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How can we be more sustainable in our daily lives?

Louise Palmer Masterton, founder of restaurant Stem & Glory, recommends ways that we can live more sustainably

Last year, I went to the premiere of David Attenborough's new film A Life on this Planet. Described as his 'witness statement', the film contained a plethora of compelling statistics that defined the devastating problems we face if we do not stop destroying our planet.

The film shows the numbers for the rapid increase in global population, the increase in carbon in the atmosphere, and the accompanying sharp decrease in unfarmed natural land. It is a stark message.

By losing the biodiversity of our land, we are fast accelerating towards extinction as our planet struggles with the excess demands placed upon it. The earth has finite commodities, but we are acting like they are limitless.

The film does, however, end with a ray of hope. Attenborough lays out the steps we need to take in order to quickly redress the balance and allow the planet to recover. These steps are simpler than you might think.

1. Population control. End poverty and increase access to education for all people, which will naturally lead to population control. This, of course, requires global commitment.

2. Rewild the rainforests to restore biodiversity. Rewild more farmland.

 

3. Stop eating meat. For every one carnivore in nature there are at least 100 prey animals, so for 11 billion humans to be carnivores is completely unsustainable. It's an absolute no-brainer.

4. Abandon fossil fuel in favour of renewable energy. Everyone knows this, but with pension funds and big business still investing in fossil fuels there is a substantial way to go.

5. Land use. Using less land in more intelligent ways to produce more food, such as vertical and urban farming.

6. Stop Waste. Period.

So how can we make a difference with our own actions? You might think that most of this list is beyond the sphere of influence of an individual, with international action and financial incentives needed for this to happen on a global scale.

Whilst it's true that international action is needed, we can all instigate actions that make a difference.

Some of these involve supporting non-profits in a financial sense, but many of the actions we can take are changes within our own lives and habits which are not disruptive or costly. They simply involve making more ethical choices in our purchasing decisions.

\"Now is the time to explore the many, many plant-based options that are out there that have a lesser carbon impact and fall in love with vegan eating \"

Education

Consider donating a small part of your income. Attenborough states that to achieve the eradication of poverty, education, particularly of women, plays a huge part.

Camfed (camfed.org), a charity directly impacting the education of women, is one such example of an organisation working towards this aim.

Rewilding

Actively seek out products that are making a direct impact by rewilding using some of their sales proceeds. For example, at Stem & Glory we work with a tea supplier called Reforest Tea (reforest.org). For one 500g bag of breakfast tea, which costs us £12, they are able to plant 6-8 trees.

They also sell tea bags direct to the consumer. Perform your own mini sustainability audit and eradicate products that are known to be products that are directly responsible for deforestation.

For example, it's now widely known that palm oil is one of the main reasons that the rainforest has been destroyed, so eradicating it in your home is one way of making an impact.

More plant-based meals

Obviously, as a vegan brand we are hoping that the whole world will eventually refrain from eating meat. But even if you are not vegan, the fact that 65 per cent of all the mammals on this planet are farm animals, their devastating carbon impact and land use cannot be overstated.

It's simply not sustainable for the 11 billion animals on the planet to eat other animals. But what does this mean for you? Although it might feel like your 'choice' currently, eating meat is already becoming regarded as unethical, and this will only increase in the future.

Now is the time to explore the many, many plant-based options that are out there that have a lesser carbon impact and fall in love with vegan eating.

Using renewable energy

We can all make a huge impact by simply moving to renewable only energy sources in our homes. There are a number of these now, including the most established Ecotricity and Green Energy. The government's recent announcements of every home in the UK being powered by renewable energy within 10 years is a huge step in the right direction. You can make that switch now.

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I was struck a few years ago when I saw Berhard Lang's 'Marde Plastico' (sea of plastic) - an aerial photograph of the 350 square km plastic greenhouse in Almeria, Andalucia, Spain. It is so big it can be seen from space.

It has a huge environmental impact due to the extraction of water, the degradation of the land, the pile up of waste, and the terrible 45 degree working conditions for its mainly migrant workers. It had an instant impact on me and changed my purchasing decisions for good.

I used to think if something was labelled grown in Spain, it was tended by a rustic farmer, in a gentle nurturing way - I literally had no idea of the reality. By contrast, I visited Amsterdam in February 2020, in those heady days before COVID 19.

There are some super exciting projects there with vertical and urban farms. The Netherlands are a big exporter of vegetables because of this. They get a greater output from a much smaller footprint in this way and are by far more ethical than the Spanish counterpart.

It's complicated of course, but educate yourself, read about it, challenge your own beliefs. Bernhard Lang is an artist bringing awareness to man's destruction of the planet in a whole new way. It's powerful the role that art can play in this movement. For me, one image changed everything.

Waste

Probably the biggest issue of all.

Food waste:
More than one third of all food produced across the globe is wasted. And with regard to fruit and vegetables, it is almost half. In the developing world this waste is largely down to inefficient processing, poor storage, and insufficient infrastructure.

In medium and high-income countries (that's us) whilst supply chains can still be an issue, the behaviour of consumers plays a much greater part. We are simply buying it and not eating it. Much of this food waste could be avoided if it were managed better.

The hard fact is, if we managed to reduce the amount of food waste down by just 25 per cent, that would be enough food to feed the 870 million who currently do not have enough to eat.

Packaging waste:
There is a huge amount of misinformation out there on this subject, especially with regards to single use. I watched a short film recently and one of the experts said, 'There is no such thing as waste, it's just a commodity in the wrong place at the wrong time'.

That really struck me. Packaging is a complicated subject that we've been immersed in researching for some time, and here is what we have learned:

• The only truly sustainable, circular solution for packaging is to use products that are made from 100 per cent recycled post-consumer waste, which are then endlessly recycled. So, we are no longer using single use anything.

• Compostable is not the answer to the issue of single use, as compostable containers are widely made from virgin materials, which increase the carbon footprint of the product, and do nothing to solve the issue of mass disposability.

• When the world is truly plastic-free, then it may be that recycled packaging, which is also compostable, could play a part. But, whilst we have such huge amounts of post-consumer plastic waste, the most responsible thing we can do is recycle it.

If demand for 100 per cent recycled plastic were greater, demand would also increase for manufacturers to buy post-consumer waste plastic. And so, it goes on.

• Of course, responsible use of recycled plastic products requires education, and we need to invest energy into just that. It's a big step for us all to make in our heads because plastic has been vilified for so long, but research shows it's moving away from single use anything that has the greatest carbon impact.

The leap we all need to make is to start viewing plastic (and everything else on this planet) as a valuable commodity.

\"The hard fact is, if we managed to reduce the amount of food waste by just 25 per cent, that would be enough food to feed the 870 million who currently do not have enough to eat \"

Other waste:
At Stem & Glory, we are currently fitting out a new site in Cambridge. The driver behind our decor is reuse and recycle as far as possible. It's been great to see that there are so many new products on the market that are composed of recycled post-consumer waste.

We predict that this will explode massively in the coming months and years. From table-tops to worktops, paint, flooring, concrete, lights, innovation is everywhere.

And it looks completely fab! As part of this process, we have also been able to get our entire team on board - from designers to contractors, all are now also committed to the reuse and recycle way of living.

Of course, in the same way, non-business consumers can make similar purchasing choices for their own homes. And this is probably the best way we can win hearts and minds to tackling climate change. Never underestimate the contribution that an individual or individual business can play.

By changing ourselves we generate spirals of positive influence - the R number of sustainability! The more you make changes and tell others, the more people you will influence for good.

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Words by Louise Palmer-Masterton, founder of multiple award-winning restaurants Stem & Glory. Find them on Instagram @stemandglory and online at stemandglory.uk.

VeganLife

The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.