Sustainable(ish)

My new bible in my ongoing mission to try and make our lifestyle a little bit more sustainable is Jen Gale’s fantastic book The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide: Everything you need to know to make small changes that make a big difference.

With chapters on food, family, travel, plastic waste and consumerism Jen takes the reader step by step through small changes which can make a big difference.

One of the things that particularly appealed to me was that Jen doesn’t take the all-or-nothing approach which can be quite common amongst environmental activists, and which is very off-putting. I remember a post on a local eco-Facebook group where someone asked for recommendations for a local milkman so that her family could switch from plastic to re-useable glass bottles. She was instantly leapt on by several members of the group who berated her for not being vegan and pointing out the vast amounts of carbon emissions created by dairy production. Which is true, but it’s highly unlikely that the original poster is going to convert her entire family to veganism on the say-so of someone who aggressively attacks her on the internet. Far more likely that she gives up her aim to make their dairy consumption as sustainable as possible because it all seems too difficult.

I don’t know who said it first, but it is so true that in order to solve the climate emergency we don’t need a few people to do a lot, we need a LOT of people to do a little. This book encourages you to think what your little could be.

Meat-free Monday? Looking at second-hand options before buying new? Thinking whether you really need an item at all before you buy it? Swapping to recyclable Christmas wrapping paper over the glittery/shiny stuff which has to go to landfill? Doing a weekly meal-plan to avoid food waste? Walking or cycling journeys under two miles (when physically able to do so)? Limiting flights to one return journey every two years? Some of us will already be doing one or more of those, but there are so many ideas and suggestions, all presented in a non-judgemental and accessible way that feels as though you are having a chat with a friend.

One of the other things I love about this book is that the focus on sustainability doesn’t begin and end with our impact on the earth. Jen talks throughout about the problems fast fashion and big food corporations create for our fellow human beings too – workers, often children, in appalling conditions sewing clothes for pence so that we can buy a cheap tee-shirt, or farmers who can’t afford to support their families because the prices for the coffee or cocoa beans they grow have been pushed so low. There are details about ethical clothing brands (and it isn’t necessarily the case that expensive/designer brands always treat makers fairly), and fair-trade goods throughout as well. Trying to live sustainably means trying to live fairly as well.

Finally, Jen talks about how we can use our voices to campaign effectively as well – be that a protest march to Parliament or a letter to our MP or just calling a company’s unsustainable practices out on Twitter.

It’s easy to get depressed by the enormity of the task facing the world. I keep coming back to a quote from the Talmud

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief

Do justly, now.

Love mercy, now.

Walk humbly, now.

You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.

and trying to focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t, or giving up because I can’t do everything, or waiting until everyone else is doing it too. It’s really hard! But ultimately, if I am lucky enough to have grandchildren one day, I want to be able to look them in the eye and say that I did the best I could. The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide is an indispensable tool in helping me to do that. And Jen also has a blog and podcast too, for those of you in search of even more inspiration.

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