For the series Good Folk on this blog I have sent interview questions to some really wonderful people who are either making things, running shops, or generally promoting sustainability. I think you will enjoy reading their answers as much as I have, and I hope they inspire us all with the knowledge that there are people doing good in the world!
This interview is with the authors of the fantastic book Your Planet Needs You, an everyday guide to saving the Earth. This is a real inspiration and a treat as all 3 have answered the questions!
Tell me about yourselves and the work that you do.
We are Bernadette Vallely, Amy Charuy-Hughes and Bethan Stewart James, 3 generations of female environmental activists who came together to co-author our new environmental A-Z guide Your Planet Needs You! An everyday guide to Saving the Earth, published by Virago Press. (Paperback due 5 August 2021) A rewrite of the 1990 best-selling, ‘The Young Person’s Guide to Saving the Planet’.
The three writers are all from completely different backgrounds, different ages and with very different life experiences. The one thing we have massively in common is the planet and our love of the environment around us.
Bernadette: I’m Bernadette, a writer and I live in Pembrokeshire in Wales. I am an environmental social activist, observer, writer and broadcaster. I’ve written lots of books and reports to highlight environmental problems over my 35 years. I have started award-winning charities including the Women’s Environmental Network, Shakti Sings Choir and Save the WorldClub.
Amy: I’m Amy, I come from the world’s second most polluting industry, the fashion industry. I adopted a slower-living lifestyle after learning about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, I started to question the effects my life was having on the planet. I am part of the City-to-Sea campaign, Refill, and I head up the Refill Wandsworth voluntary team in my local area of South West London. I no longer work in the fashion industry, but it is still very much a part of me, but now only sustainable fashions.
Beth: Hi I’m Beth, I am passionate about the environment. My friends and I are trying to turn our whole school into an eco-school and we have a litter-picking club that I run with my best-friends. I love being outside in nature, and in the sea all year round. I love gardening, growing vegetables, and encouraging wildlife in the garden.
Your Planet Needs You! is a rewrite of ‘The Young Person’s Guide to Saving the Planet’, which was originally co-authored by Bernadette and Debbie Silver. 30 years on we three women have come together to highlight the most important environmental issues facing our planet today for a whole new generation. Lennie Goodings, the Chair of Virago Press, has produced this book by allowing three passionate voices to emerge as environmental champions, for people who are excited about the evolution of solutions to solve our planetary problems.
How or why did you get started?
What is your favourite thing about the work that you do?
Bernadette: I love the writing process; it gives me so much scope for research and observation. I love playing with words and expressing what I am most passionate about. I get really excited if I find something that I think has been missed elsewhere and I can tell a story around it. Environmentalism isn’t work, it’s a lifestyle choice.
Amy: I love living a simple life. Because I am aware of the impact my life could have on another person’s life I think more, I make more conscious decisions, especially when spending money. When I think back to 3 years ago when I was in the hustle and bustle, the life of a Fashion Stylist in London, there was so much pressure. Now I am more connected to my surroundings.
Beth: One day when I was just six years old my brother told me about the plastic in the ocean and from there I started to cut down on the amount of plastics I used and started litter picking. I started seeing the plastic on our beaches where I live, and the impact of plastic pollution in our area.
How/has working sustainably impacted your non-business life?
Bernadette: My family don’t always want to be as green as me but as the years have gone by, I notice my husband and son really trying to change and accepting more and more of our lifestyle changes with enthusiasm. I feel my life is low impact and sustainable, and that is the foundation for all my work.
Amy: I agree, sometimes I find it really hard to not let things affect me or my relationships. I’ve had to teach myself not to get irritated and how to say the right things to family and friends when it comes to the environment and living more sustainably. But it has also opened up lots of new, enjoyable conversations with
the people around me.
Beth: I tried to tell my friends and loved ones about plastic pollution, not mowing the lawn and not using too much plastic. Me and my friends enjoy teaching the young people and teachers in our school about climate change. They think we go on about it too much. It worries me that people don’t always listen.
What are you most proud of?
Bernadette: At a professional level, I am proud that a campaign I created changed industries and cleaned up rivers, and that the use of chlorine in industry to whiten paper and other industrial uses has changed dramatically. I never looked back from that time and I have affected change in many places, locally and nationally. I know I did the right thing. My 35 years of activism now proves I was on the right side of history.
Amy: I love that I found my voice, and being part of Your Planet Needs You! has helped me achieve that. I loved the fashion industry and all the great people I met from it, but there was always something missing. Now I am using my voice to stand up for a better, healthier planet, for all it’s inhabitants - that gives me so much satisfaction. If I can make just a tiny bit of difference to the environment for future generations, and if the work I do inspires another being to live greener, then I can be proud of the activist in me.
Beth: I am most proud of our lovely book! It is the most important thing I have ever done. I am also very proud of setting up the litter-picking club in our school.
What are your plans for the future?
Bernadette: I am spending time supporting young women on their environmental journey, including writers, activists and I’m just starting to support a biodiversity women’s project in the Galapagos Islands.
Amy: I am currently working on starting my own full-time business, a local refill delivery service. The future is package-free shopping! I will continue my work raising awareness of, and campaigning against single-use disposable items.
Beth: I am excited about going to secondary school in September this year and I hope to write another book about nature one day.
Can you recommend any other makers or businesses that work in an ethical or sustainable way?
Your Planet Needs You! gives about 800 things to do, and throughout the book we list hundreds of great companies covering a huge range of issues relating to alternative sustainable products and services. The book also has hundreds of addresses and contacts for current environmental organisations and charities you can help or join.
Have you got a particular cause or issue that you would like to raise awareness of?Bernadette: I would especially like people to think about what we are doing with animals, and to have more awareness of the many ways we are killing, maiming, destroying, and eating other creatures that share this earth with us. Animals have the right to exist, to be alive. We cover many animal and environmental issues
throughout the book. We cannot continue to act as if hoovering up the seas, chemically managing the earth and scraping away land at the rivers’ edges doesn’t matter. Species extinction is the most serious problem on the planet today.
Amy: If you can get behind your local Refill scheme and help to promote the message of reuse not single-use and refill not landfill that will make a huge impact on your local environment. We’ve all seen our local parks and green public spaces littered with single-use disposable packaging, it is such a simple change to make. You can find all the details of the Refill campaign under the list of organisations and charities towards the back of the book.
Beth: I would like to raise more awareness about the importance of bees and other pollinators. Without bees humans and animals would have no food. We need bees to live.
Bernadette: I am mostly positive, but I do think some world leaders are making things worse rather than telling the truth about our environmental challenges. The hardest thing is to get a whole country on the same page and working towards a sustainable future. Until our leaders stand up and admit the problem we can’t move forward as a nation and work properly together.
What is the most challenging thing about the work that you do?
Amy: Trying not to be too ‘preachy’, for some reason ‘save the planet’ causes much distress in some people, you see a lot of that on social media. Makes no sense to me, we all have Planet Earth in common, it upsets me to see how much damage the human-race has done to the earth.
Take me on an imaginary tour of your workspace.
Bernadette: I love my office; I can look out over the valley from the window with green hills and trees in the distance. I have a huge painting of Cel, the Goddess of Sea Vegetables on the wall behind my head, full of greens and blues and yellows, it's very bright. My computer has a stand-alone microphone as I do a lot of
writing using voice recognition software. I have been drawing little pen and ink illustrations of Roman pottery, so the desk is currently covered in drawings and books about ancient pottery and archaeology.
Amy: Are you sure? Mine is pretty hectic! I have lots of things going on all at once. I have my own little office, but it’s also where I store all my treasures (things which friends and family are throwing out, or that I salvaged off the street, which I am adamant I will give new life to!)
Beth: I love my bedroom and the vegetable raised beds that I work on nearly every day. The colour theme of my bedroom is white, yellow and grey. I have an upcycled desk where I do my schoolwork and nature writing with my dog, Flossie.
Do you have a motto or quote that defines your practice?
Bernadette: “It is time for people on Earth to switch from Ego to Eco.”
Amy: “Can I get this secondhand or even better for free elsewhere!?”
Beth: “Right here Right now is where we draw the line!” Greta Thunberg quote
Bernadette: Stop Shopping! Stop Flying! These two actions will cut your personal carbon budget the most. Generally, and specifically, please stop shopping and start to think very carefully about any purchase of any kind. Do your research, check if you can obtain the item in your life in some other way, perhaps via a loan, or swap with a neighbour or friend. Try asking on your social media. Then when you really do need a new product it is valued and bought as ethically as possible. When your heart is open – you can see the product and its production chain as part of the positive, creative, ethical and fairest way to shop.
Do you have any advice for people trying to shop or live more ethically?
Amy: Baby steps, don’t do everything all at once. At the start of my environmental journey I enjoyed reading, and there’s lots of like-minded people online too, buddy up. Eco-anxiety is real and can be really overwhelming, but it’s reassuring to know that you’re not alone. Bernadette recorded a very useful video about eco-anxiety
which you can watch here.
Beth: Use Refills! Make do and Mend! Learn to knit. Grow Vegetables. If you do anything that affects your carbon footprint make up for it by planting native trees.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Bernadette: I try to start my day enjoying the sunrise with a cup of tea and yoga before breakfast. Since the lockdowns I have been sharing a daily mid-morning coffee with my husband who now works from home which I love. I like to listen to comedy when I am cleaning or doing housework and newsy information programmes. Our family works hard during the day, writing, phoning, working on the farm. No single day is the same. We all meet together for supper around 7pm. I’ve been following a meditation for world peace with prayers at 8pm for about 5 years now and after that I rest, watch comedy or bathe before bed.
Amy: Like a lot of people, life is completely different for me right now. I never imagined that we would be publishing a book in the middle of a pandemic and forced to go completely online. The most exciting time is proving to be quite the challenge, I’m really feeling a very still London.
Beth: I wake up and get ready for school. We leave for school and drop Flossie off at Granny’s house. When I get to school I see my friends and we have lessons all day. After lunch on Mon, Wed and Friday we do a litter picking club in the school fields. When I get home I like to do gardening. After dinner we take Flossie out for a walk before bedtime.
What’s your favourite thing to do with your free time and why?
Bernadette: Walking the Pembrokeshire National Coastal Path, with my husband, it is truly the most wild and delicious part of the British Isles.
Amy: I like to kick-back and relax with my loved ones, whether it's on the sofa, in a park or swimming in Southsea Beach. Sometimes I can feel so overwhelmed by the fast pace of life and constantly being ‘online’ all the time, it’s a blessing to switch off from all of that and just take life in.
Beth: Gardening and litter picking. Although we have recently discovered little hedgehogs in the garden so I feed them and watch out for them.
What piece of advice would you give your younger self?
Bernadette: Don’t worry, it will all be fine. Stress is bad for you.
Amy: Don’t give up! It took me several years after getting my Fashion degree to figure out what I wanted, and I am finally content with my path that I am on. Oh and don’t just chuck things in the bin, there’s always someone who has use for things or a proper disposal system, the amount of things my younger self just threw in the general waste haunts me! Especially fashions - hold onto some of your special pieces, you’ll never know when they become fashionable again!
What would be the top thing that you would change about the way we treat the planet if you could?
Bernadette: Immediately stopping the burning of fossil fuels which cause around 7 million annual human deaths globally, and an unquantifiable amount of damage to the ecosystems of millions of living creatures, not to mention the climate problems they cause.
Amy: Non-organic farming. Why should it be ‘normal’ that we expose ourselves to toxic chemicals, pesticides and fertilisers from the food we eat and the products we use, everyone should be able to consume organic, safe foods and products.
Beth: Please stop cutting trees unless you plant them too.
Where can we find you on the internet, buy your work, or join in?
We would love you to visit our website www.yourplanetneedsyou.org.uk, and even order a copy of our book from there! We have eco-films covering a wide range of environmental issues from fashion to campaigning to plastics and species extinction, a free downloadable schools/activity pack, a sample chapter and special offers and free postcards. Lots to see and do. Thank you!
You can also follow us on social media, we are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, all accessible via our website.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
We are really grateful for the opportunity to share a little of our story with you. Thanks for all you do and for believing in people and our ability to do the right thing for planet earth. It really matters.
Bernadette Vallely, Wales, Amy Charuy-Hughes, London & Bethan Stewart James, Wales, May 2021