7 Small Steps Towards Sustainability for 2020
New Year: a time for resolutions, soul-searching and ‘big decisions’.
We usually think of New Year as a chance to better ourselves: work harder, drink less, lose weight, or to finally take out that gym membership you’ve been telling yourself you’d get once the Christmas feasting is over.
We are no exception when it comes to the unrealistically lengthy lists of personal promises (though admittedly, our resolutions mostly involve books we intend to read in the year, rather than the promise of weekly exercise). However, this year we want to think more externally and consider the steps we can make to have a more positive impact on our environment.
While our own small changes this year may only have a tiny impact on the environment, we think that if everyone sets a couple of ‘global’ resolutions alongside their usual ‘personal’ ones this year, we can make a greater overall impact.
We have seven priorities this year:
1. Less waste
Following the indulgence of Christmas Day feasting, with the excitement from unwrapping presents beginning to subside, and with New Year celebrations looming, it’s natural to feel a little scared about waste: all that unfinished food that ended-up in the bin; the scattered remains of crackers and wrapping paper finally cleared away; the first (of three) trips to the glass-recycling bank completed.
More than any other time of the year, the excess of Christmas and New Year prick our consciences, so it makes sense for this to form the basis for our first resolution. There are many ways to reduce the amount of waste we create on a daily basis. Reusing packaging and finding refill and zero-waste shops in your local area can seriously reduce the amount of packaging that finds its way into your recycling and rubbish bins. Leftover food can enjoy a second life as delicious new meals – or for making stocks – which both help to save money and make the most of the planet’s resources. Clothing and jewellery can be repaired or repurposed instead of being disposed of.
Over the coming months we will be discovering new ways to reduce the amount of waste we are creating, and share what we have learnt in future posts.
2. More thrifting
With fashion being one of most polluting industries in the world, it is becoming increasingly important to look to alternatives when choosing clothing. As someone who has always been enchanted by the world of fashion and who revels in the power of dressing-up, discovering the devastating impact our desire for fast fashion has on our environment is a hard pill to swallow. Nevertheless, given the harsh reality of dyes polluting river ecosystems and the horrifying carbon footprint of clothing as it travels around the world, it is something we can no longer ignore. Add to this the human cost of a delocalised global industry and the hidden abuses of those at the bottom of the supply chain, we feel an urgent need to re-evaluate the way we shop. The lack of transparency from large retailers means that we as consumers are often unwitting accomplices in an increasingly corrupt business model.
Therefore, this year we want to start taking our money elsewhere: either looking for ethically sourced goods, such as furniture and furnishings from artisans with transparent local supply chains; or buying second hand, thrifted and vintage clothing and items, thus depriving the huge high-street chains of our money where possible.
We are only on the start of this journey: there is a lot of research to do, and we have to change our mentalities about fashion. Over the coming months we will be sure to update the blog on this journey, as well as investigating the environmental cost of fashion in more detail, and updating you on our successes and errors.
3. More local and seasonal
Supporting local businesses has always been an important issue for us. However, as we learn more about the impact of international shipping on the environment, and the human and animal rights violations hidden in our corporate supply chains, this desire has taken on a new urgency.
While it’s certainly not true that buying locally always has a positive impact on your environment (think of the energy it must take to heat greenhouses in the UK to grow tomatoes out-of-season), finding trusted, local suppliers of seasonal produce can make a significant impact on your personal carbon footprint. Building a relationship and spending money with local farmers and producers you helps support the type of industry you approve of, while making less-environmentally-friendly activities less financially viable.
Therefore, this year, in order to try to reduce the environmental impact of our food, we want to prioritise buying locally – getting to know the people we buy from, prioritising local seasonal food and exploring the range of ingredients and recipes from our area. There is a lot we don’t know about these topics, but we will share what we discover in future posts.
4. Less meat
As with the clothing industry, one of the most problematic aspects of our food industry is the complexity of the supply-chain. As well as the environmental and human impact, the other victims of the lack of transparency in our food supply chains are animals.
Aside from concerns about animal rights, everyone would agree that animal welfare within our food chain should be a priority. When we try to imagine our meat supply-chain, we often naively imagine small local farms and family butchers, when in reality the chain is far larger and more complicated. With supply-chains so complex that even supermarkets don’t understand what they are selling and where it has been, it is little surprise that consumers remain in the dark about slipping standards and abuses.
For these reasons – and many others – we have decided one of the best steps towards having a less negative impact on our environment will be to continue to reduce the quantity of meat we consume, and being especially conscious of welfare issues when we do choose to eat meat. This means only buying organic and high-welfare meat, forming relationships with local, honest farmers, and learning as much as possible about standards and practices; all of which will make appearances on our blog throughout the year.
5. Fewer chemicals
Jars and cleaned-out bottles are accumulating in various cupboards in the kitchen, in readiness for another New Year promise: to start making our own kitchen and household cleaning products. There is a growing interest in making shampoos, surface cleaners, and even cosmetics in an attempt to decrease the amount of plastic waste we produce and to reduce the quantity of harmful chemicals we come into contact with on a daily business. We believe this is an important simple step towards being more sustainable.
Armed with an assortment of books with concoctions to try – from coloured lip-balms and deodorants, to limescale remover and toilet cleaner – we plan to not only reduce waste and save money, but also find eco-friendly alternatives to shop-bought chemicals that is as good for the environment as it is for our bodies.
6. More gardening
For the last two years we have been growing some of our own vegetables in order to reduce our dependence on supermarkets and better understand the seasonality of British food.
Currently, we have 4 small beds with a variety of herbs, including mint, rosemary, bay, sage and chives, and vegetables such as courgettes, French beans, leeks, cabbages and tomatoes. We also had a bumper crop from our fig tree last year, as well as a disappointing harvest from our lone plum tree.
In 2020, we are planning to extend our range of home-grown food, as well as working out how to cycle our beds to enjoy all year produce. We are absolute novices when it comes to gardening, so there will be much trial and error (all of which will be documented here on our blog), and we will firmly have our noses in a variety of gardening books and blogs to help us out. Any help and advice is gladly welcome!
7. More foraging
With so much free food on our doorstep, it seems silly to be buying wild, seasonal British foods in a supermarket. Foraging offers a natural and sustainable alternative to the import and export of international produce. By foraging responsibly, you maintain a balance with nature, making as little disturbance to the environment from which you take from, taking only what you need, while leaving plenty for others and for the plants to continue to thrive. Employing this small seasonal step towards sustainability also allows us to explore new recipes, and new ways of thinking about food – an adventure we are extremely excited about.
Obviously, we have a lot to learn. We are constantly being bombarded by conflicting information from experts explaining which lifestyles have a beneficial effect on the planet, which industries are damaging the environment, which ingredients have a lower carbon footprint, and which chemicals are harmful for wildlife. As we’ve noticed above, the truth is always more complicated than newspaper headlines and advertisers would have you believe.
With this in mind, we have been compiling a reading list for 2020, which includes books, articles and blogs that will be helping us throughout the year. We have included this at the bottom of this post, and will be updating this in the ‘Reading List’ section of our blog.
So, 2020 is going to be an exciting year of learning new things, discovering new skills and trying new ingredients and recipes, and these resolutions will be forming a major theme for our posts in 2020. We are looking forward to sharing these sustainability steps with you over the coming months.
Resources for the year:
Lucy Siegle, To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? (Fourth Estate, 2011)
More local and seasonal:
Lia Leendertz, The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2020 (Mitchell Beazley, 2019)
Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals (Penguin, 2009)
‘Animals Farmed’ journalism series from The Guardian
Green Clean: Eco-Friendly Cleaning for the Home (L&K Designs)
Rebecca Sullivan, The Art of the Natural Home (Kyle Books, 2017)
Carol Klein, Grow Your Own Veg (Mitchell Beazley, 2007)
Alys Fowler, The Edible Garden: How to Have Your Garden and Eat It (BBC Books, 2010)
Alan Buckingham, Allotment: Month by Month (Dorling Kindersley, 2009)
Gill Meller, Gather: Everyday Seasonal Recipes from a Year in Our Landscapes (Quadrille, 2016)
Richard Mabey, Food for Free (HarperCollins, 2012)
John Wright, Mushrooms – River Cottage Handbook No.1 (Bloomsbury, 2007)
John Wright, Hedgerow – River Cottage Handbook No.7 (Bloomsbury, 2010)
Mike Berners-Lee, There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years (Cambridge University Press, 2019)