Sure, sustainability is important, but the idea of living a zero waste life or becoming environmentally savvy overnight can seem overwhelming. Can’t you just watch Leonardo DiCaprio movies, follow Adrian Grenier on Instagram, and call it a day? Well, good news: It’s actually easier to implement green changes than you might think.
Last night, a crowd full of Well+Good readers and wellness influencers packed the room at The Assemblage in New York City for the latest Well+Good TALK to hear co-founder Melisse Gelula and three major eco-movers: Lauren Singer, who’s famous for living nearly a zero-waste life (as in, accumulating only a 16-ounce mason jar’s worth of trash in five years); Jennifer Hauser, the director of Wellness 360 at Edelman, who works with brands such as Nike, Starbucks, and Microsoft; and Shane Wolf, founder of super-new beauty brand Seed Phytonutrients. (Seed officially launched today, debuting all-natural products, with sustainable packaging, such as the world’s first shower-safe paper shampoo bottle.)
All three panelists are making major changes toward sustainability both in their personal lives and across the industry, and they say it’s easy to start implementing changes in your own life. Curious?
Scroll down to learn easy ways to live a more sustainable life and how brands are changing their practices for the environment.
How brands are building on sustainability
Hauser works with some of the world’s biggest brands and knows firsthand that sustainability is top-of-mind across the board. “Business is having a collective wake-up call,” she says. “But it’s a journey. Big, global brands can’t make a 180-degree change overnight.”
Instead, taking slow but purposeful steps is proving to be successful. She uses Unilever—which houses many big brands including Axe, Dove, Ben & Jerry’s, and Lipton—as an example. The company started an initiative creating urban farms in under-served communities. Over time, it sparked the launch of an entirely new brand, Growing Roots, an organic, plant-based food brand that supports urban farming with every purchase.
“The beauty industry disproportionately contributes to [the sustainability] problem because they tend to prioritize pretty packaging.” —Shane Wolf, founder of Seed Phytonutrients
Wolf has seen big companies ignite change in other ways. He has seen firsthand how wasteful the beauty industry can be. “Plastic has a 30 percent chance of being recycled while paper has a 90 percent chance, and the beauty industry disproportionately contributes to that problem because they tend to prioritize pretty packaging, which is often made with mixed materials,” he says. These can’t always be recycled. Developing recyclable packaging for Seed, his natural-origin hair, face, and body care products line, has been a huge focus of the brand’s purpose.
“One problem small businesses have is capital, and that’s where big companies come in,” says Singer to this point, who besides running a zero-waste blog, created a package-free shop and a clean laundry detergent line. Big companies giving capital to small, innovative companies can have a huge impact, she says—just like how when major food brands invest in smaller, organic brands, it allows your favorite healthy products to become more widely available. Wolf, who grew up on a small-town, middle America farm, confirms, “I could have started a small brand on my own, but doing it within L’Oreal, I’m able to impact so many more people.”
It’s great that big brands are making changes. But what can you do in your own life? As it turns out, plenty.
Easy and free waste-reducing changes you can make right now
For Singer, doing things like making her own toothpaste and deodorant and only shopping secondhand are the norm. “One misconception people have is that it’s expensive to live a zero-waste life. It’s not,” she says. “It’s actually forced me to ask myself questions before purchasing anything like, ‘Do I need this?’ ‘Does this make me happy, feel beautiful?'”
She offers up some easy changes you can make—entirely for free. “Just say no to one-time use plastic,” she says. “When you order a drink at a restaurant or bar, just say you don’t want a straw for sustainability reasons.” It means thinking ahead and bringing a tote to the grocery store so you won’t need plastic bags, too.
Singer also reminded the audience of their buying power, asking them to demand more from the brands they support, not shying away from asking if they will ship their products without excessive packaging. “As buyers, you have more power than you realize because companies want your money. You can ask things of the brands you support,” she says.
“If everyone ate plant-based just once a week, we would reduce carbon dioxide to the equivalent of 500,000 cars.” —Jennifer Hauser, director of Wellness 360 at Edelman
Wolf offered up a forehead-smacking story that served as a lightbulb moment for virtually everyone in the audience. “When products are used in the bathroom, the likelihood of them being recycled is drastically lower than products used in the kitchen,” he says. His simple action: Carry bottles from the bathroom to the kitchen and recycle them. Better yet, tell three people you know to do it, too.
Hauser had a tip that works threefold, benefiting your health, animals, and the environment: Go meatless one day a week. “If everyone ate plant-based just once a week, we would reduce carbon dioxide to the equivalent of 500,000 cars,” she said.
Clearly small changes can have powerful effects. It comes down to behavior change, plain and simple. And old dog-new tricks sayings aside, they’re tweaks everyone has the ability to make.
Special thanks to our partners, Boxed Water, milk + honey, Schmidt’s Naturals, Bee’s Wrap, Ello Products, SANO, Lunette Menstrual Cup, Chico Bag, Saint Olio, Seed Phytonutrients, Box Appetit, and an extra big thank you to Boscia for giving TALKS attendees hydration meters to test our their new Matcha Magic Super-Antioxidant Mask.
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