Sustainability reading and watching in June

Sustainability read and watch list: June 2020

I read and watch quite a lot of sustainability related content. There’s an incredible amount of really great information and thinking out there once you start looking. But I figured there’s not much point keeping all this to myself. That’s why I have decided to occasionally share some of the articles, videos and podcasts I have found the most interesting, insightful or entertaining.

How language shapes our approach to farming

I recently stumbled across American indigenous regenerative farmer, Chris Newman, on Medium. I love his direct writing style and realism about regenerative farming.

The idea of running a small sustainable farm can seem quaint and romantic, but tough if you have to make a living from it. Let alone feeding large populations. His writing is thought provoking, especially when it comes to matters of stewardship of the land and scale.

One of his articles from earlier this year goes into the relationship of language and how it shapes our worldviews and sense of place.

People ask with the best of intentions for book recommendations on indigenous agriculture, failing to realize that the nucleus of our sustainability ethic is in how we look at the world, not in specific planting or husbandry techniques A person can take indigenous methods and with the wrong worldview, destroy the whole world.

Chris Newman, Indigenous Agriculture: It’s Not the How, It’s the Why

So, instead of giving recommendations about indigenous agriculture, he recommends books that teach how to speak the language of sustainability instead.

Ideas Snippets
Voting with our wallets is only part of the solution

Voting with our wallets: why the approach has limits

Switch to solar energy. Refuse products packaged with excessive plastic packaging. Buy from companies that produce ethically and sustainably.

As consumers we’re constantly told to vote with our wallets to stir our planet from the brink of collapse toward a more sustainable future.

There’s no denying that how and what we buy can have a big impact. And we’re starting to see some changes in the marketplace. Big brands such as Adidas have introduced product lines made from ocean plastics. Fast food chains are offering meat-free burger alternatives on their menus (even though clumsily).

What’s more, there are the countless small business owners and regenerative farmers who are doing things differently. They are working hard to provide consumers with sustainable alternatives to the standard wares on supermarket shelves and retail racks.

And in principal, I agree that we should make purchases that are aligned with our values. But I also believe that the concept of voting with our wallets has some big limitations. We can’t rely on market mechanisms alone to fix the climate crisis.

Ideas
Thoughts on food and sustainability

Food and sustainability – a few thoughts

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about food and sustainability. And I have talked to many amazing people who are making a difference in this space. Some are adopting regenerative farming practices. Others are developing plant-based meat alternatives or are connecting communities to fight food waste.

But the more I learn, the more complicated it all seems. Here are a couple of problems I have been mulling over.

1. Lack of connection with the origin of our food

In the little bubble that I inhabit, it seems like we’re making incredible progress in terms of people making more informed choices about the provenance of their food.

Many people I know are very aware of the issues surrounding food and sustainability. They aim to buy produce that has been grown responsibly. Many are eating less meat, but of much higher quality. And some have given it up altogether.

But I am under no illusion that I am mostly surrounded by people who are very similar to me.

Ideas

Aussie start-up convinces Michelin star chefs with their plant-based meat alternative

The rich flavours of a bolognese sauce. The melt-in-your-mouth texture of slow-cooked meat. There are some dishes that are irresistibly delicious and comforting. So much so that they are making it difficult for many people to adopt a more plant-based diet. Even if they are otherwise convinced that it’s a better choice. 

It’s a conundrum that is all too familiar to Sunshine Coast entrepreneur Michal Fox. After becoming vegetarian four and a half years ago for ethical, health and environmental reasons, he sometimes still found himself craving his favourite dishes that were difficult to recreate without meat. 

And the former CEO of now closed shoe retailer Shoes of Prey kept hearing similar stories in his network. People wanted to reduce their meat consumption, but were struggling with the practicalities. 

The brains behind Fable's plant-based meat creations: Jim Fuller, Michael Fox and Chris McLoghlin (LTR).
Jim Fuller, Michael Fox and Chris McLoghlin (LTR) are the team behind Fable’s plant-based meat creations.

 “I’m a terrible activist, but have some entrepreneurial experience” says Michael. So, after a six months sabbatical during which he kept diving deeper in the complex issues of industrial animal agriculture, he decided to use his skills to help people reduce their meat consumption and launched Fable Food Co.

The plant-based meat company is promising to make it easier for people to create meat-free versions of their favorite recipes without having to compromise on flavour or texture. 

A plant-based meat that harnesses the natural goodness of mushrooms

“When I started to explore the plant-based meat category, two things became really important to me. Firstly, I didn’t want to create another burger or minced beef alternative. There were already quite a few very good products in the market,” explains the self-taught food entrepreneur. “And secondly, I wanted to use only natural ingredients that required minimal processing.” 

Entrepreneurs
Jane Goodall's masterclass teaches valuable lessons in conservation

Jane Goodall’s masterclass: 3 lessons on driving change

Since starting this blog a little less than a year ago, I’ve been lucky enough to speak to some incredibly inspiring people that live a life with impact and have learned a lot from them. But I am also keen to understand if there are general rules that I (and others) can apply to drive meaningful change.

One recent experience that has pushed my thinking in this direction, was taking Dr. Jane Goodall’s masterclass on conservation.

A scientist turned activist

Jane Goodall is probably most well-known for her work with chimpanzees, starting in the 1960s. While observing chimps in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, she discovered – amongst other things – that the animals were picking leaves of sticks and used those modified sticks to fish termites from a nest.

Goodall’s discovery was ground-breaking since scientists up until then thought that only humans were capable of toolmaking. Her insights re-shaped the definition of man and our perception of our closest relatives in the animal kingdom.

In the 1970s Goodall realised that to protect chimpanzees and their habitat from increasing deforestation and destruction, she needed to get out of the forest and spread her message. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute and since then has been working as a tireless advocate for the environment, social justice, poverty alleviation and peace.

Activists Conservationist

Returnr wants to make single-use packaging a thing of the past

The lunchtime trip to the local cafe or takeaway shop is a ritual for many professionals of all collar colors. A nice diversion in the middle of the day. Even if it’s only for a few minutes and the lunch is actually eaten at the desk or on the road.

But our daily habits come at a price – both literally (Australians spend $8.3 billion per year on buying lunch) and metaphorically in terms of the impact our routines have on the environment. The majority of take-out plastic containers are in use for less than 30 minutes before they end up in landfill where they’ll continue to live forever

The good news is that reducing single-use packaging might soon be a lot easier – thanks to initiatives like Melbourne-foobased co-op startup Returnr

A closed-loop reusable container network

“The idea behind Returnr is to completely get rid of single-use packaging,” says Founder and CEO, Jamie Forsyth, about the company’s Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)

To achieve this Jamie is building a closed-loop network of cafes, restaurants, take-away stores, businesses and individuals that uncouples packaging and containers from the idea of ownership.

Jamie Forsyth is looking to reduce single-use packaging
Jamie Forsyth is the Founder & CEO of Returnr. Image credit: Returnr

“One of the problems with owning a reusable container is that it’s so easy to forget at home or it hasn’t yet been cleaned to be able to use them again,” says Jamie. “This friction completely disappears if ownership is taken out of the equation.”

Entrepreneurs
Buy in bulk: how to start living a more sustainable lifestyle

How to start living a more sustainable lifestyle

There is no question that we’re on the brink of an environmental crisis. Scientists have been warning us about the consequences of global warming caused by human activity for decades. In Australia, we now feel the negative impact of global warming on an almost daily basis.

The bushfire crisis has continued for months, and an area of over 10.7 million hectares have been destroyed. Australia is home to over 1800 at-risk plant and animal species, and an estimate of over 1 billion animals have perished.

The world heritage listed Great Barrier Reef has suffered from two major back-to-back coral bleaching events. If water temperatures continue to rise, we might lose large part of the reef forever, destroying a delicate ecosystem and with it the livelihood of thousands of people that depend on it.

At the same time, governments and many multinational companies continue with business as usual. Large scale fossil fuel project such as the Carmichael coal mine in Queensland and a deep water oil drilling project in the Great Australian Bight still forge ahead.

Seeing all these events unfold can lead to a feeling of helplessness. Many of the decisions that have led us to this point can seem out of your control and too complicated to solve as an individual.

But you can make a difference through the choices you make every single day. This article provides you with tips on how to start living a more sustainable lifestyle.

What sustainability means

In very simple terms, sustainability means to meet our own needs without compromising the needs of generations to come.

When you choose to live a sustainable lifestyle, it means that you intentionally avoid things that deplete natural resources, to maintain ecological balance. You leave enough for the environment to replenish itself and avoid products that cause harm to the environment or cannot break down at all.

The 5 R’s of living a more sustainable lifestyle

There are hundreds of small steps you can take to start living a more sustainable lifestyle. The tips below give you some ideas on the habits you can adopt to reduce your personal carbon footprint.

Sustainability tips

Connecting communities to fight food waste

Food waste is a common problem in all industrial societies. According to the Department of Environment and Energy, Australia produced 7.3 million tonnes of food waste in 2016-17. Of this, 34% was created in our homes. At the same time, more than 4 million Australians have experienced food insecurity in the last 12 months.

Queensland impact start-up Spare Harvest is looking to bridge this divide. The app-based community facilitates the swapping, sharing, selling and sourcing of produce, pantry items, gardening equipment, and much more… “We have left the categories and ways in which people interact very open to make it easy for anyone to participate,” explains company founder Helen Andrew.

Over a period of three and a half years – and with very little technical knowledge –  Helen bootstrapped an online marketplace with 3,000 members and around 300 listings.

An idea to fight food waste – grown in the backyard

And it all started with a problem in Helen’s own backyard. When she traded life in the City and her corporate career in favour of a plot of land on the Sunshine Coast and raising her children, she knew one thing for certain: she wanted to be able to grow her own food and provide her kids with an experience similar to her own childhood in suburban Brisbane.

Helen Andrew is fighting food waste
Spare Harvest founder Helen Andrew. Image credit: Spare Harvest

The Sunshine Coast property looked like it would allow her to fulfill that dream. It had many established fruit trees with the potential to add more varieties over time.

Entrepreneurs

This Aussie inventor is making wave energy affordable

In the search for a more sustainable energy mix, solar, wind and nuclear power are clearly dominating the discussion. But there’s another source of renewable energy that has great potential: ocean waves.

“Unfortunately, no wave energy technology has managed to be cost effective until now”, says Oceanographer Tom Denniss. “But we believe that will soon change.”

Wave Swell Energy Founder Tom Denniss
Wave Swell Energy Founder Tom Denniss. Image credit: WSE

Tom and his team at Australian energy technology company Wave Swell Energy (WSE) are about to prove that wave energy has the potential to become a serious player in sustainable power generation. WSE is about to construct and launch a 200 kW wave energy project on King Island, with Hydro Tasmania integrating the electricity from the unit into the local hybrid grid, alongside its existing wind, solar, and diesel generation.

Producing energy through waves at a competitive price

Proving that wave energy can be captured in a cost-competitive way has long been a challenge for the sector. WSE is aiming to demonstrate this capability via the King Island project – and as a result of that to become the first wave energy technology to enter the commercial phase.

Entrepreneurs Thinkers
compostable alternative soft plastic

This Kiwi start-up offers a compostable alternative to soft plastic

As the former owner of three busy restaurants in New Zealand, Ben Grant knows a thing or two about the issue of packaging. “We had about 10,000 people moving through our premises every week and around 50% of our customers were ordering takeaway”, he recalls. “Add to that all the packaging the produce is coming in and you’re dealing with huge piles of rubbish and recycling every day.”

Having always been conscious about the footprint he’s been living, Ben decided to change the packaging industry for the better after he sold his restaurant business in 2018. Together with Josh Kempton he founded Grounded Packaging, a start-up company that is aiming to replace soft plastic with compostable packaging from bio-based materials.

“The reason why we focussed on soft plastic is that it is the most problematic area within our current waste and recycling system”, says Ben.

Ben Grant is the co-founder of Grounded Packaging offering compostable alternatives to soft plastic.
Ben Grant is the co-founder of Grounded Packaging.

Soft plastic cannot be processed through the kerbside recycling system because it gets caught in the machinery (side note: soft plastic can get recycled through RedCycle). At the same time, soft plastic – like most plastics – is made from petrochemicals and is therefore detrimental to the environment in more than one way.

Why we still need packaging

Yet, while the movement against single-use plastic is gathering momentum in some regions, it’s difficult to imagine a modern world without packaging.

“Packaging material fulfils an important role in life – and especially in the food industry”, says Ben. For instance, packaging is known to significantly increase the shelf life of fresh produce which in turn helps to reduce food waste.

Entrepreneurs