Handling New Earth

In this post, Exec member, North Cowper, tells her story of an internal shift in awareness. Recounting her adventures abroad, this article focuses on how these personal experiences gave her an everlasting connection to sustainability.

Sustainable Future Collective


Exec member, North Cowper, shares how the last few years have influenced her worldview……

Hi all, my name is North and I’m currently completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts. This year, I’ve had the opportunity to be a Designer as part of SFC’s social media team and so far have absolutely loved it. In this post I’ll be recounting a bit about how travelling opened my eyes to sustainable practices.

At the end of 2017, I felt confused. I was halfway through my degree but lacked a sense of purpose. As an artist, I didn’t have a cause I wanted to make art for. After bouncing between discourses surrounding feminism and consumerism, things that I believed would resonate within me, I finally dropped out. I knew that I needed worldly experience to form stronger opinions, so I decided to fly to Vietnam. Little did I know at the time, I would not be back in New Zealand for nearly 2 years, as January 2018 saw the beginning of a journey that took me to Australia, United States, Guam and throughout Asia.

Every country I visited left an impact on my worldview. In Vietnam, remote villages that don’t even have electricity are littered with plastic bottles. In Bali, postcard beaches are completely trashed with plastic straws from tourists sipping coconuts. In Oklahoma, some dine-in restaurants use single-use plastic cutlery as standard cutlery. I saw people chucking their fast food bags out of car windows. I’ll never forget the time I went to the supermarket there and asked for no plastic bag. The cashier, looking confused, took a plastic bag from the rack and directly put it in the bin. What?! It made me realise that while considering the environment is so commonplace in New Zealand, it isn’t always as prevalent elsewhere. It was so devastating to see that I began feeling disconnected.

Then at the end of 2019, I saw the biggest shift within me. I was looking for a challenging experience, so I joined some likewise travelers I’d met online to spend a month camping in the misty mountains of Central Taiwan. I brought essentials, food and a tent, but otherwise we lived off the land, keeping a fire going to cook with and provide warmth. Spending time in nature is so incredible. Over the month, the personal connection that I found with nature is one that I will now carry with me for the rest of my life. I learnt that nature isn’t something separate from me but that I am a part of nature. To hurt the environment is to hurt ourselves. Living harmoniously with nature made me so carefree, so grateful and it gifted me with so much clarity. That camping trip retaught me compassion, gave me newfound confidence and taught me that I could make positive change starting with myself.

I returned to New Zealand last year in June and I knew exactly what I cared about. I knew that I needed to work in environmentalism and human connection and that in doing so, I would be continuously motivated. It was exciting. I decided to re-enrol into my degree and wanted to work with people who shared these core values. I searched ‘sustainable organizations Auckland’ when I stumbled upon SFC’s website. I’ve only been on the team for 4 months and I feel that I’ve already grown from the opportunities I’ve had with the movement. I feel like I’m learning so much from SFC and their network and I’m proud to be involved with such a committed and compassionate team. Alongside SFC, I’ve refined my art practice, my long-term goal aimed towards reconnecting urbanised Kiwis with nature to improve their well-being. Currently, I work predominantly in clay and audio, exploring ways these sensory materials might play together to provoke a feeling or resemble a memory.

The slideshow above features some of the moments that happened alongside those I wrote about. I’d like to credit my beautiful friend May for the first two images in this slideshow, taken while camping in Taiwan.

If you’re interested in my creative journey, pop into my website northmadison.co.nz or follow me on Instagram.