Melissa Hemsley On How To Be Sustainable At Home & In The Workplace, Because Change Is Possible

By Melissa Hemsley

Melissa Hemsley is a cook, a podcaster, an author, and one half of the sister duo behind HEMSLEY + HEMSLEY — a London-based food business focussed on creating joyous, nutritious food for the body, mind, and spirit. Hemsley published her first solo book Eat Happy in Jan. 2018. Her current focus is sustainability, and she recently curated a guide to 30 of the UK’s most sustainable restaurants. Here she explains to Bustle UK how to be sustainable at home and at work.

Keeping the daily conversation around sustainability going and growing is essential. The good news is that more and more people and businesses are acting on environmental concerns. Sustainable lifestyle choices and product options that were once the reserve of a few environmentally focused people are now becoming the norm for so many of us, and it’s up to us all to drive change through our choices at home, and to ask for environmental changes to be implemented at work.

Sustainability isn’t a stick we should be using to beat each other and ourselves with, but a positive action, which we can all do together. Below are five tips on how to best use your power as a consumer to help shape change, from your local supermarket, to your fridge, dinner table, and beyond.

1. Using Your Voice

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Single-use plastics are increasingly becoming something people are ashamed of using: the swear-word of Gen Z! The workplace is where many of these changes can start. Part of the reason I'm looking forward to speaking at WeWork's Sustainable Style event is that they have banned single use plastics from its 425 global community locations. That’s a potential reduction of up to 37 million plastic cups and 500,000 plastic bottles each year. This is a great example of the change individual companies can create.

Another thing you can do is to ask for Fairtrade at shops and wherever you get your coffee fix. As a Fairtrade ambassador, it’s hugely encouraging to see the rise in Fairtrade brands and awareness, with supermarket own-brands changing to Fairtrade, too. Farmers should be paid at least a living wage and if we keep asking and demanding, things will change. Whether it’s face-to-face with the shop manager, firing off an email to head office, or tweeting brands and CEOs; let’s ask the questions and demand answers.

2. Recycling Know How

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Confusion around recycling is rife. What can go in our doorstep collection boxes, and what can’t? Can you put the whole teabag, string and all, into a food compost bin? Can you recycle pizza boxes?

If you’re unsure about what items can be recycled, an excellent first port of call is Recycle Now, which has a really useful A to Z of how to recycle various items. Did you know wine bottle corks can’t be recycled via doorstep recycling, but can go in your food compost bin? And squeezable toothpaste tubes are generally not recycled by local councils, but most pump action toothpaste tubes can be (always check or tweet the brand!).

Good to note if you're a tea drinker: Pukka tea bags — some of whose range is organic and fairtrade, too — are fully compostable. If that's not your bag, go for loose leaf tea like in the good old days. I adore Rare Tea loose leaf. Oh, and pizza boxes are a yes, if they’re emptied first.

3. Love Your Leftovers

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I’m a huge fan of leftovers; they mean you’re halfway to your next meal, you waste less, and you save money too. What’s not to love? If you find leftovers uninspiring, check out my website melissahemsley.com where you can search by ingredient. No carrot or egg need ever be thrown away again. And there’s lots of inspiration for using up the whole fruit, and veg from "root to fruit," with pestos made from carrot tops!

If that sounds a bit overwhelming, think about what you often find yourself throwing away, unfinished. If you’re a dried-up-cheddar-in-the-fridge-door culprit, then think about grating it all in one go when you first use it and freezing it. It freezes well and will save you both types of cheddar!

Maybe you love cooking a chilli, though every time you do there’s an inevitable half-pot of sour cream or yoghurt that sits in your fridge until it’s mouldy. Next time that happens, chop up some herbs and garlic and mix them in or just blend them all together and you’ve got a delicious tangy green dip for crisps or sweet potato wedges. Or you can drizzle it over a tray of roasted veg, or mix it with some chopped cabbage and carrots for a coleslaw at this weekend’s picnic or BBQ. Anticipate the leftovers and scout around for a recipe that can use up the last scoops.

Speaking of old veg – be not afeared! Ugly veg or tired veg is still good veg, and old veg can still cook brilliantly. A bendy carrot will still work just as well in a soffritto. And last week’s fruit bowl can be repurposed into something delicious, like this Fruit Bowl Bake I made recently.

If you want to go even further in reconsidering what waste is, then I can recommend nibs etc.’s delicious granola, which is made from waste fruit pulp. It’s got to be tried to be believed.

4. Voting With Your Spending Power

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Every time individual consumers make environmentally-minded choices, we’re contributing to a wider change. It could also be one of your friends recommending nourishing and eco-loving skincare (my favourites are Aurelia Skincare and By Sarah) to you; coming equipped with your own cutlery at your lunchtime salad bar; asking your office to provide cutlery and plates; or suggest a change to Who Gives a Crap in your house share (their toilet roll is made of bamboo and 50% of profits go to building toilets in the developing world).

Even if you feel there’s no harm in one plastic straw or one roll of cling-film, you’re still creating demand. By passively accepting these plastics, companies won’t be forced to make big and positive changes in the name of profit: these big businesses are the ones whose decisions can really make a difference. Big business, big impact.

As a result, it's also worth encouraging your company to review their policies. Last year WeWork went vegetarian for sustainability reasons, and report that by 2023 they will have saved approximately 60 billion gallons of water and 15 million animals. Let’s not leave it to others: we can all be better and be part of the sustainability movement for the good of the planet.

5. Look After Others & Yourself

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I’m often championing the need for mental health first-aiders in the workplace. While on a panel with my friend Bryony Gordon — the founder of Mental Health Mates (I’m a proud ambassador!) — I was introduced to Natasha Devon who has started a petition for a mental health first-aider in every workplace. If you don’t have one, ask your boss. And make sure you take your lunch break and try to get outside if you can. One third of workplace absences are stress related.

If it’s true that you can’t love others until you love yourself, make sure you’re looking after yourself so that you can find the energy to look out for the planet.

Hemsley will be speaking on the breakthrough breakfast panel as part of the Rêve En Vert x WeWork Sustainable Style day on Thursday April 18. Visit this link for details.