Eco Warrior Q&A: Johanna from @the_smallist

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Fresh off the back of having completed Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Brisbane last week, Johanna from @the_smallist is feeling inspired about what she can do to help tackle this ever-growing issue.

“The climate crisis is the most significant problem facing the planet and the people on it,” says Johanna. “I completed the course as I wanted to develop the skills and the tools to talk to people about this in a way which motivates them to use their choices, voices and votes to address it.”

Asked about what the highlight from the three-day training course was, Johanna says: “Meeting so many inspiring people from all kinds of backgrounds who are also passionate about addressing the climate crisis”.

Feeling just as inspired by Johanna’s commitment to climate change, we wanted to find out more about this eco warrior.

Tell us about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?

I am in my early thirties and live in Manly on Sydney’s northern beaches, though I’m originally from Sweden.

I work with policy and economic regulation in the energy industry.

I am passionate about having a positive impact on the planet, and the people on it. I spend much of my time thinking about how to make small changes in my own life to achieve this, and how to encourage others to do the same.

What inspired you to start living a “small-ist” lifestyle and how do you define this?

A “small-ist” lifestyle, to me, is about making small positive changes that, over time, add up to big changes. Small positive changes that, when done by many people, have a large impact.

Small changes could include swapping single-use plastic bags for a reusable bag, saying no to straws, or thinking twice before buying something new.

It can be easy, like turning off the lights when we leave a room, or more involved, like making sure that our superannuation is invested in companies that we believe in and support.

The small-ist approach is ultimately about living in line with our values. As a concept that can feel quite overwhelming, and it may quickly fall into the “too hard” basket. The small-ist lifestyle to me, therefore, is about making sure that we don’t do nothing just because we can’t realistically do everything.

Tell us more about how your journey got started.

I came to this “small-ist” lifestyle incrementally, but it started from two broad themes: Eating better food and decluttering my “things”. Both were antidotes to the severe fatigue that I experienced following a virus several years ago. I completely overhauled what I ate in order to increase my energy levels and to spend less time in bed. I started to declutter because I felt that all the “things” in my apartment were a huge source of stress, which in turn affected my recovery.

According to Gretchen Rubin’s “Four Tendencies” framework, I am a questioner. That is, I need to know the reason behind everything.

As I overhauled my diet, I began asking myself questions like, “Why are organic vegetables better for me?”. This was quickly followed by, “Why are organic vegetables so expensive compared to non-organic vegetables (and what does this mean for public health)?”; “Why are all organic vegetables from the grocery store wrapped in plastic?”; “How do I recycle all this plastic from all my organic vegetables?” and so on.

In trying to find answers to these questions, and many more, I learnt about a range of issues I didn’t know much about before, like how hard it is to recycle some items, and how badly many fast fashion garment workers are treated.

All this new information made me consider not only the impact of my personal choices, but also about how I could use my voice to inspire others to think about the impact of their choices. This is when I started posting about my own “small changes” on my Instagram @the_smallist.

One of the areas that I have become very passionate about as a result of all my research, and trying to live in line with my values, is action to combat the climate crisis.

We are putting 110 million tonnes of manmade global heating pollution into the atmosphere every single day, which is building up and trapping heat. We are “thickening” the atmosphere by filling it with this heat trapping pollution, and this is heating our planet at an unprecedented rate.

Ocean-based storms like hurricanes and cyclones are getting stronger and more destructive. Precipitation patterns are changing, which is leading to both more floods and more droughts, including an increase in both the number and severity of wildfires.

Global heating and rising temperatures also impact the glaciers, which are melting and causing sea level rises. These are just a few of the impacts, and they are happening already, not in some distant future.

Sometimes it seems overwhelming, doesn’t it? What are some of the small ways we can make a difference?

I have found that there are many small changes that we can make that help in combating the climate crisis, which is caused largely by burning fossil fuels. For example, we can reduce the amount that we fly. We can reduce the amount of electricity we use, or switch to 100% renewable energy. Reducing food waste and eating a plant rich diet are other great ways to reduce our carbon footprint.

Importantly, however, we also need to use our voices and our votes to encourage policy makers and companies to lead from the front on addressing systematic issues like climate change.

Individual action is important, but we shouldn’t feel “bad” for simply participating in a society that makes it very difficult to be “good”. There needs to be system-wide change.

What are some of the low waste initiatives you strive towards in your everyday life?

Firstly, thinking twice before I buy anything, and making sure it’s something I really need. Can I use something I already have, or borrow something, instead of buying new? Or, do I already have two jars of mustard in my fridge?

Second, if I really need it then I buy secondhand and/or great quality so that it will last for a long time. If I buy new, or if I am buying a service, then I try to buy from companies that are mindful of their waste throughout their supply chain. I recently found out that my hairdresser (Ebony Hair in Manly) is part of a great progamme that rescues up to 95% of salon resources from landfill!

Third, I try to minimise my food waste by buying only what I need and getting the most out of what I buy. I have started eating broccoli stems and throwing finely chopped cauliflower leaves in my stir fries, and both taste great! I try to buy the ugly produce to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.

Fourth, I aim to minimise the amount of food packaging I throw away by shopping in bulk, and avoiding plastic produce and carry bags as much as possible. I buy glass jars over plastic containers when the option exists. I’ve also gotten better at cooking and using ingredients rather than buying readymade sauces, etc.

Fifth, I avoid single-use plastic waste as much as I can by bringing my own bag, cup and water bottle. I also use silicone food covers and pouches for food storage, instead of cling wrap, for example.

Sixth, I use shampoo, conditioner, face wash and soap bars instead of bottles.

Seventh, I am almost paperless and receive my bills online and rarely print anything.

Eight, I make a point of talking to companies about their products and services and give them feedback, whether it is negative or positive, to bring issues that are important to me to their attention.

Tell us about your interest in low tox beauty products. What are some of your favourites and why?

I try to buy/use as few products as possible, both to reduce my impact on the planet and my health, and because I find having lots of “things” stressful. For example, I stopped dyeing my hair after 15 years, and it turns out I quite like my natural hair colour!

When I do buy and use products, including beauty products, I strive for them to be low tox (and low waste). Low tox is important to me because of the potential health impacts of various toxins, not just to me but to people involved in the production of the products.

What’s your number one low waste tip?

To think twice before we buy something. Ask yourself, Do I really need it? Can I borrow it or use something I already have? Is there a lower waste alternative?

If we do buy something, then we need to think not just about “our” waste, that is, what is in our bin at the end of the day, but also about impacts created throughout the supply chain.

Ideally, buy secondhand. If you do need to buy new, or if you are buying food, then buy local if possible, as the transport sector causes a lot of emissions. Look for sustainable companies with values that align with your own with regards to waste. We have a lot of power as consumers to change companies’ behaviour if we vote with our dollar.

What are you reading at the moment and what drew you to this book?

I am reading the book, Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming’ by Paul Hawken.

The book describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming. What appealed to me about this book was that it’s very solutions-focussed and it’s accessible to readers from all backgrounds.

Thanks for your time, Johanna!