As bushfire smoke swallows Sydney, Broadsheet meets Jessica McCleod, founder of sustainability driven event The Conscious Space, at Portal, a profit-for-good cafe in Martin Place that donates 100 per cent of its earnings to charity. It’s a fitting setting for the interview, reflecting McCleod’s ethos that it’s possible to engage in consumerism in a mindful, sustainable way.
That philosophy is also echoed in the Conscious Space, a free three-day event taking place at Barangaroo in March that will bring together more than 150 brands, businesses and individuals from across Australia to encourage a mindful, non-judgemental approach to consumption.
“Sydney is smart, educated ... and I think people here really care about what’s happening in the world and about their fellow humans, and they’re definitely curious about a different way of doing things,” says McCleod. “[I know] there’s a grey area between eco-evangelism and mindless consumerism … For some people, certain methods of conscious consumerism are unachievable and alienating. One of our core values is inclusivity: you can be at any stage, or from any walk of life – we just want the Conscious Space to be as inclusive and non-judgemental as possible.”
Vendors at the festival span everything from a chocolate company with a small carbon footprint and an organic wine retailer to a 100 per cent natural vegan perfumer and eco-friendly fashion designers. There’s also an organic cotton tampon subscription service, period cups and eco-friendly homewares.
For McCleod, the event isn’t just about mindful buying and selling. “People can start conversations, discover something new, have fun, feel positive about the future, feel positive about decisions they’re making and feel included as part of a community,” she says. “The main thing I want people to take away, though, is that every person can make an impact; it’s not out of our hands. Every person matters, everyone’s dollar counts, everyone’s perspective counts. All of these brands, they’re not in it for profit, they’re in it to make a difference, and to have the opportunity to raise them up and bring them together is incredible.”
As well as the marketplace, there will be speakers such as filmmaker Damon Gameau (2040) and activist and podcast host Alexx Stuart. Attendees can join in workshops on permaculture, yoga and mindfulness, or head to the meditation area for time out.
There will also be an accompanying Conscious Work conference. Supported by Thrive Global – Arianna Huffington’s wellbeing platform – and Alain de Botton’s School of Life, it will feature talks from thinkers such as bestselling author Cal Newport, who’ll discuss the intersection of digital technology and culture; Dropbox’s head of communications in the Asia-Pacific and Japan, Le Tran; Vinomofo’s former head of culture Mikey Ellis; and Extraordinary Routines founder Madeleine Dore. They’ll be addressing how work can enhance our productivity and wellbeing, rather than destroy them and cause burnout.
“There’s so much going on in the world, and we can’t just turn away,” says McCleod. “From climate change to mental wellbeing in the workplace to ethical fashion, we’re so much more aware of it now and it’s what we choose to do with that knowledge that’s going to make a difference.”