Featured

How to bank ethically to help the environment: a summary of UK climate friendly banks

Are you fed up with the banks using your hard earned cash to fund the climate crisis? Ready to bank your money on a more environmentally friendly bank account instead?

Let’s be straight: I am no financial adviser. I’m a 38-year-old English writer and mum-of-one with an average ability to manage my money wisely and minimal commitment to change my financial habits (because it’s ‘too hard’ ‘takes too long’, ‘I’d rather drink wine’ etc, etc.).

But I realise — as I watch countless news reports on the Australian bushfires, floods in the UK and the world’s creeping loss of biodiversity — that I can no longer sit idly by as my money is invested in fossil fuels if I want to be the environmental campaigner I claim to be. 

Scientists say we need to keep fossil fuels firmly in the ground if we are to avert irreparable damage to our planetary ecosystem. But so many banks continue to finance new fossil fuel projects. So no more banking badly. I need to invest more wisely if I genuinely care for the climate.

What follows is the late-night research I’ve pulled together to help ensure my paycheck – and yours – works to help the environment, not kill it.

Is my bank funding climate change?

Since 2016, UK banks have poured almost £150bn into fossil fuel projects and continue to finance firms driving significant rainforest deforestation.

Highstreet banks including RBS Group (Coutts, Ulster Bank, RBS, NatWest), Barclays, Santander, HSBC and Citibank funds extreme fossil fuels, like tar sands, Arctic oil and coal mining. On the latter issue HSBC, Standard Chartered, Barclays and RBS have funded new coal plants to the tune of £25 billion since 2015. The top three banks fuelling climate change worldwide are JP Morgan Chase, Citi and Bank of America.

Was some of that wedge from your wallet?! The best thing to do is to check where your money is going. Unearthed is a good source of information as is the Rainforest Action Network, which provides a full breakdown of banks’ fossil fuel funding. Market Forces have a full list of Australian banks’.

What is the ethical alternative to high street banks?

First off, be aware the word ethical can mean several things.  In finance terms it means the bank has rules and policies to ensure they have no negative impact on four key areas: the environment, animal rights, politics and human rights. I had no idea about this before I started so it’s worth researching exactly how much the bank benefits the climate if your focus is the planet – not forgetting though of course that many of those areas are intrinsically connected.

Ethical banks offer similar products and services to ordinary highstreet banks, but they vary in how they avoid supporting businesses that follow unethical practices, like supplying fossil fuels, animal testing or enabling child labour. They may invest your money in causes that have a more positive social and environmental impact, such as renewable energy sources or help for poor communities. 

Which ethical banks are best for the environment?

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

The current account options that aren’t burdened with a load of fossils are those offered by Triodos, Nationwide and Cumberland Building Societies, Co-operative Bank and Metro Bank, according to Ethical Consumer magazine. Clydesdale/Yorkshire Bank were also listed in the report, but they are soon to go under a Virgin Money takeover.

I give a more in depth version of each of their environmental credentials below, along with a low down on which one may be better for your pocket, but before I do, it’s worth knowing the difference between building societies and banks. I didn’t know this myself before I started this research, but building societies do not invest members’ money in stocks and shares, therefore many of the issues normally associated with ethical investment do not apply to them. Banks are generally listed on the stock market and have external shareholders and usually offer a wider range of products.

Which ethical bank is better value for my money?

For anyone looking to save more ethically, it’s good to know that while the rates tend to be lower in comparison to the best deals, they are often still much better than the biggest banks, according to Your Money.com.

For example, on easy access savings accounts, ethical banks such as Triodos offer 0.80% while Ecology Building Society offers 0.85% and Nationwide (which does not make a point of supporting renewable energy, but crucially does not invest in fossil fuels) offers 0.10% to 0.25%. In comparison mainstream rival Virgin Money offers 1.5% while fossil fuelling banks HSBC and Natwest offer a meagre 0.10% – 0.25% respectively.

These ethical banks are also covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which means that up to £85,000 of your savings is protected should they go bust.

What’s more compelling is that on current accounts, ethical bank Nationwide actually comes out as best for your money compared to the dirty banks such as Santandar, according to Moneyexpert.com. Ethical banks Cumberland and Yorkshire bank are not far behind.

However, depending if you’re a student, homeowner or business owner, you’ll have different needs to consider and the rates on ethical current accounts, savings and mortgages are pretty mixed, so do your research before switching. Naturally I’d advocate you choose an environmentally-friendly bank, but we all have individual financial needs (some more great than others) so where you choose to put your money is up to you.

Here’s a quick look at those banks and building societies that have been rated highly on the environment and generally on ethical issues.

Which ethical banks are good for the environment? A summary of the banks that do not fund fossil fuels

Triodos Bank

This bank is the only ethical bank that invests seriously in renewables, according to Ethical Consumer. It specialises in supporting ‘organic farming, renewable energy and ecological development to name  few along with some other good causes.

It’s a bank with a difference: on its current account you have to pay a £3 monthly fee which “goes towards the cost of running your current account”, and you’ll earn zero interest on balances. But considering that banks typically fund their ‘free’ accounts with hidden costs and high charges on overdrafts; and the fact most tempting high in-credit interest rates get slashed soon after you join and this £3 charge suddenly feels very reasonable. Additionally, an overdraft facility of £2,000 is available. 

The biggest benefit to this account is it’s honest and transparent. It publishes details of every organisation that it lends to on its website and claims to lend only to companies that have a positive impact on the planet. It is strikingly the most ethical bank on tax avoidance strategies, according to Ethical Consumer

The final feather in the cap for Tridos bank is the fact that Friends of the Earth have worked with it for nearly 13 years. The charity is currently appealing to its customers to take out an account with the bank. For every new customer the bank will donate £40 to the charity once your balance reaches £100. 

Ecology Building Society 

The Good Shopping Guide rates the Ecology Building Society second for its general ethical policies and practicals. 

In terms of the climate, the building society says it is dedicated to using customers’ savings to support mortgage lending on properties and projects that respect the environment. It promises a ‘fair financial return’ for this.

The Ecology Building Society does not offer current accounts. This climate conscious bank is a good option for anyone who needs a mortgage for a property that will benefit local communities or the environment, such as someone planning to build an eco house. 

Nationwide

If you’re after range and flexibility, then the world’s largest building society, Nationwide, probably offers the most options.

In 2016 it became the first high street financial services provider in the UK to achieve triple recertification to the Carbon Trust Standards for its “holistic approach” to managing carbon, water and waste throughout everything it does.

As a building society it doesn’t come weighed down with fossil fuel investments and claims it is ‘committed to managing our resources in ways that protect and support the long-term interests of our associates, our members and the communities in which we live and work’. Read more on their impact here. 

Cumberland Building Society

As in independent regional building society, Cumberland claims to take its social and ethical responsibilities seriously. Its environmental policy aims to manage and reduce its environmental impacts through ‘ongoing energy conservation, recycling and waste reduction’ and as a mutual organisation it does not need to maximise profit for external shareholders, so it can afford to stick to its ethics.

This bank offers a free current account and will switch all your data over for you, so you don’t have to. It also offers a business account, savings and mortgages. You can read stories of how it benefits people in the community here.

The Co-operative bank

The Co-operative bank made UK history when it publicly focussed on withholding investments from certain companies they deemed unethical or immoral. They have rejected more than £1 billion worth of loan applications since they adopted their ethical policy in 1992. The policy includes not investing in fossil fuels or arms manufacturing, or in companies that test on animals or have poor labour practices. Their refreshed ethical policy is supposedly stronger than ever.

Coop bank has suffered a difficult period – at one point their whole future was in the balance. In February 2017 the bank was put up for sale and was rescued by hedge funds, putting its ethical position under question. There’s more information on this here. However the bank has made some recovery, according to some commentators.

The bank also owns Smile, a subsidiary ethical bank.

Charity Bank 

Charity Bank comes out top of ethical banks according to Good Shopping Guide. It’s website prints full details of how much they have lent to different charitable sectors since 2002. So you can see the environment has received £10, 723, 681 compared to projects in health and social care, which received £57,184,200. Read its impact report here. It is completely owned by ‘charitable foundations, trusts and social purpose organisations’ and offers savings accounts and loans.

Monzo  

This new app-based bank is one of the players taking the UK under-30s by storm, mainly for the fact that it offers a prepaid debit card before switching customers over to a full-blown current account, but also because it claims to be ethical.

Credit where credit is due, it does focus on ‘solving customers’ problems, rather than selling financial products’ and it aimst to ‘get rid of punitive fees that hit when you’re most vulnerable’.  

However, I couldn’t find any company information or policies about the environmental impacts of its operations. As a digital only bank it also doesn’t mention the use of data centres, which require staggeringly large amounts of carbon emissions to keep running. The rise in app-based banking is not single-handedly fuelling this, but it may be an area that the community of customers might want to ask for further information on. I also felt it would be helpful to have more information on who it’s backed by – does it include individual investors and venture capitalists who hold investments across a wide range of other industries?

Handelsbanken 

Handelsbanken promote ‘responsible lending’ according to choose.co.uk. Each local branch is decentralised from the international umbrella bank, which means it gets to know its customer base and local community, ‘allowing it to make ethically sound lending decisions on a case-by-case basis’.

From an environmental point of view, the bank states that it promotes ‘sustainable investments’. It publishes a list of companies it does not work with; most of which are coal extraction companies and nuclear power companies. But the list does not include BP or Exxon, two of the world’s biggest polluters.

TSB

Since their relaunch in September 2013, TSB have made a great deal of their desire to be the UK’s ‘local bank’, in the sense that branches are independent of each other. They then take that one step further by using the money invested with them to fund loans and mortgages for other local people and businesses, according to chose.co.uk. 

The modern TSB don’t have an investment banking or corporate finance arm, focusing instead on UK-only retail banking.

Do you feel inspired to change bank after reading this? Let me know by sharing your story here, by commenting below or on my Instagram page.

Featured

The interview with a model that awoke my activist side

I interviewed Renee Elizabeth Peters for Elle magazine in 2019. I considered myself pretty well informed about the environment beforehand, but afterwards I realised I needed to reactivate the inner campaigner and work harder to make a difference to the climate.

I always thought I lived as environmentally consciously as I could. I don’t buy plastic bottles and litter pick when I can; I drive a hybrid electric car, use reusable nappies for my baby, vote for local Government candidates who I think will bring in a greener economy and I petition against policies I think are damaging to our planet.

But when I interviewed New York model and sustainability campaigner Renee Elizabeth Peters for Glamour magazine a new wave of frustration about politicians’ inaction over climate change crept over me.

In the story Renee argues that living sustainably is only possible if you’re privileged with enough ‘time, accessibility and money’ to do so.

She was referring to the fact that for many people living on low-incomes, juggling several jobs on top of life’s usual pressures, living sustainably is out of reach. They don’t have the money to buy organic food or clothes, the knowledge or time to invest in planning more vegetarian or vegan meals and they can’t necessarily afford to live in a neighbourhood where waste is collected or where the air and land isn’t polluted.

I’d agree with her. Since trying to go more green this year I have been feeling pretty stressed and overwhelmed. It comes at a time when I’m striving to set up my own freelance business and earn an income while coping with my baby’s sleepless nights all while managing the daily grind of being the best mum, wife, friend and daughter I can be. Not to mention the fact that I’m going green solo in a house of three.

The result is I find I have little time to research and implement greener practices around the home as I’m tired and would rather play with my baby than investigate a plastic and toxic free household cleaning alternative.

The fact is I’m privileged enough live in a nice neighbourhood where good recycling is the norm and I afford that milk bottle delivery instead of buying milk cartons.

But what about those who can’t? What about those who are even more exhausted than I am from dealing with severe health complaints, work 12 hour shifts, or lack the access to information and education to be more green?

I have tried hard to be more green in 2019, but I’ve found it difficult while juggling my business and being a busy mum. But what about those who are less privileged than me?

In the Glamour article, Renee relieves the intense pressure upon individuals to shift the emphasis on to governments.

Instead she asks what they could do be doing to enact policy that would make a more significant difference to climate change.

As part of the story I had to immerse myself in research on climate change and interrogate what the UK Government was doing to stop it.

I was shocked to realise that there were so many areas of policy that could really make an impact and angered to see such slow progress despite our politicians knowing for 30 years environmental catastrophe was heading our way.

I always supported policies that enabled more renewable energy and been horrified at our Government for allowing fracking in the UK. But I hadn’t, for example, considered that subsidies for organic farming rather than dairy farming, which fuels climate change, could be a progressive policy.

I hadn’t also appreciated how modernising our housing stock to make it energy efficient had stalled because of a lack of political will. And I’d also never felt so angry about the woeful lack of responsibility manufacturers and supermarkets currently have after interviewing Women’s Environmental Network co-director Beth Summers, who is campaigning for more affordable eco-friendly products to be accessible to us all.

I should think that’s the case for many people. We simply don’t have the time to consider these things in the depth they deserve because we are too busy making a living and let’s face it – trying to live our lives as happily as can be with those who are most important to us.

That’s nothing to be ashamed of. On the contrary politicians have access to all the information and they are in power to make the right decisions on our behalf. That’s what they are employed to do.

But the buck has to stop somewhere. And when you’re in power you have to make uncomfortable decisions that may not make you popular.

Yes they are often at the whim of public opinion, which can be limiting in an age of increasing populism. And yes some politicians in power also chose to deny that climate change is happening despite compelling evidence that shows even modest C02 emissions could set off a cascade of melting ice, warming seas and dying forests could send the Earth into a “hothouse” state beyond which human efforts to reduce emissions will be “futile”.

So eschewing that plastic bottle and saving your crisp packets for recycling, is a virtuous act, but it is only scratching the surface.

It’s politicians that can truly facilitate a more sustainable lifestyle for us, so in the absence of them acting on the issue, the single most effective thing you can do is call upon them to do more.

The fact is the future of our planet is up to us if we act collectively and engage in politics. How do we do that? In the article Renee gives some good pointers, but here’s some more ideas to start a climate revolution.

An anti-fracking march. Credit Campaign Against Climate Change.

You could also email or message your favourite clothes brands and tell them how you love their garments, but you don’t love their sustainability practices and want them to do more. You can find out who is hot and who is not in the fashion industry on the Good On You app.

Some of these ideas could only take 10-15 minutes, some may take 10 hours. But given that our environmental impacts are so long-lasting, the future is the politics we make today.

Solving climate change is about power, money, and political will. By adding your voice to growing calls for climate justice you can help change the political will of those in power with all the money. So that’s 10 minutes or 10 hours well spent for a future that’s less impacted by climate change in my opinion.

What inspired you to help the climate? I’d love to hear your story. Share it here.

Featured

How to help with the NSW and Queensland bushfires

If you’ve been watching the nightmarish images on television about the Australian wildfires and feeling numb there is something you can do.

You can donate, volunteer or petition to support the people, communities and wildlife affected by the disaster.

Take a look below for some ideas.

Petition 

This catastrophe needs awareness and real action. Signing this ongoing petition from Change.org, could help.

It calls on Australian PM Scott Morrison to officially declare the Australian fires a national emergency. So far the PM has sent Australia backwards on its climate change policy, according to the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, which ranked Australia last of 57 countries. In fact the coal-dependent economy, has one of the highest per capita greenhouse gas emission rates globally.

While bushfires are a natural part of the Australian cycle, the Bureau of Meteorology has said the rising heat has exacerbated drought which in turn has made dangerous fires more frequent and more intense. Petitions can enact real change, so don’t just sit on it; sign it.

Help people 

The Australian Red Cross is supporting communities affected by bushfires across NSW, Queensland, and South Australia. They are supporting evacuation centres for people who have lost their homes, providing emotional support and running a Register.Find.Reunite page. Donate here.

The NSW Rural Fire Service accepts direct financial contributions from the public. Local RFS brigades rely heavily on volunteers and contributions from their communities to sustain their efforts. You can use your credit card to donate to a local brigade, or to the RFS generally, via this link. Donations can also be accepted via bank transfer or cheque/money order. Details of the RFS bank account and addresses for cheques and money orders can be found here

The Salvation Army have set up a Disaster Appeal and are supporting people who have lost homes, require food, shelter and other essentials. 

Help wildlife

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital is helping to rescue koalas affected by the fires. The fires have caused huge damage to local koala populations. The hospital estimates as many as 350 koalas have died. It says about 75% of the fireground is in prime koala habitat. It is raising funds to purchase and distribute automatic drinking stations to reduce further death from dehydration.

Wireswildliferescue is the New South Wales Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service Inc. who rehabilitate and preservice Australian wildlife. With over 850,000 hectares of land being destroyed it is impossible to estimate the impact on wildlife in the area, ontop of habitat damage and drought.  On their homepage or if you search WIRES Australia NSW Fires the donation links for their emergency fund are ready for you.

Help farmers

There are plenty of charities that you can donate to help out the farmers. Here are just a few:

  • Drought Angels – donate to purchase food hampers, vouchers and feed. Click here to donate.
  • Buy a Bale – donate to purchase hay, water, groceries, and diesel. Click here to donate.
  • Aussie Helpers – donate to help provide farmers with equipment, food and emotional support. Click here to donate.

Organise and mobilise

Greta Thunberg can’t do it alone. You can get involved in lots of other ways, such as taking part in climate strikes and protests — no matter how seemingly small or inconsequential your contribution might feel, it does count. Just look here for where to find your local climate strike.

Featured

Six environmental activists you need to know about

When you think of courageous environmental leaders, your thoughts may automatically turn to Greta Thunberg.

The determined Swedish schoolgirl has without doubt helped make the climate crisis headline news around the world.

But there are hundreds of black, Asian and indigenous environmental activists, many from the developing world, who are just as inspiring and have been protesting against climate breakdown for years. 

In no particular order, here’s six who are currently fighting, or who have fought in their lifetime, to keep climate change centre stage.

Wangari Muta Maathai 

Wangari Maathai was renowned as a fearless Kenyan environmentalist who fought against corrupt regimes for years in the name of sustainable development, democracy and peace. 

She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977, which mobilized poor women to plant tens of millions of trees to protect water sources and crops in the face of environmental degradation. 

Her agenda widened as she joined the struggle against the corrupt and repressive regime of Daniel arap Moi and tried to stop powerful politicians seizing land, especially forests.

Her efforts brought her into conflict with the authorities, and she was arrested and beaten numerous times. 

“Today we are faced with a challenge that calls for a shift in our thinking, so that humanity stops threatening its life-support system.

“We are called to assist the Earth to heal her wounds and in the process heal our own – indeed to embrace the whole of creation in all its diversity, beauty and wonder. 

Wangari Maathai 

“Recognizing that sustainable development, democracy and peace are indivisible is an idea whose time has come”, she said.

Born in Nyeri, a rural area of Kenya in 1940, Wangari was the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree before going on to teach veterinary anatomy. 

Her bravery and defiance  made her a hero in Kenya with her reforestation methods, widely adopted by other countries.

She died at the age of 71 in 2011 after becoming the first African woman to win the Nobel peace prize in 2004.

Autumn Peltier

An internationally recognised Canadian water activist, Autumn is a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation, and has been been fighting for water rights since she was eight years old.

As the Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation, she represents more than 40 First Nations in Ontario, many of whom lack clean drinking water. 

The teenager urged world leaders to use their power to ensure people around the world have access to safe drinking water in a speech to the UN General Assembly in 2018.

“No one should have to worry if the water is clean or if they will run out of water.

“No child should grow up not knowing what clean water is, or never know what running water is.”

Autumn Peltier

Autumn, who has thousands of social media followers at the age of 15, first caught media attention when she confronted Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2016. 

At the winter meeting of the Assembly of First Nations, Peltier told Trudeau: “I am very unhappy with the choices you’ve made.” she told him, referring to his failure to provide clean water to First Nation communities and his decision to greenlight controversial pipeline projects.

Autumn is reportedly inspired by her great aunt Josephine Mandamin, who passionately advocated for the protection of the Great Lakes until her death earlier this year. 

Leah Namugerwa

A Ugandan teenager, Leah has been striking every Friday for greater action on climate change, plastic pollution, and more since February 2019. 

The 14-year-old, who is demanding the Ugandan government to ban plastic bags, regularly draws attention to environmental social justice on her Twitter page, highlighting the fact the global south will be most affected by climate breakdown.

in a recent post on her Twitter account she said:

“4,500 children in Uganda die every year due to polluted water. How many more must die for d world to wake up & do justice to us?”

Leah Namugera

Leah was inspired to protest after watching news reports of drought and landslides in Eastern Uganda that claimed many lives and was further motivated by Greta Thunberg’s Friday’s for Future protests. 

She told Earthday.org: “My first day as a climate striker looked weird to many people, including my family.

“Passersby kept on shaking their heads wondering what had happened to me. Many people were and are still opposed to my strikes. 

“They argue that at my age I should not be missing any day of school.

“My Friday has greatly changed since I started striking. Friday used to be ordinary, but now it is the busiest day of the week.”

Leah told Earthday.org there were many environmental issues happening in Uganda, such as unpredictable rainy seasons and mosquitos spreading faster than before, but she barely saw them reported on. 

She said the Ugandan government’s response to strikers sometimes gave her fear. 

“Our first main protest was blocked on May 15 and on another occasion my fellow Striker Bob Matovu was chased from striking outside parliament and his placard was confiscated,” she said.

Ridhima Pandey

Eleven-year-old Ridhima Pandey was just nine in 2017 when she filed a lawsuit against the Indian government for failing to take serious steps against climate change. 

Two years later she was among the young activists, including Greta Thunberg, who criticized Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina, and Turkey for failing to uphold their obligations to young people under the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child. 

Her fervent belief in changes stem from direct experience of climate breakdown: her whole family was displaced by the Uttarakhand floods of 2013, which claimed hundreds of lives and she has grown up on the Ganges River, which is largely polluted.

“The government said they cleaned it but it’s not true,” she told the Associated Press.

“We say the Ganga is mata (mother), that Ganga is a goddess for us, and we just pollute it.”

Pandey’s mother is a forestry guard and her father an environmental activist.

She said people often tell her she is too young to be an activist, but she doesn’t think she is wrong because other children from other countries are “asking for the same”.

Nina Gualinga

Ecuadorian Amazonian and mother-of-one Nina Gualinga has been a climate justice and indigenous rights activist from the age of eight.

As a female leader of the Kichwa community of Sarayaku, the 24-year-old has spent most of her childhood advocating for stronger protection of the Ecuadorian Amazon and the wildlife and people who depend on it.

She regularly protests for her cause, most recently in Quito, Ecuador, this September, when hundreds of indigenous women from six different nations of the Ecuadorian Amazon gathered to demand the government to stop the destruction of indigenous territories and violence against indigenous leaders. 

Writing on her Instagram account, she said: “Together we put together a document called Mandato de las Mujeres Amazónicas with 22 demands, that we handed over to the president of Ecuador and all the ministers. 

“I am full of emotions and feelings. I am sad to see how these women have to fight every day for basic human rights. Inspired by their strength and fearlessness. How they never give up. How they fight hundreds of battles and seem to carry the power of Mama Earth herself. I am still learning. “

“Until the day of today, no action has been taken from the government to meet our demands. But as the women say: ‘United we are stronger. Never give up!’.”

At age 18, Nina represented Sarayaku youth at the final hearing before the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in Costa Rica, winning a historic case against the Ecuadorian government for violating Sarayaku rights and territory for oil drilling.

Today, she calls for indigenous rights, a fossil fuel free economy and shines a light on deforestation and exploitation of the Amazon.

“My inspiration comes from the earth itself, all the beauty of life expressed in so many ways.”

“My motivation comes from the people around me who are fighting every day to protect their families and their home, the Amazonian rainforest”, she told WWF after receiving the 2018 International President’s Youth award.

Mari Copeny

Mari Copeny might be better known by her nickname Little Miss Flint, because of her advocacy work, drawing attention to the devastating contaminated water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

When she was just eight years old, she wrote to President Barack Obama asking if he would come to meet with her and others in her community, who were affected by the poisoned water. The meeting resulted in $100 million in grants to repair the water system.

Now 12 years old she regularly tweets to raise awareness of water pollution and the links between climate breakdown and social justice around the world.

She tweeted recently about the global climate strikes : “No, our fight to save the planet didn’t start today with the #ClimateStrike and it doesn’t end today either.

“Many of us have been putting in the work for years to save our planet. Don’t just amplify our voices today, but every day and support our solutions to save us.”

Since 2016, Mari has worked with the nonprofit organization Pack Your Back to help over 25,000 children with donations for everything from school supplies to clean water. 

Who do you think is worth celebrating in this list? Let me know in the comments below, or if you’d like to nominate someone share your story here.

Featured

8 Lessons from Plastic Free July – The Guilty Green Mum

1. It can be overwhelming

Going plastic free can be overwhelming when you’re already busy juggling other commitments, such as working or raising kids, but it is possible, so don’t give up!

Plastic is everywhere. From the single-use on your Tesco banana to the see-through lid on your Pringles, it’s prolific. It’s also hard to recycle. Before I started this journey, I had no idea that certain plastics were harder to recycle than others. Black plastic, for instance, cannot be recycled because of the carbon pigments used to colour it. Recycling symbols are often misunderstood so that plastic packaging is put in the recycling bin when it shouldn’t be.

When you do want to hunt for plastic free alternatives, it comes at a price: both in time and financially. Most of the alternatives I found weren’t available in high-street stores, so I had to either shop on a weekend from the local grocers or buy online and sometimes pay extra: all new habits hard to sustain, not to mention the guilt about the carbon cost of delivery and the sting of buying something I couldn’t afford and sometimes came wrapped in plastic itself. 

Here’s a brief snapshot of the plastic-free products I have reneged on, because they were either unaffordable or inaccessible.

  • Bamboo toothbrush. I loved it to start and it lasts longer than a normal toothbrush in my opinion. But it was more expensive and not accessible in the main shops, so out of desperation I bought from dirty Amazon, which just defeated the purpose of being more ethical.
  • Shampoo bars. I loved my Lush conditioning shampoo bar. It worked like a dream, but for the same reasons above, I haven’t sustained this one. Back to plastic shampoo bottles, which annoys me every time I look at them.

It’s certainly not easy when you start making eco-conscious choices. 

2. But it can be possible

Going plastic free need not be too difficult, or expensive. There are some affordable and easy swaps everyone can do such as using hand soap instead of liquid soap.

Let’s not make too many excuses now. It is possible to make everyday swaps that don’t cost the earth. Taking a reusable bag shopping being the most obvious. I’ve written about the swaps I’ve made on my Instagram page, but the ones I have found easiest to implement are:

  • Plastic free soap. I never really understood the liquid soap fad, but from time to time I bought one unconsciously thinking ‘this looks nice’. No it doesn’t, silly. Who wants that plastic crap on your shelf? So now I consciously ensure I buy some ordinary anti-bacterial hand soap from the local hardware shop. Just pop it in a soap dish and it won’t go all sloppy.
  • Plastic free toilet roll. I use Who Gives A Crap recycled loo roll as I get 48 plastic-free rolls in a huge box every 23 weeks for £36. It’s a real winner. Literally a revolution. You don’t have to think about it and I love the quirky branding too. Plus you can wipe your bum knowing you’re not contributing to deforestation or a reduction in biodiversity. According to 
  • Plastic free milk. I have my milk delivered in glass bottles from Milk and More, but there are plenty of other delivery companies to try.  It was my job to collect the milk off the doorstep when I was growing up, so this literally makes me feel like a kid again. Being a tired 38-year-old I’ll take what I can! It is more pricey and I am privileged to afford it, but it’s worth it if you can. It’s made a huge dent in the plastic waste we tip out each week.
  • Plastic free periods: I tried a mooncup for the first time in Plastic Free July. It was surprisingly easy, not that gross and cheaper overall. It’s something I’ve feared for a long time ever since my mum first put a story about them under my nose as a teenager (I still remember jumping at the sight of it). But seriously what is more horrid than tampons or towels full of plastic? The average sanitary pad is made from 90 per cent plastic – that’s the equivalent of four single-use carrier bags. And tampons are just as bad – because their applicators are commonly coated in plastic, they’re non-recyclable. I wish I’d done this one years ago.
  • Plastic free washing powder. Ever since my friend told me about ecoegg I feel like I’ve had a clothes washing revolution. It basically uses mineral pellets encased in a recyclable egg to wash clothes. It’s not perfect; I have to use another stain remover on it at times and also add some lavender natural oils when I want to have a more fresh scent on the laundry. Overall though it’s been a good purchase that will save a huge amount of money over time.
  • Plastic free razor. This has been my latest purchase (I bought the cheapest metal one I could find that had decent ratings) and I’m still, literally, feeling my way with it. So far though I’m excited about the thought of not having to buy any more horrible plastic razors to get me beach body ready, cause I only shave when I go to the beach. Jokes.
  • Plastic free nappies. This has been one of my favourite achievements. Not only do the nappies look great, but they do work out more affordable over time. Yes, not going to lie, it can be a bit gross having to empty out the nappy bucket and wash them, but no more disgusting than wiping your baby’s bum. So long as you hang them on the line and don’t tumble dry them, you’re doing the planet a real favour.

3. Tell your family and friends you’re doing it.

Some things were easy to swap, such as having milk delivered instead of buying plastic bottled milk. But sometimes I was defeated by myself, through lack of time and energy, and by relatives who bought me plastic products I no longer wanted.

During the month, my lovely well-meaning mum bought me some anti-fatigue eye cream and hand cream. Clearly I have horrendous bags under my eyes and wizened hands and she thinks I need to sharpen up.  I’m grateful for the guidance, really, as those wrinkles look like a crow’s hopped, skipped and danced all over my bleary eyes. But it only added to the plastic burden crumpling up my conscience. 

So tell everyone you’re doing it. You could announce it on social media, like I did, and use that as a means to hold yourself accountable. Or if that frightens you, just mutter it to your mates and hope they are supportive. They may take the micky, but if you’re serious about it then hopefully they’ll respect you for it and may even want to do it with you.

4. You won’t have time to do everything

My reaction when my coconut oil DIY deodorant decided to melt all over my dresser as I got ready for work. I haven’t had time or the willpower to DIY anything else since.

Not unless you cancel your social arrangements or skip work. I wanted to do so much: make my own deodorant, DIY my own cleaning products, buy my food from the local plastic-free grocery shop and make my own sandwiches to count a few. 

Well, I had time to make my own deodorant once and while the coconut oil and cornflour concoction worked for a few days, when the heatwave came – plop! There went my now runny liquid deodorant all down our wooden chest of drawers as I got ready for work. Not wanting to stink the office out, I went to buy a plastic alternative in the shops first thing. 

I bought the ingredients to make my own cleaning products but so far they’ve sat quite still under the sink where I have a feeling they will remain for another few months until the next splurge of fervent eco-conscious living takes hold.

The moral is, you can’t do everything. Not unless you really overall your lifestyle. It’s not undoable however: there are some families that achieve it. But for the rest of us mortals who maybe have to barter with our other halves to make changes, as well as wrestle with our own bad habits, it’s enough to make one change a week or a month if you can. If you’re doing that, well you’re doing great.

5. Not all plastic-free options are compatible with each other

Going plastic-free can sometimes make your head swirl. I bought a Guppy Friend bag to catch the tonnes of micro waste that is swept into the seas when we wash our clothes, but it requires liquid clothes wash, which is just not compatible with the eco egg I bought to combat the plastic waste from bottles of soap suds. 

I used my eco egg with the bag for a while until I realised it was making the washing machine thud along the floor like an overweight drunken bunny. Not advisable. I’ve since read other blogs which say how you can make your own clothes wash liquid. I haven’t got round to that yet, but I’m up for trying it. Once I’ve pushed the washing machine back into position.

7. You’ll realise the mistakes you’ve made in the past

Like plastic flowers for my vases. I don’t even have a justification for that. I just eyeball them each morning as I go to the kitchen for breakfast and wince. 

Or drinking copious amounts of takeaway coffee absentmindedly while inwardly believing I’m an eco warrior. Or paying for ironing to be done because you’re short on time and can’t face doing it only to find out it comes back wrapped in single use plastic.

8. Make a future plan

I love being organised, but I often fall victim to brain-drain, like here when I locked myself out the house on the day I wanted to go and deposit some plastic to a recycling charity. The donation had to wait another month or two till I had time again.

One of my favourite quotes is ‘If you fail to plan you plan to fail’ and while I love a good list, we all know where we want to shove that list when you’ve had a long day. Most days I’m flying by the seat of my pants and too tired to make my own deodorant, let alone write about the experience. But I know that the days I manage to create some time to think and plan my next eco-conscious steps will be the days I am more effective.

Start small. What’s the easiest thing you can do towards living a plastic free lifestyle? Start from there and work your way up to the harder things to change. You’ll be more likely to keep yourself motivated if you have a few easy plastic-free swaps under your belt to reflect on. 

The reality is it depends on hard work in forming new habits and a new routine, especially in this convenience, hyper-social, consumer-based life we have created for ourselves. Making time on the weekend to go to the local grocery shop rather than ordering plastic-wrapped food from online, or washing cloth nappies rather than just chucking away disposables, are all new habits taking you away from doing other things that you may prefer to do instead. That’s when eco-conscious living can start to wear you down, but try not to let it.

If you start small and start tackling the easy things first: such as plastic free loo roll, washing powder, milk or food then you’ll be more likely to keep going. Who knows how much you’ll be able to achieve then and how much you may inspire others in the process.

Did you do Plastic Free July? What did you learn from it? Do you agree with me or did you have a different experience? Let me know in the comments below, or if you’d like your story to be included on this blog, share your story here.

Easy DIY lip balm: how to make your own beauty products and have fun

Friends: making DIY lip balms fun since 2019

I’ve wanted to make my own beauty products for a while to reduce my carbon footprint, but never quite had the willpower to find time find for it.

Cue starting up your own blog on what you’re doing about the climate crisis (nothing like a bit of self-inflicted social media pressure to give you a kick up the proverbial); add a little inspiration from a beautiful friend who made some for me a few years ago; combine with an idea to make the whole thing sociable and BAM!

Here comes my own version of how to make DIY homemade lip balm fun.

Recipe

My ingredients and equipment before we got cooking

I adapted this recipe from The Inspired Little Pot. It felt like a lovely simple and flexible recipe that I could tweak to how I wanted.

Everything on this list is 100% organic and palm-oil free – the two key criteria I had to hang my hat on, given palm oil production is currently contributing to the killing of orangetans and contributing to climate change in the Phillipines.

Prep time: About 10 minutes

Makes: 130 g | 4.6 oz (approximately 10 small containers)

Quantity tips:

To calculate how many pots this recipe will make, divide total grams by the capacity of your lip balm containers.

We had 4 people making 6 pots each so we just multiplied everything by 2.5 to get the correct quantities.

My friend recommended that this lip balm is quite firm, so we reduced the beeswax by 10 g | 0.4 oz to make it softer and more supple.

Ingredients

  • 50 g | 1.8 oz shea butter
  • 50 g | 1.8 oz carrier oil. We used sweet almond oil but any carrier oil is good, such as fractionated coconut oil
  • 30 g | 1.1 oz beeswax
  • 20-30 drops of essential oils
  • Invite your friends and tell them all to bring mince pies

Choosing the right essential oil

Think about it – what flavour do you like on your lips the most? Strawberry? Mint? Lemon? We tried peppermint and citrus flavours along with lavender and they were bliss.

You will need to scatter quite a few drops in the mixture for it to smell right. Despite being luscious for your lips, the shea butter has quite an off-putting camel smell to it, so you need to sprinkle a fair bit to make it appealing.

You shouldn’t have to spend too much either. Most oils can fit a tight budget and you may have some already have in your collection that would be worth using up beforehand.

Method

Melting the beeswax was easy peasy. Don’t mind my messy oven, ahem.
  1. Put some water in a pan, bring to the boil and the simmer
  2. Add shea butter, carrier oil and beeswax to a glass bowl over the saucepan and heat until completely melted. (Double boiler method– place bowl on a pot of gently simmering water and stir frequently; Microwave method– heat in short bursts on low, stopping and stirring frequently). Remove from heat.
  3. Add desired essential oils and mix until combined.
  4. Transfer into aluminium pots or other containers of choice.
  5. Place into the fridge or freezer to set (this will reduce the chance of graininess developing over time).
  6. Meanwhile eat mincepies, gossip, chat and put the world to rights
  7. Take out pots from fridge, sample, marvel and never make again (jokes) or be inspired to become a DIY beauty queen

Decorating

Decorating the pots is (not) serious business. It needn’t fancy, just legible and simple

You can buy stamps to go on the lids of the pots, which is what I did for ease, or you could make your own labels out of paper and card.

We just used ordinary pencils and some calligraphy pens to decorate the lids with the name of the essential oils used and a drawing next to it.

We’re hardly Picasso but I’d like to think our designs were not too shabby.

Making your own DIY products is not that hard. You just need willpower and some time to research ethical, organic ingredients from local shops. Doing it with friends can make the challenge more fun.

Carbon footprint

I bought the oils from a health shop, but I will admit I bought the aluminium pots, beeswax and Shea butter online.

I’m consequently feeling very ashamed about it after having to throw away all the packaging used to transport it, but then there would be a footprint if I’d travelled around to find a shop that sold it instead.

The other issue is we should really be refraining from beeswax and honey products for ecological reasons, unless we can ensure it’s collected from ethical and organic sources. So next time I’ll be using candelilla plant wax instead with a slightly tweaked recipe.

The key benefit of DIY lip balms is that these pots are reusable, so you can collect them back afterwards to make more.

Nothing is straight-forward when you try to be more sustainable.

We ultimately need to start consuming much less to make a difference. But the process of wanting to make your own everyday products forces you to learn what ingredients they are made from and how they are produced.

That process is just as important and valuable so we can make better choices in future.

Have you got a DIY product that you like to make? Share it in the comments below.

Environmental justice: why funding for fracking hurts indigenous communities and what we can do about it

I literally cannot wrap my head around this: the UK is planning to invest £1bn finance meant for green energy to support major oil companies such as BP and Shell to frack for shale in Argentina.

This money won’t just damage the environment and line the pockets of companies who are some of the worst polluters in the world, but it will only serve to further damage the ancestral homeland of Argentina’s indigenous Mapuche people.

An oil fire burned for more than three weeks next to a freshwater lake in Vaca Muerta earlier this year and the ongoing use of the site for fracking is putting the local community in danger, according to reports.

This couldn’t be a clearer example of environmental injustice and a second wave of consumption-led colonialism: the poor global south suffer while the white west prosper.

I can’t read something like this and not feel angry.

People might read this and think ‘Well she’s prospering from a capitalist society and she’s white – if she has a problem with it she shouldn’t drive a car or use electricity anymore’.

Yes, you could argue that but its a moot point and unreasonable. There are individual actions we can take.

I drive a hybrid electric car for what it’s worth and walk as much as I can.

But these alone won’t rein in a beast as big as the fossil fuel industry.

We need real political leadership and the infrastructure to support a more carbon neutral economy that’s less reliant on fossil fuels.

We need to make sure all of this is done along equal terms in the name of greater environmental justice, so it doesn’t just benefit the rich.

So how can we reach that goal?

Here’s some ideas:

  1. Greater inclusion. We need to include indigenous groups and those most affected by climate change, such as the Mapuche people, to a seat at the table 
  2. Stop investment in fossil fuels. Surely the most obvious solution but apparently comes with risks of its own. Green energy must be regulated to ensure it is really green.
  3. Roll out large scale carbon capture and storage. Oil companies apparently have the expertise to trap and bury the C02 from fossil fuel burning but it’s not deployed at scale, because the commercial incentive simply does not exist. Yet ironically, without this action the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says tackling the climate crisis will be a hell of a lot more expensive.
  4. Put a price on carbon. Controversial, although it would help provide a much-needed commercial incentive. It would need proper regulation to ensure there are no economic losers.
  5. End fossil fuel subsidies. I didn’t know this but the coal, gas and oil industries benefit from $5tn dollars a year according to the International Monetary Fund.  According to the Guardian, even direct consumption subsidies for fossil fuels are double those for renewables. This means your taxes are effectively helping destroy the world. That’s powerful stuff. Not in my name.
  6. Put climate on the ballot paper, so that politicians feel this is a priority for their electorate. How will they know you don’t want your taxes going to fossil fuel companies if you don’t vote.

Some of these ideas take huge guts on the behalf of governments to act, but they can be motivated by the strength of public opinion.

It’s easy to feel powerless, but for the sake of the planet and the sake of environmental justice we need to keep sharing those petitions, protesting and raising our voice.

We owe it to people such as the Mapuche.

What are the ways you think we can rein in the fossil fuel industry and achieve environmental justice? Let me know in the comments below.