Individual action on climate change

Louder Than The Storm* interviewed Dawn, a proofreader from Leeds, about hiring a 21st century milkman, shopping locally and persuading chains to make change, one customer feedback form at a time.

“We rent the planet from future generations”

Like many of us, Dawn doesn’t remember any one specific moment that made her want to act for the climate. She describes experiencing “several moments, each of which seemed ‘minor’ at the time”. There were things like going to a talk on Doughnut Economics, reading Ann Pettifor’s book The Case for the Green New Deal, hearing Greta Thunberg speak, and watching a video about the plastic clogging up the oceans which made her realise “some of the plastic I’ve put in my recycling bin might be among that”.

Dawn feels a keen sense of concern for the future generations, and the fact that 2040 is often described as a tipping point. “My generation does not own the planet; we rent it from future generations. We owe it to future generations to move away from fossil fuels,” she explains, “Each and every one of us (particularly those of us in the developed world) need to make significant lifestyle changes if we are to reverse climate change by becoming ‘zero carbon’ by 2040.”

“I try to practise ethical consumerism as much as I can”

Ethical consumerism can point towards many things, from boycotting specific businesses and seeking independent local alternatives, to shopping at refill stations and making planet-friendly decisions at the supermarket.

Dawn explains that her viewpoint is captured by the concept of “voluntary simplicity”, a term which simply means examining our relationships with money, material possessions, the planet, and each other. “I am a great believer in conscious consumerism and attaining material sufficiency rather than over-consumption of material goods. If we are to reverse climate change, one of the greatest lifestyle changes that we will all have to undergo is reducing our consumption of goods, especially ‘throw-away’ goods, such as single-use plastics and clothing that is worn just once or twice then discarded.”

It is this approach that Dawn has adopted in many aspects of her life, from gifting experiences instead of objects as birthday presents to hiring a milkman to get fresh, local milk delivered to her door in returnable glass bottles. Dawn admits that the milk, which comes from a farm less than five miles from her home, was “noticeably fresher than supermarket milk…. I hadn’t expected that, to be honest.” The same milkman delivers free-range eggs and fresh orange juice.

“I’ve led a few one-woman campaigns”

Back in March 2018, Dawn arranged to meet a friend in a local branch of Pret à Manger and found to her great disappointment that even dine-in customers were being given single-use cups. Not content to express her concern to the staff present at the time – who would be unlikely to have the decision-making power to change things – Dawn went on to leave a review on TripAdvisor to catch the management’s attention. Just six weeks later when she called in again, she noticed that the branch had begun using real cups and plates. It is likely that other people had got in touch with the same complaint. “I am sure that if no customers had expressed their dissatisfaction, they would not have made the change,” Dawn tells us.

Just over a year later, Dawn was shopping in her local M&S Food when she found that something had happened to the Deli counter: they had packaged all of the food in single-use plastic and had no facility for customers to put food in their own containers. “When I saw it, I just stood astonished staring at it all,” Dawn remembers. “Unbeknown to me, the store manager happened to be standing next to me, and she saw my horror. We got talking and she did look into it and got back to me by email a few days later.”

M&S had previously been leading the way with their ‘Plan A’ policy (because there is no Planet B), but this felt like a huge step backwards. Aside from speaking to the manager, Dawn completed a detailed customer feedback form, in which she explained “Reducing plastic is the only way. Recycling is not sustainable. About two-thirds of plastics discarded in the UK are sent abroad for recycling but more and more countries are now refusing to accept and process it. The UK is the world’s 6th largest exporter of plastic waste.”

While the first reply she received ignored the flaws in their recycling policy, since then the manager has kept in touch and Dawn recently noticed that the packaging on that Deli counter is now made mostly of cardboard and more of the vegetables in the fruit and veg section of the store are now loose rather than packaged. “I personally do not have the power to persuade M&S to change their policies and practices,” Dawn admits, “but I perhaps contributed in a small way towards their awareness-raising of customer desires in this day and age.”

The message is clear: you might think your one voice is insignificant, or that a bad review and a customer feedback form might not reach the right people – but when you trust that you’re contributing to a broader discussion, your voice gains power. Power to the consumer.

“I promote local businesses, and use social media to raise awareness”

As well as buying from local independent businesses that try to source their products in an ethical way and then nominating them for awards to help them gain traction, Dawn says she’s keen to try and start discussions which might prompt others to do the same. “I use Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media to raise awareness and create discussion about all of this,” she explains. “I hope to contribute, albeit in a very small way, to a movement of the Overton window, towards reduced and more conscious consumerism and consequently a healthier planet and environment for all of those (humans and non-humans) who inhabit it.”

*Emma Turner interviewed Dawn Leggott in 2020 as part of Louder Than The Storm's "i for climate change" series. This blog post was originally published on the Louder Than The Storm website.

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