Written by Stephanie Cochrane, Owner of The Waste Less Shop
Honoring our planet with small daily actions that create meaningful impact.
Earth Day Origins
In January 1969, a massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California shed light on the detrimental effects industrialism was wreaking on the environment. In the peak of anti-war protests, Senator Gaylord Nelson used the momentum of young activists on spring break to organize the world’s first Earth Day April 22, 1970. Through widespread campaigns, Nelson was able to mobilize over 20 million Americans- 10% of the population at the time! Groups that had been individually battling problems like air pollution, deforestation and toxic dumps came together to unite under the umbrella of environmental protection for the first time in history. The Environmental Protection Agency was born that same year, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act all immediately followed.
Today, Earth Day is known as the largest secular observance in the entire world, with more than 1 billion people taking action. While it can feel defeating looking at the immense environmental and social problems of the world today, looking back at the advancements made from the first Earth Day 50 years ago can be an inspirational springboard to take action in your own life.
Finding Your Why
Before you can enact any kind of change in your life, you must first connect with your motivation or reason- your ‘why’. If you were to start a really strict diet without truly feeling motivated, the chances of you sticking through the hunger and misery long enough to see results are slim to none. On the other hand, if the motivation to lose weight was deeply rooted within you, sticking to a diet would seem easy and rewarding as results of your efforts began to show. When it comes to changing your habits to support a healthier environment, you should ask yourself, why does it matter to me? Does the litter on the sidewalk upset you? Do news stories about communities of color suffering from higher rates of cancer enrage you? Do rising temperatures and sea levels worry you? What is YOUR why? It will not be exactly the same as the environmental activist you follow, and that is IMPORTANT to recognize. As the owner of a mission driven business, I have sometimes felt the impostor syndrome of not doing enough to create change, but in those moments, I realize I am not living in MY why, I am generally watching what someone else is doing and feeling like I am not doing enough or as much as they are.
I opened The Waste Less Shop to help everyday consumers find little moments in their daily lives to align their actions with protection of our planet. Quitting my career as a dental hygienist to become a full-time activist, calling legislators and leading environmental justice events didn’t feel true to my calling. But making small shifts in my life to inspire others and creating a space where people can support small, sustainably driven female owned businesses and reduce their waste felt like something I could do with joy and connectedness every day. The Waste Less Shop was born from small shifts in my life that were in alignment with my ‘why’ and eventually grew into my full-time business.
My ‘why’ is made up of three main pieces. First is my true, deeply rooted, and sometimes embarrassing love of nature- stemming from my childhood growing up in rural Northern Nevada playing barefoot outdoors, raising pigs on a farm, camping by rivers, and rescuing a baby sparrow I named Squeaky. Second is my empathy for disadvantaged people- frustration that millions suffer without even basic human rights, sadness that those who are ‘different’ are tormented, and anger at those who have the power to immensely help and choose not to to do so. Last is my obsessive compulsive dislike for clutter; I can let laundry pile up, don't get me wrong, but accumulating a bunch of “stuff” has always bothered me; maybe it’s because I have moved 14 times in 10 years, but I don’t generally feel attached to items and would rather invest in memories than dust collectors or trending products. You may be shaking your head saying, “ugh, I LOVE my mementos and 17 shades of lipstick”, or “meh, nature doesn’t do much for me” and that is okay! We all have different motivations and emotional triggers, just find yours!
Living Your Why
Here is where it gets fun. When you connect to your why and start to live in it a little bit each day you will feel more at peace, more aligned, and more effective in your actions. Notice I said, “a little bit”; if you have the privilege and passion to dive into your “why” 24/7 then AMEN, do it! But you may have a full-time job, maybe children, maybe a stressful family situation, and about 1,000 other interests and things distracting you each day- that’s most of us right??
While I own a business that’s mission is to create consumer change to protect our environment and its inhabitants, there are things I do that don’t align with that mission; like traveling internationally, eating unsustainably packaged foods, sometimes buying clothes that are affordable vs. ethical. I am not perfect. But I find moments in my imperfection and mess to live in my why, and that’s when I feel most true to myself.
When do you feel most connected with the planet, when do you feel most at peace with yourself?
For me, it’s when I’m working in my garden, walking in nature, cleaning my house with earth-friendly products, connecting with others, having meaningful conversations, cooking meals with local ingredients, exercising, collaborating with like minded individuals, practicing my sustainable self-care routine, and supporting businesses I admire.
Creating Meaningful Impact
A famous quote says, “We don't need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Exhibit A. Hi. I am that imperfect person. I’m going to go ahead and assume that you are too- no offense, let’s be friends!
Through small daily sustainable actions that are in alignment with your ‘why’, you are actively joining a larger collective of people implementing change within their communities. If you think your purchase of organic deodorant in biodegradable packaging from a small local business (cough cough, The Waste Less Shop) doesn’t make any impact overall, then you are gravely mistaken. You see, that money could purchase deodorant made with cheap, toxic, endocrine disrupting ingredients with exploitive labor in an impoverished country, packaged in plastic derived from fossil fuels that’s distributed by plane, train, and truck supporting a business that’s first priority is profit. Instead, your conscious decision to buy the ‘eco-deodorant’ supports an individual who sources her ingredients locally and ethically, hand pours her products in her kitchen, provides a fair wage, additionally supports a mission-driven retail store, AND creates demand for more environmentally conscious products in the overall consumer marketplace. See? Try to imagine the effects of that in every decision you make alongside millions of others doing the same thing!
We are seeing more and more businesses committing to sustainability, more accessibility to sustainable products, more support for environmental justice, more investment in green technologies, and more awareness about climate change. Where do you think this all comes from? It’s not the result of Gaylord Nelson or Greta Thunberg alone saying “enough is enough”, it’s the millions of imperfect citizens who ‘maybe care about the environment, but also have other interests’ who chose to take action alongside the leaders of the movements. The excuses of, “my actions aren’t important” and “I don’t care enough” are literally killing our planet and its people. If we all shift our actions and care just a little, the world will begin to look a lot different.
Here are a few of my favorite simple shifts to implement that create meaningful impact:
Thanks for taking the time to learn more about ways to connect with your why and how implementing small shifts in your daily life can create meaningful impact!
Please follow us on social media @thewastelessshop, email us at hello@thewastelessshop to discuss more, visit our store at 3515 Highland Avenue, Manhattan Beach CA, and shop our sustainable goods online at www.thewastelessshop.com.
By Stephanie Cochrane, Owner of The Waste Less Shop