He’s lived off grid in a tiny house, travelled 7,000 miles with no money, credit card or phone, and worn all of the rubbish he created for a month. It’s a far cry from the party lifestyle of his early twenties, but Rob Greenfield is now fully dedicated to living sustainably. With his ‘Nothing new for a year’ challenge now underway, we interviewed the ‘Dude making a Difference’ author for our clearview newsletter to find out more.
Rob Greenfield is an adventurer, activist and humanitarian who is dedicated to leading the way to a more sustainable and just world.
Growing up in a small town in Wisconsin, USA, after studying at University Rob moved to San Diego and set up his own marketing company. His previous life was a far cry from the one he lives now, with a focus on money and nice possessions, and a goal to become a millionaire by the age of 30. His life took a turn at 24 when, through watching and reading socially conscious films and books, he became aware of his generation’s environmental and social issues.
Through a range of thought-provoking campaigns and adventures, Rob hopes to inspire people to start living a happier, healthier and more sustainable lifestyle. Over the last six years his challenges have included:
Cycling 4,700 miles (7,600 km) across America on a bicycle made of bamboo.
Bathing only in natural water sources such as rivers, lakes, waterfalls and in the rain for a year.
Travelling part of America without money and relying solely on food thrown out by grocery stores and convenience stores.
Spending 30 days living and consuming like the average American. He then wore every piece of rubbish he created, carrying it everywhere he went.
Living in a 50 square foot tiny home for a year, growing food, living on rainwater, harnessing energy, creating near zero waste, and composting ‘humanure’.
Refraining from buying anything new in 2017.
Rob Greenfield interview
Q) You have said that your previous life was focussed on money and possessions. Was there a tipping point that led to you changing your lifestyle?
In 2011 I started to watch a lot of films and read books and I realised that all my daily actions were causing destruction to the world around me. I had known about some problems but I never realised that I was actually a part of them. The gasoline I was pumping into my car, the food I was eating that came from factory farms, the trash I was creating, the cheap stuff I was buying, all of it was causing environmental and social destruction on Earth both near and far. With that knowledge I decided I had to change my life to be a part of the solution to our global problems, rather than a contributor to the problem.
Q) What has been the hardest thing for you to give up over the years?
Well for me personally nothing has been too hard to give up. It’s been a gradual process of 5 years of simplifying and I have taken each step when I was ready. For example I would not have been able to get rid of my comfortably back in 2011 but after a few years of simplifying, downsizing, riding a bike, and becoming healthier I felt comfortable switching to riding my bike full-time and getting rid of my car. One of my greatest challenges is flying. I have not given it up but I have decreased the amount I fly and this is a difficult balance as flying of course is a highly carbon intensive thing to do.
Q) Is there one simple thing we could all be doing to live more sustainably?
Far and away one of the greatest individual changes we can make in our own lives is to eat a more plant based diet. Eating a lot more vegetables and fruits and a lot less meat and animal products. I’m not saying go 100 per cent vegan but just eating what our body needs. This of course has huge health benefits to it as well as the environmental benefits. It takes over 600 gallons of water to produce a hamburger for example and that’s equivalent to about 2 months worth of showers.
Q) Is there anything that manufacturers could be doing to reduce the impact of their production on the environment?
There are so many things that can be done. Reducing packaging is a great place to start. Reducing the packaging size of products reduces resource consumption greatly and material sent to the landfill. Another thing is to use biodegradable and easily recyclable materials always over materials that can’t be biodegraded or recycled. Producing products that last a lifetime, or decades, rather than stuff that breaks or wears out in short periods of time is a simple way to drastically reduce the impact of consumption. Sourcing locally to reduce fossil fuel usage in transportation. Using renewable energy such as solar or wind to run the production. The list goes on of the many ways that manufacturers can leave a smaller footprint.
A great little film to watch is The Story of Stuff. It’s 20 minutes and really helps to see the bigger picture of our consumptive habits.
As a person that rarely purchases products that are not ethically and environmentally friendly created I know of hundreds of companies that have been making positive changes over the last decade in their packaging and production. B corporations are on the rise and all of these companies take packaging or production deeply into account in their business practice. I’m seeing many bamboo toothbrush companies sprout up, as well as bamboo bicycle companies around the world to give one example.
Q) How can businesses be more sustainable?
I am an ambassador to '1% for the Planet' which is a network of businesses that pledge to donate 1% of their revenue to environmental nonprofits. It was founded by Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, and there are over 1,200 businesses in the network. For businesses that don’t feel like they have the time right away to start making changes, one of the simplest things they can do is join '1% for the Planet' and give to the environmental nonprofits who are already doing the work that we so badly need. Plus, it’s a great marketing tool to show customers that you care and have a commitment to a more sustainable and just world.
Q) You’ve pledged to not buy anything new for an entire year. Do you have any plans for future challenges?
This summer I am cycling across the USA (www.robgreenfield.tv/greenriderstour) planting gardens and doing good deeds across the country. So far about 40 people have signed up to join the ride and anyone can join. In 2018 I am thinking about spending one year where I produce, forage, or hunt 100 per cent of my own food for the year, even down to the herbs and spices.
Find out more
We'd like to thank Rob Greenfield for spending the time to tell us about his inspiring projects and the work he is doing to spread environmental awareness. Read our article in the March edition of our clearview newsletter and take a look at the photos of Rob's challenges. You can find out more and keep up to date with his latest adventures on his website, Facebook or Twitter.
Share this page with others
Want to know more?
The Department for Environment and Rural Affairs has released the Government's response to proposed amendments to the UK Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013.…
Waste and resources charity Wrap have created The UK Plastics Pact, bringing together businesses across the supply chain to tackle plastic waste.…