isele Bündchen has made sustainability front and center in every aspect of her life, from her perspective on beauty and fashion to her parenting style, from the causes she champions to the ways in which she uses her platform to make the greatest impact on the planet and her family’s future. Ahead of her 40th birthday, the model/activist—who is also celebrating her 11th anniversary as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) this year—reflects on her commitment to the planet and shares insights into how we can all live a little more mindfully. —Sally Holmes
On Her Dedication to Environmentalism: Nature has always played a significant role in my life, but it wasn’t until I stayed with the Kisêdjê tribe in the Xingu region of the Amazon in 2004 that I realized how nature was being destroyed. It was there that I witnessed firsthand the devastating problems the community faced from the pollution of the river and deforestation. After that, all I knew was that I wanted to help. Since then, I started to support different projects to protect forests and water sources.
A few years later, my father and I did Projeto Água Limpa (Clean Water Project) in my hometown, Horizontina, in southern Brazil. Over the course of five years, we planted more than 40,000 trees and took care of the land until the trees grew strong, which helped improve the water quality and brought amazing wildlife back to the area. Given the forest fires in the Amazon, the bush fires in Australia, and the devastating impact around the world, reforestation efforts are more crucial than ever. I believe our responsibility is to take care of the earth and its natural resources. Our survival depends on it. My goal in life is to leave the earth in a better place for future generations.
On What She's Fighting For: One of my ultimate motivations for working to protect our planet is my children. As a mother, I want them, and their children, to experience the same beautiful, healthy planet I got to experience.
A few years ago, I had the honor of participating and speaking at a meeting of the Global Pact for the Environment, which is a government-led proposal aimed to combine international environmental laws into one binding document. Global warming needs to be met with global action, and it was incredibly humbling to be there as a UNEP ambassador and talk with many others who are doing their part to make the world a better place. For many years, I didn’t know what my voice was or how to use it, so to be speaking alongside world leaders about a cause I am deeply passionate about is really motivating.
On Practicing Sustainability at Home: I always keep in mind and teach my kids the three Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. This straightforward approach allows us to work toward simple, alternative, eco-friendly processes in our everyday lives that can make a big difference. My family tries to focus on limiting the use of paper and plastic at home. We utilize a water filter and reusable water bottles and compost all our natural food waste. When we go grocery shopping, we always bring our own bags, and by buying from local farmers we reduce packaging waste. We do our best, but it can be challenging when it comes to living completely green—and that’s OK. I always remind my kids that every choice we make has an impact on our planet and that we always need to try our best; that’s what matters.
On Talking to Her Children About Sustainability: I try to lead by example in my daily life and teach my children about all the incredible things that our planet provides us. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our planet; this is our only home. As a mother, I cherish the moments we get to spend in nature and learn together by doing. I love seeing my kids get excited when they find fresh eggs in our chicken coop or harvest the vegetables from our garden.
As a family, we also each have our reusable water bottles, and the kids understand single-use plastic is really hurting our planet. I see them talking with their friends about it and showing them their water bottles in hopes they might join them and use them too. It makes me so proud to see them eager to share it with their friends. Although a simple, small gesture, this is what it’s all about: having positive conversations, taking a solutions-oriented approach, and learning from one another.
One story that I can remember is when we were at the beach and my son Benny found plastic in the ocean. He was so upset, and I explained to him that this is what happens after we discard things; they go to landfills and sometimes end up in the ocean. For the past couple of years, he decided that he did not want presents from his friends at his birthday party. Instead, he would like if they could donate to organizations that help endangered species.
On Parenting: My main focus with my children is to try to lead by example. Growing up, I was teased a lot because of my height. I was taller than all the boys and girls in my class, and some of the words my classmates said to me were hurtful and embarrassing. It took me many years to realize that my peers and the words they said did not have the power to define me unless I let them. Words have the power to inspire, to hurt, to motivate. I try to show my kids how words have so much power and to use them with care. If they don’t have anything loving to say, then they shouldn’t say anything; each person is special in his or her own way, and everybody has something unique to add to this world. We are all here to learn and grow.
On Her Approach to Diet: I find balance is key to maintaining a healthy diet. At our house, we try to eat organic foods that are in season and locally grown. We believe that by buying locally, we’ll have a better chance at getting foods that are fresh and also support local farmers. We eat mostly a plant-based diet. It makes us feel good, and it also has less of an impact on the environment, but I’m not super strict and believe everything is OK in moderation. My ultimate guilty pleasure is dark chocolate.
I recently executive-produced a documentary called Kiss the Ground that shows how our health and the health of our planet are deeply connected. Scientists say if current rates of degradation continue, all of the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years of harvests. Kiss the Ground [which makes its film-festival debut at Tribeca Film Festival in April, timed to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day] focuses on the concept of regenerative agriculture, a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soil, and improves water quality. The film does a beautiful job of educating while providing simple solutions and invites viewers to participate in the movement. It showcases how the soil and the ground we walk on are the foundation of everything and the way we use it affects our planet as a whole. What we consume and how we consume it has a direct effect on the planet; I try to be as mindful of this as I can.
On Technology: Our family tries to limit the amount of screen time. Technology and social media can be a wonderful platform to spread positivity and awareness, but I do believe it is important to stay present and mindful of how it is used. The kids have an iPad where they can sometimes watch movies or play games, but they do have a time limit on that. I encourage them to play together and be outside as much as possible. When they tell me they are bored, I tell them that is good, because this way they can think of something else that they want to do. Usually within a few minutes they are running after each other around the house in some game they made up. Benny can also spend hours at his desk drawing, and Vivi plays in her room with her horses and Care Bears. In our home, we don’t have electronics at the table or in bed. This is a time we use to reconnect and catch up about our day. I do, however, understand the value in the connection that technology can bring as long as it is used in moderation.
On Greener Fashion: I am optimistic about the fashion industry becoming more sustainable. Some fashion brands are shifting to use sustainable fabrics and being thoughtful in their approach to production, but there is still a lot of work to be done. The fashion industry has the power to be a leader on a global scale and allocate resources toward the use of natural ingredients, sustainable materials, naturals dyes, and much more. Some fashion houses have started to incorporate real change. It’s my hope that more designers and brands will follow.
On Her Love of Nature: Growing up in rural Brazil, I was fortunate to always be in very close contact with nature. If my sisters and I were hungry, we would run outside and grab fruit from the trees in our backyard. If we wanted to play, we would run around barefoot in the grass or visit my grandmother’s garden. I was happiest with my feet in the sand on family trips to the beach or when I would climb up on a tree and sit there for awhile, watching the world from that perspective. I also learned so much about having an appreciation for nature from my grandmother. She ate mostly what she grew in her backyard and was the person who showed me the cycle of nature and the unbelievable journey a seed goes on before it ends up on our plates.
Being in nature is so healing to me; it brings me peace and balance.
On Mindfulness In Her Daily Routines: My routine certainly varies, as we travel a lot, but I usually start the day by taking a few deep breaths, doing a few stretches, and meditating. I love to exercise early in the morning when I can. Meditation allows me to calm and clear my mind, and exercise helps me feel energized.
We use a family calendar that helps keep things organized so I can be more effective with my time. This way, I get to do all I need to do as well as spend time with my family. I also feel it’s important to take a little time alone every morning and night to check in with yourself.
On Staying Centered: Learning to focus my mind has helped me achieve a sense of inner balance in my life. My goal in any situation is to allow myself to be fully present, as our well-being depends on connecting our mind, body, and spirit.
Yoga and meditation have become such helpful practices for allowing me to stay centered and balanced. Both bring me clarity and peace. I use this precious time to reflect and refocus on the things that are important to me. Breathing in itself is incredibly calming. Pranayama breathing in particular has changed my life.
I have realized that by working on keeping myself balanced, I have become more confident and I have strengthened my relationship with myself. It took me a while to find this inner balance. For a long time while I was in the public eye, I didn’t know who the real me was, but throughout the years I have been able to use these mindfulness practices to really evaluate myself and embark on a journey of self-discovery. I know that today I am happier because of it.
On Beauty: My beauty philosophy has always been “less is more,” which is something I learned from my mother early on. When I was growing up, she didn’t wear much makeup, and I feel I got that trait from her. Of course, I love wearing makeup from time to time, and the ritual of applying beauty products is a way of caring for yourself. I like natural products and try to align with beauty brands that are making a conscious effort to recognize the impact they have on our environment and look for ways to improve. I’ve recently worked with Dior on its Capture Totale line, and I am so happy about the company’s efforts to incorporate natural ingredients. I always have more to learn, but I am inspired by brands working to further the important message of sustainability. It is a step in the right direction.
On Fitness: I love any type of exercise that I can do outdoors; horseback riding, biking, and skiing are some of my favorite ways to stay active and connect with nature. Not only do these activities help me stay in shape, but they help in giving me clarity and perspective. Being active fuels my body, mind, and soul. It just makes me happy.
On Wellness: One of my favorite wellness practices is aromatherapy. I love using lavender essential oil in particular to help me peacefully drift off to sleep. Peppermint oil is also great when I have a headache; a drop on my temples usually does the trick. Eucalyptus encourages relaxation and recovery. Essential oils come straight from the earth to strengthen health and amplify well-being. I also feel that what we eat, think, and do has a huge impact on our health. Because of that, I am very aware of what types of foods, thoughts, conversations, and people I invite into my life.
This article originally appears in the April 2020 issue of Marie Claire.