By: Ariana Palmieri
Have you ever seen a business and thought “wow, I wish they would go green?” Well, Shannon’s job, aka Mama Eco, helps businesses reduce their carbon (and waste!) footprints.
Welcome to our “Sustainability Spotlight” series: We’ll be using this space to feature some absolutely amazing people in the environmental sphere. Watch this space and be on the lookout for more interviews and guest posts with eco influencers!
This time, we’re featuring Shannon Kenny, a sustainable business consultant and founder of Mama Eco. She helps businesses become environmentally sustainable without sacrificing profit. Here’s her story.
How did you get into sustainability?
How did you start your website/blog/podcast/etc.?
Which topic of sustainability do you cover/care about most (ex: zero waste, veganism, renewables)?
Most of my content focuses on both carbon and waste footprints. A lot of people tend to focus solely on waste, but that only takes what you physically see into consideration. The truth is: there are so many elements that come into play long before a consumer makes the decision to buy a product. This is why I focus on the upstream footprint as well as the downstream.
To clarify what that actually means: upstream is everything that happens before you buy a product, while downstream relates to everything that happens after you throw it away. Here's an example: if you buy a pair of shoes, before it gets to you, raw materials need to be extracted and shipped to a factory. The factory, which runs on energy, makes the shoe and packages it. Then, it likely goes on a boat which travels across the globe, makes its way onto several trucks (and planes) to get to a store. This is all part of the upstream footprint, which involves raw materials and a lot of energy to transport and power up that process. As you can see, long before the customer gets the product, there's quite a large environmental footprint already.
Once the consumer buys the product and has used it for as long as he/she chooses to, the product then has to go somewhere: usually a landfill since it's made up of a combination of synthetic materials that can't be separated back into raw materials. This last part involves the downstream footprint, which as you can see is a lot smaller than the upstream portion. This is why it's so important to focus on the entire life cycle of the products we buy and the services we choose to use.
What’s one ecofriendly thing you do on the daily?
Composting! I started composting several years ago. At the time, I collected all my food scraps and dropped them off at a local compost collection site. Due to budget cuts, the service was temporarily suspended during the height of the pandemic, so I finally took the plunge and started composting at home. I use a compost tumbler, which keeps any unwanted pests away and is pretty easy to maintain. Initially, it took a bit of rewiring to switch from putting my food scraps into the trash, but now it's just normal to put it in the compost. And there are so many added bonuses to composting: I take out the trash way less and my trash never stinks because it's all non-organic waste in there.
Favorite eco hack?
Just one!?!?! How can I choose!! Ok ok..here's one: I use a tube wringer (which is actually meant for squeezing paint out of paint tubes) to get the most out of any cream, toothpaste, or lip balm tube. Not only does it capture a ton of product that would have otherwise gone to waste, but it also saves you a ton of money, and it's fun to do.
What eco products are you loving right now?
I'm a big fan of toothpaste tablets. Over the past few years, I've made it my mission to try as many of them as I can (in search of the perfect one!). It keeps things interesting...lol. My husband and I also use our soda stream a lot! It's not a new product by any means but it amazes me how much plastic bottles we avoid by using it.
If you could change one thing about the world what would it be?
Ooooooh, onto the good stuff! I would completely separate money from politics. It's the reason we're so dependent on fossil fuels, the reason there's plastic everywhere, the reason it's so confusing to recycle, the reason our oceans are being overfished, the reason renewable energy has taken so long to get a foothold. If money wasn't influencing the decision-makers who we've entrusted to do what's right, then our world would be a whole lot greener, sustainable and equitable for everyone.
What have been some of your biggest challenges (in terms of sustainable living)?
Trying to get people on board without telling them what to do. This was tricky in my early years of sustainable living. But I soon realized that you have to lead by example and show people just how easy it can be. Then, you let them come to the decision on their own, which allows them to take ownership of the decision.
Another big challenge has been keeping my 'eco guilt' at bay. As individuals, it's so easy for us to feel at fault if we bring home a plastic bag or decide that we need to take a flight to see our family, but the truth is: we didn't build those systems. Big corporations did. And so the majority of that problem should be on them. The way I manage my eco guilt is to only focus on what's in my control. Otherwise, I'd have driven myself crazy by now.
In your own words, how can we make sustainability more accessible?
There's two parts to this: the individual side and the collective side. On the individual side, we need to show people that they can be sustainable in their own way, based on what they have access to. Because the truth is: there's no one way to be sustainable. And not everyone has access to the same things. We need to meet people where they're at and find solutions that are manageable for them. Not everyone has access to recycling, or bulk bins, or fresh foods, or public transportation. So we need to make sure that there's education for everyone at all different levels.
On the collective side, we need to start incentivizing companies to do the right thing by using subsidies and tax credits. If it's in the interest of their bottom line, why wouldn't companies make their processes non-toxic, or make sure they clean up the water that comes out of their factories, or switch to renewable energy? We also need to remove existing subsidies (like fossil fuel subsidies that make oil and gas way cheaper than they actually are) for companies who are doing the exact opposite. By doing this, the cost of sustainable products and resources will become much cheaper than the dirtier, more harmful mainstream options. And in turn, will become much more accessible for individuals to buy into.
Once piece of advice for someone wanting to make a change in their lifestyle?
Do your best with what you have and share your experience with others. It's great to do your part, but the real impact happens when you use that to positively influence other people. That's where the ripple effect happens. And that's where small actions turn into mammoth, planetary changes.
Do you have any questions for Shannon? Leave them in the comments!