Be An Unfucker.

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A conversation with Caroline Shields and Vanessa Morrish, about how positive peer pressure, small changes and a straight-talking attitude can have a big collective impact on climate change.

When did you have the idea for Be An Unfucker?

Caroline [Caro] and I regularly had our own side projects going on but always had problems finishing them. So we decided to start a project together so that we’d motivate each other to see it through. We also wanted to use our creative skills for good. We are interested in climate change and thought we’d take something important and communicate it in a way we’d respond to ourselves. The more we got into it, the more we realised there were so many people out there who a traditional ‘greenie’ just wasn’t resonating with. We also realised that the idea of positive peer pressure was a pretty interesting thing. Before Unfuckers, I recycled, but that was about it. As Caro and I became friends, I didn’t want her to think I was a bad person, so I stopped bagging my bananas in the supermarket because I was afraid she’d catch me. We realised that all it takes is one friend in a group to start making positive eco changes in their life, and everyone else might follow. No one wants to be the arsehole. It took about six months from the start of the idea to the launch of the website. We tried giving ourselves a deadline to stick to, and then one Thursday, when it was 90 per cent there, we hit publish.

What’s your background?

We both used to work in advertising agencies, but since the Unfuckers we’ve changed direction a little. My background is copywriting and I now work as a creative director for Who Gives A Crap. Caro is a freelance designer / art director who mainly works with for-purpose organisations and social enterprises. Unfuckers is a side project that we try and give as much love to outside work and general life.

Who is involved?

It’s just the two of us. Oh, and our army of Unfuckers. We’ve had to learn a bunch of new skills along the way, wear a variety of different hats, and work out what things besides writing and design we’re good at and not so good at.

What was your aim when you set it up?

Apart from actually finishing something we started, we wanted to get people to change their everyday eco habits. We wanted to change the way we talked about being ‘green’ and create something that was visually and tonally different from anything else in the space.

Why is it important to Be An Unfucker?

Because we have no choice. If we want the planet to be around for the next few generations, we need to do something. People think it’s too hard and beyond them to do anything about it. But that’s not true. If people change their attitudes and their habits, and make climate change and being eco-aware part of everyday life, it will translate to the real world and put pressure on big business and our politicians to implement change. The power of people is an amazing thing.

How bad is climate change?

It’s bad, but not beyond doing something about it.

Why are we so screwed?

Because we’ve been trashing the planet for far too long. And because too many people think the planet’s future isn’t their responsibility. They leave it for the next generation to deal with because doing something feels hard. We are the last generation that can do something before we’re really fucked. It’s as simple as that.

Most people are too busy and overwhelmed to make changes, or just stuck in their ways. What can we do to shift their mindset?

We’re not asking people to change the world by themselves, or drastically change their lives. We’re just asking them to start by changing one bad habit at a time. Just one thing—we can all do that, right? Once we realise it’s not that hard, we can try and tackle another and another. Before you know it, even the most un-environmentally aware people are making changes all over the place and encouraging others to change as well. The important thing we try to emphasise is that no one is perfect and not everyone can do everything. Well, if they can, they’re amazing. So, choose to change one thing that works for your life. If you slip up, try again. The important word is try. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

How has being a parent affected your work?

It’s made me even more apprehensive about the world we’re leaving to our kids. Sometimes, if I think too much about it, it feels awful and overwhelming. But it’s important to be optimistic and believe we can do something, because we can. On a more practical level, it’s made having a job and a side project even harder! I wish I could be one of those people who only needs three hours of sleep every night.

TIPS

Baggin’ your bananas

Fact: 429,000 recyclable plastic supermarket bags are dumped into landfill every hour.

Change one thing
Your fruit and veg already has its own natural packaging, so what do you really need those plastic bags for? If you’re grossed out by fruit-on-trolley action, just put everything in one bag and separate them at the till.

Free bag frenzy

Fact: Australians throw away about 7,150 recyclable plastic bags a minute. Around the world, we use and throw away 1 trillion every year. And some supermarkets still don’t charge for them. Crazy.

Change one thing
Embrace the granny trolley, bring your own bags or put your groceries straight into your bag / backpack / man bag.

Buy in season

Fact: Eating strawberries in winter or oranges in summer can mean they’ve been flown in from halfway across the world—just because we want access to everything all the time. Do you really want your cravings to come with a huge carbon footprint?

Change one thing
Go to your local market and boom: you’ll be buying stuff that’s in season. It’ll be fresher, there’s no excess packaging, you’ll know where it has come from and you’ll be supporting your local community.

Easy on the meat

Fact: The meat industry generates more man-made greenhouse gas emissions than transportation. So many environmentally unfriendly factors (trees chopped, water, energy, transportation) go into us eating meat; it’s insane that the mentality of eating it for every meal still exists.

Change one thing
Eat less meat and you’ll be doing one of the most easy and effective things to combat climate change. Cut it by half or, if you need baby steps, start with one meat-free day a week. When you realise you’re not withering away from fatigue, go on to two or more.

Be a friendly flusher

Fact: Only around 5 per cent of the toilet paper we flush away in Australia is made from recycled paper. The rest of our butts are being wiped with virgin fibre from plantation or native-forest trees.

Change one thing
Buy recycled tissue items—in other words, toilet paper, tissues, kitchen towels and napkins. Recycled doesn’t mean bad quality; you’ll get the same product all while reducing greenhouse emissions, saving water and energy, and lowering landfill use.

BYO coffee cup

Fact: In Australia, we bin 2.7 million disposable coffee cups a day. That’s nearly 1 billion a year, and that is, quite frankly, insane.

Change one thing
Get yourself a reusable cup. There are some pretty good-looking ones out there. Keep it in your bag, at home or at work, and BYO everywhere you go. Some cafes even give you a discount if you have one.

Aim for the right bin

Fact: Throw a can of soft drink in a non-recycling bin and the can will spend the next 200 years decomposing (or not) in landfill. Recycle it and you save enough energy to power a TV for three hours. Decisions, decisions.

Change one thing
If you’re out and want to throw away something recyclable, hold it and wait until you come across a recycling bin. There are enough around the place, so hold your horses, you trigger-happy throw-away-er.

Ditch the disposable

Fact: Some 100 billion disposable pieces of plastic cutlery are used and thrown out every year. Parts of the ocean are turning into a plastic soup because of single-use and disposable plastics. The culprits? Takeaway containers, water bottles, straws, plastic bags and plastic cups.

Change one thing
Say no to bags, extra napkins and cutlery. If you’re going back home or to work to eat your takeaway, use the cutlery there. If you’re clothes shopping, put bought items in your own bag, or get one bag and put everything in there. Be aware of the crap you’re collecting.

Kill the plastic wrapping

Fact: The notorious line-up of plastic wrap, cling film, tin foil, aluminium foil and sandwich bags are made from energy-intensive resources and people often use them for single, wasteful uses. Take the plastic covering your leftovers: after it’s binned, it toddles off to landfill or incineration—nice.

Change one thing
Stop using plastic wrap. Invest in Tupperware, use old takeaway containers, wash and reuse sandwich bags, and get more uses from your tin foil. Did we say stop using plastic wrap?

Use what’s in your fridge

Fact: In Australia, we throw out 1 in 5 bags of shopping every week. It’s a waste of not only money but also all the energy and resources it took to bring us the food in the first place.

Change one thing
Use up everything. Freeze old fruit to use in cakes and smoothies. Use up old veggies in a stir-fry. Plan your meals ahead to stop excess waste—and remember, it’s better to buy too little than too much.

Wash in c-c-c-cold

Fact: About three-quarters of the energy and greenhouse gas emissions used in washing a load of laundry comes from heating the water. Unless you’re seriously soiling your undies, there’s no reason why you should be washing with hot water.

Change one thing
Set your washing machine to cold and the quickest washing cycle available. Your clothes will still come out smelling of Hawaiian sunsets and you’ll have significantly cut your energy use. In winter, minimise your use of the dryer: it’s a money and energy zapper.

Turn. It. Off.

Fact: Keeping our computers and lights on when we’ve left work is a huge waste of energy. Sleep mode isn’t good enough for overnight or the weekend. It’s just lazy. Turn it off.

Change one thing
If you’re going to be away from your computer for more than twenty minutes, turn off the screen. If you’re going to be away for more than two hours, turn the whole thing off. Same goes for laptops.

Be a stalker

Fact: Many people make the mistake of thinking food scraps are biodegradable. Errrr, nope. Not when they end up in landfill where they create methane, a greenhouse gas with twenty-one times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. On top of that, there’s the energy, water, money and resources used to produce, process, store and transport the food—all of that just chucked away.

Change one thing
One easy thing (and, yes, there are others but this is ‘change one thing’) you can do is eat the stalks and skins of your fruit and veggies. To only eat the head of your broccoli is such a waste. It’s like drinking half a coffee, and who the fuck would do that?

Get serious about long-term relationships

Fact: All the stuff we buy and inevitably discard has to go somewhere, right? So take a look at all of the shit you own. Then picture the billions of people in the world and the stuff they have. Now think about the fact that 55 per cent of household goods go to landfill. Some may call that fuckity-fucked.

Change one thing
Before you buy something new, think about your relationship with it. Now, we’re not saying be a toaster fucker, but is it a long-term thing? Do you really need it? Is it easily recyclable, and well made? Change your thinking so our human footprint can be less of a stomp and more of a twinkle-toe.

Make party time excellent!

Fact: Whether you’re basking in the glory of turning five or forty-five, parties are bloody fun. But what’s not fun is thinking about the massive waste involved just for a few hours of par-tay-ing. Invitations, disposable cups/plates/utensils, decorations, food, gifts, goodie bags. Yikes.

Change one thing
In the wise words of Wayne’s World, make party time excellent by minimising waste where you can. Don’t over-cater, make your own decorations, forget balloons, ask for second-hand books as presents or none at all—there are loads of things you can do. You absolutely don’t have to be a party pooper; just be a bloody champion who gives a shit.

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