Gifts that Don’t Cost the Earth

At this time of year, a lot of people (myself included) do a lot of present giving. I love giving gifts, it is definitely one of my strongest love language.

However I also believe our high-consumption lifestyles, with fast turn around and disposal of products, is one of the main drivers of the devastating environmental and social issues we face today.

For a while I wasn’t sure how to manage these seemingly conflicting ideas, but I have found some ways to reconcile them, and to give gifts that still uphold my social and environmental values. They aren’t fool-proof, but they are a start

1a) Make your own gifts

1b) Support others who make stuff

Left: handmade apron by my friend Surrayya. Right top: handmade candle by my friend Gemma who started the social enterprise Betley.  Right bottom: homemade reusable facial wipes – a gift for me from my mother-in-law 🙂

2) Op-shopping and second-hand gifts. Just before Christmas is probably not the best time to score bargains, but the post-Christmas season makes up for it! I think there is sometimes the thought that it is ‘cheap’ to give second hand shop items as gifts, but I have to disagree – you can find some really great gifts there!

Plus, the environmental and social impacts of purchasing items second-hand, rather that new, are considerably lower. The article Why Thrift gives a good introduction to these ideas.

Second hand shop finds: brand new DVD for my daughter, and a beautiful dress from my mum.

3) Find shops, brands, and companies that have values that align with yours. A fair proportion of the gifts I give are trying-to-be-more-ethical/sustainable variations of conventional gifts (chocolate, alcohol, candles, shower/bath sets, etc) or other items that I know someone might like.

non conventional
Left to right: wine from growers that have won sustainability awards, Fair Trade chocolate from Trade Aid, and Ethique plastic-free bathroom products.
Less conventional gifts that are doing good things for the planet: plastic free and synthetic chemical free deodorant, bamboo toothbrush, reusable drinking straws.

4) Gifting experiences. Like all the ideas mentioned above, this option is not necessarily more socially or environmentally ethical (I am thinking of when I went on a jet boat which was an experience… but the experience was essentially burn-as-much-fuel-as-possible-in-20-minutes-while-scaring-local-wildlife), but nevertheless giving experiences is not giving STUFF.

5) Pay It Forward Gifting

This can be done informally, through your own neighbourhoods or community, or through organisations that do this work internationally.

Oxfam is able to do amazing work around the world, thanks to money it receives by people purchasing Oxfam Unwrapped gifts.

But perhaps the thing that I have to remember most…

6) I am giving to others, not myself. Sometimes, for some people, the thing they will love most, or the things that will be most useful, or most appreciated, does not fit my criteria.

At this point I remind myself that throughout the year I try to engage in low and conscious consumerism, and so maybe once in a while it is OK to buy something that would not usually be on my shopping list.

I mean, I am not going to buy a novelty item that will just be discarded. I am not going to buy something that completely conflicts with my values (toy gun, fois gras, McDonalds vouchers, etc). But, well, if something someone will really appreciate comes in a bit of plastic packaging, or if it isn’t Fair Trade, or the brand doesn’t have any environmental accreditation…. oh well!

To end this post, I am going to finish with George Monbiot’s article from 2012, which -sadly- has ever-growing relevance: The Gift Of Death

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For great, thought-provoking reading, visit

Energy and Technology Solutions (for a More Sustainable Future)

Most of the systems we rely on every day are energy intensive and require large resource inputs; whether it be our food, health, transport or other commodities. We are producing, consuming and discarding resources at an alarming rate, and our current energy generation and consumption behaviours are unsustainable. With ecological and social problems occurring on a global scale, it is important to consider alternative technology and energy options for a more sustainable future.


Energy is the ability to do work and is required or present in pretty much everything at all times. Understanding this, and understanding the different types of energy that exist can help us create energy and technology solutions to different problems and challenges we face. Doing this in a way that considers people and planet helps create technology and energy use options that are more appropriate.

Our modern societies are heavily reliant on fossil carbon energy (let’s stop calling it a fossil fuel, as that means we see it as an energy resource we want to burn), and while access to this energy has transformed our lives in previously unimaginable ways, it does pose some major concerns.

Once concern is that fossil carbons are a non-renewable energy source, and because we will not be accessible indefinitely, the lifestyles and resource use patterns we have become accustomed to are not sustainable.

Another concern is the huge environmental impacts the combustion of fossil carbons is having, because this process releases large volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change.

Humans are creative and resourceful, and we are continually developing and changing our ways of doing things. Here are some interesting things we are doing to try and address our energy and technology challenges…

Renewable Energy

Technology to harvest and store renewable energy is continuously improving. Renewable energy can be harvested on small and large scales.


Image may contain: 5 people, people standing
When we had our domestic solar system installed.


Giant solar system in Japan (

This video offers an introduction to renewable energy sources:

Geoengineering ‘Solutions’ (please note the inverted commas!)

Geoengineering is the deliberate large-scale intervention in the Earth’s natural systems to counteract climate change.

Oxford Geoengineering Programme 2017

There are many different geoengineering techniques, which are usually divided into one of two categories:

  1. Solar Radiation Management, which aim to reflect sunlight back into space before they have a warming effect on the atmosphere. Examples include cloud seeding, space mirrors, and pumping aerosols into the stratosphere.
  2. Carbon Dioxide Removal, which aim to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Examples include ocean fertilisation, creating biochar as a carbon sink, and carbon dioxide scrubbers (such as mechanical trees).

Appropriate Technology


Appropriate technology is an ideological movement that involves small-scale, labor-intensive, energy efficient, environmentally sound, people-centered, and locally controlled projects.

Pachamama Alliance

This video by Urban Farmer Curtis Stone asks viewers to consider the purposes of technology, and the differences between Hi-Tech and Appropriate Tech.

Further reading:

Appropriate Technology – understanding what it is, with examples (Pachamama Alliance)

10 Cases of Appropriate Technology (ListVerse)

Creating a Culture with a Backbone

I was recently asked to talk about ‘creating a culture with a backbone’ at an even run by Seed Waikato, an organisation that connects young people with their city (Hamilton, New Zealand).

Initially, I wasn’t sure I was the right person to talk: my mum is from the Carribbean, my dad is from Belgium, I was born in the UK, and raised mainly in Germany. Quite frankly, I don’t feel allegiance to any particular country, and can barely scrape together a cultural identity. I actually only moved here, to Aotearoa and to Hamilton, about 4 and a half years ago, knowing no-one except my partner and his immediate family.

So what could I possibly contribute to a conversation about culture in New Zealand, and in Hamilton? 

Well, I decided I could offer a story of creating a community for oneself. Communities create culture, and by far the strongest community I have ever had in my life is the one I have here, in Kirikiriroa Hamilton.

As I just mentioned, I came to this city knowing no-one except my partner, and his family that I had met once before. I also happened to be very pregnant and was pretty daunted by the whole parenting thing. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I had no village; I didn’t know where to find support, I didn’t have friends, I was in this new country, with people I barely knew, it was pretty dire for a little while.

And so out of sheer necessity, I went and ‘put myself out there’, and here I am today with more social capital that I have ever had in my life, surrounded by aroha (love), manaakitanga (caring), people that have got my back, and groups that will be there when things get tough. That is an awesome community to be part of; that is an awesome culture to be part of.

So how does one do it? How can we create a strong, resilient, caring community; a culture of compassion, respect, and love. A culture with a backbone? Well, I have 5 ideas that I believe are key. (I should make it cleat: I am not trying to suggest this is a step-by-step plan or anything, it’s not ‘follow these steps and thou shalt find your community’, I guess these are maybe… things to look out for, factors to consider, opportunities to seize, or something like that.)

So, in no particular order, here are 5 ways I believe we can create strong communities:

Number 1: Value diversity

This one is important because it is easy for us to find our comfortable circle of friends: the ones we hang out with because we share interests, political views, religious beliefs, cultural backgrounds, or experiences of life. It is great to talk to people that think the same way as we do; we get our ideas confirmed, we know what we are supposed to do and how to act, we feel supported, validated, that is all great.

It is also important that we get tested sometimes, that sometimes our beliefs about the world get challenged, and that sometimes we are put outside out comfort zone. When we hang out with people whose language, or socio-economic background, or lived experience of the world is different to our own, our perspective gets widened. And it is through this I believe we get a better understanding of the world, and of people. And that in turn helps foster more compassion, less misunderstanding, less fear, and more peaceful, mutually-respectful relationships in our lives, and in wider society.

1) value diversity.png
For me, two organisations I have been involved with that have helped me diversify my social groups is IHC (who work with people living with intellectual disabilities and have a brilliant befriending programme through which I met my friend Gail, in the top-right photo), and also the Red Cross Refugee Resettlement Programme (who link volunteers with refugee families new to the country, and your role is to welcome them and help them settle in their new home). 
Through both these organisations you start off as a volunteer, but you may find yourself building long-lasting friendships with people that, let’s face it, you might otherwise never have the opportunity to meet and hang out with.

Number two: Be inclusive


This photo was taken at The Serve, which is a community meal that takes place every night in town. I love this photo because my daughter, right at the back, started off by saying ‘mum can you take a photo of me with my new friend’ (the guy that’s holding her). Then someone else joined in, then more and more people started photobombing… I had to zoom out and step back to get everyone in, it was brilliant; she was just taken in to, and embraced by, this community.

And I feel the photo epitomises the purpose of this community meal; because anyone and everyone can come. There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’, it’s not divided into the people that receive food and the people that provide food; there’s just people that come and cook and serve food, and people that come and eat food, and people do a bit of both.

It’s free, it’s 365 days a year, no strings attached, just people coming for a kai and korero (food and chat) from all walks of life; poor and rich, all genders, all ethnicities, all ages, people working, people unemployed, all of us just together as people. Thing like that makes a strong foundation for a society in which we can all thrive.

Number three: Use your talents (or just your interests, if you don’t feel you’ve got many talents)

3) Use your talents

I suppose I see this as finding something you enjoy and doing something with it. I don’t really mean “find your passion and live every minute doing it” (by all means try, but even if you can’t make your passion your career or spend all you time following your dreams… that doesn’t mean you can’t do it at all!).

I am a bit passionate about looking after the planet and I am lucky enough to work doing the thing I love; I work at Go Eco, the local Environment Centre, and basically I get to spend my days talking to people about nature and caring for the Earth. But it isn’t full time work, and, like many millennials, I have accepted a lower income and less hours in order to have employment that I feel is meaningful.

But, you know, even if you still are in a grinding job you don’t like, that doesn’t mean you can’t find your niche and a community that supports you doing the things you love. And when we spend time doing things we love (or things we enjoy) -whether it is an hour a week or 50 hours a week- and we find people that enjoy doing it with us, well those relationships build you up; they build your community.

Number four: Educate yourself

4) educate yourself
Graduating from my first Maori language course, at the Kirikiriroa Marae.

Ignorance breeds distrust, and distrust breaks communities. I believe we need to understand our local community if we want to be a part of it.

When I came to New Zealand and to Hamilton I had no knowledge at all of any local or national history; I knew nothing about the customs and culture of Aotearoa. But, once I started learning the story of this place, once I began to understand a bit more about the history and culture of the people here… it’s like you access a whole new level in this place we call home.

For example, for my first year here I didn’t know anything about the strange and beautiful building that was just around the corner from where I live. Turns out, it is pretty darn spectacular! I am talking about the Kirikiriroa Marae; a Matawaka marae, which means they welcome all people, from all iwi, ethnicities and nationalities. It has a kohanga reo (total immersion Maori early learning centre), which my daughter attended for a few years, they have emergency accommodation, a rehabilitation centre, a centre for people living with disabilities, and a health clinic where you only pay $10 to see your doctor. They also grow food, make carvings, and have a meeting space… all these things that make for a strong community: right there, and accessible as soon as we take time to look and learn about what’s happening around us. So, I’d like to challenge anyone who doesn’t know their neighbourhood that well to take a walk tomorrow, or in the next few days, and see what you find.

Number five: Give, generously

5) give generously.pngThis photo is of me still at the Kirikiriroa Marae. I go there every week to sort their rubbish and rescue things that can be recycled. It isn’t very glamorous, but the reason I do it is because I get a lot from the Marae services and community, and so it is important to give, too. Because it is not fair to get, and get, and get, but not give back.

I got to send my daughter to daycare there for two years and I didn’t pay a cent. I go to the doctors there, and pay a fraction of what I would pay in other places nearby. They have a table there with free stuff; where you can get clothes and food and all sorts of things. I could pay money for these services in other places but here I don’t have to, so I repay in time instead.

I think reciprocity, and not taking things/services/people for granted is definitely the backbone to a strong community, and a strong culture that has caring for people at its heart. And to be honest I think it doesn’t really matter what people give to their community: giving can be money, time, resources, anything… anything we have in surplus.

We currently have a culture that is very much dominated by the idea of the accumulation of material wealth, and getting as much as we can for as little as possible. I don’t think that helps create strong communities. In fact I think it does the opposite. I personally feel if we have our needs met, why not use the rest, that surplus, to help others meet their needs?

So those are my 5 ideas for creating strong, loving communities. I think if we want to create a culture that cares for people (and for the environment) it is important to start with ourselves, and by being welcoming of diversity, being inclusive, doing our part, continuing to learn, and being generous… well that’s a great place to start!

And I am just going to end with a call to action: your community needs you just as much as you need them, and I have found that when volunteering you receive just as much as (if not more than) what you give. So please, if you are not already volunteering your time in your community… join something! 🙂

Arohanui (huge love) ❤


Other speakers:

Kylee Black

Kylee is a social entrepreneur who is committed to cultivating community and enabling the best in others. In 2009, Kylee founded the not-for-profit Spirit Sparkplugs in order to mobilise community awareness and support of young people with rare disease. Volunteers made items for over 1200 care and encouragement packages, which were sent to nine different countries. Kylee identified a need in this area through her own journey with rare disease and, in 2011, she received an International Heart of Gold award for her contributions. In 2016, Kylee shared her own story in a video for Enabling Good Lives, which became a catalyst for building the platform she has today. Kylee takes every opportunity to use this platform to speak out about important issues facing our society.

Kylee now runs her own speaking and consultancy business and is currently involved in projects with MyCare, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Social Development. As an established public speaker, Kylee has addressed a variety of people within different settings, including parliament, national and international conferences, and a range of local events. Kylee’s goal is to see young people encouraged and supported in redefining their own circumstances, challenging perceptions of how we view others and ourselves, and enabled to live the best life that they can.

Parekawhia McLean

Parekawhia has been with the Transport Agency since September 2016 after five and a half years as the Chief Executive Officer of Waikato-Tainui. Parekawhia has more than 15 years of public policy and public sector management experience including being an advisor to three Prime Ministers whilst at DPMC. Additionally for 7 years she was director of her own company dedicated to advancing the creative potential of Māori knowledge, people and resources.

She brings significant stakeholder management and governance experience to the Transport Agency. Parekawhia is a member of the Waikato Means Business forum, a Director of Sports Waikato, the National Science Resilience Challenge and a Trustee of the Momentum Philanthropic Foundation. Parekawhia has Masters’ degrees in Social Sciences from the University of Waikato and in Public Administration and Development Policy from the University of Wisconsin. In 2014, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Waikato for public policy and business.

Ecological Worldviews

(These notes are based on a full-day workshop titled ‘Ecological Worldviews’ facilitated by a colleague and me as part of the Go Eco Permaculture Design Certificate.)

Learning objectives:

  1. Be familiar with the different factors that shape worldviews.
  2. Understand the term ‘dominant social paradigm’ and its role in shaping our worldviews.
  3. Understand the meaning and differences between ‘intrinsic value’ and ‘instrumental value’.
  4. Be familiar with different ideas, philosophies and theories that may foster worldviews more aligned with ecological thinking, including the New Ecological Paradigm, Deep Ecology, and example of some indigenous worldviews.
  5. Be familiar with aspects of Te Ao Māori (Māori world, culture and values), and how it can help describe and develop peoples’ relationships to nature.
  6. Understand your personal worldview, including factors that shape its development, and values that support or create dissonance when trying to develop a way of being that has Earth Care, People Care and Fair Share at its core.

Photo is borrowed. The right wall is adorned with carvings of the most popular Māori gods, and the left has depictions of gods from the main world religions.

We started the day with a mihi whakatau (a less formal version of a pōwhiri) onto Te Aratiatia Marae, the Marae nestled within Fairfield College. We chose for this Marae to be the location for the workshop as the wharenui in this Marae is unique in that it is a place for the celebration of all religions and spiritualities.

For more information about Te Aratiatia Marae and its beautiful wharenui, follow this link:

What is a worldview and what are the factors that shape its development?

A worldview can be thought of as the lens that we see the world through. It is shaped by our personal, family, cultural and global experiences, and there are many different influences that develop it.

Factors that shape our worldview include:

  • Our ideas about higher powers in the universe. Is there a God, or multiple Gods? If there is/are no God/s, what is the ultimate authority in the universe? Is there even one, or are we all autonomous individuals?
  • Our ideas about the world. Where did it come from, and where is it going? Is time linear, circular, or something else?
  • Our ideas about humans. What is our purpose? Is there a purpose? What role do we play? Are we essentially good, bad, or neither?
  • Our values. How we define and determine ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
  • Our ideas about knowledge. How we define and determine ‘true’ and ‘false’. Science, faith, both?
Getting in Touch With Your Worldview
Getting in touch with your worldview

The Dominant Social Paradigm, and a New Ecological Paradigm.

According to David Suzuki, the Dominant Social Paradigm (DSP – the dominant beliefs that shape the way Western societies function) is comprised of three basic beliefs:

  1. technology will spare the planet, and all things detrimental can be resolved with continued pursuit of industrial advancement;
  2. economic growth and prosperity will resolve any disinterest or dissatisfaction with societal problems; and
  3. political representatives in office are there for the benefit of the people and their country, and that ultimately they, and only they, have the capability to handle policies that effect society as a whole.

One response to this has been the development of the idea of a New Ecological Paradigm (NEP), which is loosely based on three ideas:

  1. environmental protection is possible through limitations on industrial and population growth;
  2. planetary demise is directly correlated with human-influenced interactions with natural ecosystems and landscapes; and
  3. humans are one, usually the major, cause of global environmental deterioration.

(Extracted from Environmentalism has failed, or has it?).

The NEP Scale is a set of questions that people can complete to see how far their ideas about the world align with the Dominant Social Paradigm, or the New Ecological Paradigm.

Understanding intrinsic and instrumental value of nature

Intrinsic value is the value that an entity has in itself, for what it is, or as an end.

The contrasting type of value is instrumental value. Instrumental value is the value that something has as a means to a desired or valued end. Instrumental value is always derivative on the value of something else, and it is always conditional.

It is uncontroversial that ecosystems and species possess a wide variety of instrumental values (e.g., cultural value, recreational value, medicinal value, spiritual value, transformational value, natural resource value, and ecosystem services value). What is contested is whether ecosystems and species have non-instrumental value, value as an end, or value in themselves as well (i.e., intrinsic value).

Sandler, R. (2012) Intrinsic Value, Ecology, and Conservation.

Nature Education Knowledge 3(10):4

Image result for ego eco

If we think about the different values we place on people, animals, plants, and ecosystems, it is often very easy to identify their instrumental uses. It is more challenging to think about how and why we assign intrinsic value, or even the ways we might show it.

freeFor example, plants give us food, fibres, and medicines. We use them for fuel and construction. We value the ecosystem services they provide (such as turning CO2 into oxygen for us to breathe), and the aesthetics they offer (flowers, for example, or what plants contribute to landscapes). Less often we think about their value beyond their use to us (for example, other species depend on them entirely, as well). Less frequently still, do we consider their intrinsic value… and even if we do make this acknowledgement, what are the ways we display this?

Deep Ecology

In 1973, Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess introduced the phrase “deep ecology” to environmental literature. The deep ecology movement is about recognising the intrinsic value of all living beings, and that humans are part of and inextricably linked to nature.

The Deep Ecology Platform details the key ideas on which the Deep Ecology movement is based, and the movement itself is about using this understanding to shape how we interact with our environment.

The Gaia Hypothesis

The Gaia Hypothesis was developed in the late 1960’s by Dr. James Lovelock, a British Scientist and inventor.

The Gaia hypothesis proposes that organisms interact with their inorganic surroundings on Earth to form a synergistic, self-regulating, complex system that helps to maintain and perpetuate the conditions for life on the planet. Topics of interest include how the biosphere and the evolution of life forms affect the stability of global temperature, ocean salinity, oxygen in the atmosphere, the maintenance of a hydrosphere of liquid water and other environmental variables that affect the habitability of Earth.

The above is an extract from the Wikipedia entry on the Gaia Hypothesis, which is really a great online starting point for understanding the Gaia Hypothesis.

Gaia, Earth, Home.

Māori creation story

Ngaire Pene shared the Creation Story according to Māori mythology in the form of a guided meditation (which I cannot begin to summarise in any way that could give it justice, though here is a link that begins to explain some of the ideas within it).

The importance and significance of including this story in a discussion about ecological worldviews is because in Māori tradition, just like most indigenous cultures and belief systems, there is great focus on nature, nature-human relationships, and how humans can live within natural systems.

How different religions and spiritualities shape cultures and worldviews

Our personal religions, spiritualities, or atheism help shape our worldviews, as do the dominant and/or historical religions in the culture of our society (wherever we are in the world).

Different religions and spiritualities promote, encourage or (re)inforce different ideas, which help shape the worldview of those that follow it. When looking to understand which ideas different religions/spiritualities foster in terms of human-nature relationships, their Creation story/the-story-of-how-things-started can be a useful place to begin.

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch

For example:


In Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), God created the world followed by humans, and put humans in a position to take charge/care of nature. This creates a hierarchy with humans above animals, plants and the rest of nature, and so sets us apart from the rest of the natural world.

Not that this is necessarily a bad idea, but this idea of separation from and dominance over nature has then become a key concept in Western culture (which has been heavily influenced by the then -and probably still- dominant religion of Christianity). Western culture has undeniably led to very destructive practices against nature, and people.

Other religions, spiritualities and faiths have a different understandings of how the world came to be, and the role of humans. They also place worth on different values and ethics. Reflecting on these differences (as well as the many shared ideas that exist) can be helpful in developing an understanding the different worldviews that exist across cultures and countries.

Of course, our individual experiences, as well as our personal interpretations of our religions and cultural norms, means that there is great diversity in worldviews even among people that share the same faith.

Reflecting on our own worldviews

Reflecting on our personal worldviews can help us make sense of our beliefs and behaviours. There are many different worldview tests available, of which my favourite is the Annik de Witt Worldview Test.

To better understand our worldview, it is helpful to think about what the different influences in our lives have been (family values and upbringing, dominant culture and religion, social norms, personal experiences, etc.).

Reflecting on our values (here is a place to start with that) means we can identify which values are important to us, and which values we express but might be creating dissonance between what we do and what we would like to do.

For example, I created these two tables for myself:

1. Some of the key concepts and values in my worldview that I feel are positive

Value How I currently express it How I can increase it
Community Volunteering Getting to know my neighbours
Compassion Refraining from judgement, and remembering people have different experiences and struggles Practice being more patient, especially with certain friends
Love Through caring for friends, family, and people I meet Be a bit kinder and more loving to myself
Responsibility Doing what I can to minimise the negative environmental impacts of my life/lifestyle Own my ‘failings’/errors more, even if it is uncomfortable

2. Some of the key concepts and values in my worldview that I feel create conflict with how I would like to be.

Concept/idea/value How it manifests in a way that creates dissonance with my ethics How I can challenge/change this
Perfection I have to always be the best I can focus on always doing my best, instead of being the best.Security
My status/ popularity I worry a lot about how I am perceived by others, which sometimes leads me to be somewhat deceptive in order to ‘save face’ I can let go of the idea of needing to please everyone, and be more accepting of who I am (including my shortcomings)
Passionate about beliefs Sometimes I am  unnecessarily argumentative and it ruins the conversation I can be more accepting of the diversity in other people’s opinions and beliefs
Measures of success I was raised in a culture that valued climbing a career ladder, earning progressively more money, and accumulating wealth I can pursue work (paid and unpaid) that makes me happy. If I place less importance on material wealth I won’t need to buy so much, which means I don’t need that high-paying career in the first place

I shall finish this post with a video clip that amazed me when I first saw it: it challenges many aspects of our dominant cultural paradigm, and offers more positive alternatives.

Talking to Children about Earth Care

Earlier this week, the Enviroschools Programme held an action-packed learning day for children in the Waikato (Aotearoa, New Zealand). The theme of the day was ‘Creating Catalysts for Change’, and I was invited to deliver workshops as well as be the keynote speaker.

In the keynote speech I wanted to empower the children so they felt able to take on the challenge of being considerate, conscious citizens. But I also really wanted to let them know that while there is important work to be done, they do not need to shoulder the entire burden. I think because of my own experiences of learning about issues and then feeling like I must solve all the problems, I wanted to make sure the children knew they would not have to do this alone.

My speech:

Kia ora koutou. Greetings to all of you.

Ngā mihi tuatahi ki ngā atua. Papatūānuku kei raro, Ranginui kei runga, me au rāua tamariki kei waenganui. Ngā mihi tuarua ki ngā mana whenua o tēnei rohe ātaahua. Me ngā mihi nui ki a koutou, ngā kaimahi, ngā kaiako, me ngātamariki mokopuna.

Greetings firstly to the Gods. Papatūānuku, the Earth Mother, below. Ranginui, the Sky Father, above. And all of their children from which the Earth was populated. Secondly, greetings to the mana whenua of this beautiful area. Thank you for letting us use this space. And of course greetings to all the staff, volunteers, teachers, and all of you kids.

Nō Ūropa ōku tūpuna. Kei Kirikiriroa tōku kāinga. Ko Camilla tōku ingoa. My family is originally from Europe, and I now live in Kirikiriroa Hamilton. My name is Camilla.

Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

Nau mai, haere mai and welcome to what I think is going to be an amazing day! You are all going to be making, learning, and doing lots of different things, and I hope you have heaps of fun.

The theme for today is ‘Creating Catalysts for Change’. A catalyst is something that speeds something up, so a ‘catalyst for change’ is something or someone who helps speed up change… and any guess who we are talking about? YOU! 🙂

We are all here as Enviroschools and environmental organisations, and our kaupapa (reason) for today is all about how all of us can become catalysts for change to help protect our beautiful nature, and all the ecosystems on which we depend… which also just so happens to be the same ecosystems all animals, and all of life depend on as well!

There are a lot of ways we can help create change to protect Papatūānuku, nature, and our environment, and I would like to talk about three:

The first is our everyday actions and behaviours. Because all know that everything we do and every choice we make can have an impact -positive or negative- on the environment, right?

Can anyone tell me some of the everyday things we can do to look after the environment?

  • Recycling
  • Not wasting electricity
  • Not wasting water
  • Walking and cycling
  • Not dropping rubbish where it shouldn’t be.

The second thing we can do is to be an active citizen. That means taking part in activities and groups that are doing things to look after the Earth.

Raise your hand if you are part of an environment team or club, or you have done conservation work, or you are part of a group that works to look after the world, like Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth? (pretty much everyone raises their hand)

Another thing people can do to be active citizens is to write to people that have decision-making power, and who can change a lot of stuff. Raise your hand if you have written to people in charge to tell them what you think – maybe a local politician or MP, a company, or even your headteacher? (lots raise their hand)

Writing to people is a great way to get change happening and it is brilliant because everyone can do it; it doesn’t matter how old you are. And that is really cool because there are lots of things that only adults get to do, aren’t there? You kids aren’t the ones that buy the groceries, or choose the power company in your house. You guys don’t get to vote in elections yet.

But talking and writing to people that can make these decisions is something everyone can do, including kids! 🙂

And that brings me to the third way all of us can be ‘Catalysts for Change’: talking to people and using your voices to inspire others.

Hands up, how many of you have family or friends? (everyone raises their hands)

What about other people? Do any of you ever talk to your neighbours, someone in the supermarket, people visiting your house? (most raise their hands)

All the people in your lives, whether you see them once or every day, they are all people that might be interested in talking to you and learning about your ideas for looking after the planet.

And I have to say, the power of talking to people to inspire change cannot be overestimated! Because each time we hear something, it enters our conscious or subconscious thoughts, and then our brain thinks about it. So every time you tell your teachers about how you are growing your own veggies in your garden, or each time you remind your parents that they can recycle bottles instead of putting them in the trash, or each time you let your friends know that they need to make sure the lights and heater are off when they leave a room… all that contributes to change in the way people think and act in their environment and in the world.

I have one more thing to say, and it is pretty important. You may hear many times in your life that you kids are the ‘future generation’, that you are the future guardians of the Earth, and that what you do and how you treat the planet is really important.

I have got to say, those people are spot on. They are 100% correct.

But I also want to let you know that even though there is lots to be done to protect and restore our planet, you don’t need to do it all by yourselves: it is a team effort, and there are lots of people already doing lots of stuff!

And guess what? When I was your age, I was told the exact same thing about being ‘the future guardians of the Earth’. And do you know what else? When my parents were kids, they got told the exact same thing, too.

Each generation and each person has a responsibility to look after the planet. Not just the kids! We have all got to do what we can.

So while all of you go and do all the activities and learn all sorts of things today, and then you go back to your schools and homes and think about all the things you have learnt, and then when you go and live and act and do things in your communities… please get excited about nature and our awesome planet Earth, and share your passion with others.

I have got to warn you, sometimes it might be difficult. Sometimes you might find you have two values and they conflict with each other, or you might face obstacles and challenges – kei te pai, that is OK. It is times like that, that I try to remember a phrase that is really important in our family:

‘We do what we can’.

We try our best to live sustainability; sometimes we do pretty well, sometimes not so well, at all. But we do try our best. And we do the three things as often as possible:

  1. Behaviours and actions: doing good stuff
  2. Active citizenship: getting others to do good stuff
  3. Communicating: talking about all that god stuff.

Thank you for listening and joining in this kōrero (discussion). I hope you have heaps of fun today, and get to show your teachers and friends how creative you are, and how much you care about Papatūānuku and our planet.

Bye for now 🙂

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Guerrilla Gardening with Kids

Setting the scene

A friend of mine, Briar, co-ordinates an after-school club, Kirikiriroa Explorers, which focuses on getting kids in and engaged with nature and our local community. It is pretty grassroots-y, there are several of us that help run it, we sometimes make it up as we go along (with the help of the kids), parents can pay using TimeBank credits, and it is a pretty cool little group I am happy to be quite involved with (plus it gets my daughter out and about, too).

I was the main facilitator for several weeks this term (while Briar was away) and I had a great time sussing out what we would be doing.

One week, we went on a scavenger hunt in our local (and rather stunning) botanical gardens. The next week we went to a conservation project site to plant natives, and visited a community garden. But then the third week was extra fun: we trained the kids in guerrilla gardening, and did some guerrilla planting!

What we did

First, we got everyone ready. We put on ninja, superhero, camouflage and other disguises, and thought up secret names for everyone – just in case we got caught! 😀


Next, it was important to lay down some ground rules and discuss guerrilla gardening etiquette. We stressed the importance of only using unused/underused public land. We covered which plants were suitable, and where (no non-natives in the bush, no invasive weeds, etc.). We showed them this great video covering the top 10 rules for guerrilla gardening:

Guerrilla Gardening Training, so the kids are responsible guerrilla gardeners!

Then we went out into the field. There were quite a few of us so the kids decided to split into two groups: some people were going to garden, and others were going to keep watch in case of approaching City Council Officials. They even made up code words, alert calls, and a Emergency Plan in case official-looking people looked like they were coming to tell us off (I feel I should add that while guerrilla gardening isn’t really allowed, in reality it is barely/rarely frowned upon, and in my opinion it is possibly one of the most peaceful, positive and beautiful kinds of resistance that we can engage in. Anyway, they had fun!).

We ended up planting 2 plum trees and about 10 edibles in a few of the nearby green spaces (edibles were marked with ribbons, so they don’t get mown).


Then we ‘returned to Base’ and prepared some seed bombs which they could take home and distribute in their own time (again, big focus was placed on where it is OK to throw different kinds of seed bombs).

All in all, a great afternoon! 

Left to right: Captain Mustache, Sparkly Cupcake (yes, that is my child and she made up that name -.-) and I, Swirly-Face.

Plastic Free July – Reflections

In July, our household attempts the Plastic Free July challenge. I can’t say the whole house (comprised of myself, my daughter, my partner, and our boarder) embraces the challenge with the same level of enthusiasm or commitment, but we do try.

There are a number of variations of the challenge, with our (ahem… my) goal to be avoiding all single-use plastic. I shall say it straight away – we were not successful. It is darn hard avoiding plastic. It is sneaky and pervasive, and sometimes it seems to just take a moment of distraction for it to find its way in.

Here are some of my reflections from the challenge:

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    Furoshiki wrapping for presents – one way to avoid plastic Sellotape and (often plastic wrapped) wrapping paper.

    It gets easier with time. This is our third year doing it, and now that many plastic free habits (started in previous years) have become part of our everyday routine, the change required for the July challenge is not as major as before.

  • There are sometimes ethical compromises. I found that sometimes going for plastic free options conflicted with other ethical factors we take into consideration when purchasing. For example, we usually buy a fair trade organic coffee but it comes in packaging containing plastic. During the challenge we bought a different (non-fair trade, non-organic) brand in a glass bottle, but this is not a change we have kept up beyond the challenge because overall for this product we prefer supporting fair trade and organic over plastic-free-ness. But we find we assess each item/conflict on a case-by-case basis, because there are often multiple considerations to factor in.
  • Not being prepared can contribute to plastic sneaking in. A number of occasions when ‘plastic happened’ was when plans changed or I wasn’t prepared. For example: leaving the house without snacks for my daughter; not doing groceries and having to use something containing plastic that was already in the cupboard/fridge from before the challenge. Having said that, I am not one for meal plans and organisation when it comes to food, and mostly I was still successful with the plastic-free lunch boxes and snacks. And even a few take-aways!



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    Tattoo plastic

    Sometimes things are more important than the challenge. For example, I am on medication and it comes in plastic packaging. I need to take the medicine, and my health comes before the challenge. Basta. Another example is one night when my partner prepared a ‘home date night’ for us which involved a film and (plastic wrapped) popcorn: I could have rejected the popcorn and avoided the plastic, but it was more important to accept his gesture. The popcorn was delicious.

  • During a plastic free challenge is not a great time to get a tattoo. I did try to say I didn’t want to wrap it up, but it was company policy to cover it before I left.
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    Plastic free meat: frozen fish, free-range eggs, tinned beef, glass jar of meat spread (I did not know that was a thing!), tinned tuna, byo container of ham.

    Plastic-free eating seems to lead to healthier eating. By eliminating plastic, suddenly lots of packaged, more processed food is eliminated. We ended up eating a lot more fresh, simple food, with less sugar, salt and other additives. Meat might be the exception to this though, see below!

  • It can get you thinking outside the box. My partner eats meat but his usual choices weren’t options during the challenge. Yes, there was some compromising on the free-range front 😦 but all in all I was very impressed at what he managed to find!
  • Being conscious of the things we buy and consume is part of ‘the solution’, but it doesn’t solve all the problems. The article Conscious Consumerism Is A Lie Here Is A Better Way To Save The World is probably one of the best articles I have read recently, and definitely puts everything into perspective. In a good way!

So how did we actually do? Well, as our boarder and my partner we ‘less actively involved’, I didn’t rigidly monitor their plastic. My daughter and I generated this much:


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If only I didn’t get two colds, there would have been no Lemsip sachets and only half the medicine packets! 


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A month worth of plastic. And almost all of it we were able to send to recycling.

Yes, there was plastic I could have avoided if I had planned better.

Yes, there was plastic I could have avoided if I had more energy/patience/will power.

Yes, there is plastic I could have avoided if I had more time.

But actually we tried really hard. We did our best at the time. And something I started telling my daughter when she started worrying about any plastic we happen to get, which I now also tell lot of people I meet who ask about ‘living sustainably/ethically’, and I even remind myself on a fairly regular basis:

We do what we can, when we can.

We can only do our best. And sometimes our best-at-that-time is super, and sometimes there is room to improve/learn 🙂


Some of the things I have found relatively easy to do in order to reduce the plastic in my life:

  • Purchase food in glass, paper, tin or no packaging whenever there is the option.
  • Not buying food that is in plastic packaging (or only buying the item occasionally).
  • Not using plastic wrap/Glad Wrap/cling film (beeswax wraps make good alternatives for sandwiches, for covering food I use a tea towel, and if all else fails I use baking paper).
  • Using a bamboo toothbrush
  • Using reusable items instead of disposables, for example cloth face wipes, handkerchiefs, menstrual products, and cloth nappies when my daughter was little.
  • Avoiding disposable items in general and especially ones that are/have plastic (straws, cotton buds, bags, cutlery, bottles, containers). For most items there are plastic-free alternatives.
  • Bringing my own containers, bags, coffee cup and/or refillable bottle.

Things I changed this July that I will be continuing throughout the year:

  • Using loose tea instead of tea bags.
  • Getting homemade soya milk from my colleague (in a glass bottle) whenever I can.
  • Making my own toothpaste.
  • Making my own deodorant (which has incidentally been the most effective deodorant I have ever used!).

There are some really great resources for going plastic-free. Some of my favourites are:



Refugees – Doing Our Bit

Earlier this week I went to a really interesting talk by Murdoch Stevens, who is an advocate for refugees and began the campaign Doing Our Bit – Double The Quota,

He talked about how current narratives around refugees (and policies pertaining to them) are often conveyed in a way that makes the issues about migrants versus other vulnerable people. He explained the importance of reframing these issues, so that they do not place people in competition against each other for resources.

For example, there is all this talk about how it costs around $80,000 to resettle a refugee – around $28,000 a year for roughly three years in New Zealand. (At this point it is also interesting to note that to keep someone in prison costs $90,000 for just one year.) What this figure fails to acknowledge is that most refugees coming here are families, and 45% are children… mostly people that will in time end up contributing to the economy.

Murdoch Stevens talking in Kirikiriroa, 2017

But I believe that even if there was no direct financial incentive, there is still a moral duty. There is an ethical responsibility to do what we can to support vulnerable people, regardless of where they are from.

And in Aotearoa New Zealand that definitely means increasing the quota… this country ranks very poorly compared to other more economically developed nations – five times lower per capita intake than our neighbours in Australia, and 47 times fewer than Sweden, the top ranking nation.

There are strengths to having a quota system. It is good because it is a way of going out into the world and saying ‘yes, we want these people’. But the number really needs to increase (it hasn’t since 1987!), especially as -unlike many other countries- we get very few asylum seekers, because of our geographical isolation.

(For the difference between asylum seekers and refugees, click here)

Fortunately, from 2018 the NZ quota will increase from up to 750 people per year to up to 1000 people per year, but it is election year and nearly every party except National (who are currently in government) will increase it beyond that. So, fingers crossed for a change in government (for a multitude of other reasons, as well!).

Stevens said some really thought-provoking things. He pointed out the New Zealand does not often get into wars. New Zealanders like to spend money on humanitarian causes. New Zealanders are kind and generous people. And that there is compassion across the political spectrum (it isn’t just for ‘The Left’).

So let’s update the quota to reflect that 🙂

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To stay up to date with news relating to human rights, and people who are internally displaces, seeking asylum, or refugees, I find the following organisations useful:

To volunteer to support refugees in Aotearoa New Zealand, contact Red Cross. Other countries will have different organisations doing great work in your local communities too, so it can be worth looking around to see who is doing what 🙂

(I have worked as a Refugee Resettlement Volunteer for several families coming to New Zealand and it was probably one of the most rewarding volunteer experiences I have had).


Options for More Sustainable/Ethical Procurement

This morning my colleague, Dr Anna Casey-Cox, and I ran a workshop on making more sustainable/ethical procurement choices. It was at a conference called Thriving in the 21st Century and the audience were mainly representatives from different organisations, not-for-profits, and social services. I mention this because often organisations like these do not have spare money to spend on non-essentials, so the aim of our workshop was to engage participants in making more sustainable/ethical procurement choices within financial constraints.

We began by showing the clip MAN by Steve Cutts, to reflect on the way we use nature and resources.

Anna introduced the idea of environmental and social externalities that occur when we produce ‘stuff’. These are unintended (and almost always unaccounted for) costs that arise during the production, processing, use and disposal of goods.

Having recently visited the USA and reflecting on food culture there, she used a burger as an example of a product where there are many environmental and social externalities that are not factored into price.

She said on average a good burger costs $4. This was for a bun, a bit of beef, a bit of cheese, a bit of lettuce, a slice of tomato, and a bit of relish.

A small selection of things the $4 price does not take into consideration are:

  • the cost of pollution to waterways as a result of cattle farming;
  • the environmental cost of the methane and other greenhouse gases that are emitted,
  • the environmental and health effects of the use of pesticides and fertilisers on the lettuce and tomatoes, and
  • the long term individual welfare and broader social implications of paying less than a livable wage to the people involved in preparing the food (growers, processors, cooks, wait staff).

Conservative calculations suggest that by the time externalities are taken into consideration, the $4 pricetag on the burger is probably less than half the true cost of the burger.

Anna observed that here in Aotearoa New Zealand, the dairy industry is seen as a huge industry on which we all depend (which might well be true). It is hailed as one of the essential parts for our economic success, domestically and internationally, contributing $8 billion to the GDP each year.  Yet if we factor in the environmental and social externalities, it may not even cover its own costs!

What we would like to see is the price of our commodities better reflecting the true cost of their production, use and disposal. This will help protect our communities and environment, but will also give us the opportunity to make more informed and conscious decision decisions.

This led on to the the next topic…

When it comes to making more sustainable/ethical consumption or procurement choices, we believe it is important to emphasise that sustainable/ethical choices look different for every individual/household/organisation: what works for one will not necessarily work for the other, as we all have different knowledge, time and resources available to us.

The process is just as important as the end result. So, instead of having a list of DOs and DON’Ts, we have a list of considerations and questions for aiding decision making.

For each purchasing decision, there are many factors to consider and often a persuasive factor is price. Other factors you might wish to incorporate, which take into consideration the welfare of people and the planet, are:

  • Which raw materials and resources were used to make this product? Are there more environmentally considerate options? For example, do we buy envelopes with plastic windows? These require paper, glues, and plastic (derived from fossil fuels). They also contaminate paper recycling. Could we use windowless envelopes instead?
  • What is the packaging on this item? Is it recyclable? Is it compostable? If not, are there alternatives with less packaging, or packaging that can be disposed of responsibly? The same questions can be asked about the item itself. For example, is there less packaging if we bulk buy pens? Or could we shift to pencils (maybe just some of the time?), as they produce less waste and the waste can be composted.
  • Where is the item made? Can we source the item locally? Then it has a lower carbon footprint, and it also support our local economy. For example, are the biscuits in the coffee room locally made or imported?

Labels and accreditations can also be helpful in identifying more sustainable/ethical options. For example the Fair Trade logo indicates producers received a fair wage for their products. There are various eco and environmental logos which can indicate the product has been produced in an environmentally considerate way. Product labels often say where something was made.

Image result for fair trade logo  Image result for environmental tick   Image result for kiwi made

Of course, Anna and I are hardcore passionate about environmental and social justice issues, but it is important to recognise that not everyone might be: we all have different values and different things we care about.

We believe that the first step to making more informed and conscious decisions is first reflecting on what is it that you/your organisation stands for? Then the next question can be ‘how do my procurement choices reflect these values?’

(So for example, if your organisation is about supporting members of the community manage their budget and become financially self-sufficient, buying local might be an important action to reflect your commitment to supporting local people, businesses and the community)

What we believe is important is that we all do what we can, when we can, which almost always means we can do SOMETHING. Most of us cannot change everything all in one go. But each change, and each conscious decision is a step forwards to your/your organisation’s goals, and every action helps make a difference.

I shall finish with this thought-provoking article:

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Meathooked and the End of Water

This evening I went to a screening of Meathooked and the End of Water by VICE (who do some really brilliant documentaries – please check them out if you don’t already know them!)

The video has one graphic scene that some would find emotionally-charging (ahem, I did. My 4 year old was unphased, though). However, it is not your average stop-eating-meat-because-it-is-cruel-and-evil kind of documentary. Instead, it looks at the features of industrial agriculture and explores the unintended environmental impacts that result.

It especially looks at water and other resources that are needed to mass produce livestock to meet current demands, and talks to farmers and other people who are worried about what is going to happen once they run out of water (which for several people interviewed in the film will be happening quite soon!).

It is just short of half an hour long, and worth watching for anyone who eats food (i.e. pretty much everyone).

I would say ENJOY, but it isn’t really that kind of film. Perhaps more suitable would be WATCH, BE MOVED, then ACT 🙂