FreeBird’s Twelve Month Plan

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Let me just set something out straight away: sustainability is not about deprivation. This is not a year-long trip into minimalism that we will all end up sitting in empty apartments with twelve items of clothing in our wardrobe eating pasta out of a saucepan because we’ve donated all our bowls. 

This is not about going completely plastic free, or zero waste. We are not going to end the twelve months with only a mason jar full of that year’s disposable rubbish. While I can dream of a world full of closed-loop production systems and self-sustained eco-houses, these are not changes that are easy or convenient for everybody to immediately switch to.

It would be easy for me to sit here and list twelve things we should all cut out of our lives and that be that. It would be just as easy for me to list “eco-friendly” brands each month, recommending new purchases each with a hefty price-tag just because they are made of bamboo or organic cotton. I will not list hundreds of pounds worth of “swaps” for everyone to make, or preach to you about it is hard at first but after a few years you will be living completely waste-free. I have been making conscious changes for four years, and I am still not perfect. I still own a bin, I still accidentally mix up my recycling, I still find clothing unworn at the back of my wardrobe that I bought for an event I ended up missing. 

Zero-waste living is something that is achieved with immense privilege. Many people with disabilities were deeply affected by the banning of plastic straws as it can be their only way to drink. Those on daily medication or frequent hospital trips are going to inadvertently produce more disposable waste than others. Until larger systematic change is in place, being completely zero-waste cannot be immediately attained by everybody, and many current “zero-waste” swaps are not appropriate or accessible by those from lower income backgrounds, those with children, who work three jobs, who live in a flat share or with their family members. 

Long term global sustainable living is what we are striving for. Sustainable means long-term, it means living with intention and not losing yourself in the endless buzz of city life. It means adaptability. It means letting yourself make a few mistakes, and just making sure you try again tomorrow.

The twelve month programme is also here to make you more aware of greenwashing; a tactic generally undertaken by large corporations to get environmental activists off their backs without actually making any huge changes. For example McDonald’s released a statement where they announced the banning of plastic straws back in 2018, before replacing them with paper straws which were not recyclable. McDonald’s has since committed to making all food packaging sustainable by 2025. 

I am not saying this is going to be easy, because it won’t be. I will be suggesting new ways of living that are not easy or ideal for everyone. I might be asking you to try and change a lifestyle habit you love. Change can flare anxiety, and it can incite awkward conversations between friends and family who don’t agree with your values. But as the last few months have taught us as a global community, it is that change happens whether we like it or not. And with global disasters coming quicker and faster, adaptability is our best friend. According to a popular statistic we have ten years left to tackle global warming before we reach crisis point. While this might seem wildly unachievable for your average person, just remember that small changes made by hundreds of people are more effective than huge changes made by few.

I can sit and recommend brands until the cows come home, but conscious consumerism is about ultimately understanding yourself, understanding what you are buying, why, and where it has come from. Not buying it because a list on a website has deemed it “eco” enough. FreeBird is about helping you make your own choices and decisions, we only encourage you to remain informed, to keep asking questions. To raise awareness among your community, and to assist those who cannot make the changes you can. To stay curious and uncomfortable.

Starting Sustainably

In 2016, I woke up and realised the damaging effect I was having on the planet. 

I worked in an outdoor theatre, and every day we released cheap plastic balloons into the sky. I watched cast members drop cigarette butts into flowerbeds. I remember searching for a dropped pen underneath a bush, and when I pulled it out, it was covered in the sharp plastic glitter of a performance from two years before. It was inescapable. 

I never dropped litter in the street, I shopped in charity shops, I recycled seventy percent of the packaging that came into my house, I didn’t own a car, and I had been a vegetarian since I was eleven – yet still, the guilt hit me. It wasn’t enough. In the twenty-first century, being passive in times of social and ecological crisis means being complicit. 

I threw myself into hours of reading, research, and podcasts. I spent money – hundreds of pounds of it. On fancy reusable coffee cups and water bottles, on glass Tupperware and Pinterest-worthy matching jars for my flour and sugar. On vegan skincare products, mooncups, and plastic-free shampoo. A month later I was exhausted, broke, and more confused than before.

In 2020, sustainability seems to have become a global buzzword – on the surface it is a seemingly fleeting mega-trend, told in brightly coloured slogans, splashed across recyclable packaging. Underneath the gaudy exterior, however, is a compressed catalogue of painful facts and harsh truths, too uncomfortable to read and even harder to accept. The current ecological crisis can be an enormously challenging concept to understand. In our ever-blinding and consumer-driven society, ‘sustainability’ can feel like a huge, unachievable target goal, with no real definition or resolution. With an endless blend of opinion and fact accessible at our fingertips, and with every action displayed on social media making us more open to criticism and insult, it feels much easier to just bury our heads in the sand and carry on as normal. Where can you even begin to make a difference when everyone is telling you something different?

However, it’s progress we should be striving for, not perfection. My attempt at a sustainability binge did not work because it was my mindset that needed to change first, not my food storage and makeup bag. A consumer-driven crisis cannot be solved with consumer-driven solutions – buying eco-friendly products is not activism if you didn’t need to buy them in the first place. 

Small changes can feel inadequate and pointless, whereas big ones can feel unachievable and exhausting. It’s easy to feel powerless, as one individual in the face of global warming, and even easier to point fingers at large corporations, who undeniably profit from the very over-consumption that’s damaging the planet.

Here at FreeBird, we believe in promoting two separate strands of sustainability. One is external – the direct effect our individual lives have on those around us, and the planet we live on, both locally and globally. This includes a focus on our individual carbon footprint, as well as discussions on the climate change crisis, a reduction in single-use plastics, and how, as a community, we can work together to implement change from within. 

But there is also the matter of internal sustainability; that of your own mind. Mental and physical sustainability is just as important – destructive behaviour can lead to a burn-out cycle that can be just as damaging. Mental wellbeing and self-care go hand in hand with a sustainable lifestyle.

Sustainability is, at its core, about balanced longevity– which cannot be achieved or sustained without taking care of both oneself, and others. Truly sustainable living can’t be achieved while we still live alongside social inequality. A sustainable future must be supported from the ground upwards, and as Alice Kurima Newberry writes for Greenpeace “We cannot talk about environmental justice without addressing racial justice.” For a more in-depth explanation of how integral racial equality and environmental progress are to each other, I recommend watching Majora Carter’s TED Talk from 2007, ‘Greening the Ghetto’, in which she highlights the key connections between environmental, social, and economic degradation. 

Both internally and externally, change must come, and soon– whether we like it or not. Our individual choices are the ones that matter – but they must be done for the right reasons. 

We’ll be starting a twelve-step programme this August, which everyone in the FreeBird community is encouraged to take part in. Each month we’ll be changing our lifestyle in one small way – whether that’s giving something up, trying something new, or adapting to a new routine or habit. While some changes may suggest the purchase of something new, in order to replace a single-use product, this programme is ultimately about a collective change of mindset. We’re not here to accuse or dramatise, or to fill your feed with gloomy statistics, which, while truthful and necessary, can be overwhelmingly anxiety-inducing. We are here to uplift and empower, to inspire change among the creative community, resulting in a positive and vibrant future – for our planet and for ourselves. After all, climate change affects everybody– so everybody can benefit from a more sustainable lifestyle. 

Change can be uncomfortable and overwhelming. It can be inconvenient and slow. Change can feel, for a long time, like you’re swimming upstream, fighting the current. But as soon as you realise we are all swimming together, it starts to feel a hell of a lot smoother.

 In a years’ time, each of our lives will have changed in twelve small ways, laying a solid groundwork for us to build a more sustainable future– both individually, and together. 

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