2021: New Year, Greener Year
Happy New Year! I’m sure we’re all hoping for an improvement in 2021, let’s just say it has a LOT to live up to! In the meantime, how about we give it a little shove in the right direction and help the planet at the same time?
Every January, I share some #smallchanges we can make to live a little greener. OK, it’s nothing to do with branding, but it’s everything to do with our brand, as one of our values is being kind – to each other, our clients, suppliers and the planet. I know that previous blogs have inspired readers to make some significant life changes, so I’ll keep updating this blog each year with my tiny steps to a greener life in the hope of inspiring new readers (and old!) with my finds.
All these tips are geared for busy people like you – easy, realistic, affordable and sustainable. Even if you just do one thing, every little helps.
Consuming less meat and dairy is the single biggest way to help the planet.
We tried to go vegan (Oct ’19-Mar ’20) – we lasted six months, Andy and I lost 2 stone between us (!), but then lockdown #1 happened. Groceries were hard enough to come by, plus preparing 3-4 different meals each time once we were homeschooling, with son #1 a veggie, son #2 a meat-lover and Andy a vegan, was driving me insane! I told hubby something had to give, so we went back to being vegetarian (with some meat occasionally to keep son #2 happy) which made life so much easier!
Also, I just love cheese and eggs too much! I prefer ‘real’ food, so wasn’t sure about all the ingredients needed to simulate a fake version of something that didn’t taste as good. These products were ‘OK’ if you wanted to try them…
- Smoked Gouda Style slices in sandwiches and with pickles, not a bad smoky, mild cheddar substitute.
- Nush almond milk chive-flavoured cream cheese. Kind of like Philadephia.
- Oatly Barista the best milk substitute to have in your coffee/tea as it tastes nice and doesn’t separate.
So veganism wasn’t for us long term and although we still eat a lot of vegan food, 2020 was about finding more balance and an easier, less restrictive way to live that kept the whole family happy in a very strange year.
We all eat vegetarian 80-90% of the time now – but still enjoy a bit of quality meat sometimes (not Luc, who’s stayed veggie, I’m so proud of him and his principles), it’s just all more mindful, what we eat.
For those of you embracing a more flexitarian way of life, do also try the ‘Beyond Meat’ Honest ‘Plant’ Burger – it’s AMAZING. (I thought they’d given me a meat one by mistake!).
These are family faves too…
- Cauldron sausages – luscious, flavoursome and ‘meaty’ (gently fry – they can dry out under the grill) – 3/4 of us have these over meat now (little carnivore son #2 gets Heck chicken sausages instead)
- Tivall soy hotdogs – an occasional junk-treat for the boys, even meat-loving son #2 loves these! Thaw and heat through in boiling water – serve with ketchup in a bun, or chop into a tomato pasta sauce.
- For my completely inauthentic, but v. yummy vegan(ish) spaghetti bolognese, sauté a thinly-sliced leek, grate in a large carrot (or two smaller ones), a large courgette and a punnet of mushrooms. Stir till softened then add a pack of Vivera Soya Mince. I then add flavour, depth and colour with garlic, vegetable Bouillon powder, ketchup, tomato purée, Worcester sauce (leave out if vegan), balsamic glaze, chilli flakes, Marmite (!), red wine, chocolate/cocoa powder and seasoning. Sorry, I have no measures on this – to taste!
- Add 1-2 tins of kidney beans to the leftover base the next day for a chilli ‘sin carne’ and serve with rice, tacos, guacamole, grated cheese, shredded lettuce and 0% Skyr yoghurt (a healthier alternative to sour cream).
A few winning 2021 vegan slow-cooker recipes:
- This Jambalaya
- A Quinoa chilli and
- Veggie stew (we put more spice/flavour than suggested). The only downside is I was soon hungry again as this one has no protein, so I add butter beans.
A regular weekend treat
- These delicious breakfast burritos. The tofu and hummus mimic scrambled eggs. Andy makes a batch of these every week and wraps them individually so we can grab one or two for a quick lunch in the working week.
Other greener food tips…
I try and buy seasonally and choose the ‘wonky veg’ options to reduce food waste.
We choose food brands with less packaging (e.g. Kerrygold butter in a recyclable wrapper). We have an insulated butter dish so we can keep it out. Oxo cubes have no plastic, minimal and recyclable packaging, as opposed to Knorr stock-pots, say.
Greener 2021 drinks
- Milk & More deliver our milk, apple and orange juice in reusable glass bottles. They now also do dairy-free in glass too!
- We use reusable metal bottles for our water, healthier than plastic ones which can leach BPAs and harbour bacteria.
- We LOVE our Contigo cups. Spill-proof in your bag, on your desk, or around children. Drinks stay hot for hours and we save a fortune!
- Looseleaf tea was an #ecofail for me – way too faffy – so I’m still waiting on a plastic-free decaffeinated tea teabag in 2021. Find out how much plastic is in your tea brand here.
- Coffee: instead of using pods, Andy buys sacks of beans and grinds his own.
- We love our SodaStream with its glass bottles – plastic-free sparkling water on tap and healthy fizzy drinks (diluted juices for the kids, a squeeze of fresh lime for me).
- Did you know that paper straws use up EIGHT times more resource (trees, water and energy) than plastic?! Refuse ALL straws when you’re out and buy stainless steel or glass ones if you need to. If you really can’t do a cocktail without a straw in 2021, then this telescopic one clips to your key ring!
- Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up transformed our lives. We got rid of things that didn’t ‘spark joy’ and ended up with an organised, uncluttered home, despite kids. Don’t underestimate the extra headspace, time and calm this gives you – I’m sure it helped me write my book. I’m an obsessive de-clutterer now.
- Having less means we buy less because we know what we’ve got and how little we need. What we do buy is now more considered, more beautiful, higher-quality and longer-lasting. A & I tried to go Christmas shopping in December 2020 but the shops just all seemed full of cr*p we didn’t want or need!
- Not that we’ve been to the shops much this year (yay for Ocado!) but I keep cotton or jute shopping bags in our car, by our coats and in my rucksack or bag so now we are rarely caught out needing a plastic bag. If you do have some though, Ocado pay 5p per bag (any brand) to recycle them.
- We’ve previously asked for ‘experiences‘ for the kids off the grandparents. No clutter, just great memories.
- In pre-Covid years Andy and I would gift each other tickets to events, memberships and meals out instead of more ‘stuff’, e.g a V&A membership, a knife-skills course or gig tickets. (This year we went for hoodies and socks…how times have changed!). We’ve already booked our 2021 anniversary dinner in the new year and look forward to supporting the arts, entertainment and hospitality industries again as soon as we possibly can.
- Amongst my children’s friends, we parents now tend to gift Amazon vouchers so they can put it towards a bigger present, rather than boxes of soon-discarded plastic toys.
- The Christmas before, my family did a Secret Santa so each adult only needed to buy one present for another adult. Last year, we all agreed to just buy for the kids. Far from ‘Bah Humbug’ it was actually, totally liberating! We just focused on spending quality time with loved ones and Christmas felt less stressful as a result. 2020 has meant no Christmas get-togethers (my dad’s shielding) so we’ll celebrate properly when we next meet (post-vaccine!), with gifts for the kids.
- Metallic, glittery or sparkly papers won’t recycle. I use plain-coloured or brown paper and traditional parcel tags with string all year round. If you want to decorate the paper, stamping inks recycle (but poster paint doesn’t).
- Instead of Christmas cards, in previous years I’ve spent a similar amount on food meals instead via Centrepoint. I have to say, this year, I felt the need to make ‘tangible’ contact with friends we’d not seen all year, so I did revert to the traditional sending of cards – a comfort thing. But thanks to the support from our clients in 2021 we were also able to gift 50 meals for homeless people on their behalf via Centrepoint.
- It started last year with son #1’s awesome teacher, but due to Covid this year, all the teachers at their school are now giving a charitable donation on behalf of their class as a gift – e.g. adopting a panda as a class.
- We have a great ‘freecycle’ system in our area. We’ve created a Whatsapp group of our street and the two streets on either side and most things people don’t want get ‘swapped’ on there. Also our local ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ Facebook group is great for swapping, selling or buying items second-hand. My elder son got a bigger bike for £50 and we sold little one’s bike for £30 (he gets his brother’s hand-me-down bike, such is the lot of the second child!) so it only cost us £20 to upgrade bikes the two boys! I even swapped my kids’ outgrown Hunter wellies for two bottles of wine 🙂
I was horrified to learn that a lot of brands (even designer ones) send returned goods to landfill, So for 2020, I pledged not to shop online as much for clothes – then of course 2020 happened, so I didn’t shop for many clothes at all! Except for some ‘Zoom’ tops of course. My red dresses, bought for the speaking gigs I had planned after my book launch are all still on hangers with tags…I guess it’s like a whole new wardrobe for when the world returns to a semblance of sociable again.
Did you know that up to 95% of fabrics that go into landfill could be either re-worn or recycled? We reuse or recycle all of ours:
- Outgrown clothes get passed down – at least 4-5 kids in our family get to wear them now! We also pass on outgrown toys and books to their school, charity shops or sell them (the cash incentive helps the boys ditch them!)
- You can use old garments as cleaning rags or use nicer fabrics to wrap presents, Japanese-style.
- Take all unusable, worn, holey fabrics (even socks, tights, pants…) to H&M for recycling and you get a £5 voucher per shopping bag. Yes, they are responsible for a lot of fast fashion, but for my fast-growing boys it makes financial sense to shop there.
- Take any old bras to Bravissimo – they ship the reusable ones to women in developing countries, others get broken up and recycled and they make a donation to charity.
- Andy & I have both had a stylist do our ‘colours’ and a wardrobe edit. We shop a lot less now but it saves time and costly mistakes if we do. I wear more of my wardrobe now because I can find everything and am rediscovering and restyling old faves.
- I found a great local seamstress, who also breathed new life into old existing pieces and tailors high-street finds to look bespoke. Best investment ever!
- I get a bit overwhelmed in second-hand stores – but I’m a convert to eBay – and it feels great to buy ‘greener’. I also used to buy 0-4 yr clothes and toys – often unused – from our NCT Nearly New Sales.
- For years, my friends and I used to host ‘swish’ parties: bring a bottle for a fun night, a free wardrobe boost and leftovers go to charity. There are clothes-swap events all over Eventbrite too (I presume socially-distanced!)
- Moths? Put any damaged garments in sealed food bags and freeze for 24 hours to kill off any larvae before putting them in the fabric recycling. Wash the rest with a cup of vinegar. Mothballs are highly toxic to the environment but moths also avoid a lot of natural essential oils and spices. Bonus – your cupboards smell lovely!
- I have a Kindle and buy most books digitally now, but I also like listening to audiobooks and TEDtalks in the shower. I still like having real books in the house though, so we kept our favourites and passed on or charity-shopped a load more.
- Charity-shop or Music Magpie your CDs and DVDs in favour of streaming services such as Spotify and Netflix.
- The British Heart Foundation will collect your old furniture for free and you can donate your old working electrical goods too.
- Batteries: We’ve been using rechargeable ones for 10 years now. They cost more to buy but we just replaced our disposable ones as they ran out. We have a Universal battery charger and keep charged spares ready-to-go. Some of the older batteries have started to not hold charge now, so we take any dead ones to our local Sainsbury’s battery-recycling bin.
- A Smart Meter displayed how much energy we were using e.g. when putting the tumble drier on. It shocked me into buying a retractable double washing line and (recyclable) pegs!
- We installed energy-saving LED Hue lighting and motion sensors throughout our home and the garden. They do need some outlay and set-up, but they’ve stopped me huffing at my family for leaving the lights on! They’re also great if the kids get up at night – the lights can be set dim so as not to wake them up too much. We can even control them from our phones when we’re away (the lights, not the kids, obviously!)
- Our Nest thermostat also smartly regulates our heating via an app, so when we are out of the house it turns the heating down.
- All the above halved our energy bills in a year ...and we made even more savings in 2020 switching to Octopus renewable energy. If you want £50 off carbon-offset energy (for both of us!) click this link here.
GO GREEN TO CLEAN
Microfibre cloths although synthetic, rate really well from an eco-friendly perspective. They wash well, last for years, are super absorbent so we need much less cleaning product or kitchen roll. These glass cloths polish mirrors/windows with just water too.
I make all my own vinegar-based cleaning products. It’s so easy, fast and cheap – 5l bottles of white wine vinegar and reused spray bottles. We only spend about £30 on cleaning products per year and the house sparkles.
Don’t worry about the smell, it fades as it dries. If you’re really nervous, you can scent it with lemons (I don’t bother any more). Cut any squeezed lemons into wedges and push them into the vinegar bottle. Just keep adding over time. BONUS: Prise them out when the vinegar is done and you have preserved lemons! Chop them up and use them in couscous salads, chicken or fish dishes. Zero-waste and deeeeelicious.
Cleaning product recipes for a greener 2021…
- For burnt-on pans/kettles/toasters, ovens and tough stains: Bicarbonate of soda and vinegar. This works better than a highly toxic oven cleaner I once bought years ago and couldn’t inhale or allow to touch my skin. Mix into a paste, rub on, leave for a bit, use elbow grease, wipe/rinse. Or make a more liquid mix and let it fizz away. Easier still: I burnt a pan and just put water and vinegar in immediately. After a few minutes, the gunk just lifted off with a gentle scrape and my pan’s shinier than ever. Magic!
- All-purpose cleaner: for tiles, sinks, glass, mirrors and worktops (not granite/marble): 50/50 vinegar/water and a good ‘squidge’ of classic Fairy liquid in a bottle. Tip gently back and forth to mix.
- Granite or marble: a drizzle of washing up liquid and a hot damp microfibre cloth. Wipe, rinse, squeeze, repeat. Lift any stains with a gentle paste of bicarb and water. Don’t use anything acidic on these surfaces.
- Magical limescale remover (bathrooms, tiles, taps): 50/50 vinegar and classic Fairy. Warm the vinegar to combine it more easily and tip bottle gently back and forth to mix. Spray on, leave overnight. Rinse and scrub taps with an old toothbrush or wipe off surfaces. Gasp at the shine.
- Toilet bowl descaler: For the scale at the bottom of the loo: use a loo brush (this is the best and most hygenic I’ve found) to push as much water as you can down the U-bend. Boil 1-2 inches of vinegar in a kettle (cleans the kettle too!), pour down the loo, close the lid. Leave for a few hours, or overnight if you can. Scrub – the scale will just lift off. Repeat if needed. For under the rim, use the magical limescale remover above.
- Drains: Commercial drain cleaners are so toxic to our waterways! De-clog smelly drains with dry bicarb down the plughole, pour vinegar over it to make it fizz. Leave 1/2 hr and pour a kettle of boiled water down to flush everything away. Repeat if needed.
- Furniture polish: 50% olive oil, 40% water, 10% vinegar. Shake well before use. Store in a cool, dark cupboard. Add a few drops of orange oil or similar if you want it scented.
- Floors: for tiles, linoleum, sealed wooden floorboards and laminate. Fill a mop bucket with hot water, add some Fairy and a good glug of vinegar. Cuts through grease, dirt and germs. Wring the mop as dry as possible before use.
- Dishwasher: put half a teacup of vinegar in the top rack. Everything sparkles like new and it descales your machine. Also use vinegar instead of expensive rinse aid.
- Washing machine: add half a cup of vinegar into the drum or the fabric-conditioner drawer. Whitens whites, removes soap scum so darks look darker, softens fabrics, descales, deodourises. kills germs and prevents scum/mould build-up.
- Algae: on paths, walls etc. Paint/spray neat vinegar on the areas and leave for a few days to work. Wash off with a hose and broom/brush.
- We have been using soap bars as a family for the whole of last year and now I’ve also moved us all onto shampoo bars. They lather and wash really nicely! Brilliant, no more shampoo bottles emptied “by accident” into the bath by the kids and bars are great for travel too. I’ve also started to use a gentle facial bar to cleanse my skin too.
- Of course, all these bars need somewhere to rest. This is the best soap holder I’ve found. It attaches to the wall with a strong suction cup. No tile damage or tools needed. The soap dries quickly with air all round. And it is large and strong enough to hold three (body, shampoo and facial) bars easily. I got one for each bathroom. Bonus: with no bottles on surfaces, everything looks neater and is easier to clean too.
- I’ve to find a decent conditioner bar. I tried an Ethique one and it was like rubbing my head with a lump of candle-wax – straight in the bin. Recommendations are more than welcome, although my hairdresser says she has yet to find a good bar conditioner.
- If you want to stick to your regular shampoo, buy the biggest size you can. One x 900ml bottle uses less plastic than 3 x 300ml ones. Avoid buying travel-sized bottles – that’s a disproportionate use of plastic. Just decant your usual products into smaller re-usable containers for trips.
- Cotton buds with paper ‘sticks’ are a no-brainer – buy here
- Use washable cleansing cloths or natural facial sponges instead of cotton wool (which takes a huge amount of water and land to produce) or wipes (most don’t biodegrade).
- Plastic toothbrushes don’t recycle and will outlive your grandchildren’s grandchildren in landfill. So I use bamboo toothbrushes. Still no bamboo electric toothbrush heads, sadly.
- For a natural tooth whitener, try a paste of bicarb and water – or combine it with toothpaste to hide the taste!
- Oh, and turn your tap off whilst you’re brushing!
- Dental floss and interdental brushes don’t break down and are harmful to wildlife so we have an electric water flosser.
- Save water with this FREE kit here – if you’re metered, the tap aerators and shower timers will save you £££s too.
- #PlasticFreePeriod: We ladies typically spend over £18,000 and use up to 11,000 sanitary products in a lifetime. I’ve been using a ‘Mooncup‘ since 2008. Hygienic, zero waste, and saves a fortune. There are also other alternatives on the market including Thinx, ModiBodi and these.
- As a greener way of giving, we gifted 51 meals for the homeless via Centrepoint on behalf of our clients for Christmas 2020.
- We make sure that all the packaging we use for our business when sending books and anything else to clients, is 100% recyclable – including this brown tape – or at the very least, recycled.
- www.ecosia.org is a search engine that plants trees with every search. We’ve been using it since the forest fires in Australia earlier in 2020. My little eco-warrior, Leon, eight, made posters about it and put them up in his school, to spread the word to teachers and pupils.
- InnerVisions ID runs a virtually paper-free business. Everything is digital and backed-up in the Cloud.
- Travel took a dive in 2020, but we work remotely anyway, so that didn’t make a huge difference to our business – our weekly meetups moved to Zoom. It did allow our team to expand with the right people in different cities.
- As a member of ZEN (Zero Emissions Network) we have a partnership with Calverts printers. They only use recycled or FSC-accredited papers and non-toxic inks. Our clients get a 10% discount and we waive our 15% print handling fee if you use them.
- Join the Guardian Sustainable Business Network in 2021, to keep up-to-date with other ethical and sustainability innovations.
- Watch my winning talk at the Good Pitch Summit where I talk about how every business can be a Force for Good.
Living life more sustainably will make 2021 better whatever else the year has in store for us. Do let us know if this blog post sparks any change for you!