Feeling overwhelmed about living sustainably? It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.
We asked a few busy entrepreneurs, moms, and eco-leaders how they prioritize making sustainable choices in their lives & businesses.
It can be daunting trying to make changes on an individual level when we know what’s at stake. But rather than feeling discouraged, it’s better to give ourselves some grace, so that we can find small yet meaningful ways to live our lives in tune with the planet.
Lucy Ashman is the Belize-raised founder and botanical alchemist of Tierra & Lava, inspired by her life long passion for healthy environment and the natural beauty and biodiversity of Central America. Combining her certified nutrition education and peer-reviewed scientific studies with traditional Mayan healing practices, she creates skincare using only the purest form of whole plants and minerals, honoring the integrity of each ingredient with her source-to-skin philosophy.
Haley Jain Haggerstone
Haley Jain Haggerstone is the Partnerships Manager for Sustainable Surf / SeaTrees and has spent most of her career working with environmental nonprofits. She's also been a corporate social responsibility consultant for several companies where she managed nonprofit partnerships, corporate philanthropy, employee engagement, and sustainability initiatives.
Natalie Kathleen was a fierce high-heeled New Yorker when she founded Jibs in 2015. She was on a mission to make a shoe that could keep up, that wouldn’t slow her down, that could join her on a journey to squeeze life out of every moment while blending her passion for shoes with a love of travel, adventure and fashion.
Elizabeth Grojean is a seeker. After 15 years searching for fulfillment through career, in 2018, she detached from life in the city to look within. A year spent traveling to Bali focused on meditation and healing led her to embrace a new way of living, one founded on connection, generosity, and mindfulness. On that foundation, she created Baloo Living and launched her first product, Baloo's weighted blanket. Made with premium, breathable materials and thoughtful design, Baloo Living is inspired by our bodies' innate balance and natural healing ability.
Can you tell us what inspired you to choose a career in sustainability/ create your brand?
(Ashman) I grew up in Belize where I was surrounded by nature. I used to walk home from a school as a child picking up flowers and other plants to create concoctions and potions. I think my love started then. I was raised to have a deep respect for the earth and nature. As a botanical alchemist my knowledge of plants for their medicinal purposes combined with my desire to be sustainable and my deep respect for the Mayan culture and medicinal knowledge, led me to create Tierra and Lava.
(Haggerstone) I surf and snowboard so the ocean and the mountains are my playground. My love for the outdoors and action sports inspired me to protect what I love. The bulk of my career has been working with environmental nonprofits focused on ocean conservation, plastic pollution, and climate change. I’ve also consulted with companies on sustainability initiatives, environmental and social impact partnerships.
(Kathleen) I would put that down to packing my own lunches for kindergarten! Possibly has something to do with growing up in Vancouver Canada (fun fact: also the hometown of Greenpeace) and with my family and school having amazing “participation awards” for being eco-conscious. This may also have been in the heyday of Tupperware parties, go mom go! Swapping plastic bags for reusable containers - and choosing nutritious whole foods, not overpackaded pre-prepared items - reduced our plastic footprint. Helped that I loved, loved animals and sea animals, so the thought of plastics killing dolphins really stuck.
(Grojean) I took some time off to go to Bali to see what I could learn by going off the beaten path, and while I was there, I chanced to try a weighted blanket. It was so surprisingly and wonderfully relaxing, that I was inspired to share it with people as an experience that reflected the kind of deep relaxing I had been able to do in Bali as a whole. And I saw that there was no option available for people that represented my values of quality, sustainability and care, so I wanted to create something that represented that high level of integrity for this deeply personal experience.
What is it specifically about the work that your brand/organization is doing that inspires you?
(Haggerstone) SeaTrees is focused on planting and protecting blue carbon coastal ecosystems, which are incredibly effective at sequestering carbon. We’re empowering people to be a part of the solution to reversing climate change. I think we’re all tired hearing doom and gloom statistics, which leave us with ecoanxiety and make us feel like we don’t stand a chance. I was inspired by SeaTrees positive approach and focus on nature-based solutions.
(Kathleen) Being able to witness opening people's minds up to change is incredibly inspiring. The vast difference between my first visits to Brazil, compared to my more recent factory tours, there is such a change in how receptive teams are to take action to better the environment. It wasn't even that long ago, in mid 2015, when I went to source new leather tanneries and put my foot down that we must find better solutions for leathers with less harmful impact, that the creative teams really wanted to ignore what I was asking and simply offer the same materials they’ve always had. Then stretch forward quick 5 years and the same tanneries are excitedly presenting to me new materials that are not only reducing harmful chemicals during the tanning process reducing the water usage being created in facilities that pass all sorts of Environmental certifications for Less energy usage, they're able to take advantage of so many Technologies to increase the quality of the materials so that we can offer a same amazing fit and comfort in our product without sacrificing and instead offering so much more with with less impact on the environment.
(Grojean) Hearing from people every day about the difference our blankets make in their lives and their loves ones in terms of their quality of sleep and peace of mind. Knowing that what we’re doing and more importantly the way we’re doing it resonates with people is a virtuous circle that motivates and inspires us to continue.
“We’re empowering people to be a part of the solution to reversing climate change. I think we’re all tired hearing doom and gloom statistics, which leave us with ecoanxiety and make us feel like we don’t stand a chance.”
SeaTrees Mangrove Restoration in Biak, Indonesia
What do you think is the most challenging part of living a sustainable lifestyle as individuals?
(Ashman) I think remembering that it’s an ongoing process and that sometimes you won’t be the best at it and you will feel you should or could be better at it. We live in a world bombarded by plastic waste. It can become overwhelming at times. Sometimes we can only make small changes, but those small changes do matter.
(Haggerstone) Remembering it’s a journey and you should focus on being better not perfect because no one is.
(Kathleen) That is easy, for me it's habits and time. Being sustainable on a day-to-day basis can equally be easy once the habits are formed, yet it definitely takes time to be aware during my natural daily activities of what may not be the most sustainable of efforts - then adjust my habits accordingly. Example: I know I can easily grab for a Ziploc snack baggie to mush a banana for my baby (...omg I have to say, with the new baby this habit+time formula becomes even more present and challenging!) and after those 10 seconds of convenience that plastic goes in the garbage and will end up in a landfill. Yes, it was quick and easy, however along with a very lasting effect on the planet. If I do that everyday, or even multiple times a day, plus multiple people around the world are doing it, there’s a huge impact to our earth. Instead, by using the silicone version of a baggy which I have to wash and dry which takes tenfold the time, there is also nearly no long-term effect on landfills until way, way down the road once the silicon wears down in my kitchen - which then I hope it can be recycled!! Full circle :)
(Grojean) The constant micro decisions that we are faced with as part of living in a system that’s not oriented to support conscious or sustainable choices can become fatiguing.
“We live in a world bombarded by plastic waste. It can become overwhelming at times. Sometimes we can only make small changes, but those small changes do matter.”
Understanding that sustainability is a moving target, what are your goals to continue to improve in the future?
(Ashman) Living in Guatemala has its limits on sourcing packaging materials that truly are sustainable. That’s something we continue to search for improvement on, to be a zero-waste company. Any non-recyclable waste we repurpose into ecobricks which we then use to build borders and walls around our garden.
(Kathleen) Oh yes! A huge driver in my zest for scaling Jibs is that by increasing our production quantities we can gain access to so many more developmental tools and vendors in order to better the materials in nearly every aspect of our shoes. Already some of the larger footwear companies have been extremely supportive with “open sourcing” many of their materials, however even with this, without larger quantities and the budgets supporting the larger quantities, there can still be many barriers for brands to be able to participate. Plus, these developments in materials can take plenty of time to get right for our specific needs, so the sooner we increase our brand awareness, the more Jibs on happy people's feet, the more opportunities we can create for improvement - and alas - the even more brand awareness and Jibs out there using even better sustainable materials… a giant snowball towards reducing fashion and footwear’s huge negative impact on the environment really starts rolling!
What are some changes you’ve made towards a more sustainable lifestyle at home?
(Ashman) In my home, as well in our workshop, we use a solar-powered server for our website and email. We also conserve our water usage on-site by using a ‘loveable loo’ compost bathroom. All of our grey-water is disposed of through a natural filtration system using different stone and gravel before feeding into the property. We also buy second hand as much as possible and shop in the local market mostly in bulk and fresh produce.
(Haggerstone) I’m trying to eat more plant-based foods. I’m also conscious of my consumerism and try to focus on quality over quantity.
(Kathleen) A big one that we've made this year is reducing our usage of plastic water bottles. Sounds easier than it was, as we drink a LOT of water and enjoy both purified still and sparkling. There are amazing systems in place in Germany for re-suing and recycling water bottles however we just haven’t found that here in the USA. However, thanks to so many great recent inventions and design evolutions, we finally found a 5 gallon water dispenser that's absolutely gorgeous and fits in our beautiful kitchen like a piece of art rather than a typical office eyesore! Additionally, our Aarke version of SodaStream seriously may be one of my favorite redesigned kitchen tools ever, so pretty and functional. Win, win.
(Grojean) We’re fortunate that our neighborhood picks up organics so we’ve started sorting our organic kitchen waste and diverting that from the trash. We store it in the freezer until organic pick up day. Cooking at home more has been a welcome change from eating out, and that started when my son was born about 18 months ago. We have beautiful meals that come from simple, vegetarian ingredients, but I have to give my husband credit for that!
Since it is a continuous challenge to make decisions throughout the day to be environmentally conscious, how do you continue to maintain optimism or an empowered mindset when making changes towards a more sustainable lifestyle?
(Ashman) It isn’t always easy, but I think making the daily choice to be sustainable keeps me optimistic and at the same time realistic. I think going back to the idea that we won’t always be perfect at it, it allows us to make the best choice in a situation where we just can’t be zero waste. Knowing that I’m doing my part the best I can with the resources I have and teaching my children those same values, love and respect for the environment keeps me overall optimistic.
(Kathleen) Perfectly imperfect. I absolutely agree it can be a challenge, and sometimes overwhelming at times, to do everything right in living a sustainable lifestyle. Like many aspects of life, taking a kinder approach to myself when things feel I’m bumping my head against the wall or coming up short, and then equally super-celebrating when I do achieve what I want, is a way to bring harmony to reaching my goals rather than getting frustrated and potentially walking away from the challenges.
(Grojean) This is a tough one. Most of my most impactful lifestyle changes have come as a result of micro changes, e.g. saving gas by working from home, having more zoom meetings and fewer flights, using handed down baby clothes instead of buying new. But I know that it matters to me that I take actions that are in alignment with my values, whether I can see the impact those choices have or not. So I consider the value of my everyday actions to be just as important for their outer impact as their inner meaning for myself.
What are some parting words you’d like to leave for anyone looking to reduce their environmental footprint?
(Ashman) Just start. You can make a small change every day, or every week or in one aspect of your life. You don’t have to throw things away and buy new sustainable products all at once. Use what you already have, repurpose as much as you can. When you need to restock, then reach for those more sustainable, low/zero waste options. I really like the quote from The Zero Waste Chef, Anne Marie Bonneau. She says: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
(Haggerstone) You have to start somewhere. For me it was cutting single-use plastic out of my life. Now I’m focused on reducing my climate impact. SeaTrees makes it easy to wipe out your climate impact here.
(Kathleen) Take small steps. It could be when shopping and you see two options: don't think too much and go for the one that's recyclable, reusable, or maybe even something that you can foresee you can easily donate when you're done with to - give it a second life. Or, similarly on that note, at the end of a well-loved life of your clothes please take the extra time to use a company like Give Back Box to send your clothes to someone else who could definitely use them rather than putting them in the garbage for extinction. I do hope everyone is already doing this, yet it's worth saying because it's such a simple activity that can really make a big difference in reducing waste. And hey, it feels pretty good to give!
(Grojean) Choose one thing to focus on, whether it’s bringing your own to-go container when you eat out, or shifting away from fast fashion, and stick with that until it’s been incorporated as part of your lifestyle. Over time, small changes can become more meaningful than trying to make big changes all at once.
“We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”