There’s massive momentum for every family to live more sustainably now with climate crisis a daily reality, and kids very aware of the world they are growing up in. Fortunately, families can help make a difference! We spoke with Jen Gale, sustainable lifestyle advocate, mum and author.
Please introduce yourself…
I always describe myself as a ‘ordinary knackered mum of two’. I live in Wiltshire with my husband and our two boys who are 13 and 10, and wear lots of different hats: I run an online platform called Sustainable(ish) and host a podcast by the same name – both of which really focus on the idea of imperfect eco-action, try to challenge some of the stereotypes and perceptions that exist about ‘sustainable living’, and aim to try and make it feel really do-able and accessible for anyone, no matter how exhausted they might be!
I’ve also written two books, and run an online membership called The Knackered Mums Eco Club, as well as doing quite a bit of speaking for organisations and corporates.
Your latest book is about green parenting, can you tell us a bit about it?
The Sustainable(ish) Guide to Green Parenting is my second book and came out towards the end of the second lockdown, when we were all very much on our knees from home-schooling! I wanted to create something that made making small changes feel do-able, and didn’t make us feel guilty or judged for the many and varied compromises we have to make when we’re bringing up our children.
I think lots of us want to do our bit for the planet, and are really aware of the uncertainty that is facing our kids as they grow up, but we’re not really sure what we can do, or how to make it happen without all the plates we’re trying to keep spinning coming crashing down around us.
The book is split up into chapters via ‘lifestage’ – so starting at ‘pre-baby’ and going right up to teens, and covers all the usual suspects like nappies and food, but also things like school uniform and family holidays as well. It’s packed with tips and ideas, and has a little section at the end of each chapter for you to create your own action plan and jot down the changes that you want to make.
How do you help mums get onboard and enthusiastic with making eco changes when there is already so much to do!?
I think it’s really important right from the start to make it clear that no-one is expecting ‘eco-perfection’ (whatever that looks like!). And that we can make a difference, even as ‘just one person’ or ‘just one family’. It’s a huge, overwhelming thing to think about, but we really do need everybody on board, and every little bit really does help.
Future generations will look back and judge us on the actions that we take today. We all want the best for our kids – I want to be able to look my kids in the eye and tell them that I fought for their future. And I promise you, it’s probably easier than you think it’s going to be!
Please can you share 3 of your favourite tips for families to become more eco friendly?
- We started our own ‘eco journey’ when we spent a year buying nothing new, which I fully acknowledge is pretty extreme for a lot of people, but buying secondhand is still one of my very favourite things to do, and one of the most impactful things we can do to be more eco friendly. Check out the local charity shops, but also look online on eBay and also apps like Vinted if you’re looking for clothes.
- As well as thinking about how and where we spend our money, looking at what is happening to our money when it’s in the bank is a hugely powerful thing to do and not something that many of think about. Lots of financial institutions, including High St banks and pensions companies are still investing (our money) in fossil fuels. Check out www.switchit.money to see how well or otherwise your bank is performing (and get some recommendations for switching if the answer is ‘not very well’!), and www.makemymoneymatter.co.uk for lots of really actionable stuff to do around pensions (sounds dull, but is actually really interesting, and one of the most impactful things we can do!).
- Food makes up a big part of our carbon footprints, and is an area where we can make a lot of changes without having to wait for the government to legislate or businesses to do things differently. Reducing meat and dairy is a message we’re all getting familiar with now, but can be tricky especially when the kids are involved! One thing that I’ve found that has worked well has been to try reducing the amount of meat in recipes – so using half as much mince in a spag bol and bulking up with extra veg or lentils (grating the veg into the sauce works well as it’s not so noticeable then!).
How can we get the kids involved and, um, reluctant partners?
I’m not going to lie, this can be the hardest part! And obviously what you do with the kids will be very age dependent. For younger kids there are some great TV programmes like Going Green with the Grimwades, and even Octonauts, as well as some brilliant books that gently introduce some of these ideas and then give you a springboard to chat about some of the things that you can do as a family.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, be prepared to compromise!
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