One of my biggest resolutions for this year is to put sustainability more in focus on this blog. It’s a topic that I’m really passionate about, but haven’t shared much of on the site because I wasn’t quite sure how it fit in. I’ve come to realize though that where it fits in is everywhere; it’s something we need to be thinking about in every aspect of our life. One site that I continue to be inspired by and look to for practical, simple advice about making impactful changes is on TheEcoMamas. Continuing my week of posts here on the blog about New Year’s Resolutions, I’m so grateful to be sharing this interview with Colleen and Gillian from TheEcoMamas with their thoughts on sustainable choices we can make in 2020! (See my other posts in the series here about getting organized and eating healthy).Kate: Can you start by telling me a little bit about yourselves, and how you started TheEcoMamas?
TheEcoMamas: We’re two moms living just outside of Boston. We have five (soon to be six!) kids between us. We both work (outside of the home and this blog). We’re pretty busy, but we care intensely about the world we’re creating for ourselves and our kids, and the more we know, the more we feel driven to do something about it. Although we had known each other for about three years before deciding to start TheEcoMamas site, we had never talked about our eco-anxiety. Then Colleen had posted something about eco-friendly living on social media. Gillian noticed and brought over a set of Lunchskins for Colleen to try, and the ice was broken.
Public service announcement: Talking about the thing(s) that worry you can feel so good and be so empowering. Even if it’s a complicated, depressing topic like climate change. Try it, if you haven’t. Starting this conversation with each other and then through the blog has led to so many other conversations and introductions—beyond what we ever expected. A lot of people care about the world we’re creating, and a lot of people want to do something. As moms, women—ordinary people—we have so much power. We love finding ways to do what we can and showing that it doesn’t have to be out of reach.
K: I love that perspective. I think people can feel so overwhelmed by news about the climate change, and generally want to do their part to help the environment — but it can be hard to figure out where to start. Do you have any advice for small steps we can take to start making more eco-friendly choices? What are some realistic, quick changes we can do to make an impact?
TEM: Great question. It can feel overwhelming, and as with anything overwhelming, we like to break it down into small, simple actions. Pick one. Try for a while. When it becomes habit, pick another. Here are few of our favorites:
1) Have a veggie night – You don’t need to become vegan, but industrial animal agriculture is a top driver of climate change, and making one vegetarian dinner a week is one of the biggest ways you as an individual can fight back—and eating more vegetables is good for you too. Cauliflower tacos are a huge hit for our family- add some black beans for good healthy proteins.
2) Organize your fridge to reduce your food waste. One of our favorite ways to do this is through fridge organization. You may have seen a post we did about an eat-me-first bin. A lot of people really reacted to that, because we all hate throwing out perfectly good food, and a lot of the times it’s about how we store things and communicate to our families, nannies, etc. But know yourself and your own weak spots—if you buy a lot of fresh food but don’t cook much, think about what’s realistic for you and shop accordingly.
3) Wash your clothes on a cold cycle – This is as easy as clicking a button…literally! Most of the climate changing impact of our clothes comes from how we care for them—both washing in hot water and drying in the drier. Choosing cold-water wash and then letting the heat of the drier kill any germs is a quick, easy way to make your laundry routine greener.
4) Shop secondhand – Online consignment has made this easier than ever! Have you ever walked around a Target or browsed on Amazon and thought—all of this stuff! Where does it come from? What impact does it have? So much of our carbon footprints come from things we buy, including all of the energy, water and other resources it takes to make new stuff. Shopping secondhand cuts a lot of that out of the equation. We are both obsessed with ThredUP– especially for kids who grow like weeds and stain clothes so quickly!
K: Okay, I’m feeling good because I’m doing a lot of these already! I have to admit, I started washing all of my clothes on the cold cycle after you posted about that on your Instagram page! And I think one of the best ideas I’ve seen you guys share is the “eat this first” bin in your fridge that helps reduce food waste (and bonus: saves some money too!). The shopping secondhand idea, and generally shopping less, are some that I’m working on — I committed to a no-shop January and the first week has made me realize how often I go to Amazon and mindlessly order things! Deleting my saved credit cards from my go-to sites has been a big help.
K: I have caught myself on more than one occasion recently combating my toddler over buying a silly toy and yelling “it’s just going to end up in a landfill!” So I’d love to know, as busy moms with 5 kids between the two of you, how do you get your kids involved in making eco-friendly choices?
TEM: There are definitely times give in you have to the figurine in store, because sometimes you just need little peace and quiet on the way home. We’re not perfect. But kids can be surprisingly good helpers when it comes to eco-friendly living. Here are a few of our favorite ways to engage our kids even if it means giving in to something here and there:
1) Talking about it. This is surprisingly one of the best things as parents we can do. Kids, even at the youngest ages, soak up a lot of information. They constantly want to know why (which we hear a lot!). Explaining information to them in a way they understand– even by making up funny little stories—helps create mindfulness at a young age. A few of the latest discussions for our family include “we only flush the toilet once, because we don’t want to take all the water from the fish” or “we use these baggies, so we don’t fill up the ocean with our trash… or the sea turtles will get stuck.” As kids get older the conversations can take on more complex issues.
2) Getting outside. There are 100 reasons for kids to spend more time outside—it sparks creativity, it can be calming, it wears them out—but it also puts them in touch with the world we’re protecting. My five and seven-year-olds actively spot trash on our nature walks and (after asking permission) love to pick it up. It builds awareness and confidence that one person’s actions can make a difference.
3) Composting. What kid doesn’t love dirt and worms? We have a backyard compost, and, even at three years old, my son knows what goes into the compost. It is amazing how quickly they pick up everything.
4) Making donations—especially toys. We try to always keep the pieces together for our toys and then when they’ve grown out of them or no longer play with them, we box them for donations. This Christmas we brought toys to “Santa’s work shop,” which was our local consignment shop.
5) Living by example. There are so many great ways to set an example for a more minimal lifestyle: Recycling, reusing items before disposing them, growing vegetables and composting, but a great overall practice to put into place is less is more. Sometimes just doing less and buying less is the best example we can set.
K: One of the things that drew me to your site was a statement you made about how eco-friendly living can be about more than sacrifice. It can also be about adding in healthier, better options that improve your well-being. It totally resonated with me when I read it, and it feels extra-pertinent at this time of year when people are making resolutions about improving their health and well-being. Any advice about how you tackle your health and well-being through sustainable living?
TEM: This is really what drives us, especially as mothers, there is nothing more important than the health of our families. So much of what is good for our families is good for our planet too. Two advantages to healthier living in our experiences are healthier food and more time—yes, you read that right. The food industry is a common target of eco-conversations. The ways most animals are grown and fed are huge contributors to climate change. Pesticides from conventional farms pollute water and harm wildlife… and none if this is good for us either.
We try to focus our food choices on local, seasonal and organic. This includes the meat we buy. Right now, if you buy beef at the grocery store, in most cases, you can’t know where it came from or much about how it was raised. Even the USDA label doesn’t mean it was raised in the US. So you can’t know if it was raised on deforested land or fed soy that was grown on deforested land. A lot of people became more aware of this when Amazon rainforest fires made the news this summer. Choosing local meat means shrinking your footprint, supporting your local economy, and often choosing the healthiest food for you and your family. Here in the Boston area, Walden Local Meat and Weir River Farm in Hingham are some great local suppliers— and of course Farmers markets! And not just meats but fruits and vegetables. Living more locally reduces our footprint.
To the point on time, it’s funny— often being more eco-friendly seems like one more thing on the to do list, but actually in most cases, less is more. Buying less stuff… spending less time driving… less unnecessary travel… these are all greener choices. When I feel like I don’t have time to “think green.” I’ll simply skip buying anything new for a week or so. Or I’ll skip getting in the car for that errand that’s not really necessary. It can be hard at first, but I always end up feeling like I have more quality time, when I’m not rushing around.
K: I think it’s amazing how all of these choices really tie in together and can benefit your well-being, your community, and the environment. A less is more approach is a big shift in mindset that I’m hoping to focus on this year! And my husband and I talked about cutting red meat out of our diet and and swapping in vegetarian dishes at least once a week instead – so keep an eye out for a Meatless Monday recipe series starting soon.
K: Are you making any “green” new year’s resolutions this year? Would love for you to share them with our readers if you’re comfortable!
Gillian: Yes! I always like a chance to reset some sustainable goals. Bring my lunch to work every day! So much waste is produced with even just one takeout lunch. Every other month – do a “Don’t buy anything new” other than the basics to reduce my overall consumerism. Switch over to green energy supplied to my house. In Massachusetts you can select your energy supplier and I want to choose a supplier to go 100% renewable. The energy is still through National Grid, so it doesn’t impact anything on my end. Get creative with dinners by increasing our veggie nights with fun new recipes. Continue working on my food waste. We compost and have reorganized the fridge, but sometimes we still find ourselves throwing out uneaten leftovers or foods gone bad. It is so hard with such a hectic schedule, but it is a journey I continue to work at!
Colleen: Yes. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. We made some big strides in 2019. We got an under-the-sink water filter—no more water bottles or filters for pitchers. I’ve almost stopped buying new clothes. I’ve been using ThredUp for everything except for swimsuits, athletic clothes, jeans and underwear. With a few good reusable containers, I’ve cut out baggies for packing lunches entirely. I almost never cook beef unless I can get it locally. But we still waste food—we’ll be “good” for a long time, and then the fridge will suddenly go haywire. It’s usually tied to how busy I am at work and whether or not I’m cooking. So I’m actually thinking of ways to simplify our weekly menus and ultimately waste less. I’m also thinking about a no-buy or no-buying-new challenge. A few years ago, I noticed I was spending an inordinate amount of my free time at Home Goods and the like, shopping for house accessories. Back then I did a six month ban on buying new stuff for the house. It was easier than I imagined, and I definitely noticed the benefits—both to the budget and the time I was spending in the car. I’m feeling the need for another reset on how much I shop, so I’ll probably do something like this again. Whatever we do, we’ll definitely chronicle it on the blog, so stay tuned!