At our last catch up, my coaching partner and I reflected on the need to accept when your personal leadership challenge has come to its natural end. For her, she felt like she had taken her challenge as far as it could go, for me, my challenge wasn’t really engaging me: it didn’t feel personal enough. I felt that, if I was honest with myself, by relating my challenge to my work (learning about my new region — the South of Scotland — in order to be better equipped to deliver sustainability action in my role at an economic development agency), I was keeping sustainability at arms’ length from me, and letting myself get away with not really committing to doing anything differently.
I needed a new, meaningful focus that would challenge me to make change. Which I found, when scrolling through news in the middle of the night awake with my baby daughter, in the form of a recent Guardian article: “Sustainable gin and family-sized crisps! My week eating a climatarian diet.” Food and cooking are really important to me: if I didn’t think it was an embarrassing word I would almost call myself a “foodie”. In a pre-lockdown, pre-countryside living and pre-baby world, my favourite pastimes included eating out, cooking extravagant dinners for friends, baking and reading cookery books and magazines. But, despite my growing awareness of and concern for sustainable development and the climate crisis, I have never tried to really reconcile the two. I’m not vegetarian, which is one of the top nine things individuals can do to address climate change according to the Grantham Institute, I do try to eat seasonal and local — but quite often convenience wins out over these two principles, and whilst I am conscious of my food waste, I’m definitely in the “could do better” camp.
The article describes how many of us are keen to eat more sustainably, but often confused about what’s best to do, or put off by the lack of enjoyment that “sustainable eating” conjures. These two states of mind definitely apply to me, and I’ll add a third: an unconscious reluctance to make any changes that are too complicated (a society-wide barrier to change identified in behavioural science literature). What particularly grabbed me about the Guardian article was the mention of a new app, Evocco, that allows you to measure the carbon footprint of your supermarket shop with the goal of reducing your footprint to “within planetary boundaries.” I’d been vaguely wondering for a while if there was a simple way to calculate the carbon impact of food and this seemed like a solution, and a sign that I should try to take the link between food and climate change more seriously. When I mentioned my thoughts to a friend, they also recommended Mike Berners-Lee’s book ‘How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything’ as a go-to guide in this space.
So for the remainder of my leadership challenge, and I hope (and intend) beyond, I’m going to start estimating the carbon footprint of my meals. I’ll try different methods — Evocco, How Bad are Bananas, and others I can find — and report back on how easy or difficult they are from a consumer perspective, and reflect on how they’ve shifted my attitude towards the food I buy, cook and eat.
As I came back to finalise this post before publishing, I realised I had drifted through the holidays and into the new year. So, this new challenge is a resolution of sorts, a step to increase my personal commitment to sustainability in 2022. And since it’s the end of the festive season, for my next post, I’ll try to calculate the impact of a meal I enjoyed several times this December, and one of the most famous in the Western calendar: the traditional British Christmas dinner.