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.”
Celine Kerr, creator of the ili Laptop Stand
Celine Kerr and her husband Zeno live in Edinburgh with their three young children. They strive to live a greener life and are bringing up their children to always consider the greener choice. They recently launched, the ili Laptop Stand and this came as a direct result of not being able to find a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution for something they needed.
What or who inspired you to make changes towards a greener lifestyle?
When you set out to be “green” you don’t know very much about it but the more you do it, the more you learn. We were fortunate to both have careers in the renewable and sustainable development sectors which helped to raise our awareness and probably shortened our learning journey slightly.
We have been doing it for quite a while now and while we feel we have achieved a much greener lifestyle, we still have a very long way to go.
We also read a lot about sustainability, politics and environmental issues. It gets you thinking about the longer-term and what we should be doing now but also what we should be doing to prepare our children for their future.
Some encounters in our life have also shaped our thinking as parents, like my ex-flatmates who showed me that you need very little to be happy and primarily, healthy. We are also fortunate to be surrounded by people on a similar path to a greener lifestyle so we can reinforce each other’s positive changes and learn from each other.
Finally, our move to “organic” products and food came from my step-dad who swore he got ill with terminal stomach cancer from eating non-organic food. Whether this was true or not, nobody will know, but this was a trigger in changing our family eating behaviours. From there on, as a couple, we decided to change to organic products, which was quite a radical move for us.
Do you have any favourite site or person you follow for inspiration?
Greta Thunberg. This wee lady will change the world. She has had a massive impact in less than a year on issues that were barely listened to. She is an example for us all. We refer to her at home as “The Great Thunberg”.
Also, Extinction Rebellion. Because they are bringing the issues into the mainstream media.
These two have really driven change.
What aspects of being an environmentally friendly family did you tackle so far? (Reducing plastic, planet friendly diet, up cycling things etc…)
Travel: We fly little but this is also just part of having kids. It became too expensive. We cycle and walk to work, but again it is easy as we work very close by (30min walk). We do have a car though which is not very sustainable but very practical as a family with three young children and one teenager if we want to go further than 30km. However, we share it with friends and neighbours. They are insured on our car and we have a WhatsApp group for “car sharing” so that everybody knows when the car is being used and where it has been parked last!
Clothing: We buy second-hand clothes and regularly organise clothes swaps. Not only because it’s a good way to reduce waste but also because it’s just great fun to meet with friends over a glass of wine and second-hand clothes.
Energy: Our whole home is well insulated and when the windows needed refurbished, we installed double-glazing. We also have a wood burning stove for the cold months rather than boosting the heating.
Education: We are educating our children about pollution, plastics, the environment, bees (all pollinators), teaching them to grow things, not being afraid of insects and generally loving & respecting nature. We also take them to climate change demonstrations and more recently to School Strike for Climate demonstration. They make their own banners too! Lots of our recycling is great for creative art activities.
Organic food: We eat organic local food (from the Edinburgh Farmer’s Market) and have reduced our significantly meat consumption to once a week maximum. We’re not vegetarians though, it’s something we are still working on.
Dairy products: We also cut down our consumption of dairy products. But being French, I still give up when I see some very, very nice cheese, but we (parents) don’t drink milk anymore and use substitutes like almond milk etc.
Toys: We’ve never bought plastic toys for our kids. If they were offered one then fine as it’s good for them to access and experience different materials, but there is enough out there for us not to get involved in buying them.
Nappies: Unfortunately, we’ve not embraced the use of reusable nappies. It’s one limitation, I just couldn’t face it. So instead, we went for disposable but biodegradable nappies. Not ideal, I know, but it was a battle I couldn’t face at the time (and even now).
No Christmas presents! I know that sounds harsh. The truth is, they get presents from their grand parents, uncles and aunts. Plenty to make them happy kids at Christmas. So we don’t buy them any and we donate three presents (that we would otherwise buy for our kids) to charities to make other children happy. I suppose this isn’t really environmental action but it does support a social cause. We strongly believe that both are often intertwined.
Household products: We try to find alternatives for daily use products. We changed our use of cling film and aluminium foil to beeswax wraps a long time ago, before these were available everywhere. We love our coconut scrubbers for dishwashing from Ecococonut and bamboo toothbrushes. We use organic household products and buy very little from the supermarkets especially since Edinburgh’s Zero Waste shop, Eco Larder, is just next door to us. We have no excuse! Having the Eco Larder next door has reduced our plastic use significantly. We take our containers to the shop and refill rice, pasta, cereals, flour, spices, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, nuts, seeds etc and can also refill all our household products like shampoo, washing up liquid, laundry liquid. The next level up is for us to start using shampoo bars to eliminate the bottles we refill but I am not ready yet. With three children aged under 5, we choose our battles wisely.
What are the changes that you implemented so far?
All covered above…
Did you find it hard to make these changes?
They have been gradual over the last 10 years so not really.
You need to be organised and a bit creative to embrace the plastic free and less waste initiatives.
Access to a Zero Waste shop close by was a game changer. This helped us go plastic free.
Moving to organic household products and toiletries was challenging. We had some “non-organic” products and I didn’t want to throw them away because that was wasteful, but they never seemed to get used up!
So one day on a mission, I went through each room, removing all products, replacing them with more sustainable organic products. It was radical and I did feel a little bad as what I did was definitely not sustainable, but it was something that I needed to do to accelerate the transition to greener living.
What was the hardest thing to give up or change?
The toothpaste! Very, very, very hard. We are still working on it and sometimes we slip back to our old Aloe Vera one.
Adapting to the washing-up soap bar was also challenging but with the right brush it has become easier. We’d love to change our lives to become more rural but that would mean more commuting and less time with our kids which we are not ready to compromise on just now.
And what was the easiest thing to give up or change?
Meat, strangely. Reducing the consumption was really not a big deal and we felt so much healthier that it felt right.
Do you feel the changes you achieved so far are encouraging you to do even more?
Absolutely. Every little change takes us closer to our greener lifestyle goals and then motivates us to do a little more naturally.
How do you get the children involved?
I think I outlined most of what our kids are involved with above: Using recycling with art, growing veggies, giving away toys they don’t use anymore, participating in demonstrations, talking about the environment and climate change, reading stories about it, sensitising them about the impact of food and plastic and so on. They are on the same journey as us.
Something our kids are really involved with is “litter picking” in the street, even my 2-year-old. They do it themselves, without being told to as they see us doing it all the time. This makes me very, very proud of my kids!
Did you manage to save some money too? Or is this lifestyle change actually proving to be more costly?
I think the long-term costs tend to be lower, it’s the start-up costs that can be a barrier. We definitely save money by living sustainably as we actually buy less. By not going to the supermarket, we are less tempted to buy things we actually don’t need. The upfront costs of purchases is however often higher. But, like our grandparents always said: “You get what you pay for!” We tend to think about the bigger picture. If you pay a low price for something, then someone along the supply chain is paying the price or what you are eating is not well produced.
The main cost I would say is “time”. You need to be better planned and organised, that takes time which many people don’t have a lot of, and we often struggle with.
How did your family respond to the changes?
Our family just went with it. We are all in the same boat and on the same journey. It’s just a normal part of growing up for the children.
It was however a little harder with our wider family at first. They just couldn’t get it. Eight years down the line though, my whole family now eats organic when they can and they have stopped mocking me for asking them to buy organic – most of the time!
Do you have any trips or trick which really helped you?
Don’t expect to do it all at once and all the time. Be kind to yourself and realise you are probably doing more than you think you are.