Here at tentree, we have a term called “Environmental-ish.” and it’s part of how we’re making environmentalism inclusive. Living environmental-ish means taking small earth-first steps that add up to big change for our planet. That could be bringing tote bags to the grocery store (when you remember), or drinking from a reusable water bottle, or buying organic produce. We’re here to celebrate every meaningful step towards a better planet, even imperfect ones.
In this series celebrities, influencers, business leaders and everyday people share the details of their sustainability journeys, and the wins and fails along the way with the hopes that we can make sustainability more inclusive and that you can be inspired to live a little more environmental-ish.
We hopped on a call with Gorden Renouf, one of the founders of Good On You — THE online resource for sustainability ratings in fashion — to pick his brain on sustainable living, and share some laughs over how to pronounce “compost” (apparently Australians pronounce it differently than Canadians, who knew?). Oh, and did we mention that Emma Watson is a huge advocate for the company? We may be fangirling just a little bit.
Q: For those who don’t know you, do you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and Good On You?
Hey there, my name’s Gordon, I live in Australia, and for a long time I’ve worked as a consumer advocate, working for organizations that advance consumer rights. Around 12 years ago I noticed that our clients didn’t just care about getting the best value for their products, but they wanted to make sure what they bought was aligned with their values — protecting the environment, workers, and wildlife.
Myself and the other cofounders wanted to explore how we could make a meaningful difference in the world and empower others to act on that with us. We looked into all kinds of industries, but eventually landed on fashion for a number of reasons. We make choices around fashion all the time. Every day we choose what we wear, very regularly we decide what clothes we acquire, whether we buy it new or second hand, or rent it.
Plus, fashion has a huge impact on the world. It’s one of the leading causes of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. It employs 80 million people yet most of those people are in very poor working conditions. Polyester is the most common clothing material, and it uses enormous amounts of fossil fuels. It’s a non-renewable resource and creates plastic waste. Cotton production, which is the second most popular material in the world, has an huge impact on pesticide use and water.
We thought if we made it easier for people to make sustainable choices in fashion, then that could have a very big impact on the world. That’s our mission at Good On You, that’s what we’ve been up to since the beginning. We do that by providing a rating of thousands of fashion brands all around the world that tells you which ones are great, okay and “less good”, so you can take that into account when you’re choosing whatever apparel item.
Every apparel brand is given an overall score of 1-5, 1 being “avoid this one” to 5 being excellent. That score is based on scores for three categories: environmental impact, impact on workers and social issues, and their impact on animals.
Within each of these categories, we break it down to what the fundamental issues are in the fashion industry, so for environmental impact, we look at resource use, climate change impacts, water use, and chemical use/impact. For some of the larger brands, we have up to 500 different data points we look at to create the score across the three categories.
We’re all busy people and we all have different priorities. Sustainability is very important to many of us, but it’s not the only thing in life. We want to make those choices easy for you to make. The easier we can make it for you to choose a more sustainable brand over a less sustainable brand that still meets your functional and style needs, the more impact we can have on the world.
Q: I’d love to hear a bit about your environmental-ish journey. Who first influenced you to live a little bit more sustainably and what were some of your first steps?
Well, like most of the people you’re talking to, I don’t claim to be the most sustainable person in the world, but I do think I come from a background where sustainability has been ingrained in me to some extent.
I’m old enough to remember when recycling was not a thing. I’m old enough to remember when milk came in bottles that were reused. When I was a kid, lollies came in paper bags (I clarified with Gordon that “lollies” mean candy, for those confused North American out there) instead of plastic.
My mom and grandma had their own personal war on waste. They created meal plans that were very frugal and waste conscious. Clothes were repaired, not thrown out, when they were damaged.
At the same time, plastic was becoming a big thing. Bread wasn’t coming wrapped in paper anymore, it was in plastic bags. Our picnicware transformed over time from enamel cups to plastic cups. I remember when curbside recycling came into the picture during my childhood.
Sustainability wasn’t really talked about until the 80s, so it wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t know what sustainability was.
Q: What environmental-ish things do you do on the regular?
Some environmental-ish things that I do regularly are very common in Australia and among my peer group, like curbside recycling. We’ve been composting in our backyard. A few years ago I decided to not have my own car anymore. I figured I didn’t really need it. The car sharing services were getting better, and public transport works for me to get to work. I also like to cycle, so I bike to work when I can. Car sharing fills the gap when we want to get out of the city for the weekend, or do a big shopping trip.
Q: Tell us more about going carless. Was that tough for you?
When it comes to getting rid of your car, there are definitely some barriers. It feels like you’re paying money to do something (like rent a car or take the train). Actually if you add it up, your car is costing you money just sitting there. So you’re already doing better financially and environmentally by car sharing once or twice a week, plus the odd Uber here and there.
The car was honestly a pain in the neck. If I drive it to work I’d have to pay huge amounts for parking, so that made it easy to let go of. The hard part was on the weekend, when I wanted to visit my brother’s family who lives 40 km (that’s 30 miles for the Americans reading) away, then I have to make sure that I book the car share or rent a car in advance. So it allows for less spontaneity.
Q: Do you have any go-to resources for sustainable living?
There’s a really great site in Australia that has global applications called 1 Million Women. They’re great on everyday tips, a lot of content and educational resources. They do light campaigning but they’re mostly about supporting people in making changes in their own life. Over 800,000 women have signed up to be part of their community.
And of course, time for a plug on Good On You again. We’d like to think it’s a great resource for people looking to make sustainable choices in clothing. At Good On You you’ll find sustainability ratings for more than 3,000 fashion brands and we’re adding hundreds every month. You can find recommendations for alternative brands, including tentree (we didn’t pay him to say that, we promise). You can check out the Good On You app, website and blog.
Q: What tips would you have for someone who wants to live eco-friendly but doesn’t know where to start?
Don’t try to do everything. Pick the two or three most important sustainable practices, make changes in your life around them, build habits around them, maybe drop one if it doesn’t work for you, and move on to the next.
I think a huge struggle for people in general is understanding their true impact. For me the key to making progress is that it’s not necessary to be perfect to be good.
Some of the sustainable lifestyle choices that have the biggest impact aren’t as visible. For example, who we bank with and where our pension (in Australia, they call it “superannuation”) is invested.
If you have a choice where you invest, look for a pension fund that has a strong sustainability agenda. That will probably be one of the biggest things you can do to have an impact on your environment. There’s been such a huge increase in sustainable investing options and information around that. The biggest hedge fund in the world is committed to responsible investing, not because they want to save the world, but because they want to make money.
One of the biggest impacts we can have is our energy use. This includes transportation, but home energy is also important. Just paying a few cents more for a green energy provider at home is a relatively easy thing to do if you can afford it, and it has a big impact.
It’s key to figure out what has the most impact when it comes to sustainable living choices. It’s great to take a reusable mug (Aussies call it a “keep cup”) out with you to grab your coffee, but like I said before, where you invest your pension fund may have a bigger impact.
Feeling inspired to look into sustainable investing and maybe even selling your car? We’re all for environmental-ish actions that are outside of the box. Plus, doesn’t their app sound incredible? No matter where you are on your environmental-ish journey, you’re in good company. Keep your eyes out for our next Environmental-ish Confessions interview.