacting all of us.
The issue is also that we think of the environment as an entity separate from us. Only when we understand that it is a part of us and the harm that befalls it will impact us, will we understand the urgency of turning the clock back somehow.
Not only do subjects like environmental degradation not engage enough of us, but even a pandemic also seems to not have woken us up to the urgency of climate change. I encourage people to start somewhere, somehow to cut back on pollution and wastage.
Just begin by segregating your waste, cut down on single-use plastic usage, carry your own water bottle and coffee cup and choose green products for your home.
Are you vegan?
I switched to plant-based foods once I realised the high impact that raising livestock has on the planet. This alone generates 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and so now I am 90 per cent vegan and my diet is high on fruits and vegetables. I feel healthier and more energetic though I concede that occasionally I allow myself to consume meat as I grew up on a non-vegetarian diet. This is a transition that is still a work in progress. I also buy only locally and sustainably grown fruits and vegetables.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I would still be doing something to nourish my creative side and working towards making the planet greener, healthier, happier.
Would you consider making films/documentaries on sustainable living, wildlife conservation, smashing patriarchy?
I have been envisioning a thematic series around the SDG goals, and there are many issues close to my heart that I would like to address via my work as an actor and producer. With time, one increasingly gets drawn towards meaning and purpose in everything one does, and it is a phase where I would want to harness the power of media and films to make a difference. One India Stories, my production house, was formed around this core thought. I am a dreamer, and I imagine a world where we all can live together as one and I want to work towards that goal, one story at a time. I want to create stories that will make people pause and think and remember our connection to each other and the planet.
Can you recommend some relevant reads or podcasts or environmental/conservation influencers that we should be reading/listening/following right now?
Follow all the @unep socials. They have all the latest information on environmental actions. @sanctuaryasia is also a place where I get a lot of my information and knowledge. Then there are a bunch of Instagram pages on sustainable living that I love: @countusinsocial, Fridays for Future, FFF India, Let Me Breathe, @skrap.zerowaste and many many more. A few books I loved to read are 21 Lessons For The 21st Century, A New Earth, Fallen.
All images: Courtesy Dia Mirza