We've all said it at some point in our lives:
'New year, new me.'
I certainly won't be the first to admit that these promises of self-betterment rapidly lose their meaning by the time spring comes around. Perhaps we're prone to over-promising; somehow believing that flicking over the last page of the calendar is all the motivation you'll need to drop a waist size, become more organised, the list goes on. Maybe, on the other hand, we just don't believe in our resolutions enough? After all, I'm comfortable with the way I look and pizza is way too addictive to give up. Resolutions aren't always easy to keep.
In the case that you're still struggling to think of your resolution for 2021, I'd love to take the opportunity to suggest 5 small changes you can make to your life that could add up to make a huge difference to the planet.
1) Minimise Packaging
Easier said than done right? When I studied environmental sciences as part of my Business degree at the University of Exeter, I was quickly introduced to a book called 'Cradle to Cradle' by Michael Braungart and William McDonough. Despite using it in the context of academic writing, I wouldn't classify it as academic literature - instead, it's highly accessible and presents fantastic cases on its key concept: sustainability must start at the point of design.
By this, it's meant that in order to achieve a sustainable circular economy, products must be designed and produced with sustainability in mind. You may think that recycling is a sustainable practice, although recycling is oftentimes part of a linear economy. For example, if you buy one of your favourite soft drinks in a plastic bottle, you may think that it's okay because you're going to recycle it when you're done with it. However, the quality of that plastic will degrade each time you recycle it - to the point where it no longer becomes usable, ultimately with the same fate as if you never recycled the bottle in the first place: it will end up as plastic in a landfill or in the ocean. Whilst I'm certainly not discouraging you from recycling - it is an effective way to prolong the life of the planet's finite resources - I would encourage you to consider your substitutes first. Buy your drink in aluminium or glass, and drive the demand for these alternatives - single use plastics will only become obsolete once the demand for them becomes obsolete.
You may be thinking that there isn't always a plastic-free option for everything, and you're totally right. It's infuriating. The passive approach would be to say 'that's a shame' and hope that one day it gets better, although I encourage you to become active and reach out to manufacturers through email or social media, asking them to reconsider their packaging. Alternatively, you may have a zero-waste shop in your town, we're certainly lucky enough to neighbour Zero. These are a fantastic way to minimise waste for essential grocery items whilst supporting independent businesses.
2) Support Sustainable Fashion
2020 was the 'year of doom' for many fast fashion retailers. Most notably, Arcadia - parent company of the high street titan 'Topshop' went into administration. This was largely due to the fact that online fashion retailers had made the fast fashion industry incredibly competitive; prices were so cheap, that manufacturers were challenged on whether their overseas workforces were being exploited. To me, this re-emphasised another characteristic of the volatile fast fashion industry: it simply is not sustainable. Not for business, not for the planet. Each year, fast fashion contributes to more carbon emissions than all of the worlds flights put together. Worse yet, it was found in 2014 that people were keeping clothes for half as long as they would have a few years before. Instead of bogging you down with heaps of boring data, I encourage you to conduct a little research as it is incredibly important to understand the impacts of how you live your life.
So, what can you do to stop supporting such a destructive industry? There are two main ways that I can suggest:
Firstly, you could do a little research into ethical/sustainable clothing brands and/or shops. We share a street with Sancho's who do an amazing range of sustainable clothing brands. They also won Independent High Street Shop of the Year so they're 100% worth your time if you'd like a great place to start. We also couldn't write this blog post without mentioning our good friends:
A super talented, South West-based silversmith who specialises in making nature-inspired jewellery; predominantly using recycled silver and sea glass to bring her creations to life.
A new Exeter-based fashion brand, with every single detail of their beautiful clothing lines scrutinised to be as sustainable as possible; the result of a project that has been ongoing for years. Nothing has been rushed here!
Proof that 2020 wasn't a bad year for everyone, House of Bean is a tiny operation based in Brighton. Last year, their popularity exploded - focusing on quality over quantity. Their clothing drops have proved to be instant-sellout events. That makes us feel extra lucky for them to have made time for us, going above and beyond, creating exclusive clothing lines for our shop.
An alternative way you can engage in slow fashion is by buying and selling second hand clothes. I would argue that there are already enough clothes on the planet to last humans centuries - in this respect, the recent obsession with fast fashion seems redundant. Charity shops are a fantastic way of finding wardrobe-fillers, extending the life of pre-worn clothing, saving you money and you're supporting a charity - how can you argue with that?
Right, I'm happy to admit that it can sometimes take a lot of effort and perseverance to find those hidden gems in charity shops. Instead, visit vintage shops or online marketplaces where it can be a lot easier to find great clothes - although you will most likely be paying more as someone's essentially 'found' it for you... supporting each other is still a better option than supporting CEOs of fast fashion corporations in my opinion.
3) Leave the Car Keys at Home
I can appreciate that this suggestion is hardly ground-breaking, although I'm including it in this list as its something I benefited from in 2020. I used to rely on my car pretty heavily, until I invested in a e-bike last year for my daily commute and more. It's pretty common knowledge for most people that cars are responsible for a huge amount of carbon emissions and other nasty greenhouse gases. If you're anything like me, that dream of owning a Tesla doesn't seem to be coming true anytime soon (unless Elon starts hearing my prayers). The electric bike I bought seems to be the next best thing for about 1% of the price - and they may be getting even cheaper thanks to new government subsidies. If you work for a larger company, you can even buy one tax-free if your company supports a cycle to work scheme. I don't have any figures on how much I'm reducing my emissions by, but I do know that I'm saving £80/month on fuel as well as getting cheaper insurance premiums. In a year where I expect to be a bit more frugal, this is always a welcome benefit from being more 'green'. Of course, your commute may be beyond a cycling distance; instead you could consider calling any car journey less than 2 miles as a walkable distance and see whether you reduce any unnecessary car journeys this year.
As a side note, push bikes are just as good as e-bikes - I'm just unfit!
4) Eat Sustainably
There's a fantastic interactive tool that I found on a BBC article where somebody (with a lot of brains and a lot of time) made it easy to see the impact of your diet on the planet, with particular focus on carbon emissions. I always recommend it to people, as I find it's far more effective for someone to find information for themselves rather than be told by someone else. If you're enjoying this blog post too much to want to look away, the low-down is that red meat contributes about 80 times more greenhouse gases than their plant-based alternatives. Farmed fish creates 4 times less CO2 than red meat, and chicken a bit less than that (although still over 12 times more than plant-based alternatives). Despite being plant-based myself - I'm tentative to use the word 'vegan' as it can be quite divisive - this isn't an ambush to try to persuade you to stop eating animal products.
I, like many others on plant-based diets, feel let down by those who feel the need to guilt you into changing an integral part of your lifestyle. Instead, like with fast fashion, driving, single use plastics, etc. I would just like to encourage you to do your research so that you're aware of the impacts of your diet. If you would like to make changes to it to become more sustainable, then don't feel the need to avoid all animal-based foods. Instead, try reducing your red meat consumption and try eating line-caught fish rather than farmed fish. If you would like to try something new, try introducing plant-based days into your diet. I'll be sharing some of my favourite recipes in future blog posts.
5) Do Your Research
Do I sound like a stuck record by this point? Perhaps it's a bit of a cop-out... or maybe it's a good resolution that ties up all of my previous suggestions in a neat little package. I was hardly a model academic during my time at university, but I found that being empowered to conduct my own research led to me being able to find out about my own unsustainable practices. I don't believe anything will ever be as powerful as educating yourself with the abundance of information currently available. That being said, with so much unfiltered information out in the world, it's really important that you're able to distinguish between good and bad information. Consider the agenda of the article and whether there may be biases and make sure to always follow data to its original source.
Hopefully, with the right information, you'll be able to find ways to improve yourself for the planet and for future generations. There is always room for improvement. This year, I'll be offsetting my carbon emissions and will be working with suppliers to reduce waste.
What will your resolution be?