Robin Greenfield on Cultivating Sustainable Change for a Better World
Robin Greenfield shares his journey to green living and how he strives for simplicity and abundance in his life without material possessions.
So many of us are on our own sustainability journeys. At first, thinking about how to start making a difference in the world can be overwhelming. But once you get started, it's extremely rewarding. One person who knows that all too well is Robin Greenfield, an environmental activist and humanitarian who has dedicated his life to creating a more sustainable world.
During our past conversations with Greenfield (including the one he just had with Brightly's founder Laura Wittig in the latest episode of Good Together), he discussed his journey to green living, how he strives for simplicity and abundance in his life without material possessions, and how we can all be the change we want to see in the world.
The Start of Robin Greenfield's Journey
You may know Greenfield as the guy who wore every piece of trash he created for an entire month (check out the photo above!), or someone who foraged his own food for an entire year. But his work spans far beyond that.
Greenfield is also the creator of The Food Waste Fiasco, a campaign that strives to end food waste and hunger in the United States. He has dove into more than 2,000 dumpsters across the United States to demonstrate how nearly half of all food in the country is wasted while 50 million Americans are food insecure.
"I'm a human being that's very passionate about trying to leave the world not in a worse place than when I entered it, but ideally, a slightly better place," he says. "I wanted to live in a way where I could actually feel good about the ways that I interact with people, with other species, and with the Earth as a whole. So I started off on a journey to really radically transform my life, and that's where I've been for the last decade."
All of Greenfield's extreme adventures and activism campaigns are meant to bring attention to important environmental and social issues and to inspire positive change. Here are some life lessons we can all learn from him, no matter where you are on your sustainability journey.
3 Life Lessons We Can Learn from Robin Greenfield
1. Growing Your Own Food Is Easier Than You Think
Growing your own food sounds like a complicated process. Much more complicated than just running to the grocery store. While Greenfield took things to the extreme, only eating what he could grow or forage for an entire year, anyone can dip their toes into gardening.
"What I wanted to do is come up with a way to really get people to think about their food, what they're putting in their body, and the impact that it has on the Earth," he says. "I decided I was going to do one year with no grocery stores or restaurants, nothing processed or packaged. Just what I could either grow in my gardens or forage from nature. It was one of the most beautiful years of my life, and it was a success. I mean, it was challenging, but it was definitely a success."
Greenfield says he grew over 100 different foods in his garden and foraged over 200 different foods from nature. "I did everything from getting my own salt from the ocean to making my own coconut oil to fishing to eating many different wild greens to mushrooms," he says.
Small Step, Big Impact:
If you want to start growing your own food, try a small backyard garden. Or, if you're in an apartment, opt for a windowsill herb garden. You can even grow your own food from food scraps, like lettuce, celery, and onions. All you need is a sunny spot and a glass of water.
2. You Can Live in Abundance Without the Stuff
Greenfield took minimalism to a new level when he downsized so much that everything he owned—just 44 possessions—fit in a small backpack. (Everything you see above, and nothing else!)
"I grew up very low-income with the idea that more stuff would make me happier," Greenfield says. "I was sold on this idea of being able to prove myself through my material possessions. And it gave me this idea that when I was older, I wanted a big nice house, and a really nice car, and, and all of these things in order to prove that I was worthy to this society."
He later realized that society has gotten to the point where people have thousands of possessions—so much that it's impossible to find what you actually need because it's buried in other stuff. That's not good for your mental health, your wallet, or the planet.
"Of course, all of this stuff is extracted from somewhere, and all of it has a footprint on this Earth and on humanity and on other species. So when I woke up about 10 years ago, I realized most of the stuff I have is because corporations have sold me on this idea that I need it," he says. "But I don't need this stuff, and I really don't need it to be happy. I don't need it to be healthy, and I don't need it to be considered a quality member of society. So I set out on a journey to simplify and to downsize."
Small Step, Big Impact:
Greenfield began getting rid of more and more stuff until he was left with only the items he actually needed. But you don't need to toss out everything you own.
Start your journey toward minimalism by really thinking about anything new you bring into your home. (Aka no more late-night impulse buys while scrolling in bed!) You can also begin donating things you don't need. If it's not positively benefiting your life, it could benefit others.
3. Change Doesn't Happen Overnight
Greenfield is the first to admit these big changes he's made didn't happen overnight. Living more sustainably is a journey, and it takes a lot of time and effort to get there.
"I know a lot of people look at others—maybe it's the zero-waste people who fit all their trash in a jar, or someone living this simple life in a tiny house, or someone who's got this beautiful garden—and they want [that life]," he says. "But what a lot of people don't think about is the backstory of what it took for that person to be there. And what it generally takes is a lot of work and dedication to get to that point."
Greenfield wants everyone to remember that we all have to start somewhere, and there's no reason to stress yourself out trying to achieve a perfectly sustainably life. Because being perfectly sustainable isn't possible for anyone.
Small Step, Big Impact:
Greenfield says to embrace where you are right now and that you may not be able to change everything right away.
"But there's a lot of things you can do immediately, one thing at a time, to start changing your circumstances to get to that dream goal," he says. "Sure, not using plastic straws anymore isn't going to change the world. But if you make a change like that, and you set goals of making positive changes, one by one—maybe one positive change a week—you'll have made over 100 positive change just in a matter of two years."
Making planet-friendly changes is much easier when you take small steps. It also gives you the confidence you need to keep pushing forward.
"As you do that, it becomes easier and easier to make more changes because you become empowered. You start to feel the strength of becoming who you really want to be and it motivates you," he says. "You've got to start somewhere. And I would start with what you're excited about."
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