Jen describes herself as an “ordinary, knackered mum of two whose life changed when she dragged and cajoled the family into a year buying nothing new”.
That year changed not only what she buys, but also how she sees her place in the world. Jen recognised the power that we all have as individuals to make a difference to the things we care about, simply through getting informed about the impact of our daily choices, and figuring out easy swaps and changes – which we at Women in Sustainability couldn’t agree more! Apparently her family are still (just about) talking to her and they live in Wiltshire where Jen writes and podcasts about all things Sustainable(ish), and she is the author of The Sustainable(ish) Living Guide.
We caught up with Jen just before the start of The Sustainable(ish) Festival which is running online between 11th and 15th May.
1. Tell us a little about how you came from deciding to write a blog about ‘buying nothing’ for a year, to creating Sustainable(ish) Living CIC with an online community of 35k.
It was a slightly naïve decision after reading in a magazine about a woman who was embarking on a ‘Secondhand Safari’ – a year buying nothing new, and I thought it sounded like a fun challenge! I blogged about our journey every day for the year, and over that time found my voice writing, and started to grow an online community of like-minded people. It also gave me some amazing opportunities like doing a TEDx talk, and writing some pieces on mending for The Guardian, and was genuinely a life changing experience.
It changed not just how and where we shop, but how I see my place in the world, and made me realise that as individuals and families our choices really do matter, and we can make a difference.
2. What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome to get you where you are today and how did you address them?
I’ve definitely been my own biggest challenge! It’s felt like a pretty much constant challenge to work out how to pivot from creating a free blog, to generating an income. Believing in myself, that what I have to say has a worth is something I still battle with. I’m not sure I have really addressed it – it’s a work in progress!
3. What would you do differently if you could?
I’d love to be able to outsource some of the bits I don’t really like doing! As a one woman band, it can feel like I’m wearing so many different hats, and it would be lovely to be able to focus more on the stuff I enjoy!
4. What advice do you have to anyone thinking about becoming a social entrepreneur?
Go for it! But it’s really important to remember that profit isn’t a dirty word, and that we need to make money as social entrepreneurs in order to be able to continue to have the positive impact that we want to have on people and planet.
5. Several commentators are saying they are seeing significant upswings in interest in living sustainable (4,550% increase in google searches on how to live a sustainable lifestyle, such as reported by Solitaire Townsend in a recent LinkedIn post . What shifts (if any) are you witnessing and how do you think we can best use this time to our advantage as change makers and change leaders?
It’s been a really difficult time for the environmental movement – not knowing how to position our message while a more immediate threat takes priority. But I’m really heartened by figures like this, and by the fact that so many people are hopefully starting to realise that slowing down our consumption a little maybe isn’t that hard or that bad after all. I think it’s really important that we try to make ‘sustainable living’ as accessible as possible, to break down some of the ‘green living’ stereotypes that exist. To continue to share the message in a non-judgemental, non-preachy way and to bring people on board with easy actions they can do to get started.
6. You’re bringing the ‘Sustainable(ish) Festival to our online screens between 11th and 15th May. What motivated you to do this now and what do you hope to achieve?
The honest answer is that a friend of mine did an online festival a few weeks ago and it sparked the idea in my head! I wasn’t sure what to expect, whether there would be any demand for it at the moment, but it seems like there is! My hope is that it inspires people to take action. To make a change, no matter how small. Whenever I do talks I always say that there’s no point people coming and listening to me If nothing changes. And it’s the same for the festival. I want people to enjoy it, to be inspired, to feel connected. But most of all I want them to leave with a list of easy eco actions they can do.
7. What is the question you wish people would ask you?
If I only did one thing to be more eco-friendly, what should it be?
And your answer?
Switch your energy supplier to a renewable tariff! It takes less than 10 minutes, could save you money AND could slash your carbon footprint by up to a quarter!