Can you have a baby and still be environmentally friendly?
At the end of April we went along to the Be The Change Awards for ethical businesses. We were shortlisted in the Babies and Children category and didn’t win the award because we hadn’t said anything about how environmentally friendly we are. Which is fair enough, we provide a service, we don’t tend to think about being “green”. So it got me thinking about how we can be more environmentally friendly as a business.
We’re pretty good on not wasting resources, mainly because our budgets (what budgets?) are so ridiculously tight. Leaflets are pretty much only distributed by midwives, so they go directly into the hand of people who can benefit from our services. All our furniture and toys in the centre, except the red sofa, is 2nd hand, and we use our yoga mats to the bitter end. We could probably do better on the cleaning products, biscuit and coffee supplies, hand wash and loo roll, so that is something I will look into. It’s difficult when the more environmentally friendly products are generally so much more expensive. I could cycle to the centre, and I used to, before time got so tight, trying to fit in all the work and meetings in between the school runs. I should go back to that (and just do less work). But the rest of the teachers need their cars. No one can transport 10 yoga mats, plus other kit, from say, Felixstowe to Stowmarket, or Ipswich to Saxmundham, on a bike or public transport – certainly not on a regular basis!
My train of thought then moved on to the wider issue. Did you know that having a baby is literally the least eco-friendly thing you can do for the planet? It’s the worst. “[A] recent Swedish study that found that having one less child per family can save an average of 58.6 tonnes of carbon every year. The next biggest carbon saving you could make is by going car-free, saving a minuscule-by-comparison 2.4 tonnes.” (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/20/give-up-having-children-couples-save-planet-climate-crisis) So clearly it’s better to have fewer children, or no children at all. But it’s too late for that, if you’re reading this. I have two children myself, and while I did (briefly) think about the ecological side of it, and what sort of world they are going to inherit, that wasn’t a persuasive enough argument to stop me having them. If you want a baby, you want a baby, and appealing to logic and reason about how much better it would be for the planet not to have one unfortunately just isn’t going to wash with most people. Though for more of us, maybe it is becoming a factor in not having more than two? I would be interested to know your thoughts on that. Is, or was, concern for the environment a factor in determining the size of your family?
It is often argued that birth rates are falling in the West, and it’s in the developing countries where birth rates are rising, so it’s their problem, not ours. In response to that, I’d say that in the West we use significantly more carbon per person than in developing countries, so it’s still something we need to care about. And if developing countries are becoming more Westernised, then we need to find solutions in the West that significantly reduce our impact on the environment, fast.
What I would also say is that it’s vital that women in developing countries have access to education, birth control, and abortion. If women are more educated, able to have their own careers, and have access to birth control, then the birth rate dramatically falls. In terms of potential impact of lowering CO2 emissions by 2050, a combination of educating girls and family planning came out as the number one solution in a 2016 study called “Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming”. Why isn’t educating girls in developing countries being spoken about as an environmental issue? It’s pretty easy to understand its importance.
So what can we as individuals do? Change clearly needs to come at the level of national and international government policy and big business in order to create significant enough improvement. It seems the future of the planet, if we carry on as we are, looks pretty bleak. One benefit to having these carbon-guzzling children, is at least it gives us parents the strongest possible motivation to do something about it. I don’t want to leave to my children a world that is on its knees. I don’t want them to face a much lower standard of living than we’re used to, or a shorter life expectancy. Our generation really need to listen to the warnings and actually do something.
Tips for an eco-friendly lifestyle
This is the poll I ran on Facebook. I was interested in whether climate change is in the forefront of people’s minds when planning a family, and as I suspected, it really isn’t for most people. According to Facebook, nearly 1,000 people saw the poll, and only 89 voted, so I would assume that if you didn’t vote, the topic doesn’t even interest you enough to respond. However, before anyone who’s good at data complains, I’m aware this isn’t a very representative survey, as by definition, anyone who chose not to have any children at all is not going to be following the Suffolk Babies Facebook page!
So after this I was feeling slightly depressed. Having a baby is terrible for the environment, but people are going to continue to have as many babies as they want. There is so much that needs to be done on a structural level, for example, I had to go to France last weekend for a funeral. I would have loved to have done the more eco-friendly thing and taken the train, but it was over £200 one way, and took over 15 hours. Flying cost me £21 return plus £17 bus fare to the airport. As another example, just one of the hundreds of massive container ships gives off as much pollution as 50 MILLION cars, but they are usually far out at sea – out of sight and out of mind?
I don’t know if you, like me, are feeling a bit stumped by what exactly we are supposed to be doing to help? The problem seems so enormous, how can you or I make a difference? Us parents are the masters of guilt already, and now we have to worry about the planet as well?! Ain’t nobody got time for that.
And who has time to give up their car? Instead of dashing to the supermarket to load up for the week, we are supposed to walk to the grocers, the butchers, the local farm shop, avoiding all plastic packaging, and spend ages shopping around for palm-oil-free-everything and only buy things that come in a glass bottle? How is that supposed to work? Do you live in the olden days?
We don’t want to be going around feeling horribly guilty the whole time, but maybe we can harness it and use it for a force for good. The big changes have obviously got to come from big business and the government. But what motivates them to make those changes? Is it petitions and news articles and protests – or is it money?
I might be wrong, but if enough of us tweak our spending habits, the big corporations will start to take notice. I’ve seen a huge rise in vegan products hitting the shelves and restaurant menus over the last year. Is that because businesses have suddenly become aware of the impact meat production has on the environment, or is it because they have pound signs flashing in their eyes at the thought of a whole new market for vegan products? Likewise, if the government sees enough potential voters believing in something, their policies will start to reflect this.
You all have given some fantastic tips and ideas on Facebook about how we can change our spending habits to be more environmentally friendly. If we all make some tweaks to what we buy it will soon become a) normal and b) a large enough movement to actually make a difference, and convince those in power that it is in their interest to actually do something about these issues. And hopefully, they will have enough motivation to tackle the really big polluters.
So, in no particular order, here is a summary of your suggestions:
- Buy soap and shampoo in bars.
- Switch to reusable paper towels and wipes (either buying these or using old towels or flannels cut up).
- Get milk delivered in glass bottles.
- Buy from greengrocers and “plastic free” shops like Cupboard Love.
- Use washable nappies and sanitary protection.
- Use waxed paper and Tupperware instead of cling film where possible, and wash and reuse kitchen foil. Paper bags for sandwiches.
- Choose ethical beauty products, particularly in glass bottles or recycled packaging. Superdrug and Tropic got a mention.
- Buy from charity shops, gumtree and preloved sites.
- Go vegan.
- Use shops where you can refill things like washing up liquid, e.g. Poppy’s Pantry and the Fair Trade Shop in Ipswich.
- Buy toys second hand from Choices at Barham, Beacon Hill Farm Shop at Martlesham, Nearly New Sale at Elmswell, charity shops, Facebook Marketplace.
- Reusing pots, either for freezing batch cooked food, or as toys/craft materials for kids.
- Avoid non-sustainable palm oil where possible.
- Walk as much as possible.
- Switch to a renewable energy supplier and properly insulate your house. Cut down your water usage by saving water from the shower to flush the toilet.
- Who Gives a Crap loo roll.
- Stainless steel water bottles instead of plastic.
- Soda Stream for fizzy drinks.
- Choose eco cleaning products.
- Finally, just buy less!
A bit of a mix there of things that take very little time and effort at all, to some options that might be a bit more time consuming, or expensive. You can probably come up with some more ideas of your own.
One thing that I think is key for us as people with young children, is the idea that we ought to be teaching our children to cherish nature and care for the planet. If we bring our children up in an environmentally conscious household, we will raise environmentally conscious children.
Doing things from the list above will help with this, as well as talking about the environment with them. Some extra ideas for this include:
- Create a bee and butterfly friendly garden, with insect houses. Make sure you have a “Hedgehog Highway” if your garden is fully enclosed.
- Encourage your children to get involved with growing their own food, even if it’s just cress on a windowsill. A top tip from Tanya was to take your own pots to the garden centre so you aren’t bringing more plastic home.
- Liz suggested taking a bag to the beach to collect rubbish and get involved with beach cleans as a family.
Writing this blog has been really interesting, and it has really made me think. I hope you have found it an interesting read too, and it has given you some food for thought and inspiration. This is an issue that isn’t going to go away – the UN has warned that we have just 12 years to avert a climate change catastrophe. That’s not long. My kids will just be starting adult life in 12 years’ time. Many of yours will only just be starting secondary school. It’s heartening to see today’s teens taking action to raise awareness of the issues. Let’s all work together to convince those in power to make the necessary changes.