Reports into consumer trends repeatedly show an interest and desire to shop more sustainably. Looking into how consumers shop once set loose, however, suggests the good intentions don’t always last. A 2018 Accenture surveyshowed that while 65% of consumers say they prefer to buy from brands that are ethical, only 26% of consumers will actually opt to buy from them. Similarly, a 2020 Mckinsey report into consumer views of sustainability in fashion found that the increase in people looking to purchase more sustainably did not necessarily match up to reality – sales for fast fashion retailers such as Boohoo soared during lockdown, at odds with people’s desire to become more sustainable and ethical.
“Consumer concern about the environment does not readily translate into the purchase of environmentally friendly products. Commercial research says 46% of consumers are more inclined to buy a product if it is eco-friendly. But nearly 60% are unwilling to pay more money for that eco-friendly product.”
This intention-action gap is seen across industries, from more sustainable food, to fashion, to cleaning products. It’s hardly surprising, though, when both the affordability and availability of sustainable products makes them much harder to convince people to buy. Currently they are not the norm – most brands lie under ‘luxury’ products with a higher price tag and lower availability.
There is a definite danger of sustainable and ethical living becoming one that privileged people are able to do, and those that have less privilege continue to be unable to afford. Of course, by their nature, sustainable and ethical products cost more to produce, and thus more to sell, but the climate crisis is happening now, and there must be a way of helping people shop better.
At Leo’s Box, we believe we have found a solution to cross the intention-action gap. By selling everyday products at wholesale prices without the large markup of RRP, we are able to provide sustainable products at prices competitive with those found in supermarkets on less sustainable labels. It just seems like the right thing to do.
Leo’s Box’s £4 monthly fee provides customers with access to all these products, and on the brand side allows regular income to order larger batches of products. The more we can buy, the lower the prices, and the better the deal for customers.
Our refer a friend model makes the deal even better – get a friend to sign up and both of you get a free month. More people, more purchasing power, more savings.
Doing the right thing should be easy, and with Leo’s Box membership, it can be! All the products are rigorously tested and researched, ensuring that they’re suitably ethical and sustainable, and of course that they actually work. We only provide necessary products that do good and are good, so doing the right thing is easy.
It’s rare that a term becomes such a key part of common lexicon in such a short space of time as sustainability. The term itself is derived from the Latin ‘sustinere‘, meaning ‘to maintain’, ‘to hold’ or ‘to support’. The word can now be found used widely in policy, commerce and economics, usually in a way that pertains strictly to environmental sustainability
Around 30 years ago, the World Commission on Environment and Development published Our Common Future, charting a path for development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is essentially our current definition of environmental sustainability. However, the term has since come under fire for lacking any unified, definitive or quantifiable meaning – basically, it means nothing.
There is no doubt that the fashion industry requires movement in a direction that manages its demands on the environment without compromising what’s available for future generations. No one would argue that the fashion industry, responsible for 10% of global emissions, doesn’t require more investment in ‘sustainability’, but without any quantifiable definition of the term, what does this look like?
Various other terms within many industries are verified using third-party certifications and accreditations, meaning that a brand or business has to prove it is doing something to be able to use the term. The Soil Association, for example, is a UK-based charity that regularly reviews manufacturing processes throughout the supply chain to ensure a business is producing organic products. You cannot use the term ‘organic’ without being certified. The Global Organic Textile Exchange (GOTS), does the same for textiles, showing the buyer that the products throughout the supply chain have been verified by an external body as organic.
One issue with sustainability within the fashion industry is that almost all accreditations are voluntary. Rather than having regulatory standards, similar to those within the food industry and mandatory energy labels on EU white goods, accreditations are seen as ‘optional extras’, often used as a marketing tool rather than a baseline standard.
Because of this erosion of state power, brands and organisations within the fashion industry looking to become more ‘sustainable’ are left in a state of ‘choice paralysis’; there are a multitude of private-sector accreditations which all claim to provide certification of ‘sustainability’ in marginally different ways. And of course, because they’re private sector, all claim to be slightly better than their variants, yet none are government regulated. This isn’t to say they don’t all provide some benefit – many do in considerable ways – it’s just that the whole industry is open to confusion and lack of regulation, to the point that the consumer has a very hard time understanding what they’re buying into.
So what can we do?
With WOVN’s 2020 consumer report showing an 84% increase in the use of terms such as sustainable, ethical, Fair Trade and eco-friendly and an increased desire to shop from brands seen as ‘sustainable’, it’s important now, more than ever, to understand what this term really means. As brands cotton on to this fact, there’s an increasingly opaque arms-race to appear more sustainable, where being truly environmentally conscious is almost secondary to appearing as such.
There have been calls to incorporate ‘Carbon Labelling‘ on clothing, but of course being sustainable isn’t about simply releasing as little carbon as possible (in the same way that the health of a food item isn’t about being as low calorie as possible), but also things like wastewater reduction, ceasing the use of harmful chemicals, improving labour standards, using renewable materials, reducing waste textiles and so much more. While innovative, labelling like this would only solve a proportion of the problem, and potentially just become another method of greenwashing.
Accreditations will play an important role in the fashion industry’s road towards becoming more in balance with the environment, but there are serious changes that need to happen, including regulation of the regulators. Consolidating numerous similar accreditations into larger, stronger and more rigorous ones would be a powerful first step.
Secondly, as a globalised industry, fashion requires international regulation. The majority of the textile industry has outsourced its negative environmental and social impacts to the Global South, affecting the people and habitats that can least afford to protect themselves, all the while making masses of money for the corporations residing in the Global North. This inequality simultaneously exacerbates the issues and hides them from view of the consumer. This means that it’s hard to know how what you’re buying is impacting the people who made the clothes, for better or worse. Because of this, we need international regulations throughout the supply chain, protecting both the environment in the world’s most biodiverse areas and those most affected by the industry’s indiscretions.
In the meantime, companies must be more transparent about their supply chains, allowing the consumer to make their own decisions about what is ‘sustainable’ and what is not. After all, no brand is going to be perfect in all regards, certainly not while industry accreditations are such a minefield. It should be possible for the consumer to decide what matters most to them, and be able to accurately measure up brands to this standard. It is important that this doesn’t automatically disadvantage those choosing to become more transparent; while transparency may highlight areas requiring improvement, brands that choose to avoid transparency for fear of what it may show up should be penalised beyond those showing up less favourable elements within their supply chain. This is important because transparency is the first step towards accountability. Brands that doesn’t show the former will never have the latter.
Consumers, while requesting greater transparency and action from the worst offenders, should also realise that no amount of sustainable production will counteract buying clothes we don’t need. Buying less overall, buying secondhand, fixing what we already have and finding new homes for clothes we no longer wear will always be better than shopping, even from ‘sustainable’ brands.
Further up the chain there should be incentives and clear direction for brands wanting to do better. This direction should be passed on to suppliers, with brands using their purchasing power to push suppliers to be better, and workers using unions to effect chain from the ground up. Large brands and conglomerates especially have huge amounts of power to effect change, and it’s time they were forced to do so.
There are many steps available to brands looking to become more sustainable, in whichever way they choose to interpret the term.
However, without quantifying what sustainability actually means, it’s going to be difficult for the fashion industry to ever reach the goal of being ‘more sustainable’ in any meaningful way.
Currently there is a mishmash of private-sector accreditations and certifications all with overlapping goals being regulated with varying degrees of success. Without unifying these standards and consolidating the accreditations that exist, it will be hard for consumers to be able to assess which brands are truly sustainable vs which are using accreditations as a facade.
As the fashion industry is a global one, it requires global regulatory bodies, which currently don’t exist. Currently it is beneficial for brands to outsource their labour and environmental harm to the Global South, which doesn’t have the resources to protect itself. International regulation could limit this harm.
In the meantime, brands should improve transparency of their supply chains to allow consumers to choose who they want to buy from. Brands should be congratulated for improving transparency, although not at the expense of action which is the obvious end goal (H&M is one of the most transparent brands but also one of fashion’s biggest polluters – transparency can’t come at the expense of action).
Consumers have the power to request greater transparency from brands, and also to stop buying from the biggest polluters. Shopping small businesses is a great place to start, but we should only buy what we really need. No amount of sustainability will make up for purchasing a wardrobe of clothes you never wear.
Large brands have huge amounts of purchasing power and are in a strong position to effect change. It’s about time they did so.
If you enjoyed this blog post and would like to read more, there is a great report on palm oil, fishing and textiles, all of which suffer the same lack of unified regulation – you can read it here. If you regularly read and enjoy my articles, please consider making a small contribution to the running of my blog.
January 1st has marked the start of Veganuary since 2014, when the non-profit of the same name started encouraging people to try a plant-based diet each January. During the 2020 campaign, more than 400,000 people signed up to the Veganuary pledge, while more than 600 brands, restaurants, and supermarkets promoted the campaign, and over 1200 new vegan products and menus launching in the UK alone.
In 2019, a scientific report released by over 100 scientists shared that plant-based diets can help fight climate change, showing that the West’s high consumption of meat and dairy is directly fuelling global warming. Diets high in meat and dairy are on average significantly more warming than diets without red meat, diets with no meat at all, and vegan diets. Food production is responsible for a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming, with meat and other animal products being responsible for more than half of food-related greenhouse gas emissions, despite providing only a fifth of the calories we eat and drink. So for someone looking to reduce their carbon footprint, choosing a more plant-based diet is a great place to start.
Health-wise, vegan diets are richer in many nutrients due to the increased plant matter, and those who choose a plant-based diet (vegetarian or vegan) are less likely to suffer from heart disease. There are lots of other health benefits of veganism too, but also plenty of things to consider, so read on if you’re thinking of going vegan, whether for one month, one year or the rest of your life!
1. Don’t forget supplements
If you’re planning on only being vegan for a month, and already eat a diet heavy in plant-based foods, the chances are you’d be really unlucky to become deficient in anything (unless you already were to start with). However, if you’re looking to become more plant-based over the long-term, it’s important to understand what supplements you need, such as B12, which is recommended for all vegans. Check out this blog post for all the recommended supplements.
2. Consider not doing veganuary….
… But instead moving to a more plant based diet over the course of a few months. It’s not as ‘exciting’ or ‘glamorous’ as a difficult challenge, but it’s my belief that slow change is usually more sustainable and beneficial than immediate change. Unless you ate a diet heavy in plant-matter prior to switching, you may suffer gut issues (thanks to the high-fibre content of most vegan diets), and slowly cutting out various animal products gives you time to reintroduce new foods and meals to your repertoire, reducing the shock to both your body and your culinary skills!
3. It’s not about cutting things out
Many people I know who have struggle with a plant-based diet are those who have seen veganism as a way to cut out half their diet (myself included, when I first tried it aged 15). Cue sluggishness, grumpiness and constant hunger. It’s true that veganism likely isn’t for everyone, but you can avoid the above ailments by introducing, rather than just cutting out, foods. Meat serves as the protein source in many meals, so this must be replaced by a number of other substitutes, such as pulses and/or meat substitutes. There are lots out there, so experiment! Find what works for you, and most of all, make sure you’re eating enough – plants are high in fibre and low in calories, so you’ll likely need to eat more volume to get enough calories from your diet. Don’t let yourself go hungry.
4. Vegan does not necessarily mean healthy
It’s perfectly possible to eat a vegan diet and gain weight. It’s also perfectly possible to eat a vegan diet and end up considerably less healthy than before, because veganism does not equate to health. Nowadays especially, it’s so easy to get confectionary and desserts that are vegan – and despite the fact that they’re vegan, a cake is still a cake. As with any diet, becoming plant-based requires thought, planning and attention to nutrient density of foods. By all means eat the cake, just don’t fool yourself into believing it’s healthy just because it’s vegan.
5. Soy won’t give you moobs/breast cancer
Another concern about turning vegan is that 50% of your diet will be soy, and soy gives you breast cancer. Except it won’t, and it doesn’t. Soy is a common ingredient in a lot of meat substitutes, plant-based milk and foods such as tofu and tempeh. However, it’s not as prevalent in most vegan diets as you might think, and has no link to breast cancer or ‘feminising’ effects on men. There is a lot to be said for varying your diet and mixing up your sources of protein, but in terms of health, soy is a complete protein, low in fat, relatively cheap and pretty damn good for you. Unless you’re allergic, you don’t need to avoid it.
On this note, your environmentalism should not end at changing your diet. Veganism has been co-opted as an extremely white movement, but plant-based diets have existed for centuries in other communities, long before making it to the white mainstream. Don’t let your vegan morals end at Joe and the Juice juices and quinoa – follow BIPOC creators and educators on Instagram and understand how the vegan movement currently benefits white people, often at the expense of its historical originators.
7. Consider why
Going plant-based is a great thing to do for so many reasons, but for some people, it can be exactly the wrong thing to do. For example, if you struggle with restrictive behaviours when it comes to eating, suddenly switching to a vegan diet can be triggering and lead to unhealthy behaviours. If you’re concerned, speak to a dietician before trying anything new. As mentioned above, eating a vegan diet shouldn’t be about restriction – it should be about expanding your diet to incorporate a whole range of delicious plant-based foods.
One of the biggest concerns about veganism (at least among the fitness community) is that it doesn’t allow for ‘gains’ and fitness progress. This couldn’t be further from the truth – a vegan diet can certainly be sufficient and even beneficial for athletes – but it is something that you should consider when making the switch. When I turned plant-based I expected either massive gains at the gym or to lose all my strength and endurance over time. In reality, not much changed at all, and the diet provided enough of everything to take me through 2 boxing fights, a marathon, 2 ultra marathons and all my workouts in between. So long as you eat enough calories, ensure you eat a wide variety of foods and supplement what’s lacking, you may see fitness benefits, or at worst, just stay the same as you were before.
10. Remember, everyone takes their time
Once you’ve made the huge step to becoming plant-based, it can be frustrating to watch others choose not to do the same. When you’ve educated yourself on the myriad benefits and made the effort to switch, it’s easy to get up on your high-horse and judge others who haven’t done the same. Getting angry at people, however, rarely leads to positive, long-lasting change – think back to the number of times someone suggested that you try vegetarianism or veganism. It’s likely you didn’t suddenly change your way of life and immediately turn vegan, so why would you expect the same from someone else? People have their own reasons for living the way they do, and trying to force someone into your way of thinking can have the reverse effect you want it to. By all means educate if someone enquires, but I find living my best life and leading by example is enough.
I feel great eating a plant-based diet. I love it for so many reasons, but that’s because I’ve planned it, researched extensively, listened to my body and learnt over the years. It’s undoubtedly the right thing for me. I’m still learning everyday and wouldn’t dream of considering the way I do things the ‘best way possible’; everyone is unique, everyone moves at their own pace and what works for you won’t necessarily work for someone else.
As a runner, I have a permanent underlying guilt about the fact that I literally wear through my shoes in a relatively short amount of time. I run some tough trails, meaning that any trainers I own (trail shoes especially) undergo a fair amount of wear and tear, and usually break to the point of being unusable by 18 months in. At this point they are relegated to walking and gardening shoes, or thrown out.
Of the 24 billion pairs of shoes produced each year, 90% are likely to end up in landfill. This is both due to the over-production of (often poorly-made) shoes, and the lack of widespread recycling systems. However, once your shoes make it to landfill, they will likely take hundreds or thousands of years to break down due to their plastic composition (PVC or EPA makes up 35% of shoes globally), all the while releasing toxic chemicals into the surrounding area. In landfill, due to the anoxic conditions, they’re likely to never properly break down at all.
Across the globe, we each buy approximately 2.5 pairs of shoes a year, with most of those sales happening in just 10 major markets. The average American buys over 7 pairs a year. The vast majority (almost all) companies selling shoes do not offer end of life solutions for their products, instead relying on landfill and pushing up demand for further consumption. However, 52% of shoppers in the UK said they’d be more likely to buy from a company if it offers an end of life solution, e.g. recycling or fixing, with 60% being willing to pay more for shoes that had this option.
With trainers the problem is further exacerbated, with experts suggesting that trainers get replaced every 500 to 750km (300-500 miles), which equates to 4 to 6 months for someone who runs 20 miles a week. Even if you eke out every last step from your shoes, they are not designed to last beyond their useful life so may tear or break within the year, and it can be dangerous to run on totally worn-out shoes, increasing the risk of injury.
So what can we do with our old trainers, once worn out or no longer wanted?
The best option is to donate unwanted shoes that are still usable. If you forget cosmetics, the majority of shoes we throw out are still perfectly functional in their job to protect feet. Better quality shoes can be sold via Depop, and others donated to charity shops. For running shoes, The Running Charity donates activewear to young people who would otherwise be unable to afford them. You can send your unwanted clothes and shoes in to them to be given a new life. Similarly, ReRun Clothing is another organisation that accepts unwanted running clothes, which are sold. All the profits go back into the running community. You can also buy secondhand and up-cycled products here! Find your nearest donation point.
Repairing shoes should be far more common than it is, with cobblers fixing all sorts of damage and wear on shoes. However, this is little harder on trainers, due to the complex support required. Speak to your local cobbler to see what they can offer. Very few brands offer reconditioning services, but Vivo Barefoot has just launched ReVivo, a service that repairs and re-sells old and unwanted Vivo shoes, providing lower priced options with a significantly reduced environmental impact. The shoes are often as good as new, proving that reconditioning and repairing trainers is not as hard as previously assumed, setting a precedent for the rest of the industry. This small family-run brand is showing that if they can provide end of life solutions for shoes, large brands should undoubtedly be able to too.
The next best option for completely worn-out shoes is to recycle. Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe scheme has processed 33 million pairs of shoes since 1993 when it launched. These shoes get recycled into surfaces for playgrounds, running tracks and other clothes. See where you can drop of your shoes. The company I:CO provides recycling services for brands in the US, partnering with brands such as Asics and Columbia to collect unwanted shoes and clothing in return for vouchers. In the UK shoe recycling can sometimes be found near supermarket superstores and specialised recycling centres. Many specialist running shops around the UK also have their own shoe recycling programmes – pop into your local one and see if this is something they offer. Runner’s Need is providing recycling bins as part of their Recycle My Run scheme in stores up to the 31st Dec 2020, giving a £20 voucher in return for a pair of old trainers. Don’t forget to tie your shoes together to prevent pairs getting separated!
Although the above options are great, it’s worth remembering that it is impossible to be fully sustainable while simultaneously consuming at the rate we currently consume. Recycling and donating are great, but not if your’e only doing so in order to validate buying new shoes/clothes. As runners, we should be aware of the world around us, and the impact we have on it. Although running is a self-propelled sport, you can lessen or increase your impact based on the purchasing decisions you make.
However, the blame does not fall entirely on the consumer. There is a real dearth of beneficial end of life options for shoes globally, and brands have no real incentive to fix this. For an industry worth more than $200 billion in 2020, requesting further research into, and better options for a shoe’s end of life should not be too much to ask. While brands product ‘eco-friendly’ shoe ranges or styles here and there (e.g. Nike’s Space Hippie shoe, Adidas’ Ultraboost DNA Loop), the quantity is nowhere near enough to make even a dent on the non-sustainable plastic shoes created each year. If sustainable shoes and end of life options are available, why are we not insisting on them? It’s time to ask brands to do better.
We all need a little good news right now. The world is a terrifying place, compounded by a barrage of 24/7 news via social media. Even if you choose to switch off from the news, it’ll probably find a way to find you.
I have spent some time curating my Instagram feed to be a mix of educational, funny and heartwarming – I have no room for negativity or accounts that will make me feel bad about myself. There’s no point knowing everything going on in the world if it incapacitates you!
I’m just going to caveat this with: we all know social media is bad for our mental health. By all means, follow these people! But don’t forget to wash your face in the morning, make your bed, eat good food and get outside too – your body and mind will thank you.
Most news is negative. But not here! The Happy Broadcast shares near-daily posts designed to lift your mood and balance the bad. They have a book too! Good Christmas present idea for the anxious scroller?
If you’re into caring about the environment (yes, I do care about not killing the only place we have to live), this is the account for you. A lot of environmental news is not good news, but the account puts together some positivity for its 22.2k followers.
If you find me staring at my phone and crying, it’s probably because I’m watching another Dodo video. Crying may not be within the remit of what you want from a ‘positive IG account’, but trust me, they’re happy tears.
I hope these accounts help you get through these next few months. I’d love to hear your favourite accounts to follow! Comment down below. Don’t forget to share this post if it made you smile!
I first learned about rewilding in depth at university, where we explored it as a means of conservation, in contrast to ex-situ conservation programmes, such as zoos. When we think about conservation, often we think about large mammals – tigers, elephants or pandas, perhaps – and not entire ecosystems, from fungi to ancient trees and everything in between. With 2021 – 2030 labelled the ‘decade of ecosystem restoration‘, now seems like as good a time as ever to talk about how rewilding could fit into our sustainability goals and increase biodiversity.
In Europe and North America (rewilding’s biggest proponents), rewilding often takes different forms, with the latter focusing on wildlife corridors for large mammals, and the former decentralising large mammals, focussing instead on habitats, not individual species. Either way, rewilding is essentially recreating habitats more similar to those that existed before human intervention, to the benefit of the natural ecosystem.
Helps nature recover
With 41% of UK species in decline and 15% threatened with extinction, it is evident that nature needs all the help it can get. Habitat loss and degradation have meant that the ecosystems in which many animals live are changing at a rate that they can’t adapt to. While woodland cover had actually increased, more unique habitats such as wetlands are vital for so many of the UK’s native species. Rewilding is not the only option for improving species outcomes, but it had the potential to significantly help, when done in the right way. More complex and robust ecosystems will be better able to withstand future environmental pressures.
Reintroduce missing species
Of 8,431 species assessed in the UK, 15% were classified as threatened with extinction from Great Britain, and 2% are already extinct. Rewilding habitats has helped with many conservation cases, both here in the UK and globally. Here is a great list of some of those success stories. Reintroduction of species cannot happen without significant amount of their native habitat being available, so rewilding could play a major part in global conservation efforts.
Revitalise communities and bring economic benefits
While an entirely anthropocentric view, ignoring the economic benefits of rewilding would be foolish, as often this is the key way of getting these projects funded and facilitated. In the UK National Parks and nature are seen as a national treasure, but even abroad, many governments are starting to see the economic benefits of protecting, rather than exploiting nature. E.g. North American countries favoring wilderness showed faster growth in their employment and income level than counties in which the economy is mainly based on resource extraction.
“From an analysis of turnover, employment and county-level productivity data, it is estimated that England’s National Parks generate £4.1 to 6.3 billion of Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2012″.
Ecosystem services and other environmental risk management
‘Ecosystem services‘ are the benefits humans gain from nature, including climate regulation, flood management, maintenance of nutrient cycles and, of course, improvement of quality of life. For example, trees lock water into the soil, preventing flooding after lots of rain. There are plenty of examples of how disrupting nature had led to far worse outcomes for humans too – this is just one example. Forest growth also promotes carbon sequestration (absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere), improving air quality. Natural regeneration allows soil recovery and nutrient availability and improved water quality, as forests regulate hydrological cycles too. Essentially, without nature and the services it provides as a byproduct of its existence, we’d really struggle.
Keep us healthy
I’ve spoken a lot about the mental health benefits of spending time in nature, and when you combine that with the benefits of exercise, walking, running or cycling through a rewilded forest is so good for you! Mind charity also released a report in 2018 on the benefits of nature for mental health. Nature is good for your physical health too, and the benefits of avoiding pollution where possible are multifold.
Restore for future generations
I believe that young people nowadays feel resentful at the way nature has been left, in a way that means they have to pick up the pieces. Rewilding is an opportunity to reverse that, and leave our ecosystems in a better position than when we inherited it. A legacy for future generations.
Rewilding and intersectionality – a note
I think it is important to note that the only reason we have to rewild, is because we have de-wilded. Europe did so so long ago that it is difficult to imagine how habitats looked before they were destroyed. North America, however, still maintains some indigenous lands, looked after by indigenous people, nature’s best custodians. It is important not to look at the rewilding movement as one of ‘saving’ habitats (that we destroyed), and instead look to learn from the indigenous philosophies, without marginalising these groups of people.
Historically, much of the (public) environmental movement has been vastly white, not taking into account both the viewpoints and vast experiences of indigenous people and those outside the white middle-class. This is counterproductive on so many levels, and, especially in the United States, where much land is still protected by its Native inhabitants, ignoring this threatens the strength of the environmental movement in its entirety. By its nature, the rewilding movement bases many of its principles on indigenous practises and beliefs, such as reconnecting to nature and respecting the Earth. It is important not to forget that we are late coming to this realisation, and we cannot afford to ignore local knowledge where it exists.
How can we help?
It is important to support charities and projects working to save and restore our natural ecosystems. This doesn’t have to always be monetarily – commenting, sharing and engaging on social media is also valuable. I have listed some great charities both in the UK and abroad below – please do support their work if you can!
Amazon Watch – Since 1996, Amazon Watch has protected the rainforest and advanced the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Amazon Basin. They partner with Indigenous and environmental organisations in campaigns for human rights, corporate accountability, and the preservation of the Amazon’s ecological systems. DONATE.
Rios to Rivers – This organisation’s aim is “to inspire the protection of rivers through youth-focused experiential and educational cross-culture exchange programs, where underserved students are empowered to become informed stewards and ambassadors for their rivers and the communities who depend on them. DONATE.
National Parks Conservation Association – The NPCA works to protect and enhance the US’s national parks. The charity has been going for over 100 years, protecting both habitats and policy changes that would put the national parks and their inhabitants at risk. DONATE.
Woodland Trust – Specifically a charity for UK’s woodlands, this trust works to restore and protect ancient woodlands, and campaign for policy changes where they are needed. DONATE.
Rewilding Britain – Launched in 2015, Rewilding Britain seeks to tackle the climate emergency and species extinction by restoring ecosystems to their ‘natural’ state, providing jobs in the process. DONATE.
Heal Rewilding – A new nationwide charity which looks to buy up low-grade, non productive land and passively return it to its wild state. The sites will be in easy reach of cities for the most benefit. DONATE.
National Parks UK – There are 15 national parks in the UK, and this organisation works to manage the maintenance and restoration of these spaces, while also benefitting local communities.
London Wildlife Trust – London’s wildlife has been under threat for its whole history, but the LWT helps to manage and expand natural spaces through the work of volunteers and members. It has been particularly hard-hit by COVID. DONATE.
Educate yourself. Join charities, work with NGOs, volunteer, read. I am still learning so much everyday, because I choose to research and look up topics that are important to me.
Share articles, educational social media pages, new studies and more with friends and family. Until nature moves to the forefront of our minds, it’s easy to forget how vital it is, and how much we can help or harm it with our actions.
Remember intersectionality in your activism. I have been guilty of viewing environmentalism from a purely white, UK-centric viewpoint, but this ignores a huge number of people who are both fighting for, and impacted by nature and natural ecosystems.
There are a million things we could all be doing to decrease our footprint on the planet and increase the number of wild spaces, both here in the UK and all around the world. I’ll be the first to put my hand up and say I’m not doing enough, but I hope articles like these help you realise some of the many ways we can have an impact. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below or over on Instagram.
Microplastics, as the name implies, are tiny particles of plastics, created either for commercial use (primary microplastics, e.g. for use in cosmetics), from the breakdown of larger plastics (secondary microplastics), measuring 5mm or less in diameter. Over the last few years, there has been a lot of light shone on the prevalence and environmental and health impacts of microplastics, from their presence in drinking water, to their ubiquity in the ocean.
It has long been known that plastics never really break down – instead, they break up into ever smaller pieces, causing environmental damage at every stage of the process. Single use plastics are thought to be the foremost contributor to secondary microplastics, but many microplastics are created intentionally to be used in industry. Wastewater treatment cannot filter out all microplastics, so they end up everywhere – in our oceans, freshwater systems and even the air we breathe.
Understanding the leading causes and relative abundance of microplastic in our ecosystems is key to understanding the how this might affect us, our environment and how best to limit that damage. With the problems being multi-fold – impacting both the environment and out health – we need solutions sooner rather than later, before irreversible damage is done.
For a summary of this article, scroll to the bottom.
What are the major causes?
A 2017 study found microplastics in 81 per cent of tap water samples globally. In the past few years, in mountain ranges in the US and France, researchers even found microplastics in rain. They have recently been found in the Arctic, too, giving an indication of their ubiquity. So where are these microplastics coming from? Without knowing the key sources, it is impossible to begin to understand how to tackle the problem. Here are the two key ways microplastics get into the environment.
Wastewater overflow, including treated water, as treatments cannot always capture such small particles. The microplastics come from the washing of clothes (microfibres), cosmetic microbeads, flushed period products etc. Every time we wash our clothes in the washing machine, millions of microfibres are shed. It is estimated that one load of clothes in a washing machine releases about 700,000 fibres per wash. Washing machine filters are not currently able to filter out these microfibres, so they work their way into our water systems.
What are the environmental impacts?
Environmentalists will be no strangers to images of seabirds with plastics filling their stomach, but do microplastics cause the same harm? The science suggests that the environmental impacts can be severe and far-reaching, with microplastics being found in 47% of Fulmar guano samples (a good indicator of their presence in marine environments).
The potential issues are multifold. As plastics do not degrade, they accumulate both with ecosystems and up food chains. They can also absorb toxic chemicals and pathogens, providing another route of harm. Another issue is that for many organisms, ingested plastics can make them feel full, so they stop eating and eventually die of starvation.
“Microplastics have been found in a wide variety of species including zooplankton, mussels, oysters, shrimp, marine worms, fish, seals, and whales. Several of these species are of commercial importance. For example, a 2009 survey in the Clyde Sea found 83% of Norwegian lobster contained plastic, mainly in the form of fibres. Similarly, trawls in the English Channel found microplastics in 36.5% of fish caught” (DEFRA).
Further to their effect on animals, microplastics have the potential to carry around pathogens and invasive species. High levels of microplastics on beaches may even change the temperature of the sand, affecting animals such as turtles where offspring sex is temperature-determined.
Despite the complex science, a 2017 United Nations resolution discussed microplastics and the need for regulations to reduce this hazard to our ecosystems. The problem is so widespread it’s unlikely to not be seriously harmful over the years, and combined with the other pressures on our oceans, they need all the help they can get.
Are they causing us any harm?
There is a huge absence of science in this area, thanks in part due to the relative recency of interest in the subject, but also due to the difficulty of carrying out robust scientific studies on humans. It is estimated that the average person consumes up to 120,000 particles of microplastic each year, with that number increasing for those drinking mostly bottled water. However, whether or not this has had adverse effects in the decades we have been consuming them is not entirely clear.
As with many environmental issues, our exposure to microplastics is partially dependent on where we live. In the UK and other high-income countries, sewage treatments can effectively remove most microplastics from effluent, reducing the amount present in freshwater systems. In low and mid-income countries, however, only 33% of the population have sewer connections, meaning that for most of the population, water is poorly treated, leading to greater microplastic concentration in soils and water systems, and thus greater potential adverse health incomes.
For the most part in richer countries, drinking water is treated enough to prevent large quantities of microplastics working their way in. However, the smallest plastic particles can assimilate their way into our food, including seafood (primarily shellfish). While most plastics are inert (don’t readily react) and insoluble and therefore unlikely to be absorbed into our bodies, there are concerns about their absorption of toxic chemicals from the environment. However, with the relative paucity of scientific studies on the subject, there is not enough evidence to suggest a link between microplastics in drinking water and food and adverse health outcomes. This doesn’t mean that the link is not there, simply that more studies need to be done in this area.
What can we do?
Reduce littering and improve rubbish collection systems.
Move on from the idea that plastic is disposable. With the average single use cutlery being used for just 3 minutes, yet taking hundreds of years to break down (not disappear), this will never be a sustainable attitude.
Install and optimise wastewater treatments which reduce the amount of plastic pollution in waterways, and thus the amount being consumed in drinking water too. While the UK has extremely effective treatment facilities, this isn’t the case everywhere.
Limit the introduction of new plastic sources into the environment. A lot of microplastic pollution comes from single-use plastics in one form or another, so by reducing the amount of plastic we consume, we can reduce the amount that eventually ends up in our ecosystems.
Improve plastic recycling systems and use them. Of the 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic that has been produced (2018), 6.3 billion metric tons has become plastic waste, and 91% of this has not been recycled. By reducing the amount of plastic sent to landfill we can reduce the amount of plastic breakdown there is globally. This includes dealing with our own plastic problem, and not shipping it elsewhere (just another form of environmental racism)
Introduce global bans where possible on unnecessary use of microbeads (already done in the UK), for example in cosmetics, while recognising that this is only a small part of the issue.
Improve sustainable plastic alternatives. While current ‘bioplastic’ alternatives are not always less harmful than conventional plastics, existing technologies have the potential to decrease the prevalence of harmful plastics in our ecosystems. It is vital to ensure that replacements to conventional plastic is not more damaging than the plastic itself.
Encourage brands to take responsibility for their plastic pollution at all stages of industry, from banning microbeads, to having consumers report litter (e.g. via the Plastic Patrol app).
Microplastics are everywhere, from rain to our drinking water, to the Arctic to the Mariana Trench.
Microplastics can break down into nano plastics, even smaller microscopic particles that can have differing impacts in lots of different ways.
There is not enough evidence to suggest that microplastics lead to negative health outcomes in people, but more research needs to be done in this area. Health impacts are likely to vary between countries depending on their treatment systems.
Improving sewage and water-treatment systems in LEDCs will likely have far-reaching positive effects, far beyond simply reducing microplastic exposure, and should be a priority where possible.
The real issues with microplastics lie in their effect on the environment, as they have been shown to be harmful to animal life at every stage of their degradation.
As with all environmental issues, behavioural change is all well and good, but what is really needed is system change that holds corporations accountable for their disastrous impact on the environment.
While the impacts are not fully understood, the ubiquity and prevalence of microplastics will likely already be causing issues to the environment and potentially our health too. We need more research to see where and how.
Thanks to Hattie for helping me research this huge topic! For more sustainability content, go and follow her on Instagram.
As we sit in the midst of a pandemic, it is easy to look only inwards, turning our backs on the changes that need to be made in our world for humans to continue thriving. However, now, more than ever, it is outwards that we need to look and wonder how we got ourselves here in the first place.
Biodiversity is the abundance and variety of life on earth. Humans are entirely dependent on biodiversity for the air we breath, food we eat and water we drink. Almost half of global GDP – around €40 trillion – depends on nature and the services it provides.
The recent COVID pandemic has brought to light just how much this is true, with scientists positing that the increased incidences of viruses such as Ebola, Bird Flu, Dengue Fever and COVID are exacerbated, if not caused, by biodiversity loss, deforestation and the illegal wildlife trade.
Today is World Environment Day, an international awareness day built to engage and motivate environmental action within governments, businesses and the general public. Each year WED has a theme, focussing efforts on one element of environmentalism in an effort to educate, share resources and make a difference.
This year’s theme is Biodiversity, a term which has seen the light of day more and more in recent years. The United Nations even labelled 2010 to 2020 the ‘decade of biodiversity‘, implementing strategies to improve it worldwide. However, a recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), found that nature is being eroded at rates unprecedented in human history, leading to the acceleration of climate change and demise of our natural world. Businesses are also not doing anywhere near enough, with most countries on track to miss the targets of the Paris Agreement.
“The more one thinks, the more one feels the hopeless immensity of man’s ignorance”. Charles Darwin, More Letters of Charles Darwin, 1903.Apt, but today we don’t have ignorance as an excuse.
Climate change, biodiversity loss and our own wellbeing are all intrinsically linked. Biodiversity loss in Europe alone costs the continent around 3% of its GDP each year, around £400m pa. It is in our best interest to do as much as we can to prevent further loss of the natural world, and start rebuilding where we can.
Biodiversity loss is not only an environmental issue, it also impacts upon many of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, including those tacking food security, poverty, peace, justice and development. As mentioned by Sir Robert Watson, chair of the IPBES, biodiversity is “a security issue in so far as loss of natural resources, especially in developing countries, can lead to conflict. It is an ethical issue because loss of biodiversity hurts the poorest people, further exacerbating an already inequitable world. And it is also a moral issue, because we should not destroy the living planet.” (Guardian, Nov, 2018). Closer to home, biodiversity in green spaces is inextricably linked to mental health and wellbeing for all of us.
“This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms – folded them into genes – and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady”. E O Wilson, The Diversity of Life, 1992.
This destruction of ecosystems has led to a million species (500,000 animals and plants and 500,000 insects) being threatened with extinction, potentially many more (UN). Figure from Guardian 2018.
But what can we do from home?
I would argue that most of us interested in the natural world generally already know ways in which we can help, from changing to a green energy provider, cutting back on travel, switching to an ethical bank and changing to a meat-free diet, and it’s just a case of enacting this. However, there are many more small ways to improve biodiversity from home.
If you have a lawn, leaving it for longer between mowing, or avoiding mowing patches altogether. This will not only improve the biodiversity of the plants, but also provide shelter for small mammals and insects.
Consider piling up wood, stones and garden cuttings to provide homes for more types of insect and mammal, as these are becoming rarer with the loss of woodland and increased obsession with ‘clean’ spaces. Composting organic matter also increases bacterial, fungal and other decomposers, providing a healthier garden all round.
Providing bird feed and water in your garden will also provide vulnerable bird species with a better chance of surviving harsh winters and being able to raise more young. Offer a mix of food for the widest variety of birds and provide protection from cats where possible!
Understanding how food and other crop production impacts the environment is a huge topic that deserves an entire literature review of its own. However, there are a few small steps we can make to ensure everything we buy is as biodiversity-friendly as possible.
When buying furniture, only buy FSC certified wood. The FSC holds businesses to a standard that helps them carry out sustainable management practices to ensure forests thrive today and in the future (FSC).
Buy from ethical clothing brands. The fashion industry is immensely polluting, encourages deforestation, and if the fashion industry were a country, its emissions would rank almost as highly as the entire European continent. This is evidently bad for biodiversity. Buying less and choosing ethical companies can reduce your impact. Brands such as Veja are leading the way in supporting, rather than exploiting, the ‘guardians of the forest’ in the locations they source their materials, working with locals to promote biodiversity, instead of simply deforesting as many other brands do. Have a look at Good on You and EcoAge for other brand recommendations.
Donate, support, fund, share.
We can make changes in everyday life and do what we can to maintain diversity, both close to home and further afield. However, the work of charities, NGO and certain businesses takes this a step further, keeping an ear to the ground to call out environmental injustices, hold governments to account and support local communities around the world. Here are just a few – comment your favourites below!
Traffic, a NGO, supports efforts to end the illegal wildlife trade and combat wildlife crime. They focus on educating governments on sustainable wildlife management and regulation systems, reducing reliance on poaching and unsustainable trade. Donate here.
African Biodiversity Network (ABN), a UN accredited NGO, accompanies Africans in voicing their views on issues such as food and seed sovereignty, genetic engineering, agrofuels, biodiversity protection, extractive industries and the rights of small-holder farmers. They ‘focus on indigenous knowledge, ecological agriculture and biodiversity related rights, policy and legislation’. I cannot find anywhere to donate but do check out and share their work!
Cool Earth work to end deforestation and environmental degradation in rainforests, some of the most biodiverse places on earth. Rather than exerting top-down control, they work with local people to help them benefit from protecting their surrounding forests. Donate here.
While NGOs and charity organisations are excellent, some estimates suggest they receive only 10% of the funding needed to avert a biodiversity crisis. Engaging the private sector to fill in the gaps is a necessary and productive next step.
Treedom supports biodiversity by allowing people to purchase native trees and plant them in small, sustainable agroforestry systems around the world. Trees contribute to biodiversity by providing shelter, food and homes for animals, insects and other plants, increasing the number of pollinators and natural pest predators, like birds (thereby supporting the pollination of the world’s crops), capturing CO2, preventing soil erosion and much, much more.
The trees people sponsor with Treedom support smallholder farmers and their families, providing either food or an added income source. For transparency, all of their trees are geolocated and photographed, and customers receive regular updates about their tree and the project where it is planted.
Treedom have planted over 1.1 million trees across 16 countries, offsetting over 340 million kgs of CO2 and providing food security and income for over 66,000 farmers. If you’d like to purchase a tree or two, the code FLORA10 gets you 10% off! Please do let me know if you buy one, as I’d love to share 🙂
There are many re-wilding projects also happening in the UK, returning deforested woodlands to their former diverse glory. You can learn more about rewilding projects here.
Trees are vital for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem health, but also are excellent for your mental health too! Photo Johny Cook.
Nature provides us with everything we have, and we cannot afford to lose more biodiversity on this planet. While we may have long ago destroyed much of the biodiversity in the UK, there is still a chance to make an impact with our actions and reverse some of the damage, both close to home and further afield. The best time to at was yesterday. The next best time is now.
Many thanks to Hattie Webb for helping research this post – there was SO much more I could have put in, but in the interest of people actually getting to the end, I have saved this for another time. I hope you enjoyed reading! Please share it if you found it useful, tagging @foodfitnessflora and @hattie_eco on Instagram. Do add any ways you have found of increasing biodiversity, as well as any charities you like to support. Thanks for reading!
Many thanks to Hattie Webb for her help researching this post. Go and check out her Instagram for more on sustainability! Post contains some affiliate links, which are the only way I monetise my blog. These do not impact which products are chosen for this piece.
As we move into summer, it becomes more and more important to take care of our skin. While up to 20 minutes in the sun without protection is great for achieving our recommended vitamin D levels, too much time in the sun can wreak havoc on our skin, both immediately (burns, sun spots) and long term (elevated risk of skin cancer, breakdown of elasticity, wrinkles etc).
Sunscreens have one of two “modes of action”. Chemical sunscreens absorb ultraviolet radiation like a sponge, while mineral sunscreens containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide reflect it back from the surface of the skin like a mirror.
Which is better?
Either can work well, but the latter is better for the environment. Dermatologist Dr Catherine Borysiewicz says:
“Mineral sunscreens with a high sun protection factor, UVA and UVB protection (the former penetrates the skin more deeply but the latter is more intense and the chief cause of sunburn) are as effective as chemical sunscreens, great for people with sensitive skin or inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, and kinder to marine life,” she says. “They went out of fashion because they tended to leave a chalky white layer on the skin, but they are slowly becoming more popular again.”
What are the problematic ingredients?
Certain chemicals, found in many mainstream suncreams, have been found to be damaging to waterways and marine ecosystems. Octinoxate and Oxybenzone have been linked to coral bleaching, actively decreasing our fragile corals’ defences against climate change, and reducing their ability to reproduce and propagate.
Research suggests that coral reefs in Hawaii are exposed to 6,000 – 14,000 tons of sunscreen lotion every year, leading the island to ban suncreams containing Octinoxate or Oxybenzone, due to come into effect on 1st Jan 2021. These ingredients aren’t just harmful for corals though – they have also been linked to endocrine disruption in humans, as they can move through the skin and mimic hormones in the body, damaging sperm and reproductive hormones.
So what can we do?
Understanding why certain ingredients are harmful and choosing to avoid them is the best thing we can do to limit the impact our suncream has. Avoid aerosols too, as most of this doesn’t actually make it to the skin, instead coating everything around, including your lungs. Choosing to wear protective clothing to limit the amount of suncream you use not only saves money but will also help protect the environment.
These are my three favourite brands and products that I try to buy whenever I’m in need of suncream. We may not be heading on holiday any time soon, but the sun is the same sun all around the world, so don’t think that it’s any weaker just because it’s cooler in the UK than your usual holiday destinations! So stock up and let me know your thoughts on these faves.
This is the suncream I use on my face every morning if I’m spending time outside. It’s one of the few I’ve found that is truly mattifying (I like dewy, but there is a limit!), and REN really take their environmental credentials seriously. The bottle is made with recycled plastic and is fully recyclable, and the product is vegan and cruelty free, without any ingredients that are harmful to the environment. I cannot recommend this more as your go-to face suncream!
Tropic’s entire range is certified reef-safe, vegan, cruelty free and has incentives for returning packaging too, to increase circularity. The brand is carbon neutral and sends very little (if any) waste to landfill), although I couldn’t see whether their packaging was recycled or not. Having used their other products before (though not this one), I can thoroughly recommend!
Green People use plant-based, carbon neutral packaging that is fully recyclable, and 30p from each of their sales goes to the Marine Conservation Society, a UK charity protecting our oceans and wildlife. This suncream is obviously certified reef safe too. Its texture takes a bit of getting used to, especially if the suncream is cold, and if you’re used to nicely scented suncreams this may be a bit strange, as it has no perfumes in. However it does the job – I’ve never burned with this suncream and love their aftersun and daily protection (SPF 15) too!
Week 9 of lockdown – how’s it going for you? What activities have you taken up, or is keeping afloat taking enough time as it is? With many of us still staying at home, working sporadically and lacking in social life, our views have turned inwards to our homes. Having worked our way through countless banana breads, sourdough starters and home haircuts, more and more people have chosen to use this time to make their living spaces more homely. It’s not a surprise either – usually we have real life to distract us from peeling wallpaper, outdated sofas and other DIY jobs that need doing, but when you pass those things everyday, they become harder to ignore.
Repainting is one of the easiest ways to redecorate without fear of electrocuting yourself, or having heavy objects fall on you. It’s simple enough for anyone to do with a bit of planning, but makes more difference to the feel of a room than almost anything else.
Excitingly, I’m also planning on moving home after summer, finally aiming to live with my partner, who I’ve been with for 5 years now, but whom I have never lived with full time. We’re hoping to be able to redecorate as soon as we move in, but want to do so as sustainable and ethically as possible. You can think of this article as a bit of research for myself, but hopefully it’ll help you too!
What makes some paints unsustainable?
Needless to say, paints contain large numbers of chemicals, many of which are bad for both the environment and ourselves in large quantities. Research suggests that professional redecorators are considerably more likely to contract lung cancer, due to the volatile compounds and formaldehyde present in many paints and other building materials. Ingredients such as vinyl resins, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals derived from oil, acrylics, formaldehyde, and ammonia can contribute to health issues, especially if you are prone to asthma or eczema.
Aside from the effects on indoor pollution levels, the production of paint and the ingredients therein can also have disastrous environmental consequences. Producing just 1L of conventional paint can produce around 30L of toxic waste, including solvent emissions that damage the ozone layer, and greenhouse gas emissions, whose effects we know all too well. Disposing of paints can also cause issues. Many are hazardous and cannot be disposed of in normal household waste, unless they are totally dried up. Some eco-friendly paints can be composted and/or recycled, reducing their environmental footprint. Here’s some information on how to dispose of your paint safely in the UK.
What are eco-friendly paints?
Currently, there is no standard for any paint company to call itself ‘eco-friendly’. Guidelines laid out by the EU have loose restrictions on volatile compound levels, but regulations do not separate out ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘conventional’ paints. Because of this, it can be hard to know if the ‘eco-friendly’ paint you are buying really is much better than cheaper conventional products.
Ethical Consumer, a site that explores the ethical and environmental credentials of companies, suggests looking out for certain terms when choosing paints. ‘Generally, plant-based, water-borne paints are the best buy, followed by plant-based, solvent-borne ones with natural solvents. Try to avoid those using titanium dioxide.’
Eco friendly paint companies also take into account the emissions and environmental impacts of paint production, not just the paint itself. The carbon footprint any toxic byproducts of production contribute to the paint’s overall environmental impact, so is important to bear in mind.
Created in 1983, Auro was a pioneer of eco friendly paints, cleaning products and stains. Their paints are petrochemical free and the source all their raw materials from sustainably managed sources. Ethical Consumer highly rates their ‘gloss paint’.
Earthborn are the only UK brand to carry the EU ecolabel flower accreditation, showing their commitment to a circular economy and lower environmental footprint. Their paints are water-based, petrochemical free and breathable, making them suitable for a wide range of walls.
If you’re an allergy sufferer, UK-based Lakeland Paints may be for you. Lakeland uses organic, non-toxic, no odour, volatile-compound free and are accredited by the British Allergy Foundation. All there packaging is also 100% recycled and/or recyclable.
Farrow & Ball was the first in the industry to change their entire range to water-based paints. These are also low-VOC (volatile compounds), low odour and accredited by the Toy Safety Standards, meaning they’re even safe to use on children’s toys. The packaging is 100% recyclable, too.
Little Greene manufactures their environmentally friendly paints here in the UK. They have water-based, low VOC options, or oil-based options, made from sustainably sourced vegetable oils. Their wallpapers are either FSC or PEFC certified, meaning they come from sustainably managed forests, and for every tree cut down, another is planted. Their paint tins are made from 50% recycled steel and are fully recyclable.
Eico paints was the only company I found that promised to use 100% renewable energy (geothermal and hydropower). Their production process is carbon positive, and their paints are low to no-VOC and low-odour, making them popular with allergy sufferers. They have a huge variety of colours, too!