Dia Mirza: “A Sustainable Way To Travel Is To Be Mindful Of What You’re Consuming.”

As the goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Wildlife Trust of India, Dia Mirza uses her voice and credibility to create awareness about conservation approaches and conscious lifestyle and promote responsible tourism. In a conversation with Travel + Leisure India & South Asia the actor-activist gets candid about the roadblocks on her way and life-altering experiences.

Photography Assistant: Abhishek Verma
Hair and Makeup Assistant: Surbhi Maheshwari
Editorial Assistant: Ralan Kithan

Dia Mirza, the award-winning actor and producer, sustainability champion, the goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Wildlife Trust of India, and an ardent environmentalist, effortlessly leaves an impact on you, every time you meet her. If you are among her 5.4 mn followers on Instagram, you know how passionately she battles for the environment, speaks about climate change, and stresses on the importance of making mindful choices. So, when we put together our digital sustainability special, Dia Mirza was the obvious choice for the cover.

On the day of the shoot, she arrived promptly for her shots with her bottle of water in place. She pointed out, that her “travelling bottle” as she calls it goes everywhere with her. This is something she does to spread awareness about the ban of single-use plastic. She says, “I feel so happy when I see people carry metal bottles at airports and railway stations now. When I started carrying my own bottle, there were few people doing it. So, you feel good that more people are realising that they shouldn’t be wasteful.”

Taking up the mission to protect and nurture the planet, comes naturally to Dia Mirza. She shares that having grown up in an environment where she was made to realise that wasteful practices and disrespect for the resources was leading us down the path of destruction, prompted her into action. She started off by working with programmes that were pivoted around the theme of conservation, sustainability, and wildlife protection. “When you learn, the more you do and the more you start implementing changes in your own life,” she says.

Post the cover shoot, we sat down for a quick chat on her sustainable goals, the conscious practices she follows in her everyday routine, what slow travel means to her, and how she promotes responsible tourism.

Excerpts from the interview with Dia Mirza


What inspired you to adopt a sustainable lifestyle and how did you become interested in environmental protection?  

I was raised in an environment where it was ingrained in our conscience that everything we use comes from the earth. And that it is our unsustainable practices that are causing climate change. My school was extremely focused on this. And so right through my childhood, I was raised in an environment where my school was teaching me how to compost, how to use less and waste less. We took great pride in waiting for our pencils to turn into stubs before discarding them, saving paper, etc. So, habits like turning off the tap while brushing teeth or when soaping hands, have lasted me through life. In fact, I find it irksome, when I see people, especially at airports wasting tissue paper to wipe their hands when one can suffice. And I realised about a decade and a half ago that sustainable practices were not something that was being taught at home or in schools as much as they needed to be. I was one of the few privileged lots who had that exposure and of course, even my parents led extremely conscious lives. They weren’t wasteful in their consumption patterns, they saved things.

Later, when I started working with organisations like Sanctuary Nature Foundation and Wildlife Trust of India, I realised that there was a big gap in conservation approaches. I felt I could use my voice to bridge this gap and take the work that was happening in silos to people. It started off by me getting more involved in the programmes that these organisations were running and working closely with the media. So, it really was all of this and the work that I was doing with these organisations and that determination to take my own journey of consciousness and understanding and discovery to people. 

When I was working on the TV series Ganga-The Soul of India, I saw plastic waste in a quantum that I’d never seen before, and just around that time, the Deonar dumping ground fire happened, and I started questioning our relationship with waste. That’s when I started doing waste segregation at home. When you start adopting these practices, you want to share them because you want more people to follow. 


(On Dia Mirza:Maru Patch Tulle Dress by Shivan & Naresh, Sapphire Draped Plunge Mailot by Shivan & Naresh, earrings by Moi, Raffia Hat by Myaraa by Namrata Lodha)


As an ardent environmentalist, what bothers you the most?   

The apathy and the complete disregard that government, policymakers, institutions, and industries have towards the fact that a lot must change quickly if we want to survive. And not just survive as a species but retain the health of the planet in a way where other species can survive as well. Think about it, thousands of species face extinction because of our behaviour. Human beings co-exist on this planet with other creatures and they can’t just selfishly exploit it for their so-called material game and not be cognisant of the fact that this exploitation is causing serious harm.


(On Dia Mirza:Maru Patch Tulle Dress by Shivan & Naresh, Sapphire Draped Plunge Mailot by Shivan & Naresh, earrings by Moi, Raffia Hat by Myaraa by Namrata Lodha, Green Recycled Polyester Ankle Strap Sandals by Charles & Keith)


How has motherhood changed you? Has it made you even more conscious of your choices? 

I feel a lot more restless about creating change. I feel more despondent than I did before because I realise that we are raising our children in an environment that is possibly causing them a significant amount of suffering because of the quality of the air they breathe or the quality of the soil their food is being grown in. And then there is the reality of climate change and the fact that in their lifetime, they would be experiencing extremely harsh conditions. But it’s also made me more resolute to work towards change. 


(On Dia Mirza: Wrap Dress by Payal Khandwala, Earrings by Moi)


What are some of the biggest challenges that you face in promoting sustainability?  

The hardest thing to change is human behaviour. I have realised that until policy gets implemented on the ground, nothing will change. Because at some point or the other, people will fall back into some form of lethargy or just disconnect unless it’s a rule or a law. 


(On Dia Mirza:Bodysuit by Saaksha & Kinni, Palazzo by Saaksha & Kinni, Harili Earrings by Anu Merton, Paarijat Cuff by Anu Merton)


What sustainable practices do you follow while travelling?  

I take economy flights as much as possible, and that’s something that people don’t really think about—how your carbon footprint gets reduced when you fly budget airlines. I carry my own bottle and bag, so I don’t create any waste. I think a sustainable way to travel is to be mindful of what you’re consuming and how much waste you’re creating, and being accountable for that waste. Another thing we can all do is make sure we carry our own amenities. So, at least you’re not creating more trash with multiple small amenity cases. 


(On Dia Mirza:Bodysuit by Saaksha & Kinni, Palazzo by Saaksha & Kinni, Harili Earrings by Anu Merton, Paarijat Cuff byAnu Merton, Pink Spiked Heels by The Cai Store)


Tell us about your investments in sustainable brands like Greendigo and Allter. How did these companies align with your personal values and beliefs?

If we want to drive change, we have to put our money behind sustainability. There’s one aspect of achieving a circular economy, which is, of course, changing our own individual habits, but that also includes promoting, recognising and empowering brands that are making a difference. Sustainability has to become the norm, it cannot be an exception anymore.

The only way we can make sustainability mainstream is if we put our money behind it. This is why, I identified these brands that are completely aligned with my values. I got into Greendigo because they are certified organic. I didn’t know that almost 8,000 chemicals could be present in cloth used to make children’s clothes. The brand educated me and I’m proud to invest in it. Then there’s Allter, which is a bamboo-based diaper. Again, where are the diapers in India that are free of plastics and chemicals? A lot of the investments were driven by need and also by this conscious decision that we have to put money behind sustainability.


What does slow travel mean to you?   

The slow travel that I did for Ganga-The Soul of India was life altering. I got to travel through five states in India, and engage with the culture, people, and environment. Slow travel really helps you connect with people and places unlike anything else.


(On Dia Mirza:Lysandra Jacket Set by Anita Dongre, Sculpted Heel Sandals by Charles & Keith)


What was your favourite thing about Fairmont Jaipur?  

I love the fact that they’ve replaced small amenity supplies in the rooms with large amenity refillable stations, which really helps. It’s a beautiful property. It’s rich in heritage. It’s representative of Rajasthan’s glory, yet it’s modern. 


(On Dia Mirza: Porcelain Print Skirt Set by Dash & Dot, Chaand Katori Earrings with Pearls by Anu Merton)


You have shot for the Travel + Leisure India and South Asia’s digital cover in Jaipur. How does the city inspire you?

I have so many interesting memories in Jaipur. I have always been a fan of Rajasthan. I think Jaipur is one of my favourite cities in the world, simply because, even though it has grown and is urbanised, it still has managed to retain and celebrate its past so wonderfully. Whether it’s the art or architecture, or the music, culture, or the cuisine, it’s all there for one to really enjoy.


Your most memorable trip till date. 

It’s my journey for Ganga-The Soul of India. No other travel has educated, informed, and made me feel more alive than that tripAnother journey that was incredible was the bike ride from Delhi to Ladakh that I did for my upcoming movie Dhak Dhak. What an empowering experience it was to ride in the Himalayas. The movie is a story of four women from entirely different socioeconomic strata of life who choose to ride together from Delhi to Khardung La.

Related: Matteo Bocelli: The Italian Serenading India

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