Sustainability is the latest buzzword. From organic skincare and ‘conscious’ fashion collections to bamboo toothbrushes, it seems everyone and their dog is advocating for a more eco-friendly lifestyle. But it can be difficult to know what’s useful and what’s simply greenwashing (providing misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound).
You might be reading this and thinking ‘not another gloomy book about the environment’. In light of the current circumstances, more advice about how you should live is probably the last thing you want. But surely it’s impossible to see what’s going on in the world and not wonder how we can really make a difference?
Despite what you might believe, becoming more environmentally aware isn’t about sacrifice or shaming others for forgetting their reusable coffee cup of snaffling the occasional Big Mac. Rather, it’s a series of incremental changes. For that reason, Lianne Bell wrote How on Earth Can I Be Eco-Friendly? to explain how she shaped her habits and made changes to her lifestyle that were “so small you’ll barely even notice them”. I first came across Bell, who grew up in Blackpool but now lives in Asia, on Instagram and was immediately drawn to her colourful, informative and friendly account. To my delight, her book adopts the same approach, even using hashtags to mark each chapter so it feels like an extension of her social media content.
How on Earth is a no-nonsense step-by-step book about how to be more environmentally aware without having to sacrifice your entire life or, as Bell puts it, “running into the nearest forest in your birthday suit to embrace a tree”. It’s a beginner’s guide so if you’re already making the transition to being more sustainable, this book isn’t for you. But it’s an excellent resource for those looking to take the first steps towards positive change and aren’t quite sure where to begin.
The book is easy to read and written with a good dose of humour and absolutely no condescension. Bell doesn’t claim to be perfect and admits to still working through some of the changes in her own life. “We have all known for years that our clothing is made using slave labour, and yet, by and large, we’ve done nothing,” she writes. But that doesn’t make us evil. We’re busy, we’re distracted and it’s human nature not to dwell on something we can’t actively see or experience. We just need to start paying attention. Bell suggests that as creatures of habit we might want to think about breaking the bad ones that are detrimental to our own well-being and the planet. In short, it doesn’t mean that we can’t have nice things, we just need to think about our motives and their impact.
The chapters are concise and informative and cover a range of subjects from advocating for slow fashion and the lack of transparency behind fast fashion to battling food waste (“the message is surely clear: just buy what you need”) and making changes to our diet, as well as taking a look at skincare, advocacy, period care and, erm, loo roll. Further information, such as handy word definitions and explanations, are included in the footnotes rather than long explanatory paragraphs which, for someone dipping their toe in the water, might feel like being hit over the head with an iron bar.
I much prefer Bell’s matter-of-fact guide over some of the more stylised books on the market which smack of bandwagon jumping and aren’t particularly useful for people who wouldn’t dream of paying £500 for a ‘sustainable’ coat (spoiler alert: all coats are sustainable if you buy just one and take good care of it). For those of us with more realistic budgets, it’s a useful tool for simple changes that can, over time, have a huge impact – and won’t, literally, cost the earth. Bell also highlights one of my biggest arguments (aside from the disastrous destruction of our planet) for more conscious consumption which is that reusable products are a money pit. Bell writes: “Every time we use something and throw it away, we’re essentially throwing away our own money…the company we purchased [it] from is laughing all the way to the bank with our hard-earned cash”.
So, if you’re feeling compelled to make the leap to a more environmentally-friendly way of life, then How on Earth is the perfect guide. We’re living through a time of rapid and uncertain change and it’s up to all of us to take some responsibility – as well as advocate for new policies and practices on a larger scale – because, as Bell writes, “if we continue to sit back and let climate change take hold, it won’t matter who’s Prime Minister, how good the camera is on the iPhone 11, or what this season’s Pantone colour is. We’re all going to be up the creek without a paddle.”
By Emma Yates-Badley, Literary Editor
How on Earth Can I Be Eco-Friendly? is available to buy on Amazon.