By Sarah Ferriss and Sarah Smith
Welcome to our very first Green Blue You blog!
As it’s our first blog, we wanted to write about something that is near and dear to our hearts - Biodiversity. This is the animals and plants of our world and the ecosystems they live in- the whole variety of life on earth. We all depend on biodiversity for so many things but have long taken it for granted.
Increasing consumption, primarily in the developed world, has led to the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of habitats across the planet, and we are now at a critical point. In 2019, a landmark global study found that up to 1 million species are threatened with extinction, many within the coming decades; and that 75% of terrestrial and 66% marine environments are now “severely altered” by human actions. 85% of wetlands that were present in the year 1700 had been lost by the year 2000- loss of wetlands is currently three times faster than forest loss.
And all the while, we humans need biodiversity. We rely on it for our food – more than 75% of global food crop types rely on animal pollination, and the seas give us fish to eat. Biodiversity provides us with wood, raw materials and medicines. Our wetlands help protect against flooding, and well managed ecosystems store and absorb carbon dioxide, mitigating climate change. Biodiversity Matters!
The scale of biodiversity loss is so vast that it can sometimes feel hopeless, like there is nothing we as individuals can do to make things better. But this doesn’t have to be true, each decision we make has an impact and over time we can make a significant change.
Here we illustrate how some of our choices can make a difference to our planet and to biodiversity.
Chemicals and pollution
Many of the products we use at home, from cleaning products to shampoos, deodorants and suncreens, from sanitary products to condoms contain chemicals that affect our soils, water courses and seas and of course the animals and plants that live in them. They may also be harmful to human health. When you use these products at home, they rinse down the drain to water treatment facilities where many of them still make their way back to the natural environment. Phosphates can cause eutrophication, choking our waters, while phthalates and parabens can harm animal and human health. A growing number of studies show the negative effects of nanoparticles (increasingly common in everyday items such as sunscreens) on aquatic life. As consumers, we can look for products that are biodegradable and septic tank friendly, free from phthalates and phosphates, free from chlorine bleaches and from chemical deodorisers, and without synthetic dyes.
Plastics are massive pollutants in our environment- harming and killing animals that become trapped in or swallow plastics, leaching harmful chemicals into water and soils and breaking down into microplastics which could damage animal and human health. Despite the growing awareness of this, and some positive changes plastic waste still increases at an alarming rate. One recent study said the amount of plastic waste flowing into the ocean and killing marine life could triple in the next 20 years, unless companies and governments can drastically reduce plastic production. This has to include reducing plastic at source as well as more recycling and re-use efforts. To reduce our plastic footprint we can switch to plastic free products, such as cloths, toothbrushes and toothpaste, reusable or plastic free sanitary and incontinence products. We can set up home refill stations at home or make use of a local refill offers and ensure any plastic we do use is made from recycled plastic. How about also upscaling your recycling efforts, joining a beach clean or litter pick and lobbying your MP to support the proposed new global treaty on plastic waste.
Many products are badged as ‘environmentally friendly’ because they contain natural ingredients, but this is only part of the story. Of course, it is important to have non-toxic, non-plastic, biodegradable ingredients, but what about the impacts of harvesting or growing the ingredients themselves?. Palm oil is a well known example, which has led to the large scale destruction of rain forest in South East Asia to make way for palm oil plantations. Wood products are entirely natural and biodegradable, but where does the wood come from and are the trees used replaced? Coconut oil, essential oils, olive oil are all natural ingredients, but are they grown and harvested sustainably? One recent study found that 60-90% of aromatic and medical plants in trade are from wild sources, and global trade in these increased from US$1.1 billion in 1999, to US$3 billion in 2015. The most immediate threat to these plants is overcollection from the wild. As consumers, we can look for wood, products with FSC or equivalent certification, try to go palm oil free or look for sustainable sourced palm oil. We can look for certification of aromatic plants such as FairWild certification, look for organic products, or write to the company to ask about sustainability. We are committed to constantly developing our information and transparency about the ingredients in the products we sell and will work with our supplies to regularly update our information and ranges.
Many products and packaging are carbon intensive to produce and to transport, so switching to alternatives, particularly reusable products can already make a difference to your carbon footprint. But this is just a start. Carbon emissions need to be tackled throughout the whole manufacturing supply and delivery chain- and through substantive efforts to reduce carbon emissions, not just through carbon offsetting. This is why we are searching for suppliers genuinely committed to addressing this at every step in manufacturing their products. With our fantastic partner Zedify, we are also working on making our own delivery carbon neutral. As consumers, we can look for UK made products, reduced packaging options, and sustainable delivery methods.
The issues are wide ranging and complex but our choices can and do have an impact. It is not always easy to make the right choice and with confusing product labelling the consumer is left with lots of questions. Green Blue You will ask these questions for you and do everything we can to help you on your sustainability journey.
Let’s learn and influence together for all life on Earth.