060: Consistent change creates big improvements; Robbie Samuels, Part 2 (transcript)

July 10, 2018 by Joshua
in Podcast

Robbie Samuels

Robbie started acting on his compost project and right off the bat it turns out people are already doing what he was thinking about. He’s not alone. He’s part of an active community. He always was. He didn’t know it but acting got people to come out of the woodwork and he started finding out what was going on around him. He talks about how his wife and his family became a part of it. You know a lot of people think that other people get in the way and they use that as an excuse not to act but leadership is about other people. What people who give up see as the hurdle you can see as the opportunity. That’s what leaders do. And you can take my word for it, you can hear Robbie live it or you can do it yourself and you can learn from your own personal experience. You’ll also hear him talk about flying and driving and things that a lot of people don’t talk about but in the context of finding joy in these things I think you’ll hear that he’s thinking about these things with renewed interest. So let’s listen to Robbie.


Joshua: I’m really interested to hear because you are attacking this like with an enthusiasm. Even people who are like thoughtful they’re like, “This is really interesting, I am really getting a lot out of it.” And still they think, “I wonder what I’ll do next.” But you’re like, “I’m going to do something and make it a part of my life. I’m going to use this to do more.” Am I reading you right?

Robbie: Yeah. That seems about right. It’s my mode.

Joshua: So how are things going so far?

Robbie: So I opted to do a composting and found a container. Soon as we got off the phone I already knew what I wanted to use. I think when you and I talked I was saying I felt a little reluctant or not reluctant but like bad because before we actually got on the call I knew what I wanted to do but I was delaying doing it. So I was kind of happy like when finally we had that moment arrive and I was able to actually start doing it. So it turns out, this is kind of interesting, I’m bringing my scraps to… I’ve been behind the dining hall on the college campus that I live and so I went and talked to them about their program and making sure that like I was following all the rules about what could go in and what couldn’t go in. And it turns out it’s not compost. It’s pig feed.

Joshua: You’re bringing compost but what they’re doing is taking that stuff and giving it to pigs?

Robbie: Yeah.

Joshua: When I was a kid growing up in Philadelphia, I grew up inside the city but there were farms that were nearby and we would actually put scraps out in a little can the pig farmers would pick up and take to their pigs. So they are still doing that.

Robbie: Yeah, and it’s a program that a lot of colleges and universities I guess have signed onto as a way to eliminate waste. And we signed on here about two years ago I think it’s the first time I noticed it, you no longer scrape your plates before you bring the dishes, you just put everything over by the dishwasher and they take care of it behind the scenes. And I’m glad I asked because napkins aren’t allowed. You know like they are paper products. But it’s remarkable that pigs eat them, pretty much everything else. I mean not meat which I already was not putting in but you know egg shells, coffee grounds, you know orange peels, like all of the stuff.

Joshua: So I’m picturing all these pigs full of caffeine running around.

Robbie: Yeah, right. The one who gets like the bite of the caffeine like the grounds, it’s like one big chomp.

Joshua: Does it matter to you if it’s going to pigs? I mean you have to change slightly what goes in it. Does it matter to you if it’s going to pigs or compost?

Robbie: No, it is I hadn’t ever heard of this as a program and it was sort of cool to know that it was getting one more life before you know it goes back to becoming part of the soil.

Joshua: You know people grow on farms is just like a natural way of doing things like they got to figure out. People keep talking like closed loop and stuff like that but it’s generally not really closed loop you still use everything, you don’t waste anything. And in contrast I was talking to Skye who’s starting this business, he is really way off the ground. It’s like digesters, they take wasted food you know we produce way, way more food than we can use. And he takes a lot of it and makes it into food for animals and for people and for fertilizer. Just hearing the numbers of how much waste we produce is incredible. I thought I kind of knew but it was way more. The systems we’ve created are so out of touch with how we evolved.

Robbie: Well, I’m really glad to hear about it because the dining hall like all dining halls produce a lot of waste because students can… All-you-care-to-eat system, you know so you’re not just getting one plate of food and that is brought to you and you can go up and down and so you know you just end up taking more on your plate. They did eliminate trays a few years ago which was a way to reduce that. This is really interesting like if you don’t have trays, you can’t load up as much and so it requires you to like bring one thing over and then get up and then you know like be more conscious about your decisions. But inevitably you know either it wasn’t what you thought it was going to be or it didn’t taste good or you got too much of it, whatever it is. So I think they paired up with this program in order to make sure that the food that came back to them that had been put out onto someone’s plate could still be used in some way. I just didn’t know the details of it and I feel like now that you know in my little tiny apartment we fill a large container once a week and I just walk it over and dump it [unintelligible]. It’s nothing but now I just I’m more aware of the fact this whole system exists.

Joshua: So a couple of avenues I want to follow here. I’m still curious about how you felt about it. Actually, about this whole thing. You sound happy about it. How would you characterize besides the facts of the matter, how do you feel about it? How’s it changing you?

Robbie: Well, I’m glad to be doing it. Regardless of where it was going I’m glad to be doing it. You know it just makes me more conscious. It makes my house smell better because it happened to coincide that like about a month or so ago I switched from like only having a very small garbage can, the size of like a grocery bag, and now I have one of those tall kitchen garbage bags. And the problem is that it was really good when it was small because we would just take it out whenever it was full and it would be gone but now it’s sitting for longer and if you put scraps in, it’s just stinky. And then but if you if you take it out more frequently, you are wasting two thirds of a bag so it’s just like conundrum and now we have like you know we had collected all these plastic bags because we were using them for trash and now we’re like OK, if we go back to the old system and we switch because we have a toddler and it was just like a more secure environment. It was taller. He can’t kind of get into it. Before it was literally on the ground and he could easily just like he did, he would open it and pull something out. So we hit the switch for kind of child proofing reasons but having this coincide with that means that now all the scraps can get put in this upper container on a you know counter that he can’t get to. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes for the bag to fill up now.

Joshua: And I predict that this tall one you are probably going to empty it a lot less frequently?

Robbie: Oh yeah. I expect that it’ll take a lot longer.

Joshua: I’m also curious about the relationship because a lot of people, the big challenge for them is when they have to interface with other people like they’re like, “Oh, yes, I can do this. No problem” and then someone else comes in the picture, they are like, “Oh, this is real pain.” So you have a family so it affects the family. How did it go? I don’t know. What you said? [unintelligible]

Robbie: I mean my wife was really open to it. We both have at different times in our life composted when the system was set up for us to succeed you know. And so you know kind of getting back to it. We don’t cook a lot. So as part of the excuse before was like, “Well, we don’t cook a lot.” But now with a kid there’s just a lot of like vegetable scraps and fruit scraps and because you just like cutting things up for him or he doesn’t finish. A lot of it is that they put food out for a toddler you know they don’t finish like mac and cheese and so many times you’re going to re-offer it. Eventually you’re going to dump it. It’s been too long. So I just think that now like toddlers are pretty wasteful. So [unintelligible] are more necessary now than when it was just two adults and we didn’t have as much food scraps in the house.

Joshua: OK. You’re talking about flies, you’re talking about rotten stuff, you’re talking about pigs. Well, pigs are cute. You’re talking about smelly garbage cans and yet you’re smiling. I feel like that what you’re doing physically and then there’s something, the meaning behind it or the purpose or something like that. What are you doing internally just you know in spite of the flies and the gross cans?

Robbie: Yeah. I guess I don’t think it’s bad. I just know that now when we are cleaning up for my son’s breakfast and he didn’t finish his eggs or he didn’t finish something on his tray it doesn’t feel like it’s wasteful because I know that it’s going to get one more use before it ends up in the soil again. So it’s just something that has becoming more of an issue and now we’re about to have a second kid and you know in like eight months a second kid is beginning to eat and a couple of years [unintelligible] we do them. And you know kids are notorious for being, “I want” and then like when you give it to them, they are like, “I don’t really want that.” So this is like a nice way to balance out the fact that it is going to be continued to be a factor in our family to know that you know now there’s a place for those scraps to go.

Joshua: I’m hearing there’s a mix of comfort and relaxation, like joy in your food situation and also something of unavoidance of waste. All right. So if this is now easy, any plans…Is this going to lead to something else?

Robbie: I mean I think that you know we are already recycling a ton of stuff and doing composting and now the amount of stuff that’s in the trash has gone down. That’s probably the bulk of like the things we were thinking about doing. I’m open to suggestions though. What’s the next thing?

Joshua: Well, you know there’s a couple of things. I’m starting now that I’ve done a few dozen of these interviews, I want people to come up with their own challenges based on what they care about. So if someone cares about you know water purity and I tell them global warming that’s not going to fit with them. So I want them to come up with things. But also now that I’ve had a few people make some major changes like this one guy’s thinking about selling his car like that seems like a pretty big deal. That’s a lot more than someone reusing a coffee mug instead of paper coffee cups or plastic coffee cups. That’s a pretty big shift. So now I want to see about, I’m experimenting with like nudging and influencing people to take on bigger and bigger challenges. I still don’t want to tell them what to do but I do want to get people in the mindset of if a little change made a little improvement, will not a big change make a big improvement?

Robbie: Yeah. You know I tell you that there was this time when I thought about not having a car and it was the worst 10 minutes of my life.

Joshua: Thinking about not having a car?

Robbie: Yeah. I mean it’s not something we use often and I’d say we’re really fortunate that where we live in the city, we do a lot of walking and a lot of taking the subway, a lot of you know buses and things like that. But when we are all getting somewhere as a family, especially with multiple kids go far away to grocery shopping in mass, although it’s funny, I now live 10 minutes away from a Target. So a lot of our shopping now we just do with the stroller. So it’s becoming less and less of a reason. Like there’s like once a week that we need the car. But a lot of the things you just mentioned like I’ve already done like you know we don’t use paper products. I get really upset when I’m at my parents’ house and I still see them using paper products. I’m like really? I only recently got a dishwasher and I’m like they all have dishwashers and I am like why can’t you just have a mug?

And you know I’m happy to reuse the same mug so to use same thing for a while. And like we have glass jars that we’ve saved from products that we used to have and then just use those sometimes for storage or like I make iced coffee and I pour it in these large glass containers, put in the fridge. So I think I was already in the mindset of doing a lot of these things.

Joshua: So you know the big things are like heating and cooling, transportation, packaging. I don’t have a car. Living in Manhattan you don’t need a car. I hear people like just using Uber and Lyft and stuff like that without having a car in the suburbs which I would’ve thought impossible. But apparently people are doing that.

Robbie: It’s great. The hang up is often…. It’s really like when I’m traveling by myself I can get around with combination of bus, subway, lifts. But car seats is the thing, not to say it’s impossible but once they’re no longer in a click-in bucket seat you don’t have a car seat with you. So in Massachusetts as in I think all states you don’t need a car seat in a cab but I find that ridiculous and I’m not going to put my child in that situation. But yeah, I mean like I think we’re down to using the car probably three or four times a month and try to think even what for. But mostly we were able to design a life for most of it like within the area that we live which is really kind of cool. We’re really fortunate where we live.

Joshua: I don’t know your life so it’s hard for me to say you know not flying for me has been like a tremendous benefit to my life.

Robbie: Yeah. I mean it’s a real conundrum when the reason I want to fly is because I want my kids to know their grandparents. But the reason I want to also take care of the Earth is because I have kids.

Joshua: If we simply say this is my situation and the only possible thing I can do is fly, that’s the only solution. What else can I do? Then I guess we’re all going to fly and nature we’ll figure out for us what’s going to happen when the sea levels keep rising. The alternative is to be a leader. It’s like Nelson Mandela was in jail for 27 years and one of the big things for him was he didn’t go to attend his mother’s funeral. He didn’t get to see his kids grow up. I guess that does happen if you’re a leader then you often will find yourself choosing things that other people don’t and other people would probably view it as hardship. And I think probably most people wouldn’t want to be Nelson Mandela. They want the results but they don’t want to actually do it themselves. And you don’t need that many people doing it. Of course, this is like a 27-years-in-jail sort of thing.


Robbie: It’s a good reminder that like nothing we are doing is in a vacuum and that there is a cause and effect even if we can’t see it right away.

Joshua: Yeah. And you know in my case when I chose to take on the year of not flying the first thing I thought it was my book is coming out in that year so it was March of 2016 and my book was coming out in February the following year. Well, there goes the book tour or you know the book tour is going to be eastern seaboard and then on the week of my book launch my uncle died. And that’s in Pittsburgh. So New York-Pittsburgh everyone was like, “Are you going to fly there?” and I was like as it happened my sister ended up driving there so we drove together. What’s the relative pollution of driving versus flying I’m not sure because there was a couple of us in the car. So it was like less per person. But yeah, I looked at it like it wasn’t a question of do I love my uncle, do I want to be with my family. It was how do I solve this. And it’s a much more active approach of like what are my values and how do I live by my values. Of course, a family’s a value too, to be with my family. But it was not just open and shut like I’m called, therefore nothing else matters. My dad’s like that because my sister is in Fiji or she’s now in New Zealand and I talked to him about the stuff and he’s just like, “I want to see my daughter” and I am like, “Well, you know there’s a lot of pollution involved.” He’s like, “I want to see my daughter.” All right. Look I’m not going to get angry at you but it’s… I don’t know.

Robbie: Well, it feels like there’s a [unintelligible] impact to people when they’re denied something like that. Like I have relatives you know my in-laws and my brother-in-law and sister-in-saw and nephews are in the Bay Area of California and I’m you know a six-hour flight or like a forever drive across the country which I don’t think is a better for the environment. And I don’t have the luxury of time to do that you know and so we don’t get out there very often because it is so far and it is so expensive and it’s a whole thing. But to be like oh I’m just not going to do it would feel like I was losing something bigger than what I could foresee as a benefit. Because the cause and effect part, the effect part isn’t as tangible right now to all of us. And so you’re just more in tune with what is going to be happening if we don’t make a change. That’s the leadership that you’re showing. It’s just more front and center for you. And so the choices feel differently to you than with your dad it was just like you only can see not seeing his daughter or seeing his daughter like he’s not seeing the other side of that question.

Joshua: Yeah. So I’m going to leave it at this because I’m not trying to convince people of anything here. But you know just sharing that as you say, I have a different perspective but I started from that perspective. My first thought was, “What am I missing?” Now my thoughts are, “What am I getting?” And I prefer living in a world of what I’m getting rather than what am I missing. It just works better for me.

Robbie: I like that.

Joshua: So I’ll leave it. I mean we’ll be in touch. So let’s leave it for now unless you know something… I’m not going to suggest something to you but if something come up for you, you know e-mail me and let me know if you want to take on another challenge. I love to record again.

Robbie: Cool.

Joshua: Any advice for other people listening? I mean it sounds like that was a pretty easy one for you.

Robbie: Well, I think it’s also helpful to do an assessment of what you’re already doing and kind of realize that the thing you’re adding into your life is part of an ongoing effort of ways that you’re trying to be environmentally conscious. For most of us like who are speaking to you, if we are speaking here it’s probably not the first time we’ve ever thought to do something. So you know even just talking to you just now and being you know like you know in my own house you know I reuse a cup before you know even putting in a dishwasher or I don’t use paper plates or cups or whatever like all the things that other people that just don’t do.

I think it’s good to know that this is just a continuation of that effort not that out of the ordinary and that I’ll always be looking for the ways to take another step in that direction. So I just think like help people realize they’re on a continuum. They’re actually further along they think they are and then encourage them to go a little bit further.

Joshua: So it’s not like they have to take some big step. It’s not even a continuum means that it’s not discrete steps but everything’s like touching.

Robbie: Yeah. I mean I don’t think I would have thought to do composting if I wasn’t already recycling for instance. Like there’s degrees of this and it gets easier to add something on like composting when you’re already separating, you’re recycling from your trash. It’s just not that hard. And I think that like helping people realize like adding on another little thing like for me I have a car but using it less frequently is a lot easier than getting rid of it. Like that’s a gradual step. And I might reach a point where I’m like, “Wow, I’m using it so infrequently. Actually, I don’t need it.” Like to go from “I use a car all the time” to “I’m not going to have a car” is too big a leap for people. But you know think about the gradual steps you can take, the incremental steps that continuum that you’re moving on and kind of give yourself permission to like move along that path in a very conscious way. But you know not everyone’s going to take the same leaps at the same time. And hopefully if you’re doing it the way I’m describing it, it just becomes part of life.

Like when I’m doing something in my house and I have to decide I like where I’m tossing this this item in my hand, I don’t have a lot of thought into it. I just know like depending on what it is which receptacle to put it in. You know I don’t have to like stop and think about it in this huge conundrum. It’s just part of life and that’s just like that’s because it’s now integrated and I think when it’s integrated it will keep it up. And that’s ultimately what you’re hoping for is not that we do it because you know challenge us to do it for a couple of weeks for your show. But that it’s part of our life. And then it influences the people who are in our life because we’ve committed to it, showed them how easy it is and it has that ripple effect in that way. I will say it this way – there’s change and there’s progress. I think change is sort of can be very abrupt, change can be turning on and off the light. Darkness, light. Progress is when there’s some like awareness of a need for a shift in the way we do things and an agreement with people that we’re going to go in this other direction. So when the light gets turned on people are like, “Great. We’ll leave it on.” This is progress. I just think like too many people are trying to like just try lots of things and nothing’s sticking. And then they decide not to do anything. So you know pick something and commit to it.

Joshua: Thank you for sharing that because it’s so much of it is like you’re speaking from experience of something that I think I’m trying to get across. It resonates with how things were for me and it reminds me that I didn’t just decide to not fly. First of all, from that time I thought about it to when I acted on it there’s a lot of internal conflict that I had to resolve that turn into finally doing it and then… But that all is built on the not packaging food stuff which that was hard and that took me six months from the idea of doing it. So yeah, there really are lots of little steps and it’s not that the little steps alone are that much but it gets you going and thinking and seeing what comes next.

Robbie: That’s why it’s helpful for you to share more of your journey that even where you ended up yeah. So people can see themselves in that same path.

Joshua: Thank you for getting that out. I hope it didn’t sound like I’m just like, “I know. I’ll just do this. Done.”

Robbie: Yeah. Yeah. Well, it’s just easier to dismiss someone making a big leap when you can’t see the work that went into making it happen. You know and you’re like, “Well, I’m not there.” You just like, “I can’t do that.” But if you realize you already kind of doing this process, it’s just do the next thing.

Joshua: Yeah. I have to ask you also. You sound like your socializing is very advanced relatively to a lot of people. You’re comfortable talking to people. Can you share a bit about your interaction with other people in this? Any advice for.. I mean I asked you before but…

Robbie: Yeah. And I think that it’s always good to just encourage people to move from where they are no matter what topic. Like always help them understand as an assessment of where they are. And I think also where they think they are like where they want to be I guess what I would say, it’s like there’s always a difference between where a person is and where they want to be whether it’s like race relations. Like people are always thinking they’re less racist and more racially just than they actually are in practice. You know because we want to think good things about ourselves. And so once people realize there’s a difference they can then work to fill that gap and make a shift in their life to be not in some mythical high-achieving place but just be where they already thought they were. And I think similarly like I want to be the kind of person who does good things to Earth. It’s one of the things I care about. OK, it’s good for me to be like where am I in that in reality versus where I think I am or would like to be and then what can I do to close that gap so that I’m more in alignment with my values. And I think it’s better to help people be in alignment with their own values than like the values of the person who’s having a conversation with them. Does that make sense?

Joshua: Yeah. It sounds like it’s looking at things from their perspective both where they are and where they think they are and helping them bring them into alignment which I think feel to them like…

Robbie: Yeah, they don’t feel like it’s too much or too fast or too soon or like you’re speaking to them in some like higher place that they can never achieve, things you’re not comparing them to you. You’re comparing them to themselves.

Joshua: Yeah and it’s going to be a lot more effective than being, “You are such a hypocrite.” Which a lot of people throw around.

Robbie: It’s a nice way to shut down the conversation.

Joshua: Yeah. Nice way to shut down your [unintelligible] influence.

Robbie: Yeah. Well, good luck with this project. I just think it’s pretty fantastic what you’ve taken on and the podcasts are really interesting format for it. And then the follow-up interviews.

Joshua: Yeah. Thank you. I look forward to it getting bigger and hope it takes off and people are like, “I want to do what Robbie did. I want to feed pigs.”

Robbie: Yeah. Think recycling. Let’s do it.

Joshua: Any last notes before wrapping up?

Robbie: I think that’s it. Yeah, I am good.

Joshua: All right. Thank you very much. And I look forward to… Next time you’re in New York let me know.

Robbie: Awesome.


A lot of this conversation is me and Robbie just talking about what he did, what I do. I hope you enjoyed people who are acting, talking about what they do because it becomes very interesting instead of when you listen to people who aren’t acting talk about environmental things they often dissociate. They talk, how do I put it, they laugh cynically about stuff they might get a laugh in the short term but you can hear that they’re lowering their self-awareness. What role model, what person that you want to emulate recommends lowering self-awareness? His activity cost nothing. And once implemented it doesn’t take that much time. He’s bringing his family closer. So I’m not saying it’s everything but I hear emotional reward, depth, caring. It’s there for people who recognize what they want to do and who act on these things and he shares it with others and bring those others into what they do.

Read my weekly newsletter

On initiative, leadership, the environment, and burpees

We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time. Powered by ConvertKit

Leave a Reply

Sign up for my weekly newsletter