As September tends to be a month of new beginnings, this post is all about what you need to know in order to put some sustainable habits in place in preparation for the new school year.
But we are not doing it alone. In fact, we have an exceptional guest to help us out.
María Negro is a sustainability speaker, a communication consultant and the author of the book “Cambia el mundo” (Change the world in English), which includes her 10 step method for achieving a more sustainable and conscious way of life.
In this interview, she tells us about how this September the return to the classroom or to workplace can be a more sustainable one.
What does it mean to you to live a more sustainable, more conscious life?
It is a self awareness tool, that makes you connect with what is really important to you, with your core values.
To me, finding a more sustainable path has been a revealing introspective journey that has made me question myself a lot, and look for my own answers: What do I want my life to look like? What does success mean for me?… Topics that have led me to making many different decisions.
In my book I also look at it this way: I give the reader exercises to do, questions to think about and tools to use, so that every individual finds their own answers and connects with their new more conscious and sustainable habits.
Where should someone start when they want to introduce more sustainable practices in their life?
If food and diet is important to you, start there. Or if shopping is your thing, start with that. Start with the habit that is either the one that is hardest for you to change, or the one that is the most important to you.
What do the environmental scientists and the experts say? Well, they say there are 3 key areas:
• Waste: rubbish, food waste, plastic…
• Consumption: simplify our lives and reduce what we need.
• Diet: decreasing our consumption of animal protein is a big step towards minimising our environmental impact.
In the end, all of us that have started on this path have reviewed these parts of our lives.
Now that it is time to head back to the classrooms: What tips and tricks would you recommend for a “back to school” that is more environmentally friendly?
I am not a parent, however the main “R” stands for “reuse”. It seems that we are always faced with everything needing to be brand new: the new backpack, the new books, the new pencil case.
So, I think it is better to extend the life of the items you already have: such as uniforms, backpacks, pencil cases…
In fact, there are now really good second hand platforms such as relibrea, bolsabooks, percentil, wallapop … Even the schools themselves and the Parent’s and Friends Committees sometimes have book sharing initiatives.
Another option is (I saw it in a video by Mixi Pacheco) to make the kids swap their school bags and pencil cases, like at a swapping party. The switch and swap with their classmates and that way it feels like they all have new gear.
And when it comes to the teachers? Do you have any advice that can help make classwork more sustainable?
Often it is the teachers themselves who suggest improvements or even speak to the head of the school in order to make changes, such as starting to use reusables. They are also often the first to teach the children about alternatives in the classroom.
However, the most important thing is that sustainability becomes something that is considered in all subjects: that in philosophy activism is discussed, that in science we talk about the climate crisis and its consequences…
At this time of year, we don’t only head back to school but we also return to work after the summer break. This often means returning to old routines and habits that are less than sustainable: How can we avoid this backwards step?
In each workplace it depends primarily on the individual company. However on an employee level, the most important thing is to start thinking about: If when you are at home you don’t leave your computer turned on or the window open when the air-conditioning system is working, why would you do so at work?
Also have a think about whether you can limit your work travel and the number of meetings you need to have (even though nowadays with COVID-19 and working online from home things have changed a little).
Avoid disposables and unnecessary waste: I can remember hearing from a girl who wrote to me after having read my book, and she told me about having a conversation with her boss and having managed to get rid of the disposable coffee cups from the office coffee machine. And that was just the beginning. In this particular office there were 200 employees, so you can just imagine how many disposable plastic cups have been avoided since then.
And remember to think about how you get to work each day: There are even workplaces that incentivise their employees to come to work on foot or by bike.
If there is one thing that living plastic-free has taught us, it is that changing habits is not the most difficult part, but instead making those new habits stick long-term. Do you have any advice to make those good intentions last instead of falling by the waste side when life gets in the way?
Something that works for me, in fact I mention it in the introduction of my book, is that we need to forget about being too hard on ourselves and aiming for perfection. Because the word “sustainability” has some weight to it: It seems everyone is watching us with cameras and someone is going to jump out from the shadows and set off an alarm if we do something wrong.
Socially too, sometimes those around you observe you with a magnifying glass: “but you have a mobile phone”. Yes, of course I do!
In the end, this is a journey on which you never stop learning. It is the same for someone who wants to live a healthier life and they sign up to the local gym and eat fruit, vegetables and grains all day and night. It’s impossible to be perfect all the time.
So, my trick is to start with just one habit at a time: if I’m trying to reduce how much meat I eat, I’m not going to do it at the same time as I try and go zero waste… Habit by habit, and once I have one new habit integrated into my life, I move on to the next.
What would you say to those who have decided that this September is the time to start living more sustainably but they feel a little overwhelmed by the idea?
I would say to them… WELL DONE for getting started. Wanting to make a change is, in itself, a big step. There are many people who think that sustainability is only for hippies, that it is expensive, that it will take away things in your life that you really like…
The truth is, that there are lots of benefits. It makes you live a happier life, with more meaning, to simplify things, to realise that you actually need less… so I would invite these people to open their minds to this idea.
And that they feel and notice that what we do matters. That is why my book is called “Cambia el mundo” (Change the world), because you can change your world by focussing on what you can do. This is a motivating and empowering realisation.
Many thanks, María. We hope that from this month forward, many more people will be encouraged to change their habits and thereby change their world.