Though Mirza broke into the world of glamour and fame at the tender age of 18 after being crowned as the Miss Asia Pacific, we find her working equally hard at the age of 41 to make this world a greener and sustainable place for generations to come. Her message reflects in her lifestyle, too, and not just in her words.On Earth Day, Mirza talks about her ‘green’ connection, things she does in her everyday routine to live a sustainable life, favourite corner in her home she calls a harmonious blend of all things earthy and how we can fix Earth in an exclusive interview with ET Panache Digital.
Dipali Singh: How early did your connection with nature start?
Dia Mirza: The love for nature was an organic part of my childhood in Hyderabad. At my school, I learned about sustainability and the problematic patterns of human consumption, and at home, I saw how lovingly my mother nurtured our garden. I witnessed the magical processes of nature and learned that the earth is a supremely intelligent being and every human action impacts it, for better or for worse.
When I came to Mumbai, I deeply missed the lush greenery I had grown up around and bought my first home because it had a sprawling garden. I would say that my upbringing and formative years played a significant role in shaping my connection with nature and instilling in me a deep desire to protect it.
DS. What are the changes that you have incorporated in your day-to-day life to make sure you’re living a sustainable life?
DM: Even as a little girl, I remember using my pencils until they were reduced to a stub and writing on the last available inch of my notebooks because my school had ingrained in us the tenets of responsible consumption. Today, of course, sustainability is a part of my life and work. My home is free of single-use plastics, and I always travel with my own water bottle, coffee mug, cutlery, and reusable shopping bags. I have switched to a largely plant-based diet and am passionate about conserving water and energy at home. I diligently segregate waste, compost, and use only organic cleaning products. It is also very rewarding to see my son enjoying the presence of birds and butterflies on our biodiverse balcony.
As for fashion, over time, sustainable labels have begun to make more sense to me, and as a mother, I am also very conscious of the kind of products I buy for my son. In my new role as an eco-investor, I am also backing sustainable brands like Beco, Shumee, Greendigo, and Allter.
DS: Your home is called a nature’s paradise tucked away in the hustle and bustle of Mumbai. Tell us a bit about it and your favourite corner in the house where you feel closer to nature. (Did you get help in designing it or did you do it yourself?)
DM: The first thing that drew me to my home was its beautiful community garden, where decades later I got married to Vaibhav. I get a lot of joy when I spend time here with Avyaan amid flowering plants and old, sheltering trees, as he tries to befriend bees and butterflies and squeals happily.
At home, my favourite spot is the window seat, where I spend a lot of time with my son, looking out at the balcony overflowing with bird chatter and the colours of spring.
Mirza sitting by the window with her son. (Photo: Instagram)
Over the years, I have changed the spaces in the home to make them more free-flowing and to let in more natural light. I have been closely involved with all the design decisions, and my home, if I may say so, is a harmonious blend of earthy, warm textures of old wood and brick, lots of sunlight, many open-hearted spaces, and lots of happy memories.
DS: You’re also pretty vocal on social media. How do you think social networking platforms can be used to amplify climate change concerns in the long run?
DM: It is very important for me to use any platform I have access to for a larger purpose, and so I use my voice to amplify climate conversations and promote sustainable living practices and green initiatives. When I invite a young changemaker like Afroz Shah to discuss the impact of his beach cleaning initiatives, I do so in the hope that many more people will join him. It is also very rewarding to see widespread engagement with posts that could be about the need to protect snow leopards or the far-reaching impact of single-use plastics. Social media also allows me to connect with individuals, organisations, and experts from all over the world and create a larger audience for climate-related questions and possible solutions.
DS: Apart from being a warrior for the environment, you’re also a mother. As you witness your child growing up, does it intensify your desire to “fix” Earth so he can grow up in a green and clean world? Do you have a moment of breakdown when you read news of destruction caused by natural disasters?
DM: In 2020, I read that microplastic particles had been discovered in the placentas of unborn babies! The pandemic was yet another reminder that, as a race, we are teetering on the brink of an environmental calamity. I can also see the impact of pollution in the air that our children breathe and how our food chain and water cycles are being vitiated by pollutants. So yes, as a mother and an Earth citizen, I feel concerned and anxious.
I want Avyaan and Samaira to inherit a sustainable, healthy planet, so I transform my anxiety into positive action and remind myself that every small step we take today towards protecting the environment can make a real difference to the future of our children.
DS: In your climate change awareness, you have especially urged the younger generation to be part of the movement, rightfully highlighting that they are the future of earth. Education being key to change, do you think schools should add climate change to their curriculum? If yes, what should be the areas of focus and how do you think it will impact the future of this planet?
DM: Greta Thunberg was just 15 when she became aware of the enormity of the climate crisis and started ‘Fridays for Future’, a global climate strike movement. Today, youth leaders like her are reminding governments, policymakers, and big businesses all over the world that tomorrow is too late and they must take action now to secure the future of the planet. So yes, climate education can bridge knowledge gaps and empower children to stand up for their right to breathe clean air and to inherit a greener planet. Education is key to creating awareness and driving change, and by integrating climate change into the curriculum, we can provide students with the knowledge and tools necessary to become responsible Earth citizens. The areas of focus could include the causes and effects of climate change, the role of human activities in exacerbating the issue, and potential solutions and mitigation measures. In addition, schools should also highlight the importance of sustainability and environmental stewardship and encourage students to adopt eco-friendly practices in their daily lives and become agents of change in their communities and beyond.
DS: But first it starts with home. So how can parents imbibe green values in their kids?
DM: Children learn by watching what we do, and we must embody the values we want to teach them. If I choose to not litter or segregate waste and am passionate about not wasting food, water, or electricity, my children will automatically imbibe at least some of these earth-friendly habits. If my mother, for instance, had not been so passionate about gardening, I may never have learned to love the earth as much as I do now. And now I am passing this love on to my son, who is happiest when he is around nature.
He thanks Mama Earth for every sip of water and every bite of his food he consumes and already knows that everything he enjoys is a gift from nature. I hope the love and gratitude he already feels will inspire him to make mindful choices as he grows up.
DS: As long as there’s no accountability, it seems as if people aren’t ready to take responsibility towards Earth’s health. Do you think it’s high time that we start suing or implementing fines under international law against countries that fail to slow down climate change?
DM: Climate accountability is a complex global issue, and it’s important to recognise that we cannot save the planet by pointing fingers, but yes, we must demand accountability, not just from corporations but also from developed nations. In 2021, I read a New York Times report stating that 23 rich industrialised countries are responsible for 50 percent of all historical emissions. This is why they have a larger responsibility to both cut down on their greenhouse gas emissions and financially support developing countries to replant damaged crops, rebuild infrastructure destroyed by extreme climate events, and transition to cleaner energy options. Currently, people in developing nations, who have contributed least to the climate crisis, are the most vulnerable to its impacts.
Even though the Paris Agreement was a global pact to combat climate change, as the recent IPCC report shows, the world seems to be on the path to exceed 1.5°C of warming within the next decade. Unless wealthy countries course-correct and take major steps towards reducing their carbon footprint, it will be hard to find quick climate solutions. At the governance level as well, we need a more stringent implementation of environmental laws. Finally, we must hold ourselves accountable too and educate ourselves about how our choices are impacting the planet.
DS: As someone who has spent a huge chunk of her career in the glamour world and film industry, what are the changes you think we need to implement to make fashion sustainable?
DM: In 2020, the World Economic Forum stated that the fashion industry produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions, which is more than the combined emissions emitted by all international flights and maritime shipping. And just recently, I read how the Atacama Desert in northern Chile has turned into one of the world’s fastest-growing wastelands of discarded fast fashion. The United Nations correctly terms this an environmental and social emergency for the planet. My awareness of this issue has increased over the years, and I have begun to familiarise myself with the ecological footprints of brands and explore concepts like circularity and upcycling. I largely wear slow fashion brands that are as passionate about sustainability as I am.
Dia Mirza snapped during her first visit to the CWRC in Assam.
In India, we have always had the traditional wisdom to weave sustainable fabrics, use natural dyes, and use embellishment techniques that lasted a very long time. We may have lost the plot for some time, but now I see a growing movement of sustainable practices with young designers creating innovative fabrics from waste and even plastic. What’s encouraging is that even mainstream designers are recognising the need to do better and are shifting towards more conscious ways of manufacturing, producing, and retailing. By embracing a circular economy, we can create a more ethical and sustainable fashion industry for end users and the planet.
DS: Looking back at your life, if not an actor, what would you have chosen as a career path?
DM: Acting has been a huge part of my life, and it’s hard to imagine any other creative path. With time, however, life has taken on many new dimensions. As an actor, I love working on projects that have important human stories to tell, but I am also equally passionate about the environment, and I now work with children, young people, climate warriors, and organisations to protect our wildlife, biodiversity, oceans, and forests. I am grateful that I have this platform to talk about the causes I believe in. During this journey, I have had the opportunity to learn more about environmental issues and to meet incredible people who are fighting to protect our planet. As a result, I too have become a better advocate for the earth.
DS: What does your role as UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador include?
DM: My scope of work as a UN Environment Goodwill Ambassador & United Nations Secretary-General Advocate for SDGs entails collaborating with organisations and climate warriors all over the world to support initiatives that address environmental challenges and promote conservation. I work to raise awareness about shrinking wildlife habitats, biodiversity loss, the enormity of the plastic waste problem, air and water pollution, etc. I also amplify conversations about climate issues to encourage individual and collective climate action for the sake of a healthier planet.