Eat less meat — Globally, the meat production industry is a leading source of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. Not only that, the huge demands it imposes on land and water are a massive stressor on many ecosystems. In August 2019 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserted that a shift towards plant-based diets would help to mitigate climate change. Switching to a plant-based diet can seem daunting but it should be seen as the ultimate goal, and you don’t have to do it overnight. Simply cutting meat out once a week will have a big impact on lowering your carbon footprint.
As part of my series about what we must do to inspire the next generation about sustainability and the environment, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Smith.
Andy is the founder of Reco an eCommerce store that sells reusable and sustainable alternatives to single-use products. Based in London, Andy began his career in management consultancy before making the jump to finance, working for a number of years in the City of London. After a life-changing road trip across Africa he decided it was time to redirect his efforts towards a more fulfilling venture.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Igrew up Scunthorpe, an industrial town in the north of England. After attending secondary school and college locally, I headed towards the bright lights of the capital city and left to study Economics and Finance in London.
My aspiration for many years had been to enter the world of finance, but entering the job market in 2010, a couple of years after the biggest financial crash in modern times, made that rather difficult. After widening my scope I found employment as a management consultant and progressed through the ranks for a number of years before trying to enter finance once more. I finally secured the finance job I had always wanted, right in the heart of the City of London.
The funny thing was that soon after I achieved my goal of securing a competitive job in Finance, I realised that it really didn’t bring me the fulfilment I had hoped for or expected! So, after a few years of saving and learning as much as I could, I took the plunge and founded Reco, which is one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become a scientist or environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?
Yes! The sudden realisation that you can’t get an Amazon Prime delivery in the middle of the Sahara…
In the Spring of 2018 my wife and I embarked on an overland adventure, driving from London to Cape Town along the west coast of Africa. We bought a Land Rover Defender 110 for the journey and made a simple conversion in the back so that we had a bed to sleep on. After six weeks on the road, we had reached Morocco and were rapidly making our way south towards Western Sahara.
Around this time we started to encounter electrical issues. After investigating, I discovered the faulty part. I vividly remember my first thought — no big deal, we can just order a replacement part off Amazon and get a prime delivery. Standing in the middle of the desert I suddenly realised how absurd that was. Not only was that completely out of the question, it also didn’t even occur to me in the first instance to actually try and repair the part. It made me realise how conditioned we have become to think that it if something breaks, you NEED to buy a new part and how geared our economy is towards replacing rather than repairing.
With this in mind, I set about researching the issue, and after a few hours, I had identified it and found a simple repair. This tiny bump in the road was my ‘aha’ moment and planted the seed of the business idea that I would go on to develop and refine.
Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?
If you feel passionately about something, don’t let others discourage you, and don’t be afraid to go against the grain. That’s when you discover new ideas and ways of doing things — and if we are going to make a difference to the current environmental situation then what we need is innovative thinking and creative ideas that challenge the status quo.
Take the advice of others on board, but don’t let them make decisions for you. If I had listened to my friends and family, I wouldn’t have left my corporate job, travelled across Africa or set up my business.
It’s easier said than done, but my top tip is to surround yourself with like-minded people. For example, in preparation for our Africa trip, my wife and I met up with other experienced overlanders, and as you can imagine they had nothing but excitement for us! This really helped us prepare for the trip with confidence and positivity, and made a huge difference to our mindset.
Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?
Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks things that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?
Absolutely, here are some of the initiatives we are actively working on:
- Plastic free packaging — Every order we send out is free from plastic packaging materials. We only use cardboard and paper so it can be easily reused, recycled or thrown in the compost.
- Minimal packaging — We make a point of reusing any boxes and packing material we get from suppliers. We also spend a lot of time researching the market to find the most efficient way to send our products, using as little packaging as possible.
- Paperless — Our business is completely paperless, with everything managed digitally and online. Any paper that does come in is sent for recycling or composted.
- Building an engaged group — We want our business to be more than a simple marketplace where people can buy goods. Our plan for next year is to push ahead with building an engaged group like-minded members to help spread our message of a multi-use mindset.
There are so many small changes you can make right now to start helping the environment, but here are our top 3:
- Always carry a reusable water bottle — A simple one, but If you haven’t already, get yourself a reusable water bottle and take it with you everywhere. Water is freely available so don’t get ripped off buying it in single-use plastic bottles!
- Switch to a safety razor — My personal favourite swap is to use a safety razor instead of a disposable plastic razor. It is one of those rare eco swaps that is a real win-win-win. it’s better for the environment, your wallet and will give you the best ever shave.
- Don’t buy on impulse — Think for a minute, do you need to buy something new? Or can you rent/borrow/buy it second hand? The sharing economy is massive now and there are loads of apps and websites out there to help you.
Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement? Please give a story or an example for each.
The best way parents can inspire the next generation is to lead by example and here are 5 easy ways to do just that:
- Eat less meat — Globally, the meat production industry is a leading source of greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. Not only that, the huge demands it imposes on land and water are a massive stressor on many ecosystems. In August 2019 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) asserted that a shift towards plant-based diets would help to mitigate climate change. Switching to a plant-based diet can seem daunting but it should be seen as the ultimate goal, and you don’t have to do it overnight. Simply cutting meat out once a week will have a big impact on lowering your carbon footprint.
- Buy local and seasonal — Similar to the above, the carbon footprint of food can be huge with produce shipped from all over the world; lamb from New Zealand, green beans from Kenya and avocados from Chile. Eating regionally sourced and seasonal produce will help to lower your carbon footprint and support smaller producers and the local economy.
- Get moving — 20% of journeys made in Britain are under 1 mile, so ditch the car, and walk, run or cycle instead. Not only is it better for the environment, it’s better for our health. Air pollution in London (where I live) is now seen as an increasing cause for premature deaths and one of the biggest contributors is emissions from road vehicles. We made the decision to sell our car at the start of 2018 and now cycle most short distances. We’ve now got a taste for it and take part in cycle tours around the country, so if not for the health or environmental benefits, do it to discover a new hobby!
- Conscious consumption — Next time you get the impulse to purchase something, take a minute. Ask yourself, do I actually need this? Will this add value to my life in the long-term? If the answer is still ‘yes’, how long do you need it for? Would it be better to rent/borrow the item? Could you buy it second hand? These are the types of questions we need to start asking ourselves and realise that it is about rewiring the way we have been taught to think. Western economies are based on rapid consumption and convenience, with companies always encouraging us to buy more and buy now. Parents need to lead by example and show that a more considered way of consuming is a key way we can help to protect our environment.
- Spend more time in nature — Watching nature documentaries on TV is great but encouraging the younger generation to get out and connect with nature and have that first-hand experience is even better. If children gain an affinity for the environment from a young age they will be more passionate about its protection in the future. Additionally, simply spending time in green spaces has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and ease mild depression. Given our increasing understanding and concern with mental wellbeing, the medicinal benefits of spending time outdoors should be championed as well.
How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?
A great example is ‘Who Gives a Crap’. On the face of it, they just sell toilet paper, but what makes them stand out is their mission. All of their products are made from environmentally friendly materials, and they generously donate 50% of their profits to help build toilets for those in need. If they were another generic toilet paper brand, they wouldn’t be the success story they are today. It is the sustainable and environmentally conscious mission that consumers are rallying behind and the main reason they purchase from them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My wife Amy has been a huge inspiration to me and without her relentless drive I would not have done half the things that define my life now. By 21, Amy had already visited every continent, including Antarctica! I had always had the desire to travel but never the impetus, and Amy was the catalyst to make things happen for me.
Our Africa road trip was her finest moment. Her initial plan was for us to cycle the route instead, which I quickly vetoed! After some negotiation, we settled on driving the route, but I still required lots of convincing. She was never fazed by the enormity of the journey, whereas I would often got stuck in the minutiae of the plan.
This is precisely what makes us a great team — we always meet in the sensible middle ground between blue sky thinking and micro management to come up with the perfect plan.
You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Ultimately, Reco is a small part of the sort of cultural and environmental change I would love to see in society. Although at the moment we are focused on products that offer simple every-day switches away from single-use items (such as reusable coffee cups), a broader movement that I would like to be a part of would be for us to really question our consumption and waste across all parts of our life. Fast fashion, constant pressure to buy the latest gadget, the abundance of choice in shops… All of these are indicative of our quick-fix mindset and when you think about it, it’s no wonder that the environment is in such trouble when you consider the environmental impact of producing, exporting and eventually throwing away these things. I truly believe that slowing down and making the most of the things that you already have, rather than relentlessly pursuing the latest trend, is so much better not only for the environment but for our mental wellbeing.
Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?
“Work to live, don’t live to work”
Throughout college, university and my early 20’s, all I wanted was to make it in finance, work my way up the corporate ladder and become ‘successful’.
In my late 20’s I reassessed my life and it made me question why I was putting in 12 hour days spending them in a glass fishbowl. The answer was to earn more money, but what is the point in having money if you never get to live your life? This really spurred me on to finally take the plunge and establish Reco.
You only have a short time on this planet, so make sure you live it to the fullest and don’t live your life according to someone else’s values!
What is the best way for people to follow you on social media?
This was so inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!