E N V I R O N M E N T A L I S M
Whilst updating my archives it occurred to me it’d been a long time since I’d last touched upon the topic of sustainability. Perhaps intimated by such a complex topic – a topic I can no longer access with ease through university journals; staying up to date with innovation and changes in the conversation – I’d eased off and left it to “the experts”.
Who these experts were I don’t know, but recently I’ve considered my silence on this issue as pretty useless. Especially as it’s a topic so rarely touched upon by blogs. Whilst I don’t hold the most expertise, my perspective as an enthusiastic everyday-kinda-environmentalist is still worth airing. So here it is: a few thoughts on how I’m trying to live sustainably…
P E R S P E C T I V E & P R I N C I P L E S
What I most notably took away from my university course, was an understanding of the cyclical nature of our world. We go from Spring to Summer to Autumn to Winter; day to night; a round planet going round the sun. We breathe in and out; our blood travelling round our bodies. And everything that comes out of the ground, decomposes back into it. In the words of The Lion King, “it’s the circle of life”.
When it comes to living sustainably, I look at it in much the same way. What’s coming in and what’s going out. What am I purchasing and consuming? And what’s being chucked out; what’s going in the bin?
Whether it’s clothing, food, furniture, toiletries, technology or fuel for my car; the resources used to make these materials have been mined or grown or manufactured. They’ve been taken from the earth and I need to consider how easily they’re going to go back. Can these items biodegrade? Can they easily be recycled? For how long do I intend on using and then re-using them? Are they going to end up in landfill or the atmosphere? What does me consuming these items mean for both future generations as well as the world today?
Here’s something of a breakdown…
T R A V E L
Living in Cornwall – out in the sticks, away from public transport – I’m entirely dependant on my car. I should say that a starting point I take, in trying to be sustainable, is accepting my limitations; accepting there’s often no perfect solution and the answer tends to involve compromise or damage limitation.
As such I try to limit my journeys. I’m lucky that I currently work from home, so I don’t have to commute each day. But I also recognise this is going to be different for everyone, depending on where you live, what transport options are open to you, where you work, where you’d need to go for groceries, etc. There’s really no one size fits all solution.
For me, I use my car when I have to and occasionally just because I want to. I adore travelling by train but rarely have the opportunity and increasingly find it hard to justify the cost. When it comes to aeroplanes and international travel (although again the opportunity rarely presents itself) I’ve set myself a boundary of only flying every-other-year at most.
Travel is a tricky area when it comes to the environment. Hopefully, in the future, electric cars charged by renewable energy will become an affordable option. Equally, it’d be great to see public transport (and ideally international travel) move in that direction.
C L O T H I N G
Since graduating (and basically needing “work-wear” and not wanting to have to buy a whole new bunch of clothes) I’ve been looking at things like capsule wardrobes, minimalism and project 333. In essence, trying to make my wardrobe more efficient; making the items I own, work harder for longer; covering more occasions and ideally sustaining me for the next five to ten years.
In my current clothe-purchasing habits, I’ve developed a mindset of ‘My Wardrobe is a Museum’. I see it as a curated collection, open to the public, that exists within a limited space. I only have so many hangers, so what’s worth keeping or collecting? If I’m considering making a purchase, I ask myself “would I put this in my museum” and I find my mind is quite quickly made up.
Equally, there are brands that bare ethics and the environment in mind: People Tree, Reformation, Thoreau, Anekdot, Doen, Raven & Lilly & Aiayu. There’s no denying these brands cost more than your average high street shop. But as I buy less, I find I’m also willing to pay a little more for those items that do make it in – as they say, quality over quantity.
T O I L E T R I E S
There’s toothpaste, deodorant, moisturiser, make-up, soaps, hair dye, face washes, bubble baths, spot treatments, styling products – the list goes on. When thinking about how to make ethical or environmental choices with toiletries it can seem overwhelming. Shelves are filled with aerosols and ingredient lists entirely made up of chemicals that look like typing errors. It’s tricky to figure out.
Maybe start by making your own? It can seem daunting to create something that till now seemed so scientific, but you would be surprised at what you could whip up with ingredients already in your kitchen cupboards. To get started I’d recommend giving Hello Glow a visit, this blog is full of natural toiletry how-to’s as well as other tips and tricks for green living.
Alternatively, for all ethical-toiletry-newbies who don’t fancy getting crafty or putting in hours of brand research, I would point you in the direction of Lush. At the heart of all their work is this idea of creating products that don’t harm animals, people or the environment. They’re transparent about what’s going into each item, do their best to provide recyclable packaging and if you take your empty tubs back into store (since you can’t put them in your recycling) they reuse them and give you free face mask as a thank you. Also, did I mentioned Lush products have genuinely transformed my thin, oily hair? Seriously there’s a good reason why these guys are so highly-rated.
But on a side note, as always, work through the products you use and see what changes you can make with the time and money you have. Personally, I purchase a few hair products from Lush but don’t have the budget to get all my toiletries there. Plus my skin is prone to hormonal acne, so I use a few products which treat that but frustratingly they don’t come in recyclable packaging. Like I said the solutions tend to involve compromise and recognising your limits and capacities.
F O O D
Food is something I can get really lazy about. Whilst I’m a stickler for food waste, I’m still prone to nipping into Sainsbury’s, picking up whatever my rumbling belly asks for and only thinking when I’ve gotten home (and likely satisfied said rumbling belly) to look at what the food was packaged in and where it came from.
It’s perhaps an area of environmentalism we’re all familiar with. We know we should buy local and organic; get food with fewer miles and probably cut down or cut out meat altogether. And whilst I still have a way to go on this one, I’m happy to say Matt and I have started growing our veg. An activity we’ve found a surprising amount of joy in!
Also I’m not sure I could easily commit to veganism at the moment, as many vegan products are simply out of my price range and to be honest, non-dairy milk in coffee just isn’t my cup of tea (pun intended). When looking at the meat-free meals Matt and I cook (risotto, pasta, stir-fry, baked potatoes) I realised almost all of them were vegan. So alongside using dairy-free butter, I currently try to make sure at least one (if not two) of my meals in a day are vegan. Admittedly a change that hasn’t been very hard.
T E C H N O L O G Y
This section can be a bit of a toughie – especially since innovation is always happening and I am not well-versed in the area of rare metals and minerals. Plus there’s no easy-environmental answer when it comes to phones, laptops, cameras, etc.
With the extent of my knowledge, the one thing I would recommend looking into is solar panel chargers. Although widely ranging in cost and capacity, you can get some quite easily, for around £20 (not far off the cost of a new iPhone charger) that will be super handy for festivals and camping trips and for days when you’re out and about.
B U D G E T F R I E N D L Y
Unfortunately, at the moment, the “green” option often tends to be the most expensive one. Organic food, vegan alternatives and clothes from environmental companies don’t come cheap. Personally, I know when travelling out of county, it’s a lot cheaper for me to drive than to go by train – even with a 16-25 railcard!
Perhaps over the years with the introduction of supermarkets and fast fashion, our idea of what things should cost has become distorted. But when you’re on a tight budget – when there are bills to pay, mouths to feed, deadlines to meet – paying extra or “going the extra mile” for ethics and the environment, can seem downright exhausting and unachievable. So here are some easier options that will either cost you nothing or save you money…
First up is Reusable Items. Rather than purchasing something disposable when the need strikes you, make a one off purchase. Be it a water bottle, travel mug or Keep Cup; a moon cup, canvas bag or advent calendar. These reusable items will both save you pennies in the long term and save the landfill more waste in the meantime.
Second-Hand Clothing. Whether it’s charity shops, eBay, vintage stores or Depop – there are so many ways you can source pre-owned clothing. Plus if you could do with the extra dollars then selling your clothing online can be pretty lucrative if done right.
Grow some food. Maybe you have a tight budget but a little more time on your hands? Or a desire to get more exercise and spend more time outdoors? Starting a veg patch is a great solution. Last summer Matt and I didn’t buy any vegetables from May to September because our vegetable patch provided us with almost more red onions, beetroot, mange tout and carrots than we could eat! And that’s not even mentioning the scientific benefits of getting your hands (or bare feet) in the earth.
Finally (you probably don’t need to be told this) but walking is free. Time spent outdoors in nature is free – not to mention good for you! Consider replacing your gym membership with your local park or beach or back garden. Surely there’s an irony to using electric and paying money, to do something you could do for free, outdoors?
Okay, I think that’s all my thoughts for now. Please let me know down below if you think I’m missing anything; if there’s anything you do or anything you swear by. When it comes to sustainable, ethical, environmental living, I’m always eager to learn new hacks!