Once upon a time there was a newly qualified professional couple, let's call them Josh and Emma, who discovered they were having a baby. With this news, although already fully grown, they made a great stride into adulthood and did sensible things like buying a house, thinking about budgeting, and concerning themselves with the world. Perhaps it was the heady heat in Emma's last few months of pregnancy, the weight of the boxes carried into their newly purchased property, the surprise at how little money was left when all the necessities had been deducted or the general state of the world they surveyed for their unborn child, but the couple decided action was needed.
That June was hot, very hot, and their little plot of land, so grassy green in the Estate Agents pictures, was now parched and thirsty-looking. People talked about drought. So our considerate couple decided they must conserve water. They would share their bath water and save it and their shower water, and then use this grey-water to hydrate their dusty, brown garden. Armed with bucket, gauze, and watering can, they set about the task of carrying the water from the upstairs bathroom, filtering it and distributing it to the grateful plants. It was a time consuming, but rewarding job, and they felt quite pleased with themselves and smiled, smugly.
Then, a little later than expected, their son arrived. He was beautiful. The need to keep the world a green and lovely place was magnified. However, things changed, no longer was life predictable and ordered, it was unexpected and chaotic. They did their best, the bath plug remained in, the water saved. Someone would surely have an opportunity to empty it soon?
And, in the humid micro-climate they had created in the smallest room in the house, grew a black, unsightly and unhealthy mould. It seemed simple scrubbing would not tackle it (they did not know about the rumoured mythical properties of stale white bread), and so they resorted to spraying it with foul-smelling chemicals, not good for the world, or their baby and made them cough.
There ended the story of the great water saving experiment, but not our green ambitions. The vegetable patch, sporadically tendered, was similarly unsuccessful. However, watching the broccoli crop devoured in 24 hours by a plague of hungry caterpillars impressed our budding junior naturalists and I feel quite maternal towards the Cabbage Whites which we now have in the garden.
For us, it sometimes seems, it is not always easy being green; we lack the skills and knowledge to make green projects work and be effective. Perhaps it was particular to my upbringing, but I was raised to eschew domesticity and turn my attentions to a world, at that time, full of shoulder pads and filo faxes. My parents nurtured my academic abilities and general curiosity for the world, current affairs, the arts, but didn't teach me to knit or sew, cook and be creative with left-overs, grow my own food, or rudimentary plumbing and vehicle maintenance. As parents of small children, we are at a stage in life when we have less time, resources and energy than we previously had, and re-skilling is proving a challenge, particularly when the temptation of sitting down and re-acquainting oneself with a newspaper or a good book, or other old friends, pervades any free time.
There seem many people who are better able and equipped to rise to the challenge, my fellow Crusaders, for example, or the lady whose house I visited at the Cambridge Open Eco Homes. She was surprised when she was asked if she would open her home, as she didn't think she was doing anything different. She doesn't have a fridge. I can only assume these saintly folk live in a different space time continuum, where there are at least 26 hours in every day.
We have had some environmentally-friendly successes; I breast fed, used cloth nappies (religiously for my first, intermittently for my second), and much of our baby equipment has been second-hand. My children slept in my cot, under crocheted blankets which are over 30 years old, play with my old toys, wear some very vintage clothes and our buggies (single and twin) have been bought from second-hand sales and e-bay. It seems that we are better able to be green when we are altering our existing behaviour rather than re-training ourselves and when the green option comes with strong financial and time-saving incentives.
I realise that this isn't the full solution. A greener world would be one where we consume less, but I have been conditioned in a 'because I'm worth it' environment, where I see products, new clothes, home accessories, gadgets, and life-style choices, for instance, driving a car, as a necessity or a right, not a privilege. I don't want to think of myself primarily as a consumer and was shocked when told that a mobile phone company referred to people in some of the world's poorest countries as ECCs, Economically Challenged Consumers. Surely we human beings are so much more than that? However, reconditioning myself, undergoing some sort of green cognitive behaviour therapy, requires the time and energy of which, at present, I seem so short.
Therefore, eager for green success and to be a mindful consumer, two years ago, I made a New Year's resolution that I would only buy clothing from sustainable sources. This meant organic and fairly-traded and second-hand, with a preference for charity shops where more people benefit from the exchange. And, Ta da! Achievement! Big green star over here, please. O.K., I can't deliver a completely clean rap sheet, on occasions the bright lights of the high street have seemed all too alluring and there have been a handful of purchases, but they are few and far between.
Organic, fairly-traded garments are more expensive, however this is all part of the reconditioning, for, as I've heard Safia Minney comment, when you consider the processes and people involved in making a garment, it shouldn't cost as little as a lunch. I tend to think more carefully about what I actually need to buy for my wardrobe, consuming less, and, making some purchases second-hand, I do think the cost levels out. Perhaps I do forgo the odd over-priced frothy coffee from a homogeneous chain, but that only induces an even nicer, warm-feeling inside and it just can't be caffeine and calories. And, if time is money, think of what I save trawling the High Street as, after some limited research into well-known brands' ethics, there are some shops that I simply will not enter.
For my children, the choice to buy organic and fairly-traded seemed all the more important. Touching their skin, so new and soft, I couldn't abide the idea of putting against it the chemicals frequently used to treat clothes, some of which might have been in that ghastly bathroom spray. I wanted them to understand the human involvement in the clothes they were wearing, and to know that no-one was harmed in the process, that people had been fairly paid and well treated, so that they could really enjoy wearing them. That was a better world-view than I had previously surveyed.
Early in my green mission, I was fortunate to land upon Planet Frugi. It seems that, when new-parents, Lucy and Kurt Jewson weren't satisfied with simply sharing their bath water. Nor did they bow to the weight of tired eyes, or feel themselves grounded by any perceived lack of skills. As their eldest son, Tom, was taking his first steps, complete with big cloth nappy bottom, so they took theirs, walking into the world of children's clothing, to make garments that would accommodate that lovely behind. Lucy and Kurt did the children's clothing equivalent of installing a community grey-water saving and recycling plant and I am very happy to fill my bucket at their tap (only taking what I need, obviously).
Frugi's clothes are organically and ethically made, but are also brilliantly well-designed and of excellent quality, made to last, and their customer service is impeccable. Shopping with them is a real luxury, as luxurious as the feel of their clothes, which means that every purchase we make feels like a real treat. My children and I are delighted with the clothes, with how they wash and wear, and are rather enjoying being, dare I say it, careful consumers.
Our green journey doesn't end here, we are still travelling, a little better equipped with information and certainly better aware of our limitations. We have had some success at growing salad crops and have fruit trees, and living in East Anglia can easily buy fruit and vegetables locally. We are embarking on some home improvements, aiming to make our home more energy efficient and think of the environmental impact of any cosmetic changes, upcycling furniture, using green paints and trying to avoid plastic storage. We try to use public transport and cycle wherever possible and are seriously considering exchanging our car for a Dutch Cargo Bike. One of the easiest, most achievable and instantly gratifying changes remains, however, our choice to be eco-consumers. It was a sunny day when we jumped aboard the the good ship, Green Enterprise, and took our first steps on Planet Frugi.....”That's one small step for a woman, one giant leap for Consumer-kind”!