I’ve come up with the idea of this interview series, because I realised how people feel so overwhelmed about all the bad news we are flooded by media outlets. On one hand, the truth is, if we carry on like this, the future will be grim. On the other hand, we also need to read positive and uplifting stories how lots of lots of good people with green heart trying to save the planet – and they are succeeding. But we all have to be part of the change, as I’ve read it lately and totally agree with this statement form the Zero Waste Chef Anne-Marie Bonneau: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”
Introducing Pippa Best of Sea Soul Blessings
What or who inspired you to make changes towards a greener lifestyle?
Before I even knew what a ‘greener lifestyle’ was, I was living it, thanks to my parents’ limited resources and creative attitude to ‘mending and making do’. As a child, I was always dressed in hand-me-downs, and I knew the joys of rifling through jumble sale piles for ‘new’ clothes. Dinner was often my mum’s legendary ‘stretch it’ recipes of meatloaf (mostly oats and ketchup, I’m not sure there was any meat in it at all…) and couscous with ‘secret cheese’ (basically, a lot of couscous with a very small amount of cheese ‘hidden’ inside). That was our favourite meal, my kids now love it too!
Now that I’m a parent myself, I’m revisiting what a ‘greener lifestyle’ means to our family. Like my mum, I’m great at making meals stretch, passing on hand-me-downs, mending clothes and being creative with what we have. But these days we have new challenges to face. And just like many of us, in between childhood and parenthood, I got used to a different way of living – buying things without thought of their impact on the world around me, throwing things ‘away’ when there really is no ‘away’, and taking the easy routes to get what I want – so I also have a lot to undo and relearn.
On that journey, I’ve been really inspired by the work of Plastic Free Penzance, which is a Surfers Against Sewage initiative. Penzance, where I live, became the first town in the UK to receive ‘plastic free’ status – and that means I’m surrounded by people and businesses who want to make a positive difference to the way that we live. In those moments where I feel hopeless – ‘just one person’ who can barely have an impact – that community helps to remind me that together, we really can make change.
But living by the sea, being married to a surfer, and sea swimming most mornings, means that nature is probably my biggest inspiration to move towards a greener lifestyle.
Every morning when I swim, I’m picking up plastic bags, fishing gear and rubbish washed up on the beach. Sometimes, I can also tell that I’m swimming in the chemical “run off” from local fields – because the sea tastes different. All of these things are upsetting. But overall, the sea, and spending time in nature, has had an incredibly positive impact on my physical and mental health – I’ve even built a new business inspired by all that it has given me, in order to find a way that I can also give directly back to nature through my work.
Do you have any favourite site or person you follow for inspiration?
I’ve been really inspired by my kids – they’ve been on nearly all of the kids’ Climate Crisis marches in Penzance, and have encouraged their friends to join them. And of course I’m inspired by all the young activists who have inspired them in turn, as they’ve taken positive action to protect the world around us – Autumn Peltier, Isra Hirsi, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Greta Thunberg, Mari Copeny, along with all the other young people who filed the complaint on the climate crisis to the United Nations in September.
Going on those marches with my kids has been such a bittersweet experience. Seeing their power, and hearing their voices, gives me hope. But it’s also heart-breaking to see them feeling those worries so early in their lives. It’s a tricky balance as a parent – to help them to stay active and empowered, while also reassuring them that we are here making a difference for them too, they don’t have to carry that responsibility.
What aspects of being an environmentally friendly family did you tackle so far?
We’ve always shopped locally – we’re lucky to have some fantastic local businesses to buy from like The Granary and Archie Browns, and along with the Co op and Riverford Organic Farmers, they provide our weekly food shop. We try to get as close to local, organic, free range and fair-trade as we can in everything we buy.
We’ve reduced our use of single use plastic. We recycle. We compost (although we’re having less luck with that recently…). We often buy clothes from charity shops or sustainable brands, and the kids, like I was, are lucky to receive a lot of hand-me-downs.
We also do a lot of beach cleans. In part, that’s because we’re on the frontline of this particular problem, but it’s also because it raises awareness locally, and because taking small actions like that allows us (and the kids especially) to see that we can make a visible difference – it helps us all to stay hopeful.
What are the changes that you implemented so far?
We’ve been moving towards having much less meat in our diets this year. We’ve shifted to trying to buy only organically sourced and/or local meat/fish – which has meant buying much less of it as it’s more expensive – and we’re eating less and less meat week by week. I find I tend to use it as a flavour rather than a key component of a meal these days, stretching it as far as we can go; and more of our meals are now vegetarian than they used to be.
We’re not big consumers in general – if we have money, we tend to spend it on experiences rather than things. But over the last few years, we’ve shifted our approach to Christmas presents, the last bastion of consumerism in our house! The kids still get gifts (all the relatives club together to get them a couple of presents they really want) but us adults have been trying to reduce our impact as much as we can, trying different approaches each year – we’ve tried all giving donations to charity in each others’ name, buying things for less than £5, buying from charity shops only. We always make gifts for our neighbours too (reindeer poo is a particular favourite – made from a lot of dates, chocolate and coconut oil…). But I also want to support local creative businesses, so I can sometimes come unstuck there!
I started a new business myself, Sea Soul Blessings, last year – creating mindfulness tools inspired by the sea that provide a way to give directly back to our oceans by funding environmental causes. My mission is to create sustainable and long-lasting tools that help us all to manage the increasing stress and anxiety of modern life, (something that can be especially hard for those of us who care about the environment) while working towards ultimately give 50% of net profits to environmental projects.
In terms of building a sustainable business, I’m very much learning as I go – it’s an imperfect journey, as with everything. But in trying to build this business with ‘green living’ in mind, I’ve been able to use this work as an example to the kids of how we can make a positive difference to the world around us – not just by how we shop, or take action to clean a beach, but in everything we do.
Did you find it hard to make these changes?
I think the biggest challenge of each change we’ve made comes in the earliest stages. First, we have to identify an alternative way forward that is simple and easy enough for us to actually attempt it. And then we have to do it often enough for it to become a habit. Apparently that means I need to forget quite a few times too, and suffer as a result…! I learn, painfully, about all the things that can trip me up, and find ways to overcome those. I have to make plenty of mistakes before I learn how to get it right.
So, with something like refills, it’s been about remembering to save the old bottles instead of sticking them in the recycling and then going ‘Gah! Why did I do that?’ when it’s time for a refill. I’ve had to painfully manage a thirsty family many times before getting to the stage where I always remember to stick the water bottles in the bag. The same applies to my keep cup, and my shopping bags. I now tend not to forget those things as often – they’ve become an actual habit, yay!
My next challenge is to get my head round the idea of taking a plastic box into town to buy my salad from The Granary, that’s what I’m forgetting most often at the moment…
What was the hardest thing to give up or change?
I don’t know if it has been the hardest so far, but right now I’m finding recycling one of the most confusing! I worry that I’m recycling things wrong because it’s hard to understand what can be recycled where and how. I struggle to find clear information. For example, a lot of the businesses in Penzance now use ‘vegware’ which is brilliant, but I’m very confused right now about whether we can compost it ourselves (we don’t have room in our compost), whether we need to wash it and put it in our recycling, or something else altogether.
In general, we need better, clearer recycling systems at a local government level. Right now, I’m collecting our milk cartons, because there’s finally somewhere to recycle them – but I know this means that we will have to drive to a depot miles away in order to do that. Recycling still isn’t made easy enough for people – and therefore, we’re not doing it effectively.
Our home compost has become a challenge too – we have a huge compost bin in our tiny back yard, it takes ages to rot down, and we only have a tiny front garden to put our compost on, so there still isn’t enough room in there to compost all we should.
But for us, I suspect the hardest challenge to come is probably going to be… flights. I travelled to America by plane this year to attend a very special retreat with women I’d been wanting to meet in person for years. It was an amazing experience, but the more I learn about the impact of flight travel, the more I understand the negative impact of journeys like these. That flight to America inspired me to join Tree Sisters, and I now make a monthly donation to them to support their amazing work planting trees all over the world. But that still doesn’t feel like enough.
We are lucky enough to have been able to take regular family holidays, and mostly we’ve travelled by ferry because we can easily get from Penzance to Plymouth. I’m especially grateful that we’ve been able to travel in a way that is more environmentally friendly, because it’s more expensive than cheap flights.
Next year, I really want to get the family up to Arran in Scotland to visit my granny’s home – and the difference between the cost and time of traveling there from Cornwall by train or plane is huge. I’m not sure how we’re going to manage that choice yet – do we go by train, and have a much shorter and more expensive holiday? Do we go by plane and offset the carbon? Or do we not go at all?
And what was the easiest thing to give up or change?
Shampoo bars were a revelation! The kids have always hated washing their hair – but as soon as we got shampoo bars that they could rub all over their heads themselves, that changed – they love using them. Best invention ever.
Do you feel the changes you achieved so far are encouraging you to do even more?
Yes and no. I think the more you change, the more you start to see how much there is still to do – which means you’re likely to make more changes. But the sheer weight of all there is still to do can sometimes become overwhelming to the point of hopelessness – resulting in panicked brain freeze.
As soon as I manage to change one thing, I can see ten more things that need changing. And when climate change is escalating at such speed, it can be hard to stay grounded in the imperfection of only having the capacity to manage making a few changes at a time – I get frustrated at myself, and at the world around me, and that can actually stop me from moving forward.
How do you get the children involved?
Sometimes I think they’re more on it than we are! The other day I got excited at the fact that Riverford suddenly had passion fruit on sale, and I really wanted us to get some to try, but the kids were “but Mum, where do they come from…?” They were absolutely right, they came with too many air miles, so we didn’t get them!
Did you manage to save some money too? Or is this lifestyle change actually proving to be more costly?
So far, for us, I think it’s more expensive. I feel really privileged to be in a financial position where we have been able to make a lot of these choices – I don’t think that is accessible to everyone. As I said above, sustainable travel is currently much more expensive than cheap flights. Buying free-range, fair trade, organic – it all costs more. Buying meat from local responsible sources is also more expensive, but I’ve think I’ve managed to counteract that one by using less of it.
How did your family respond to the changes?
Well, no one else in the family has complained about the reduced meat in their diet yet – I’m not sure they’ve even noticed – so that seems to be going OK! It has been a bit of a challenge for me to learn how to come up with exciting and easy meal alternatives, but I think my childhood grounding in meat-free meatloaf has come in handy. I’ve always been good at creating weird meals out of whatever’s left in the fridge… and I love the smug feeling that comes with not having wasted anything!
As I’ve said above, the kids are driving this forward as much as we are. I have however suggested the long train journey to Scotland, and they were not hugely keen, even when I offered to bribe them with lots of screen time – so we’ll see how that debate goes!
Do you have any trips or trick which really helped you?
I’ll share how I move through the low moments. For me, it always comes back to using self compassion as a tool to keep me positive and motivate me forward. The more I understand, the bigger the struggle feels. I can see all the ways in which we’re still having a negative impact on our planet – individually and as a society. I can see all that I’m unable to change in the wider world. I can see how bad the climate situation is. I can see that I’m still not doing enough. And if I’m not careful, all of that can make me feel hopeless.
That activates my inner critic in an unhelpful way, which affects my mental health. It also activates my brain’s ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. ‘Fight’ can sometimes be useful if I can redirect that anger into action. But ‘flight’ and ‘freeze’ both make me want to bury my head in the sand and wish it all away – they make me inactive, self critical and scared. In those moments, I find a way to practice self compassion. And that can be really hard when my inner voice is telling me that I don’t deserve compassion – that it’s just a way to justify my limitations.
But self compassion means taking a moment to be present with all that I’m feeling, without judgement – with my guilt and frustration, sadness and anger. It means reminding myself that lots of other people feel like this too sometimes. Freezing, or wanting to run away from it all, doesn’t mean that I’m the only person who’s messing up or responsible for the state of the world. Instead, this human struggle is something that actually connects us all – these are feelings that come up for so many of us in the face of big challenges.
Once I’ve acknowledged all I’m feeling, and brought myself back into the present moment, I’ll speak to myself as I would speak to my children and those I love, reminding myself that I’m trying my best, it’s not possible to do everything right all of the time, I’m doing the best I can with what I know now.
I’ve learnt that kindness can be so much more motivating than criticism. Having greater compassion for myself gives me greater compassion for others – including my kids – it makes me a better parent. If you want to learn more about self compassion – Kristin Neff’s work is a great place to start.
Often, I’ll also get into the sea for a swim to reconnect to what really matters – and I’ll take the kids with me for ultimate joy (at least until they have to peel their wetsuits off in the freezing cold, when it’s distinctly less joyful…) Or I’ll draw a Sea Soul Blessing card, which encourages me to find a way through the fog, and to be kinder to myself – they’re another powerful way I’ve found to ground myself when I’m feeling lost – and the kids love using them too.
I’ll connect with what other people are doing to make a difference – reading blogs like yours, finding examples of positive change all around me. And then I’ll get back to taking action – most likely, I’ll take the kids with me to go out and clean my local beach. And we’ll remind each other that taking just a few pieces of fishing line from the beach might well save the life of a sea creature – and that means that every single small step we take is valuable.
Pippa Best is the founder of Sea Soul Blessings. By creating simple transformative tools that combine mindfulness, self compassion and nature – and investing directly in environmental projects – Sea Soul Blessings supports nature-lovers to change our own lives, and the world around us, for the better.