Rob Greenfield, environmental activist, author, content creator, and entrepreneur, has dedicated his life to raising awareness about sustainability, and he often does so in bold ways.
Greenfield has attempted to grab the world’s attention by doing everything from cycling across the United States on a bamboo bicycle to foraging all of his own food for over a year. It’s safe to say that he takes the zero-waste lifestyle more seriously than most, but he also contextualizes his experiences and shares how the average American can start making a difference on the individual level.
Greenfield didn’t begin his life as an sustainability warrior. He once had the goal of becoming a millionaire by the time he was 30 years old. However, that goal didn’t last long.
“I started to watch documentaries and read books, and I realized that all the little things I was doing — the food I was eating, the car I was driving, the stuff I was buying, the trash I was making — it was all causing destruction to the world,” Greenfield said.
After reaching that conclusion, there was no going back for him. But he acknowledges that for the average American, there are some barriers holding them back from fully embracing a similar way of life.
“The reality is that most things have been monetized,” Greenfield said. “Even if you’re only 30 years old, you’ve had over a decade of being stuck in a system that wants you to keep purchasing. For me, it was a full-time job to start living in a new way. And I didn’t have kids, or a house, or a mortgage. Our society isn’t set up in an environmentally friendly manner, and so what that ultimately means is that in order to try and live a sustainable life, you have to go against the grain of society.”
Despite these challenges, Greenfield has several tips for someone interested in being environmentally conscious, step by step.
Here are some of what he considers to be the biggest life changers:
- Grow your own food: “Even if it’s just some herbs on your balcony, or a bed of tomatoes in your yard, gardening can really change the way we look at where our food comes from and how it gets to us,” Greenfield said.
- Support local farmers: By sourcing food locally, you can minimize reliance on processed foods and instead buy whole foods, which creates almost no garbage because there’s no packaging.
- Compost: Greenfield recommends having a compost bin in your backyard or researching a local compost service where you can drop off your food waste. By not sending food scraps to a landfill, you can make a big difference with relative ease.
- Limit water waste: “To limit water waste,” Rob said, “You can install a grey water tank, which is a very basic system where you change the plumbing a little bit so that your water goes right to your landscape. Instead of sending water to the sewer, you can install grey water, and the water from your faucets and showers will instead go towards growing you delicious food.”
Greenfield also sings the praises of harvesting rainwater by collecting in in rain barrels. Rather than using municipal water, rainwater can be used for growing food or watering your landscape.
“Then of course there’s the simple things like transitioning to low-flow showers and faucets, which pays for itself very quickly,” Greenfield added. “Or go outside and pee on a tree. I almost never pee in toilets.”
Greenfield noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we think about the systems working around us. For instance, while the pandemic has lessened the amount we are relying on public transportation, it has also increased online shopping and rampant consumerism.
“Some environmentalists are framing this time as this really positive thing for the world, but I think overall that it’s been a continuation of the path that we were already on, which is one of the mass destruction of our earth,” Greenfield said.
However, he made sure to end that thought on a positive, empowering note: “What’s beautiful is that the solutions are there if we want them, as individuals, as corporations, and as governments. We can act if we really want to deeply value the lives we have been given.”