Rob Greenfield is an American adventurer, environmental activist, and an entrepreneur. Before embarking on this journey, he lived a typical lifestyle where he focused on materialistic things and his financial wealth. His goal was to become a millionaire before the age of 30, but he decided to watch documentaries and read books and that changed something. He didn’t have a big moment of realization or enlightenment, he began to realize that what he was doing was causing destruction and he had to do something about it. First, he began to change his lifestyle and now he is trying to inspire people to do the same.
Q1: What are some of your goals in life?
My biggest goal is to educate and inspire as many people as possible to be the change they want to see in the world. You know we live in a time where people are depressed about the state of the world and feel like there is nothing you can do but my mission is to empower people to start to become more part of the solution starting where they are and starting one bit at a time because the way kind of looked at it was that great change isn’t something that happen overnight, but something that happens with making one little change at a time and it adding up.
Q2: Could you tell us what were some of your challenges and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was social norms and social stigmas so worrying what people thought of me, and I found that usually is what would hold me back as far as challenges go. It wasn’t the action, it was just the social norms and sticking to that, and so that’s what really held me back. Ultimately, it was deciding it was more important to do what was right than worrying about what people would think about me. So that really was the biggest challenge. and ultimately it was worth it for some people to think negatively if I could make people make positive changes.
The biggest challenge was social norms and social stigmas.
Q3: Dealing with the food waste fiasco, imagine we have a scale and on one side, it’s the food suppliers who are trying to sell and replace the goods on the shelf quickly and on the other side it is a healthy community which is free of salmonella and other food diseases. How can we balance the scale and keep in mind the aim of the food suppliers and the healthy community?
Well one way is to make regulations that actually make sense so, for example, suggested sell by dates, so most of those dates are not actually about food safety and security, they are actually about peak freshness and taste so you know there are a lot of misconceptions. So one would make dates that are uniform and actually make sense or remove all those dates altogether, because a box of Graham crackers passes the date is never gonna get you sick even if it’s one year past that date, so that would be one big thing. Another reason why food is wasted is because of aesthetics, so it‘s not the right shape, colour or size . Again, nothing to deal with safety, and so the reality is it has nothing to deal with safety that’s causing the problems, it‘s more of profit and brand reputation. The reality is changing the way we look at food altogether and not making it a monetized thing and instead treating it like the life-giving substance , the human right that it should be. That’s the bigger picture, but as far as the smaller picture the food safety isn’t what is making most foods go to waste, it’s the arbitrary dates and ridiculous aesthetics.
Q4: When you were walking around New York for 30 days with all of the trash you accumulated, did you encounter any challenges and what was the people’s feedback?
There was the obvious challenge of trying to walk around covered in trash. It was about 87 pounds by the end of it, so it‘s about 40 kilos of trash. So just getting anywhere riding the subway, taking the bus, fitting through doors, everything was a challenge being covered in that much trash and places not letting me in, for example. I wanted to go to the movies but they wouldn’t let me in covered in trash, or sometimes bus drivers wouldn’t let me on the bus so there were those basic challenges but as far as other challenges, it was an activism campaign. It was a stunt, there weren’t really challenges for me because I was just doing my thing and I thought it worked. Maybe that is the reason there weren’t any challenges, because it actually worked, and it was a way of putting something in people’s faces without telling them they did something wrong, but instead just showing this is the way, this is a typical lifestyle. So because I wasn’t pointing fingers at anyone , and instead just showing them what it looks like, that made it pretty easy because there weren’t people who were angry, I was just smiling and showing something, not yelling and telling people what to do.
Q5: What would you say is the challenge of this current generation concerning the environment and the waste of food. Are we becoming better or is it a problem we are still being faced with?
We are not becoming better in general, we are making improvements but we are moving more towards a system that creates more waste and ultimately creating larger gaps between the wealthiest and the people who have the least money. We are increasing the amount of waste, as we increase in our affluence, we tend to waste more. The reality is we have made some big strides and there are some positive things, but when it comes to a lot of these sorts of things the problems are getting worse, and as the population increases that makes it harder. We have our work absolutely cut out for ourselves if we are going to turn things around and to live in a way that is beneficial to the world around us, and not destructive, then we have massive work.
Q6: How can people start to live a sustainable lifestyle?
So the good news is with all these massive problems, we can start somewhere and most of the somewhere where we can start isn’t really hard and it doesn’t burden you. Usually it makes you a lot happier and healthier, so the biggest change we can make if we want to make a big environmental impact is to have a more plant-based diet and eat fewer animal products.
The single biggest impact on our daily basis is the food that we eat and in particular, animal products. It is out of sight, out of mind.
Trash you see, but we don’t see how the animals are raised and all the greenhouse gases from their waste and that’s the biggest thing. The thing is, often people feel healthier when they eat a more balanced diet, and the other thing is to eat more whole foods. More whole foods, cooking and less processed packaged foods, and using a reusable water bottle instead of a disposable. For example, here in Switzerland, all the water is drinkable and good so there doesn’t need to be bottled water in the whole country of Switzerland. Having a compost bin at home is another way. People think having a compost bin is complicated and composting is complicated but it’s not, the Earth has been doing it for thousands of years. It‘s as easy as putting your food scraps and your yard waste like leaves into a pile and letting the earth do its thing.
Q7: What can you tell people who are motivated to make a change in the world but don’t know where to start?
I would say start with one thing. I mean, if you sit down and just think about it for five or ten minutes, you can think of one positive change. I mentioned some of them so don’t feel overwhelmed. You know there are so many problems out there, don’t feel overwhelmed with the bigger picture, start with one thing and then when you have made that change, you can make another one and another one. The thing is, you start to feel more empowered and the more empowered you feel, the easier it becomes to make more and more changes.
Action creates empowerment.
I say start with something and let the momentum go from there.
By Monique Bigler