Small Changes Can Make an Impact with Rachelle Strauss

November 18, 2020

Rachelle Strauss is an award-winning zero waste consultant and founder of the annual awareness campaign, Zero Waste Week.

She works with forward-thinking businesses and organizations who want to reduce their impact on the planet but don’t know how to implement a successful strategy to preserve resources, stop wasting money, and improve their triple bottom line.

Through talks, workshops, pop up clinics, online courses and consulting, Rachelle and her team help people recognize and understand the importance and benefits of reducing waste, so they are inspired to take action.

Everything they offer is designed to engage, excite, educate and empower.

John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by Trajectory Energy Partners. Trajectory Energy Partners brings together landowners, electricity users and communities to develop solar energy projects with strong local support. For more information on how trajectory is leading the solar revolution, please visit trajectoryenergy.com

John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. I am so excited to have my long-time friend Rachel Strauss. She is known as Mrs. Green. She is an eco-preneur and she is the founder of the zero waste week. Welcome back to the Impact podcast, Rachel.

Rachel Strauss: Thank you John. I cannot believe it has been ten years since we last did this.

John: We have been talking off the air and you and I both cannot believe it is ten years. It is great to hear your voice again, especially in these very strange and uncertain times; reconnecting with old friends and great friends that you have great memories with just makes it seems a little less strange.

Rachel: Yes, it certainly is strange times, but there have been some good times about it as well. As we were saying about pollution clearing up, animals coming back, blue skies and bird [inaudible]. With all of this, we have to just keep focusing as much as we can on the positives as well.

John: And we are going to do that today. We are going to talk about all the positives and impacts that you make in this world, to make the world a better place but before we get there, for our listeners that missed our first episode, I would love you first to share how you even became Mrs. Green.

Rachel: Okay, so I am going to take you to a little village in England called Boscastle in 2004, which is kind of where my journey began. I was there on holiday with my family and we were caught in flash flooding. It was a pretty traumatic experience to say the least because one hundred people had to be airlifted out of the village on that day. Fortunately, we were not in amongst those people but we were there watching the whole thing unfold in front of us. As you can imagine that was quite a scary thing to be part of and I reached a conclusion John – in that moment rightly or wrongly and it was the climate change was actually unfolding in front of my eyes right then. I thought it was going to be fifty years’ time or a hundred years’ time but witnessing all this trauma around me, I thought it is actually happening right now and I need to be part of the solution because I had a three-year-old child. As any parents going to tell you, you immediately think about them – about their future, what planet are they going to inherit? It needs to be safe and it needs to be beautiful for them.

Rachel: So for a while, I was thinking of what more can I do because I was just an ordinary person, actually doing nothing on the ecological side at all. I started to make a few changes in my life – swapped out the light bulbs and used the car a little bit less and that sort of thing. These ideas were kind of growing for me and then it was in 2008 when I thought, “I really want to kind of do something that has more impact.” I decided at the beginning of that year, I would start recycling more and start throwing less in landfill. So you might remember me saying to you about ten years ago that we were throwing away – oh gosh, can I bring myself to say this, two-and-a-half bins full of waste every week.

John: Oh, God.

Rachel: I have actually got my hands in front of my eyes. So everything – the glass, the tins, the paper, and the food waste, all of it was being thrown away. I decided, “Okay, that is enough. I am not doing that anymore. I am going to use my recycling and I am going to see what I can do,” and to keep myself accountable really, I set up a blog which was my zero waste.com and it was really there for me John, just to track my progress and to see what I could do to learn from my mistakes. What I never realized was that two months after starting that blog, I would have about 80,000 readers every month.

John: Wow.

Rachel: So they wanted to know what is moldy in the back of her fridge this week or what terrible purchase that she made that she now has to deal with. We had these readers from all over the world.

John: Wow.

Rachel: What I did in the September of 2008 is I challenged myself because I have been doing this a few months. Okay, I will see if I can throw nothing away at all for a week. I will have my own zero waste week. So I called on my readers and said, “Hey, I could do with a bit of moral support – I do not really want to do this by myself now that I have come up with the idea,” and a hundred people said, “We would love to join you.” So we started all reducing our waste little bit to see what we can do and there were comments every day and by the end of the week, there were two really interesting things that people had said the first one John, was that they had had fun.

John: That is nice. Fun and sustainability typically have not gone together historically.

Rachel: Exactly. So dealing with your waste is fun while [inaudible] it is. The other thing people said was, “Please, can we do this again?”

John: Nice.

Rachel: So I did it again the following September. That was the beginning of what we called Zero Waste Week and I think when I last spoke to you, I had either just finished or was just getting ready to launch the third one. So what has happened since then – [cross talks]

John: Yes, give us the last – catch us up to the last ten years.

Rachel: Yes, so I have been sort of wrecking my brain thinking, “What have I done since then?” I have got a few sort of milestone point. So when I did the first zero waste week, it was a hundred people and then the next year it was something like 1,500 people and it just started to grow and grow and so what I did in 2008 is I gave zero waste week its own website because it was kind of getting lost in the noise of the my zero waste website. So it had its own website and there is a mailing list so other people can sign up too and all the social media channels are linked into that.

John: Let me pause you for a second, Rachel. For our listeners out there, the website to go to is www.zerowasteweek.co.uk – I am on it right now. It is a beautiful website and you could sign up for Rachel’s newsletter right there. Go ahead, Rachel. I am sorry.

Rachel: Thank you. The one thing I will say that even though it is “dot co dot uk” is that the zero waste week has actually become international. So I have got people signed up in at least eighty-five countries that I know of – but the reach is potentially more because obviously I do not know what everybody that is engaged with the week. So it had its own websites in 2013. It has just continued to grow exponentially. It was in 2018, its 10th year, where it really seemed to explode and the week was actually given, I think you have the same scheme over there by the government called, ‘a point of light’, I do not know if you are aware of that. It is a government scheme that basically gives volunteers that are doing, as they say, outstanding things – this point of light award and I was given that in 2018 for the campaign.

John: Wow. Congratulations. That is wonderful. No, I have not heard of it. Actually, I have not heard of a lot of it here -no.

Rachel: Okay. So I have got my little certificate and my handwritten card from the prime minister. Actually, I got a Christmas card that year from her as well, which was quite amazing. It was Theresa May then we have changed prime minister since then. The other thing that happened in 2018 was the hashtag trended on Twitter, which was an exciting moment for me to actually see it in that list of all the hashtags that people click on; it trended for two days. Now, that hashtag reaches between sort of 45 and 55 million impressions every zero waste week.

John: Wow that is incredible. That is incredible. I mean, you have reached 40 – did you ever imagine that it would get this big?

Rachel: No, I did not and this campaign is still run from my dining table.

John: Which by the way, you were way ahead of the trend – the work at home. You were already ready for this whole crisis and pandemic and whatever this new trend that we are working from home. You were a forerunner, precursor to this before anybody else.

Rachel: Well, it is interesting you say that because a few years ago, our University student did her dissertation on zero waste week, and she wanted to know whether online campaigns could affect behavioral change which was a fascinating thing to be a part of. I remember her saying to me in an interview, she said, “What you are doing is cutting edge” and I am like, “Really? I am just using social media to see what sort of reach I can get with it,” but I think maybe she had a crystal ball or something because it would appear that maybe it was after all that now, we understand the power of working virtually with one another.

John: Right, right. Wow, well, obviously you have made – with those kinds of impressions, it is just incredible so keep going. So where are we now and where are you in the journey? Where can you take this this year and beyond when we get to the new normal, which I am going to say is going to be a new better hopefully like you and I were talking about off the air earlier.

Rachel: Yes. So the other big change then in the last ten years is when [inaudible] originally, I was speaking mainly to householders, to individuals at home that wanted to do their thing and what has happened as the zero waste week campaign is growing year on year and it has proven that it is here to stay because a lot of people set up campaigns and then after a couple of years, it is too much to do or they get tied up with other things and they die back. So I think when people realize in 2018 something like that, “Okay, this woman is here to stay.” I started to get a lot more interest from businesses, schools, universities and organizations who are saying, “How can we take part?” And so that has allowed me to go into business as I now work with a partner, Anna, who is brilliant at face-to-face stuff and doing inspiring talks and workshops and that kind of thing. So what she does throughout the year is she goes into businesses or at the moment, meets with them on Zoom and will hold lunchtime talks or all day workshops or pop-up clinics because what we are finding is that both employers and employees – they really want to get on board with this. In fact, I have got a statistic which I am just finding, which says that 59 percent of consumers expect companies to make a stand on climate and environment issues.

John: Wow.

Rachel: For employees, 65 percent of people say they would leave a job if the company that they were working for is harm to the environment. So that is interesting.

John: Yes.

Rachel: It is, isn’t it? So what companies are doing is they are understanding that even if they do not quite know what to do and what to tell their employees, their employees want to know and they want to be part of the solution. So we get called into this time last year, we were running workshops for their staff on just how to have a more sustainable Christmas or something like that or it might be that we go in half way through the year and they are running some kind of workshop or a waste awareness event of their own and they want us to go in and just talk to people about reducing plastic or reducing food waste – all those things that when people go home they have to deal with and it is causing them stress and the upside of it is that when the employees get fired up about it, they automatically then want to go and take what they have learned into the workplace. So actually it benefits the company because then they can start to look at their [inaudible] line, they are impressing their staff so they are going to get more loyalty and they are actually looking at their sustainability issues and they are starting to deal with them. So it is just a really nice way of getting good effects for everybody plus the environment.

John: When did Anna join?

Rachel: Especially two years ago, but she has been this amazing person. She was one of my blogging ambassadors actually so I get a team of ambassadors together, so that they share the message to their readers and she has been just one hundred percent behind me and has been phenomenal this year because to be perfectly honest with you, here is my little confession. I was thinking at the beginning of this year, I do not know if I have got the energy to run another zero waste week campaign and she came along, swept me up and said, “Come on. I will do half the work for you.” She was true to her word.

John: Wow. That is a real partner for you – what a great person.

Rachel: Absolutely. She really did reduce my workload and what we have done as well is we have put together some online courses, so that people can learn at their own paces if they want to and there is like video courses and audio courses, which that is another thing that some businesses or local authorities do. They actually buy ten or fifty or a hundred courses and they let their staff, all their residents do them. So that is another way that we can reach people.

John: So these are all on your website zerowasteweek.co.uk day?

Rachel: They are. There is a shop there and then there is a little filters that people can use to search for different things. So there is about four or five courses at the moment.

John: Wow, and how is it going? I know coronavirus has distracted everyone obviously – but prior to that, was the sell-through, pull-through from corporations in the UK and other parts of the world more than you thought it was going to be, less than you thought it was going to be or just about as much as you thought it would be?

Rachel: Well, that is a really good question. It is probably about what I thought it would be and what I have noticed certainly in the last ten years as when I originally spoke to you, I was a bit fringe, I was a bit odd and people used to look at me and think, “What is she doing?” and now it is not the case. Everybody does their recycling, do they not? It is just kind of normal and what is even more normal is people are looking at products in outrageous packaging and are horrified by it – so that is really good. I think it is filtering through into the workplace. I mean, there is certainly more interest than they used to be and little did we know what this year was going to bring and I was quite worried sort of during June and July, I have done all this preparation for this year’s zero waste week in September but is anybody going to be interested or have they actually got other things to think about like their health and like this crazy world we have worked out in. What I found was there was still a lot of interest and I was thinking, okay, why is this – and I am playing with ideas here, but I wonder with the whole Corona thing, it is completely out of our control. We cannot control it. We cannot do much about it. We just have to isolate, wash our hands – do those things. But with the zero waste week campaign, it is about putting control back to the people.

Rachel: So I am saying if we focus on food waste this year then that is in your control – what happens in your kitchen is actually up to you and I wonder if that is why it was still very popular this year because people start, “Oh yeah, this is something that I can feel empowered about after a very odd year where I felt very disempowered.” I do not know.

John: I think you are right. I really think you are right and like you said, a lot of people have time – we were talking about before we went on the air, Rachel, a lot of people have had time to think and hopefully reflect on what is going on right now in the world during this lockdown period, what is going on in their own lives and I watched a YouTube video, a few months back of Nelson Mandela. He was being interviewed about his time in prison and the interviewer asked him a great question. He said, “How did you survive your time in prison?” and metaphorically speaking, many of us feel like the lockdown, after having all our freedoms for all most of our adult lives and childhoods is a form of a prison and his response was, “I did not survive prison while I was there. I was planning for when I got out.”

Rachel: Wow. Okay.

John: As you said, you were the one who said, “Hopefully the signals and the information that people have reflected on during this tragic time will make them plan and prepare for a better world after we get out of this.”

Rachel: Yes, and I think I read a survey where people were asked that they want to go back to normal [inaudible] and a vast majority of people did say no, which is heartening to hear because there are aspects of me that, “Gosh, I do want to go back to normal”, but there are other parts of me that even being on the zero waste journey as long as I have been, I made big changes during the lockdown. When I saw what was happening, I got more resourceful with my waste. I grew more food in the garden and I preserved more food, maybe stuff that I might have the, “Oh, I just compost that or [inaudible] the chickens.” I was like, “No, actually it needs to go into a human stomach” and I have been doing this for fourteen or fifteen years, but even I made quite significant changes throughout lockdown preparing for as you say, a better future and wanting to hold on to some of the things that were good like the community spirit.

John: Right.

Rachel: All those things I think are all linked, isn’t it? When we use the word environment, I know I am focusing on the tangible environment; the earth and the water but it is about our community environment as well.

John: Perfect and I am like you – why aim for new normal when we can aim for a new better?

Rachel: Yes, let us dream big.

John: Let us dream big for all of us. We deserve it as just individuals, but we deserve it collectively as a community, as a city, as a country and as a planet because as we all learned, everything that we do environmentally is borderless now.

Rachel: Yes, and everything we do to the environment, we do to ourselves. That is the real key that I think people are starting to join the dots. Whereas before it, it is quite difficult to get that across to people that why does reducing waste help the environment and it is joining the dots even the fact that now – well, eating plastic because it is in the fish. People that eat fish, they are eating plastic because it is always in our water. So these are the reasons we need to be doing this stuff because for a long time, the environmental movement that says, “Oh we need to save the planet.” Actually, we do not need to save the planet. The planet is going to be fine. If it comes to it, it will shake us off like a dog shaking off fleas and it will carry on very well without us. We need to look after the planet so that we have somewhere for our grandchildren to grow up on.

John: That is really true and that is our responsibility. It is really our responsibility. Rachel, where do you want to take us now? Where do you want to take zerowasteweek.co.uk and your great tribe that you have already built over the last ten years, now, you have a partner, Anna, layout the next just three years for me and for our listeners, like how big can this get and is it going to be corporate, more corporate sales? Is it going to be just more individual activity? Where do you want it to go when you are visioning this out?

Rachel: Okay, so I noticed something happening that started last year when I was running zero waste week campaign and that was it has almost become its own identity. So prior to that, it was zero waste week run by Rachel Strauss and linking back to the website and all of that stuff. Now, it would appear that it is just out there in the wild which is fantastic. It is like if I think of a big brand, I can remember the name of the brand but I may not know who is behind that brand, so it is almost becoming the same thing. That is really lovely that it is almost like a household name and nobody really knows where it all started and I am okay with that. I can put my ego out of the way and that is fine. What I would love is we have created a course for householders to help them reduce food waste because actually if we can reduce food waste that goes a long way to helping with climate change and as a goal I have at the moment is over the next couple of years, I would love to be able to get local authorities on board to fund that course so that I can get it into every single household initially, obviously in the UK, but I would like everybody at home to have access to that online course and to be working toward reducing their food waste.

John: Now, I do not want to give anything away but did you not say for our listeners, if they signed up for your online courses with you because they heard it on the Impact, would you give them a discount?

Rachel: I definitely will. Yes, of course, 75% of any of the courses.

John: The coupon code is Impact75?

Rachel: Yes.

John: Wow, that is so generous of you and I am so grateful for that. Final thoughts before we say goodbye for this time but not forever, Rachel leave us with some final thoughts and I failed to tell our listeners in the beginning, you are speaking to us today. I am in Fresno, California and you are so kind to take the call today and do the interview from the UK. You are in the UK – some final thoughts from the wonderful United Kingdom and Rachel Strauss?

Rachel: Okay, so I am going to go back to a phrase that I use a lot. I have been told it has a lot of impact for people so when you go to throw something away, I would just encourage people to stop for a moment and ask themselves, ‘where away is?’ because it is always somewhere else. It is an incinerator. It is a landfill site. It is the bottom of the ocean or it is an animal’s stomach.

John: That is about as impactful as you get and thank you for that. For our listeners again, please go to www.zerowasteweek.co.uk to sign up for Rachel’s newsletter. You can sign up for an online course. She is so generous. She will be giving out a discount to anyone who signs up because they heard it on the impact podcast. You can use the coupon code Impact75. Rachel, I know it has been ten years. It feels like it has been a day maybe a week, maybe just a quick minute – I know your nickname is Mrs. Green, but I am also going to dub you and give you the nickname now Mrs. Impact because you are truly just a wonderful and special person making an impact on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis. The world needs more people like you. You are constantly making the world a better place and thank you again for joining us today on Impact podcast. Thank you.

Rachel: Thank you.