D.A.S. proudly participated in Moncton’s climate strike march in late September. For us, the march was about showing solidarity, demonstrating to government leaders and to the broader community that “we” - young and old, big and small, businesses and citizens - care about the future of our planet. And that, moreover, we are ready to reassess the priorities that guide our decisions – time, money, security, convenience – to make room for consideration of environmental impact.
The marches were about calling on leaders – those who make and shape policy – to act big and to act quickly. The timing, in the midst of a federal election campaign that had climate change policy at its centre, was ideal. Policy is powerful and necessary when it comes to forcing and enabling major shifts in behaviour. But, for many of us, it is also intangible, out of our control, and slow to have any visible impact. If we focus too much on the big picture problems, the ones we want our leaders to solve, it is easy to get overwhelmed and determine that there’s nothing that we can do but wait.
Which is why we were so pleased to see this sign in the crowd:
Here are five little things that our family has started doing to help reduce our impact on the environment:
1. Beeswax food wrap. Beeswax food wrap might just be the best thing since sliced bread. If you aren’t familiar with it, beeswax food wrap is made from natural cotton material coated in beeswax and is an excellent replacement for plastic wrap. It can be washed (in cool soapy water) and reused for up to a year, and is biodegradable afterwards. While not recommended for raw meat (as washing in hot water would damage the wax coating), the applications are numerous. It can be used for covering bowls or plates of leftovers, wrapping sandwiches or other lunch box items, preserving fruits and vegetables. Don’t go camping without it! One of our most frequent uses? Covering our open cat and dog food cans. Can we say that we never use plastic wrap or Ziploc bags anymore? Not yet, but we’re working toward it. There are a number of options out there, but one of our favourites, made right here in New Brunswick, is Bees Louise…in part because it is made from the same local beeswax as our countertop wax!
2. Lunchbox packaging: With three kids in school and daycare, packing lunches is a major task each evening, and finding a good selection of nutritious foods that they will eat week after week has been a challenge. So it took us a while to get used to the idea of eliminating some of those options because of packaging concerns. We have tried reusable containers for things like yogourt in the past, but the lunch boxes always came home with leaks and spills, which inevitably led to throwing the lunch box away because of smells that we couldn’t get rid of, which kind of defeated the purpose. But our kids are older now (6, 8 and 10), and we have found some easier-to-clean lunch boxes, so we figured it was time to give it another go. When school started in September, we informed the kids that there would be no more ‘little yogourts’, yogourt drinks, fruit cups or juice boxes. Yogourt drinks were perhaps the hardest thing to give up. But nobody is starving. And the amount of plastic we throw away at the end of the day has gone down considerably.
There are still things that we buy that we wish we could find a way around – chocolate milk bottles, for one. If anyone has recommendations for a good reusable container that keeps milk cold, doesn’t leak and doesn’t take on the smell of sour milk over time, please pipe up! And then there are pre-packaged snacks such as granola bars and fruit snacks…pure convenience. We have always made our own cookies and muffins, and it kills us to throw away the plastic containers when we do ‘spoil’ the kids with a store-bought treat, so we do it as little as possible.
We’re not perfect in our litterless lunch ambitions, but moving in the right direction gets easier with each decision that we make. At the heart of it, packaging is now a consideration when we’re choosing food, and we see that as a big win.
3. Bar shampoo: Bar shampoo (and conditioner) is becoming increasingly popular, and with good reason. If you care for it (i.e. don’t leave it sitting in a puddle of water), it can last longer than two or three regular bottles of liquid shampoo – without the plastic packaging or the water and questionable additives. And it works. Really well. Give it some time before you judge – your hair will feel different as the bar shampoo leaves much less residue than regular shampoo. It may take a few trials to find the one that works for you, but the hunt is worth it. Not sure where to start? Check out Upfront Cosmetics, another New Brunswick company that is off to the races. They offer products for a variety of hair types, as well as conditioner bars, which are essential for the thick, curly hair in our household.
4. Plan to drive less: Yes, we own a vehicle…two, in fact. Neither is electric, but our next one probably will be. We both work outside the home and have three kids that go to daycare after school. Sometimes we feel like frauds advocating for sustainable living, while also being dependent on a car. Maybe if we could do it all over again, we would rethink our life and career choices to prioritize living within walking distance of work, school and daycare, but not everyone has that flexibility. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have options, though. We do what we can to minimize our impact on the environment through driving. For example, when we started our business and knew we’d be doing a lot of long distance driving around New Brunswick and beyond, we traded in our truck for a car, which cut our gas consumption in half. We also make a point of planning our trips to minimize the amount of driving that we have to do to get things done. Rather than make a separate trip to the grocery store, we plan to stop on the way home from work once a week, when we’re driving right past. By planning our meals ahead of time and using a grocery list app to keep track of items that we need to stock up on, we can usually avoid multiple trips. If we need to run an errand on the weekend, we plan to do it on the way back from an activity. It saves time, money and gas. (It helps, of course, that neither of us enjoy shopping!)
5. Reduce consumption. There is a reason why ‘Reduce’ falls at the beginning of the three ‘R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. We spend a lot of time talking about buying better things, but what if we just buy less stuff? Consume less? Waste less? There are so many paths to reducing consumption. Here are some that we’ve been focusing on:
Locally made, sustainable products – like beeswax wrap and bar shampoo – are much easier to find these days. If you’re not sure where to find them, check out your local farmer’s market or health food store (such as Sequoia or MacArthur’s Health & Wellness Market in Moncton). The more we demand these products – by purchasing them, telling others about them, using them – the more accessible they will become. If we’re honest, the higher sticker price on some of these products has been a barrier for us, and still is for some things. But little by little, as we dare to try them out, we are realizing that the long-term costs are much lower than we realized. If cash flow is an issue, you may have to build up your stock over time, but that’s okay. Little by little is better than nothing at all.
None of this is ‘enough’, of course. After all, we have just learned from the United Nations that global efforts to stop climate change have been woefully inadequate to date. But think about it this way: if collectively, our individual habits are negatively affecting the environment, then logically, the collective impact of changing our individual habits should have a positive effect. There are so many things that we can do to reduce our impact on the environment at home, and as we go about our day. Convenience, cost, time are all real considerations, and we can’t and shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist. But just because we’re not ready to conquer Mount Everest doesn’t mean that there’s no value in going for a walk.
In the end, it may not be the actual things that you do that make the difference, but the fact that you are doing something. As we discussed in our first blog, the real power of doing little things lies in the impact that these actions have on the stories that you tell yourself about yourself. These stories have a huge influence on the decisions that you make each day. By doing little things to reduce your impact on the environment, you start to see yourself as someone that cares about the environment. And this is how little things turn into bigger things...like giving up a successful, well-paying career to launch a concrete countertop manufacturing business built on a commitment to sustainability!
Concrete is our medium, but sustainability is our mission. Sustainability is about making better choices. This blog aims to help you do that.