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Issues of the Environment: An Ann Arbor high school freshman leading the way for a new generation of environmental activists

Izzy Sutton
Caroline Sutton
Izzy Sutton


  • Many students eagerly anticipate back-to-school shopping. Traditionally, students have sought out outfits that express their personal style and wearing the latest fashion trends was part of the fun. However, the thirst to wear the latest fashions may be going out of style in Ann Arbor. These days, students are more aware of the environmental costs associated with the fashion industry, and secondhand clothing has become desirable, if not a trend in and of itself. 
  • Izzy Sutton, aPioneer High Schoolfreshman and environmental advocate, says thrifting and seeking out secondhand, sustainable items is part of a way of life that puts the environment as a priority. She became interested in living a more sustainable life in the 5th grade. “Learning about fast fashion and how much chemicals goes into the production of clothing along with massive water consumption and pollution and the cheapness of the garments produced by many large clothing stores is a huge incentive to me to shop second hand and also try to shop less in general,” says Izzy.
  • The fashion industry is the second-largest consumer of the world's water supply and pollutes the oceans with microplastics. The apparel and footwear industries account for 10% of global carbon emission, greater than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined. (Source: https://www.businessinsider.com/fast-fashion-environmental-impact-pollution-emissions-waste-water-2019-10)
  • The greater Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area has over 30 secondhand clothing and household goods outlets, including consignment shops and specialty thrift store in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, nonprofit-owned stores like Ann Arbor’s PTO store, Kiwanis Resale, Salvation Army resale stores, and theSharehouse, and for-profit stores such as Goodwill
  • Izzy recommends making a list of the items you need as a strategy to avoid shopping fatigue while combing through numerous one-of-a-kind items. She also says that looking for items that resonate with your personal style increases the satisfaction of the hunt. Some of her favorite finds have been jewelry, bags, quality items from more expensive brands, and special occasion dresses. For the back-to-school season, she’s shopping for good pieces that can be mixed and matched for multiple occasions. 
  • The average American owns 7 pairs of jeans. New blue jeans carry a particularly heavy burden. According to the World Wildlife Fund, it takes 715 gallons of water to produce the cotton needed for one t-shirt and 1,800 gallons to produce just one pair of jeans. (WWF). 
  • Izzy Sutton is also currently petitioning the Ann Arbor school board to reduce their single use plastic waste in cafeterias, and she has advocated for local schools to reduce non-essential plastic use.She founded a handmade greeting card business JustIZZYs (by JustIZZY) - Etsy, and her Etsy business has raised over $3500 during middle school. She’s been honored with several awards for her dedication to volunteering and the environment. She’s 13 years old and starting her freshman year at Pioneer High School this fall.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU. The kids are back to school. You remember back to your first day of classes when you were younger? We wanted to make sure we had a new pair of jeans and shirt, perhaps something not even our close friends had seen us wear, starting off the year fresh and new and putting our best foot forward. Well, many of today's kids are smarter and more responsible than we were because they understand and, in many cases, are taking actions to impact the toll that all of that takes on the health of our environment. I'm David Fair, and this is Issues of the Environment. And today we're going to introduce you to one such student. Izzy Sutton is about to enter her freshman year at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School. And she believes we can be fashion forward in a way that is more sustainable, and that's only a part of her environmental advocacy. Izzy, thank you so much for making time for us today.

Izzy Sutton: Hi. Thank you for having me on the show.

David Fair: When did you first decide to advocate and work for greater sustainability and environmental responsibility?

Izzy Sutton: Well, it all started when I was in fifth grade because I did a project on recycling, and I learned how much single-use plastic gets ingested by sea creatures and albatross. It really freaked me out. And I also learned that only a small amount of what we recycle actually gets recycled, and most of it ends up in landfills or in our oceans. By learning that, I started my business JustIZZY in sixth grade, where I've been spreading the word of using less plastic by creating eco-friendly greeting cards and ornaments that I've raised money for nonprofits.

David Fair: None of these things happen without the support of a family. So, are environmental issues also important to your family? Is that kind of where beyond the class project you started this interest, or did they hop on board after you did and just support you moving forward?

Izzy Sutton: Well, when I told my parents about my interest in life, they supported me greatly, and they've helped me with it ever since.

David Fair: So, you mentioned that you're raising money to apply in positive ways. How are you exactly applying the money that you've raised?

Izzy Sutton: Well, I've been donating it to nonprofits that I find important. Some of the nonprofits I've donated to are the Dumbo Limbo Turtle Rescue in Florida. Starry Skies Equine Rescue, which is located here in Ann Arbor and the Bird Center of Washtenaw County. All of these are important to me, and I think they deserve recognition.

David Fair: How much money have you raised thus far?

Izzy Sutton: I've raised over $4,000 for various nonprofits with JustIZZY.

David Fair: That's rather amazing. I'm certainly surprised to hear that it is that much and that you started so young. But that leads us to where you are now and where we're headed in the future. This is 89 one WEMU, and we're talking with Pioneer High School freshman Izzy Sutton on Issues of the Environment. As I mentioned in the introduction, Izzy, I can remember how important those few first days of school were and wanting to look my best. What led you to the determination that maybe that's not the best way to go when it comes to the clothing we choose?

Izzy Sutton: Well, like I said earlier, when I learned about how much the stuff that we recycle doesn't actually get recycled, it must also apply to the clothing industry just as much. Learning about fast fashion and how much chemicals go into the production of clothing, along with the massive water consumption and pollution and the cheapness in the garments produced by many large clothing stores is a huge incentive to me to shop secondhand and also try to shop less in general.

David Fair: I was unaware personally that the fashion industry is the second largest consumer of the world's water supply.

Izzy Sutton: Yes.

David Fair: It also provides the world's oceans with microplastics, as you've mentioned, and that accounts for 10% of global carbon emissions. Now, that's greater than all international airline flights and maritime shipping trips combined. So, when you talk these things over with your friends and peer groups, are they as surprised as I was?

Izzy Sutton: Yes, they are. I'm surprised. I think everybody I've told is surprised just because we don't realize it, even we use plastic and clothes in fast fashion in our day-to-day lives without even realizing it. So, it's really hard to believe. But when you raise awareness for it, it's a lot easier.

David Fair: Once your peer group learns from you, do you find that many are willing to make some changes to accommodate the damage that is being done to the environment?

Izzy Sutton: Definitely. I think once we become a movement, it's a lot easier to change and try and make a difference.

David Fair: I'm into blue jeans--always have been since I was a kid. Now that I'm really old, I still like to wear blue jeans. And the average American owns seven pair of blue jeans. And the amount of chemicals that are used to make those the amount of water to continually clean them, that is a significant impact on the environment. As you prepare to create a wardrobe, where do you look to help minimize impact?

Izzy Sutton: Well, obviously, I love to shop secondhand. One of my favorite stores is Close Mentor. It's a really great place to shop for clothing, items, accessories. And I found one with clothes there, including blue jeans. It has a lot of nice name-brand items and quality, which is really nice as well. They've also found some really unique clothing pieces.

David Fair: And when you do that kind of shopping at thrift and secondhand stores, do you find that what you choose fits in and goes unnoticed among the rest of those you are hanging out with and around?

Izzy Sutton: Well, I think my friends and I love to go surfing together sometimes, and I think it's becoming more of a trend. So, I would say that it's becoming more recognized.

David Fair: WEMU's Issues of the Environment conversation with Izzy Sutton continues. The Ann Arbor Pioneer High School freshman is continuing her environmental activism with a push for more sustainable ways of clothes shopping. How are you planning to expand the message? Do you take it not only to the students in Pioneer High School, but throughout the district and perhaps beyond?

Izzy Sutton: Well, I've been sending emails back and forth with our mayor, our governor, Senator Gary Peters, and my school board. I'm also looking forward to starting a club at Pioneer to raise awareness for using less plastic and just using less in general. And I'm also hoping to join environmental counselors to help promote the message as well.

David Fair: You have a lot on your plate. Have you gotten a positive response for those that you have reached out to?

Izzy Sutton: Yes, I've definitely gotten some responses. I mean, they're not thrilled changing, but I'm getting somewhere, which is good.

David Fair: In addition to the clothing project, as you mentioned, you've been reaching out to elected officials. You've been petitioning the Ann Arbor Board of Education to reduce single-use plastics in cafeterias. And you also advocate for local schools in the area to reduce all non-essential plastics. How is that message being received so far?

Izzy Sutton: It's being received pretty the same. I mean, I think we're getting more traction with the addition of water filling stations in schools, but I'm still seeing lots of single-use plastic water bottles at school functions, and they're still being sold in the cafeteria. But I think we're getting somewhere.

David Fair: In your personal life, instead of using these single use plastics, what is the methodology you use in order to be more environmentally friendly and sustainable?

Izzy Sutton: Well, I love using reusable containers, and I don't go anywhere without my reusable water bottle. Some of my personal preferences for reusable containers includes anything metal and biodegradable paper products, and I also thrift shop which avoids fast fashion.

David Fair: I absolutely stand amazed at how much you've accomplished before you ever enter high school. Now that you're going to be in high school, you want to start a club and you want to advance this message and get more people involved. If you and I were to talk again in three years, as you enter your senior year, what do you hope to have accomplished overall?

Izzy Sutton: Well, one, I hope to accomplish that we are definitely seeing a lot less single-use plastic at school functions, maybe even none. I'm hoping to see more refillable water bottle stations at schools, and I'm also hoping that people are becoming more aware of plastic and what the negative effects of it are.

David Fair: Is environmental science in one form or another something that you might plan to pursue in college and then even beyond professionally?

Izzy Sutton: Yes. I've definitely been looking into that. I'm not 100% sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I think I definitely want to do something in the environmental science field. That seems very interesting.

David Fair: Well, I think I might want to be like you when I grow up. You are quite impressive, and I wish you well in your freshman year. And I wish you well with all of these environmental endeavors you're taking on. And if you would mind staying in touch with us, I will pass along the messages to the WEMU listenership, and we can progress together.

Izzy Sutton: Thank you. That sounds great.

David Fair: That is Izzy Sutton. She is an environmental activist and advocate, just starting her freshman year of high school at Ann Arbor Pioneer. And if that is what the future is going to look like, if these are the kind of people that are going to lead the way, we are all in very good hands. For more information on Izzy and her environmental advocacy and that she continues to push forward, visit our web page at WEMU dot org. Issues of the Environment is produced in partnership with the Office of the Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner, and we bring it to you every Wednesday. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM Ypsilanti, your community NPR station.

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