Editorial: Sustainability embedded in everyday life: Lessons from ‘Moana’

When living in Vancouver, one can’t help but notice an obsession with being green and environmentally friendly. There is an insistence that, for example, food should be locally grown to reduce car emissions, as well as be grown organically to reduce the use of pesticides. Yet another example is the strict recycling and garbage sorting for households and institutions like UBC. Sometimes it feels like a riddle placing my garbage into the right container, though I know it’s for a good cause.

In other words, what I’ve observed since moving to Vancouver is that it seems like the city wants to make sustainability a part of its residents’ everyday life. It certainly makes an effort for it, as seen in the strict sorting rules.

This then brings the following question to mind: how can we make sustainability a part of everyday life?

How can we make being sustainable a habit and the norm rather than the exception?

Why don’t we take a look at Moana?

Coconuts and insights from Moana


Using a Disney movie for an argument may seem weird, but I would argue that Moana has some vital lessons to teach us.

Consider this part of the song Where You Are:

Consider the coconut
Consider its tree
We use each part of the coconut
That’s all we need

We make our nets from the fibers
The water is sweet inside
We use the leaves to build fires
We cook up the meat inside

Here we can see that no part of the coconut is wasted – every single aspect of the fruit has an intended purpose. We can also see that the people are content with the island’s resources, and have no want of anything more.

Now compare this with modern capitalist, consumerist societies in North America like Vancouver. It’s quite the contrast. Instead of being content, we want more – whether it is coffee, or electronics, or food, we want endlessly more of it. Being wealthy and well of in this type of society means having an abundance of everything you can possibly want.

Certainly, we have all heard this before – the excess we have in this part of the world being compared to poorer societies and the few they have, and as contributing to the strain on the earth, manifesting as climate change. Perhaps it is a rhetoric that we are getting tired of as well.

However, if Vancouver and all of us want sustainability to be an integral part of our society, as a habit rather than the exception, than this is something we need to consider. We must rethink our relationship with our planet to be successful in this goal.

Rethinking our relationship with the Earth

So the argument I’ve posed to you here is that one of the main lessons to be gained from Moana is that we must rethink our relationship with the earth.

I would also extend this argument to include Indigenous peoples, first because Moana is a story portraying the ancestors of the peoples in Polynesia today, but also that Indigenous societies can be an example for the type of relationship we want with the earth.

We have much to learn from Indigenous peoples like Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh on whose lands Vancouver sits on, who have had this knowledge for thousands of years.

Overall, it’s grand to say that we must make sustainability a part of everyday. However, when being green is still the ‘good alternative’ or exceptional task, it’s hard to do that. We must therefore rethink how we interact and engage with the earth and our environment.

We must fundamentally change how we think of the environment, ideally moving from a thing from which we can extract resources and wealth, to a provider of these resources and our needs that thrives when we respect and take care of it.

What can we do?

Work is being done to this end already, such as with IC-Kindness, whose president I interviewed a couple of weeks ago. Their message is that just as we must be kind to each other and ourselves, we must also be kind to the earth, forming this triangle of kindness that will hopefully lead to a better world.

But of course, more needs to be done. We must carry the sentiment we have here in Vancouver of wanting organically grown food and strict garbage sorting rules into our everyday interactions and how we think about the earth, whatever position in life, in work, or generally that we’re in.

Let’s take some guidance from Moana, a story about a girl who loves to sail, and respects the water and environment around her.