I learned a lot from this conversation. And partly that’s a euphemism for it being challenging for me since my measure of a challenge working was different from hers. You’ll probably hear me struggle to listen and feature her without disagreeing too much. Part of why I invited her and why I value her friendship is our different values and therefore balancing them differently. Personally, I felt like she was writing off behavior changes that wouldn’t have been so hard for her to do and she would have enjoyed. But listening now I don’t think that I listen as much as I could have. I could have learned more about a different perspective that many people share. So listen and I’d love to hear back what you think about the conversation. Learning from my guests and the podcast listeners is a big reason why I’m doing the podcast in the first place.
Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Scott I I’m here with Ann-Marie. Ann-Marie, how are you?
Ann-Marie: Just fine, Joshua. How are you today?
Joshua: I’m very good. I’m here in sunny Southern California which is my first time here in a long, long time and…
Ann-Marie: At least you are getting some sun. You don’t have all the smoke from the fires down there, thank God.
Joshua: Actually, I was up in Ventura the other day and I was just touring the global headquarters of Patagonia which is an amazing experience. And you can see the smoke from there and smell it.
Ann-Marie: Yes. Yeah, we’re enveloped here as well.
Joshua: I hope you’re not affected too much.
Ann-Marie: Well, we’ve got a state. I was supposed to stay indoors. I’m running today but I’m actually running at the, not on a treadmill which is not quite the same but it will work in the meantime.
Joshua: Well, it’s kind of environmental stuff that we’re talking about and I’ll use that to segue into…
Joshua: When last we spoke, I believe that you were looking into getting things in bulk that could be in bulk. And it sounded like a bit of a challenge because… Well, how did it go? Remind us of the challenge or what you took on.
Ann-Marie: Well, you know I took on an initiative to be more mindful of what I was purchasing and when the option presented itself to buy things in bulk. And I was moderately successful and I realized I don’t do as much food shopping as I thought I did. I didn’t end up needing to buy a lot but a couple of things you know like I [unintelligible] or raisins or something like that. And the determining factor was where I was going to be shopping. So that was very easy for me to do when I needed something and I was at Whole Foods and they sell things clearly in bulk. When I needed something but clearly I was going to a different destination and do a lot of shopping at Costco because they sell in bulk and their prices are very good and they sell a lot of organic food now the opportunity was not there. So some things I ended up buying you know four pounds of you know dried mangoes where you know you could get them at Whole Foods in bulk but I ended up getting them at Costco and they were packaged.
Joshua: Was there change behavior or…
Ann-Marie: I would say it’s just mindfulness and I know that you know when I’m coaching folks in terms of you know modifying behaviors, I always say you know self-awareness is you know 75 percent of making the change. It is just being aware that you need to make the change so that you can be more mindful. And so that’s really the shift that I made. It wasn’t really so much initially a behavior change as a mindset change.
Joshua: So that was the facts. Tell us what was the emotional? Did it change how you felt about these things and also the relationships? Did it change how you interacted with others?
Ann-Marie: Not really, not really. You know I realized that Whole Foods has made it easier to buy in bulk. Their system for tagging bags is easier than it used to be.
Joshua: It’s just like that scale where it [unintelligible] the thing and it prints out and you put…
Ann-Marie: Yeah. Well, you know we have a little system where you know you write down the number and you know so the system is a little easier than it used to be. You use masking tape and they actually have little tabs at the place I was at. And then I had to wonder though about how biodegradable the bags were that I was using. It didn’t make me think of them, “They probably should you know sell bulk in some sort of compostable bags.” But then I thought, “Oh, maybe some people don’t put it in containers when they get home.” and so maybe you know there’s an integrity issue there for shelf life. I don’t know but it just made me think that maybe they should be doing something as far as making eco-friendly bags or biodegradable items.
Joshua: Do you reuse the bags? Do you bring them back in and refill them?
Ann-Marie: You know I don’t. Well, in fact again it’s not something that was top of mind right. So I’d come home, dump the stuff in a container like you know I have these really great you know snap top containers from the pantry but then I would dump the bag and the recycling. So in a way I steal packaging, don’t I?
Joshua: Yeah. I am going to be a little challenging if you if that’s OK.
Joshua: Because here’s something I say to a lot of people not on the podcast so I think you may be the first person on the podcast because what I say is that mindfulness is nice but the environment doesn’t react to what we think or feel. It reacts to what we do. The whole all of the plastic in the ocean came from our behavior. And the other thing is that everyone on earth can say the following words completely honestly, “I’m aware. I’m very self-aware. I am more self-aware than ever.” Because everyone’s aware of what they’re aware of and everyone’s unaware of what they are unaware of. So to say “I’m aware” is…
Ann-Marie: But it’s a precursor to behavior change. You can’t make a behavior change without that awareness. So it’s really foundational to making a change. So it’s pretty vital. And so like any behavior you know it takes practice to come up with new habits. You need to repeat it for a period of time and there are going to be times when you kind of slip back but that mindfulness is going to have you make those practice runs so that it does become second nature for you behaviorally.
Joshua: You know what I find is that a lot of people make mindfulness a goal and when they reach it then they are like, “Great. I achieved it.” But what I found is that people who actually go through the behavior and go through far enough to make it stick… Actually, there’s a much greater mindset that I find happens after they change their behavior than before they change their behavior. I agree. You are not going to change your behavior without changing mindset…
Ann-Marie: But I would say though it takes mindset and commitment. It takes mindset and commitment and you know this is just an aside, I wouldn’t consider it part of the equation, but you know a certain amount of reflection and creating your own internal feedback loop in terms of how you’re performing against your goal. I mean you’ve got to make it a goal that you want to make that behavior change.
Joshua: So do you think you did?
Ann-Marie: Oh, yeah. You know I’d say you know I’m committed to it but given everything that I have going on I wouldn’t say that I’m as married to it as for example I am you know with my exercise schedule. For me it’s a nice-to-have not a must-have. So if I can do it when the option presents itself I will do it. I don’t think I’ll go out of my way to do it though because it’s just the way that my life is laid out. I mean I shop at other places, you know I have a very busy schedule, sometimes I can’t get to Whole Foods you know and buy in bulk. If I didn’t have children you know maybe it would be a different story. You know if I wasn’t front and back of volleyball practice but when you option presents itself I will do it. But as I said I don’t know that I would go out of my way and drive there in order to do it.
Joshua: So I’m a bit of a loss because I’m not sure what to say. You’re not the first person I’ve had on the show who came back and said, “Oh, it just didn’t work.”
Ann-Marie: Well, I wouldn’t say it didn’t work. I wouldn’t say it didn’t work. But the thing is is that you know when you make changes no matter what changes you are it’s always the risk-reward balance that you’re doing there. You’re balancing it. And so you’re balancing it with all of these other things that come into your daily living. And it’s a matter of prioritizing. It’s important but it’s not my top priority. My top priority is getting back and forth to volleyball practice on time with my daughter. And then using this as an example if you have any given day. So although it’s important, it is not one of my top priorities. If you were to interview me for a job and you asked what my top values were, buying in bulk to save packaging would not be one of those things that I’d talk about. It’d be taking care of my family. So the thing is is that you know you do it to the extent that you can knowing that you know the world is not a perfect place and you do it as much as you can you know when you evangelize about it but we all sort of do what we can.
Joshua: I have a couple directions I’m kind of curious in going here. I’ll say both and then ask you and let you pick one unless you have a different action. What are you saying is a lot of what I would have said before I started avoiding packaged food which began a lot of you know the not flying and other things like that. I took the train out here to California. And after doing it I was very surprised to find that it was not difficult. It didn’t take time or in fact it gave me time like my cooking now I probably spend less time cooking and enjoying it more. I’m certainly spending less money cooking. And so taking the train out to California definitely takes longer than flying but for a couple of months I was knowing that I had this trip and knowing that I had the solitude. If I had any task that was over an hour or so that I had to do, I was like, “That’ll be a train task.” [unintelligible] California I thought, “I want more time. I have more things I want to do and I’m getting a lot of work done.” So I was very surprised to find that I saved time, I saved money and I certainly felt a lot better because looking back I realized all these times that I was choosing, consciously choosing to act against my values was really eating me up inside. So that’s one direction. I suspect that might happen. I think that’s happened with a lot of people. The other direction is I think that what you’re saying a lot of Americans say and feel and behave the same way. And if we all do that, then the predictions… Well, different people agree on different predictions but some predictions say that we could be in a lot of trouble. There’ll be more plastic…
Ann-Marie: I think that the solution to that is that you know there needs to be a certain pressure brought to bear on manufacturers knowing that Americans have very, very busy lives to create more eco-friendly packaging. I mean they’ve done it with you know peanuts now for shipping containers. I mean there are you know eco-friendly products that you don’t have all these Styrofoam peanuts and everything. And so there are bigger, broader measures that can happen, that can help people who are really busy make those choices more easily. But then again you know it brings around the question you know well how do you you know make that attractive for companies to do and maybe it’s a marketing thing. You know some companies it’s like you know not the whole non-GMO label is mislabeled but some things are with that right now. You know it does make a difference. People do gravitate towards those types of things. Well, there’s no reason in the world people wouldn’t gravitate towards eco-friendly packaging as a marketing tool.
Joshua: Well, I mean people aren’t showing the demand for it. They don’t recycle existing…
Ann-Marie: And initially they don’t show the demand for organic food either. So it’s one of those things where you know if you really want to make and especially where a lot of these manufacturers are having… There are very, very thin margins with consumables right now, it might make a big difference to say, “OK, you know what? Our type detergent is now packaged in eco-friendly packaging.” I think that would make a huge impact especially where you know young people and people are becoming somewhat more socially conscious now. Let’s put it this way. They have you know green products now for cleaning that simply green and people are becoming more aware of not using chemicals in their house. And people will pay a premium for products like that that are very eco-friendly. And so it makes me think that you know packaging is no different. I think I’m onto something. I should probably call [unintelligible].
Joshua: It’s funny to try to get people to consume less. It is not a lot of profit in reducing consumption. I’m not sure. It’s nice to make eco-friendly stuff but if this thing isn’t even necessary at all, then that’s a bit more of a challenge because you can’t…
Ann-Marie: Like what? Like what would you purchase that wasn’t necessary that was in packaging?
Ann-Marie: Oh, I see what you say. Exactly. But there will be health risks associated with water. I’ve stopped buying bottled water and it wasn’t really necessarily for the packaging it was because of the health risks associated with bottled water and plastic.
Joshua: The other thing is that for me… I want to go back to the first point that personal responsibility for me is a very important thing and everyone has their different values. And so if one values [unintelligible] then another and they conflict you generally go with the higher value. On the flip side, as I said I was surprised to find that things were easier. It takes a little time to shift but once the shift happens, for me to bring bags with me to the store it takes me no extra time or effort. It took me a little while to get used to it to not forget like there are several times I’d go to the…
Ann-Marie: Oh, I forget all the time.
Joshua: And I forget to bring… My store has a machine that grinds peanuts into peanut butter and there’s little plastic containers there but I’m not going to get them. I only bring my container from home. But if I forget the container for home I just think, “Okay. Well, no peanut butter this week. I’ll get it next time.” And I don’t get the extra thing. And so if I forget to bring a bag, if I forget stuff, I just think, “OK, well, I’m not going to get that this time.” And then my hunger reminds me, “Next time don’t forget.” And these little things lead to bigger things and the bigger things lead to bigger things and it’s all not… None of it is ever added up to really hardship for me.
Ann-Marie: But I think too that the easier you can make things it’s almost like recycling. Having recycling bins that are actually at your home. My guess is if you did some research that people are more inclined to recycle when they have there been at their house provided by their local garbage provider, then if they need to take their recycling to a dump or a central location to recycle especially where you know convenience is something that’s held in such high esteem today with people that the easier you can make something for people to do, the more inclined they’re going to be to do it. I mean that’s just the way it is. And so that’s a perfect example. I think my example is a good one is that you know Whole Foods makes it easy for me to buy in bulk because they have it there. Whereas Costco, I mean if they had bulk and that was an option, I would certainly do it, if they had the convenience of having it there.
Joshua: The key words for me are personal responsibility because I was thinking speaking to… Okay, so one of the things that brought you on was that you are a different side of the political spectrum than most of the guests on the show. And I feel like personal responsibility is one of the big conservative things. You’re certainly not saying the government should take care of this. I’m not hearing that.
Ann-Marie: No, Gosh, no, no. I’m saying the market, the free market should take care of it.
Joshua: So the free market. What if the market… There’s some things that some markets do well and some things that markets have problems with like antitrust like markets tend to result in monopolies for example. Monopolies is also a result in overproduction. Historically that’s long been the case. And if overproduction is a problem that markets that are inherent to a market, I’m not saying it is, but if that’s the case, then relying on market solutions for problems that markets cause might never result in a solution.
Ann-Marie: I don’t know. Like I said you know I come from a marketing and sales background and you know I definitely think it would definitely give some of these companies a leg up to say, “Hey, you know what?” I mean I know as a consumer if I had a choice between laundry detergents and what was in an eco-friendly container, I mean I buy eco-friendly laundry detergent as it is now – no perfumes, no dyes, no phosphates. You know I go to a lot of trouble to buy eco-friendly but it’s in this big plastic container. Well, if I had a choice to buy it in an eco-friendly container that was biodegradable, it’s the reason why I buy bio bags instead of garbage bags. Because it is biodegradable and I pay a premium. Well, if they can sell bio bags as an option for garbage bags, why can’t they sell you know detergent in a you know some sort of container that is compostable? Or I don’t know. I mean there’s a certain amount of product development that needs to be done for that type of thing.
But I mean all these companies that so quote unquote socially aware now. They have no problem supporting these different causes but you just don’t see it from a corporate responsibility standpoint that they feel responsible though for all this packaging that they’re creating quite frankly. It’s like cigarette manufacturers. So cigarette manufacturers I mean they’re killing people with cigarettes and it takes you know a tide of public opinion to get them to you know make the modifications they did from a marketing standpoint. Well, it’s the same thing with packaging. They’re doing it with plastic straws. They’re getting companies now to make straws that are paper instead of plastic.
Joshua: So there’s some situations that can help. A conversation I was in recently was people were talking about how much wasted food there is. It’s something like 40 percent of food that is grown in United States ends up in landfills or composted, things like that. So the challenge was if there is a store that… So they put out much apples. Some of the apples are past prime and they can’t sell them. So they throw them out or compost them. Most likely they throw them out. So some say, “Well, they should not buy as many apples and not put some many out. They should only put as many as they need and or as many as people buy.” But there’s competition and a competitor’s store that looks more bountiful will probably get more people shopping there. And now you can say they’re going to be some companies that will buy the apples after they haven’t been used so you can make some efficiency in the market. But in a competitive environment someone who tries to save in some areas is probably going to lose out to others who use the current marketing practices that are very effective. So I think while there’s some places that it looks to me like there’s certainly places where people can save if someone’s wasting, if someone has too much packaging they can cut back on the packaging and that will save the money, it’ll be more efficient, their profits will increase, competitors will follow and now the whole market will use less packaging than it did before. But there’s some things that as far as I can tell in a competitive environment if you try to save, others will get ahead of you and that’s why stores have optimized their marketing and their sales in certain ways that deviations from that will result in less sales, not just less sales but less profits, even if you are more environmentally friendly.
Ann-Marie: Yeah but I don’t know that they would do it from a cost savings standpoint. You’d have to do it from a marketing and a standpoint where you want to actually grow you know your market share and increase your revenue by charging a premium for products that were eco-friendly.
Joshua: I mean the water bottle examples is a big one where marketing… When I was a kid bottled water was like this frou-frou European thing. Everyone was like, “That’s weird. Why would you pay for bottled water?” And now when I talk to people, “Why do you get bottled water?” a lot of people… Actually, it’s weird. People are on both sides – some people say not bottled water is more safe and some people say bottled water is more safe. So the ones who think the bottled water is more safe or pure or something like that they believe something that as far as I…In most places it’s when water safety engineers test the water even when it’s safer to drink the water from a tap, people still perceive that it’s safer from a bottle and they pay a dollar for something that’s free. And that marketing is very effective and it increases the profits to Nestlé and so forth tremendously. And the market hasn’t really changed in this area. And they’re very profitable and they talk about they want to bottle air at some point or…I mean there’s interviews with the Nestle CEO guy and he’s like, “Let’s move to air one day.”
Ann-Marie: But just [unintelligible] speaking, don’t you see a lot of people with their own containers today?
Joshua: I see people using those containers like they’re disposable. It’s like if you go to a [unintelligible]
Ann-Marie: [unintelligible] to buy one of those you know if you’re going to buy a yeti or whatever… What’s the other one that my daughter likes so much that was like thirty-two dollars. She’s got like two thirty-two-dollar water bottles that she harks back and forth.
Joshua: I see people using them. I don’t see it reducing so far the amount of waste because people give them away like they’re free like…
Ann-Marie: Oh, those kind of water bottles. Yeah.
Joshua: There’s a glut of water bottles, there’s a glut of canvas tote bags that have branding on them that people get them for free and so they treat them as something that’s worthless and they end up throwing a ton of them away. If you go to a thrift shop at least in New York, there’s shelves and shelves and shelves and shelves of tote bags and mugs and all these things that people treat them as billboards and they’re disposable… I believe it comes out from their marketing budgets. [unintelligible].
Ann-Marie: I’ve seen the crap at a trade show.
Joshua: Exactly. And so people feel, and that’s the thing that I think feeds, people feel like, “I’m environmentally aware because look I have this thing.” but they’re actually increasing their impact on the environment while they’re thinking that they’re decreasing it. That’s the pattern that… I certainly see a lot of people decreasing it. But I certainly see a lot of people increasing it while they feel that they’re decreasing it. I mean every bag in Trader Joe’s that I see has the word “recycling” big letters across it. But people don’t need to use those bags at all.
Ann-Marie: I use them for trash. I always tell, “George, you need tote bags because I use them for trash.”
Joshua: That’s what I’m talking about. Is that people… They get the bag and they say, “I am going to use it for trash.” and they’re the trash and they think, “Well, I have this because it was given to me.”
Ann-Marie: I actually paid a dime for it. They’re a dime out here in California.
Joshua: So my point is that people…Most of those bags are totally unnecessary and because it says recycle on them, then people feel like, “Oh, this is benign on the environment” or “I have a secondary use for it” when the primaries and the secondary use are unnecessary and the marketing is so effective that people while increasing their impact on the environment are feeling that they’re decreasing it.
Ann-Marie: Well, it’s better than using a garbage bag that isn’t biodegradable.
Joshua: Well, yeah, it’s better than thermonuclear war too but it’s not as…
Ann-Marie: [unintelligible] trash in something. What are you going to put your trash in, Joshua? You have to put it in something.
Joshua: Well, since I compost on my wet stuff, my trash is only dry. So I just use a canvas tote bag which I then empty down the trash chute. And I’ve used the same one for like five years.
Ann-Marie: My husband does that and it [unintelligible] me to no end. He’ll take the paper bag, go, and I don’t mind sometimes if it’s dry recycling like newspapers or cans or something but sometimes he’ll empty the trash and bring the bag back in the house and I am like, “Get that bag out of here. It’s had trash in it. I don’t want it in my house.” So it just [unintelligible] me to no end. So the bag has got to go with the trash.
Joshua: I bet you have wet stuff in your trash because I don’t. Mine is only dry because everything wet goes into compost.
Ann-Marie: But again, it’s a convenience thing. I have a green container here at home. And it will take things like egg shells and you know sort of green things. But it depends, if I’m in a rush and I’m in a hurry and I’m trying to get dinner on the table, you know I’ll throw it in the trash instead of you know putting it all in one bowl and you know carting it outside and everything. It really depends on what else is going on. And I have you know those are just… And you know I try to put it in green container but it doesn’t always get in there. Like this morning, I was making breakfast, I made French toast and the eggs and the egg shells went into the trash. [unintelligible] little egg shells out the green container.
Joshua: So yeah, I appreciate a sharing and I hope I didn’t push back too hard. I was…
Ann-Marie: No, not at all, not at all.
Joshua: Okay. Yeah. So this gives me a good picture. And I think what you’re saying is pretty representative of a lot of people and you know I hope to influence them more. And I’m always trying to find out how to be more effective.
Ann-Marie: Yes. But keep in mind that you know all of us today have competing priorities. We have competing priorities. And so it depends on at any given time how much bandwidth you have you know mentally and physically to execute on the things that you want to. And some days are better than others. You know exercise is very important to me. It’s a real priority. But there are some days I have a very busy day at the office, Joshua, and I don’t exercise. And that’s just the way it is. And so it’s the same thing with recycling. You want to do it. You know it’s important. You feel very strongly about it but some days you’re busy running around, you’re doing this, you’re doing that and you’re trying to manage your time and something’s got to give. You just don’t have an infinite amount of mental and physical energy to do everything that we want.
Joshua: I’m glad you brought up the fitness because for me it’s a very similar thing. And I’m curious what do you say if someone who says they have no time for fitness whatsoever.
Ann-Marie: I can’t put it into your schedule. It’s something again you need to put into your schedule and it’s something that you have to do consistently to make a habit. But that’s not to say that there aren’t going to be days where you don’t meet your fitness goal and you’ve got to be OK with that. As long as this is the exception and not the rule and it’s the same thing with recycling. You want to make it the exception and not the rule. I see old 80/20 rule. If you’re doing it 80 percent of the time, well, you know what, you’re doing pretty darn good.
Joshua: All right. I’d like to wrap up with a couple of questions. One is is there anything I didn’t ask that I ought to have brought up? And is there any message you want to give directly to the listeners?
Ann-Marie: About recycling or…
Joshua: Yeah, about the experience or anything. I mean not everyone has anything.
Ann-Marie: I think you know it’s a good experience and you know like I said the environment is something I’ve always been very passionate about. I guess it just you know raised my self-awareness you know as far as that’s concerned and you know it’s you know put me in the position where you know you want to do more and you want to do better. And to that end you continue to make it a priority and do the best you can with whatever resources you have on any given day.
Joshua: I want to thank you very much for sharing things. Since it sounds like it’s something that you will keep doing, I want to leave you with an open invitation that if you ever have an experience that is worth or you want to share with this audience, you’re always welcome to come back and I’d love to hear it.
Ann-Marie: Thank you. Thank you, I sure will. I sure will. It’s been a pleasure.
Joshua: Ann-Marie, thank you very much.
Ann-Marie: Ok. Thanks, Joshua.
This conversation led to several monologue posts that I put up on my podcast on awareness often leading to inaction and these are rather assertive ones. Personally, I think that she’d overcome some of the resistance. She’d find some of the things that she thought would conflict with say spending time with her family. I think she would find those things would augment those things as Jim Harshaw found in an earlier episode. But what I call resistance was her balancing values differently and maybe I just didn’t understand her values enough. You could probably hear me struggling to figure out what to say that wasn’t disagreeing. As I said this episode was a learning experience for me. I felt stuck. But as always with Ann-Marie I enjoyed the conversation. I value her for being herself and I look forward to learning from it as I listen more to this episode. And as I said at the beginning, I value your feedback, you, the listeners and thoughts on the conversation.
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