158: Dee Caffari, part 1: Turning the Tide on Plastic (transcript)
Those who know that I’m flying might also know that I’m learning to sail to explore off North America. Most people when they think about not flying focus on what they miss. Well, they focus on the part that they miss that they like. They don’t seem to have trouble ignoring the pollution the flying causes. But that’s a separate thing. Sailing and other things that I replace flying with have given me far more than I could have predicted at a fraction of what it is to spend on flying. Among the many benefits of sailing is the sailing community. Today’s guest Dee Caffari is off the charts. For many years a schoolteacher she started sailing to reach world class athlete levels. The international sailing community calls her a legend. How many people do you know that are called legends in their lifetime? Watch her videos which I linked to you from the podcast. They look like they’re from movies and not just any movies but great movies. But they’re her life which she describes in our conversation. She’s gone around the world in both directions. She’s won races, led teams. She’s been named an MBE which is close to knighthood. She’ll share her experiences in sailing spans calm balmy sunsets to life and death struggles with forces that can level cities. In her case with teams that it barely worked before that she brought together to get to work together which she talks about. Her global vision literally seeing all around the world has also revealed to her the growth in plastic, in global warming effects and other environmental problems. She’s passionate and she works actively to reduce her personal impact and impacts of others. So let’s listen.
Joshua: Welcome to the Leadership and the Environment podcast. This is Joshua Spodek. I am here with Dee Caffari. Dee, how are you?
Dee: I’m good and it’s lovely to talk to you.
Joshua: Great to talk to you too. And you know just before I hit the record button we were starting talking about my interest in crossing the Atlantic. And you’re like well you could do it. And then I was like, â€œI donâ€™t want to do it solo.â€ and you were likeâ€¦ The way that you said, â€œUnderstandably you don’t do it.â€ implied I have a feeling people really love it like once they start getting out in the open ocean. And you seem like someone like that. I want to get to what we were talking about but I want to introduce you. And I feel like there’s a couple angles that are very interesting for Leadership and the Environment podcast with you. One is that you are a world class sailor. You’ve competed at the highest levels, you’ve both soloed and crewed meaning there’s leadership and there’s followership and you also, if I understand right, you transitioned into competitive sailing into sailing this much late in life or after a career and that’s a big piece of environmental things like people changing things on a big scale and then achieving excellence. And then thereâ€™s also when I talk to sailors who have been out in the open waters, in the deep seas there’s something that happens when they… I don’t know if this is the case with you but they see a coke bottle in the middle of the ocean and it seems likeâ€¦ I can imagine what it’s like but I haven’t thought about it or I haven’t experienced it. So many different angles I like to talk to you about. I kind of want to begin with the transition, you starting to sail. I know that you taught and then you sailed but I don’t know. Did you not know you’re going to sail one day? Did you grow up sailing? Sorry if you get asked this a lot.
Dee: No, that’s fine. I don’t have a story that you would normally associate with a professional sailor. Most professional sailors grow up sailing as children and it’s something they’ve always done as a hobby. And we had a motor boat as a family and we kind of used it as a weekend caravan and we had our summer holidays cruising and I guess that’s why I love my seamanship. But sailing wasn’t an integral part for me growing up. I went to dance school and I was quite keen to try new things and it wasn’t until I went to university doing a sport science degree that I did a little bit more sailing and thought it’s pretty good and decided to take it upon myself to get some more qualifications and experience in my free time alongside my degree. And then I spent five years teaching. I qualified and started teaching and absolutely loved it. Teaching 11- to 18-year-olds. But it felt as if it was the right job too soon. I still wanted to travel and have adventures of my own. And I made that career change age 27 when I retrained and finished all my sailing qualifications and then when I found out how to really learn about it.
Joshua: So what are sailing qualifications? Because it feels like I took my first lessons and I got little stickers that said I passed this course. On the other hand, you can just go out and sail. And also one of the big things I want to share, I’m new to this, but it’s incredibly accessible. When I was a kid I thought sailing was like you know a hoity-toity, it’s like the sort of thing that the Kennedyâ€™s did. And then it turns outâ€¦. Especially since I’m sailing to avoid flying the amount that I’m saving on flying is way more than what I’m spending on sailing. So what are the qualifications?
Dee: Well, thatâ€™s really interesting that you’ve picked up that the perception of the sport is as you say it’s expensive, it’s elitist, it’s inaccessible but actually what we’re all trying to do is show that it is accessible and it doesn’t matter how old you are, what gender you are, what color you are, how brave you are, there’s something for everyone and there’s a lot of different boats that you can sail with a lot of different people to get experience and kind of further your knowledge. And we have a system in the UK that has a level of grading of qualifications and they’re pretty international or the equivalents of them are. And for example now the tightening up of who can just go and do things, so if you want to do the [unintelligible] you have to have a qualification that shows that youâ€™re the level of a yacht master which shows that you have a certain level of understanding of various aspects to be a crew member. I’m not never used to happen but I think it’s a good thing in the legislation of the sport but as an opportunity to access the water and go sailing you don’t need anything. You just need a little bit of confidence and a good contract.
Joshua: OK, so for doing at the races that’s where you need the qualifications for?
Dee: I think if you specify to charter boat so if you want to go on a holiday and you want to go to a company and say, â€œI want to charter a boat and I’ll be responsible for the boat.â€, then you need to have a piece of paper to say that you can do that. It’s only now recently that some of the big races are looking for qualifications. And I think that’s a recent change. But generally if you just want to go for a sail, no qualifications are needed.
Joshua: Yeah. It feels like it’s a big part of sailing is that people keep telling me how accessible it is and then I keep finding out that like whatever they say I’m like, â€œYeah, yeah, whatever.â€ And then it is! Here in New York I just pay a fee to the sailing club and then I don’t actually own a boat. There’s just a bunch of boats on the club. And any time that a skipper is going out I can crew meaning I’m learning along the way and they seem to really like teaching me and I don’t have to worry about barnacles and I don’t know all the stuff about owning a boat, leaks and things like that. They take care of all that. I just get to sail. And it’s people who say, â€œWell, Josh, you’re not flying, you’re not going to see the world.â€ and so forth, I love that I’m going in less than five miles from home and it’s a completely other world.
Dee: You’re seeing the world from a different perspective.
Joshua: Yeah and it’s also you know I remember in college rollerblades were really popular. I thought, â€œOh, Iâ€™ll get some rollerblades blades.â€ and I got some roller blades and I would ride around. I don’t see many roller blades these days. Sailing on the other hand, I’ve looked it up and I forget the details. It’s like at least 5000 years old. I don’t know if it’s 10000 years old but it’s a really human thing. The pace of life on the boat is very natural like whatever problems I have I forget about them when I am on the boat.
Dee: Well, I think that because you’re in that environment where you’re harnessing the power of nature so Mother Nature is definitely in control and you’re doing your best to control that and make it work for you. And no two days are ever the same so you’re constantly learning. Even now Iâ€™ve gone around the wall six times and every day’s a school day for me. You sail with different people on different boats and they’re always slightly different and you learned some good bits from everybody you sail with and you put them together as a repertoire and slowly you’ll have the experience to know ahead of time what you’re going to be doing. And I think just looking at life from a different perspective you pretty much can switch off from a lot of gadgets and devices and that distraction that we constantly have in our world. And you are just out there you and the wind and the flapping sails and somebody else and you make decisions and you’re kind of in control of your destiny and it’s instant gratification you get, an instant reaction and you come back windswept, rosy cheeks having had some fresh air and it’s like the best thing.
Joshua: Yeah. So this resonates with my experience. I’m still wrapping up and hopefully people listen to this are thinking, â€œOh, some time when I was going to fly I’m going to take a boat ride instead.â€ or something like that. And now let’s amp it up and talk aboutâ€¦ So the Volvo, when I’ve seen the imagesâ€¦ Well, I’ve seen pictures of you and I’m seeing like waves crashing over the bough and it looks like not particularly relaxing although it looks like the sort of thing that when you look back at it youâ€™re like, â€œWow, that was one of best things I’ve ever done.â€ So now take us to the peak of this stuff of you sailing in, letâ€™s say, veryâ€¦ What’s the word? Challenging conditions.
Dee: Yeah I mean every scenario has its moment and I think the most challenging environment to be in is the Southern Ocean. Youâ€™re the furthest from any rescue, you’re the furthest from any point of land and human contact, there isnâ€™t regular shipping. So there’s no one else down there but the people racing. And in my scenario when you go around the world on your own you’ll be only [unintelligible] and the waves a mountain if you’ve got the whole Southern Ocean squeezing down between Cape Horn and Antarctica, a massive continental shelf and the waves stack up. And because there’s no land mass stopping this momentum and the winds are that much stronger, it’s just that little bit colder, the waves are that little bit bigger and the potential risk is higher. And I think you know that’s the adrenaline rush that we all love. But it’s also some of the best sailing you can do.
Joshua: Yeah, unpack that. I mean I was about to say this is the equivalent of like climbing Everest or something like rock climbers going in for the really steep faces. Is there a peace that you find doing it?
Dee: Itâ€™s that moment where youâ€™re fully focused and you can concentrate on nothing else because you know it’s your life in your hands or the people around you you know you’re in each other’s hands and you’re getting the best out of the conditions you’re facing. And at that time if somebody probably asked you right there when you’re wet, cold, hungry, tired and a little bit afraid, it’s probably the worst day you’re having. But if they ask you in a couple of hoursâ€™ time when weather systems move through and you come out the other side and the boat’s just sailing along, you’ve got it going really well, you’re on the numbers and it feels good, they will tell you know it’s the best sailing they’ve ever done. So it’s that and I think we have this amazing ability in our minds to kind of box up all the bad stuff so we can learn from it and it’s there but we tend to forget that and we focus on the good stuff and that’s probably why we keep going back.
Joshua: This sounds like an addiction.
Dee: I’ve been around the world six times. I don’t think that’s normal. Iâ€˜d like to go again.
Joshua: Well, not normal today. I mean I feel like back in the day… I mean people used to sail a lot more thanâ€¦ Well, I don’t know. You said that and I thought of like Darwin. I guess he didnâ€™t go around six times either though.
Dee: No, it just took them longer in the day. Now we go around a bit quicker so we can get more of it.
Joshua: OK. So you started at 27. Some people get their sea legs when they’re really young and a lot of peopleâ€¦ I mean people come to you for coaching and life coaching and things like that and are like, â€œOh, I feel like it’s late to make a career change.â€ For you did it feel difficult? Was it hard to pick stuff up? Because I also felt like in sports you know I watched a lot of TV when I was young and I always felt like I was catching up. You don’t seem like you’re catching up.
Dee: I don’t think it’s ever too late. And that’s the really nice thing about sailing â€“ [unintelligible] has just gone around the world for the sixth time solo on his own age 73 in the Golden Globe race showing that in a 36-feet boat Mother Nature doesn’t really care how old you are. You still have to do the same things and produce the same effort and results. And I think that’s a really nice thing that sailing as a sport doesn’t need you to be young and fresh. You know you can actually go with a bit of sage experience as well and still get free there and I think you know you can take it to many different levels. I made a late career change and came into the sport quite late but I was very driven and focused and I [unintelligible] to catch up with my peers or mates but as I say you didn’t have to go racing around the world. You can go cruising and experience the world from a different perspective.
Joshua: And how about thatâ€¦ You alluded to the wisdom, the sageness and I feel like leadership it can be solo sport although I expect even then there’s a probably team aspect to it of the training and the people, these days you must be in support, in contact with people who are supporting you. And then there’s a team element. And I’ve only been on a couple of times a boat that was racing and I think I caught a small fraction of what was going on. Can you tell me about the team element and also the leadership aspect of it? Because you’ve been a leader. Can you tell me about the leadership on a boat?
Dee: Yeah. And I think the best example of that is my last race around the world which was last year leading Turn the Tide on Plastic in the Volvo action race. I was the skipper and I took on a youth team so 80 percent of my crew were under 30 and had never done the race before and I had fifty/fifty – five girls, five guys which had never been done before. And I also had 10 nationalities added into that mix as well. So it was kind of like the ultimate test of can you get this team up to speed in the game and competitively sail around the world.
Joshua: Itâ€™s like a movie.
Dee: Oh, yeah. I’ve probably learned the most about leadership and myself and getting the best out of the people around me and that was the really interesting thing. And I think of as you picked the right personalities and the right people and the secret is getting whoever your team is the right people in the right position so that you bring out the best of their qualities. And you need to identify where the weaknesses are so that you can work on filling those gaps. And I think for me it was about empowering. I was giving these guys an opportunity and I wanted to empower them with areas of responsibility that I would support them with because that way they completely fall into what we were doing, they felt listened to, they felt they contributed and they felt valued and I just saw these guys just completely rise throughout the 10 months. And they were a very different group of people that I finished the race with to the people I started the race with 10 months previous.
And it is interesting and I think a lot of leadership or an atmosphere comes from the top. So when we were in the Southern Ocean I absolutely loved it down there. I love the sailing. [unintelligible] come on deck smiling and going, â€œThis is great, isn’t it?â€ And of course because they don’t know any different. They’re like, â€œOh, okay then. This is good.â€ â€œOkay, well enjoy it.â€ And that made them very relaxed and it made them enjoy it a little bit more probably and we didn’t have that kind of tension. You know they may have been nervous and apprehensive but it dissolved very quickly because they just knew what their role was, what was expected and together we went through the process.
Joshua: You described a lot ofâ€¦ It seemed like observing them, paying attention to them and using what you saw of them to figure out how to lead them, how to assign roles and so forth and a lot of support which to me these are major elements of leadership although people outside of leadership or on the cusp of aspiring leadersâ€¦ Well, I think the mainstream view maybe from movies or something is like command and control which is not what you said. And I’m curious if there are situations where suddenly the weather changed or you have to really buckle down and do you ever have to go into command and control mode andâ€¦?
Dee: Well, ultimately you’re in a life and death situation. And so when it does all go wrong it goes wrong very quickly. The idea is because you have experience you can see this change happening and prevent it but there is an element of making sure the right conversations are happening in anticipation. So I think you get the best out of people by empowering and enabling and I want to nurture that talent and show I’ve got belief in them. You can argue that that’s playing the long game but for me it’s a much healthier environment to be in. And you know you could argue there are times when you have to kind of actually say yes or no at a critical time but that’s only because safety is paramount all the time and the responsibility sits on your shoulders ultimately in this environment. But for as long as they understand why and how and when then they will still respect your leadership and what you’re trying to achieve.
Joshua: It’s really interesting that even when pushed and you’re describing life and death situations that you even then resist, tell me if Iâ€™m characterizing it wrong that of going into command control mode people are so ready to do it and so ready to tell people what to do. People ask me like, â€œJoshua, if you want to lead someone to do something, how are you going to convince them to X, Y, Z?â€ And I am like, â€œConvince isn’t reallyâ€¦ That doesn’t feel like what a leader does to me.â€ Or you know they talk about you know if we want to change people’s behavior, we should pass a law to blah blah blah and I think you’ve got to change behavior first and then the laws will come because I think people want to use authority and I feel like you’re avoiding using authority.
Dee: Yeah. I don’t think it has a long term effect. I think if you go in quite bullish and quite dictatorial almost, you lose a lot of respect very quickly and your team might not stay with you throughout. And I think it’s almost a painful process or a slower process sometimes. You have to invest in your team but if you can get them to learn and understand and be confident in the role you’ve given them, then it doesn’t matter what happens. When it all goes horribly wrong you will have utter confidence that they will do the job that you’ve asked them to do. And because they know that the person next to them is in the same position and the person next to them is in the same position and we’re all together to make this happen everyone will just kind of follow through. And I think because they feel empowered and trusted and contributing to it they want to step up and do it. I think if you devalue them by only hearing and not listening to them and kind of micromanaging, then they don’t feel there’s any trust there so why should they put any effort in.
Joshua: Oh, man, that was a really subtle thing you said. I look forward to listening back to this episode and that difference between hearing and listening andâ€¦
Dee: Oh, itâ€™s massive.
Joshua: [unintelligible] Actually, can you give a story to illustrate a case, if one comes to mind?
Dee: So in the Volvo Ocean Race we do legs so we go from a to b is two weeks or three weeks and then you get ten days in the stopover and in that time you want to debrief the leg that you just had so you can learn from any mistakes, you want to brief and prepare for what’s coming up, you need to fix any issues, you need them to rest, you need them to go to the gym, you need them to eat well, sleep well and then prep the boat to go again. So this is quite busy and actually it’s very easy to think, â€œOh, debrief. You know do we really need to talk about it and analyze all the data?â€ But actually investing time and it does take time and you all sat there thinking, â€œI could really be doing so much else with my life today.â€ But if you invest the time in the team to do that conversation, to go through all the data and the analysis, to listen to each person’s input is so valuable in the big picture. Long term that’s where you make the gains and that’s when you know your team has stood right behind you right beside you even no matter what gets thrown at you. And that’s when you’ve been confident with team around you.
Joshua: Youâ€™re reminding me of this Air Force pilot who piloted like F-16 jets. He was profiling me his book and he was talking about theâ€¦ Air force it’s like you always debrief after flight. And then when I teach leadership and entrepreneurship I point out the reflection. I have them reflect after every exercise and it feels like what you’re talking aboutâ€¦ I always say you learn from the experience but you really internalize it and generalize it when you reflect afterward. Is that about similar to what you’re saying?
Dee: Yeah. And I think it’s having that open and honest communication arena where people feel confident to contribute and actually being accepting of what they’re hearing. So feedback is not easy to get and it needs to be in all directions. So I sit around the table with them and we all kind of say where the frustrations were, where we thought we lost out, where we thought we gained and that could be about things I did as well. And you got to be willing to have that conversation and listen to make change that you can move forward as a group. And we all agreed with our objective that we wanted to continuously improve and move the needle forward. And it’s not always easy to hear but it’s really important that you do stick to that if that’s what you put down as your objective so that you can all move forwards.
Joshua: You do a lot of corporate speaking. Is that right?
Joshua: Is it keynotes or is it also training in group environments?
Dee: Itâ€™s predominately keynotes and conferences where there is a theme to the conference and my stories often highlight some of those themes but not so much with the training and leadership. But I do feel now having done the most recent project because as you say I’ve been out there on my own with a remote team. I’ve been part of a team and now I’ve led the team. I feel I’m quite rounded and I’ve learned so much trying to bring all the good things together into one project. And I’m aware of some of the mistakes I made as well.
Joshua: How much of what you bring from your experiences to the corporate world is already there and how much of it isâ€¦ For people who haven’t done some sort of athletic or performance based activity is this totally new to them? I feel like they must be getting a lot from this but I’m not sure.
Dee: Yeah, quite often they’re listening to a story of sailing around the world which they would never do. But that understanding so many elements of it translate to the everyday business environment be it from the teamwork and the leadership and how to communicate with each other down to you know setting yourself goals that you can manage and feeling a sense of achievement and getting feedback and listening to it and taking it on board.
Joshua: How much of it do they actually get? I don’t want to say â€œtheyâ€ like it’s not me. I haven’t gone around the world many times. How much of it do they get and how much of it can you only get by doing something? I presume it doesnâ€™t have to be just sailing. It could be lots of other sports or lots of other activities that can give you these things.
Dee: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of examples in life where you can actually show it to somebody on an individual basis. But the nice thing with sailing around the world it does kind of encompass the whole work environment but we’re just in an extreme environment doing it. So the lesson is â€œDo you translate to an office?â€ and when you’re talking in a corporate environment they’re hearing it and seeing it but it’s easily forgotten. So actually what it needs is some form of follow up to their small working groups as opposed to the big conference where they will say, â€œOh, well, actually she’s right.â€ But actually translating it back into their workplace and doing a little follow up adds the value. That’s where it cements the understanding I think.
Joshua: Do you provide that as well?
Dee: No, but I think I should. I mean you know I would happily do it but it’s a new kind of thing for corporations to understand that coaching is beneficial and it’s not just for the leadership at the top of the pile but actually for the middle managers to understand how to get the best out of their workers.
Joshua: Yeah. So you’re on the cusp of something there as well. Man, you’re on the cusp of things a lot. You’re on breaking waves. I still want to go back to some of the peak, the pinnacle experiences. Can you describe if it’s not too much, if it’s not something you’ve done too many times, have you ever been in really insane conditions where youâ€™re like, â€œI don’t know if Iâ€™m going to get out of this.â€ Or maybe you knew you’re going to go out of it but you’re taking equipment to the peak of what it could do?
Dee: Yeah. I mean I think there’s always those moments and I mean if it was easy, everyone would do it. So in the back of your mind you know there’s going be those moments and I think what happens is your experience. When you come out you have a side, you [unintelligible] that little bit of experience and then that’s your reference to the next one. So whether it’s a big storm or equipment failure you know there’s some pretty big showstoppers out there that there are no other fixes. You lose your rig over the side, it’s game over. You lose your ability to make fresh water, itâ€™s going [unintelligible] you can’t eat or drink. You lose your ability to generate power, again it’s game over – you canâ€™t run any of your communication or navigation systems. You blow your sales out, you’ve got no means of propulsion to get you anywhere. So there are some key areas and you try and be an expert but you’re kind of a jack of all trades but master of none and you try and get good at everything so you can do your best and you can have input from the outside world to help you manage that. But ultimately if it goes wrong, it potentially can go really wrong. And I think in the back of your mind knowing that your life is in your hands or if you’re in a team, each other’s lives rely on each other, it makes a bond that’s very strong.
Joshua: When I asked the question, I was like, â€œI hope for a cool story.â€ but then as you’re answering, one, it was a much more sober answer and I realized I was kind of being insideâ€¦. I don’t know how I sound but I felt a little flippant in asking it but then I was like, â€œOh, this is a better answer than I could have hoped for.â€ And I couldn’t help but also think of it in terms of, I donâ€™t know if I am translating too much, but also we as a world how we’re handling our planet that if we don’t keep the systems working this system can go bad, this system can break and that system can break and any one of them could really be a disaster. And we’re pushing them all and I feel like that’s also something that your life is really about.
Dee: Massively. And even more so off the back of Turn the Tide on Plastic understandably. We collected micro plastics samples all the way around the world, every single day that we sailed and there were micro plastics present everywhere apart from three locations in the world. And that’s mainly due to the ocean current patterns. So I think the realization that this issue is much bigger than we once imagined and we have raw data for the first time I think really spoke home to me. And you’re right, we are going to be a very short lived species. We keep talking about technology and innovation but we are actually going to be a really short lived species if we don’t actually change our habits now for the environment that we rely on. And I think you know you hear world leaders speak at different levels of this but some of the science now can’t be ignored because it is actual factual data that shows that we’re having this impact whether it’s climate warming or whether it’s ocean health you know they’re also interconnected that we have to make change happen. And we are powerful as a consumer, as a population, we can drive change from the manufacturers, from the supply chains, from government and legislation to make change happen.
Joshua: Now I just switched topics and your passion did not decrease. What you just said did not feel like it was rehearsed. It felt like it was coming from the heart.
Dee: Yes, it is. It is like my sailing and the two go hand in hand. I use the ocean as my office and my playground and I am seeing firsthand the issues that are out there. And I think when you talk to people at home it’s always someone else’s problem, someone else’s river, someone else’s ocean, someone else’s beach. But we’re showing now that actually we all by our everyday actions are having this effect. So we all need to make the change.
Joshua: Were you a kid growing up this way? Did it come later? Was it the increased sailing that led you to this passion orâ€¦. Were you always this way?
Dee: I think it’s always been an awareness. But you know I didn’t kind of think about it in my everyday routine or my shopping or how I lived until I started to do more and more sailing. And Iâ€™ve sailed around the world six times in the space of 15 years. And I have seen that the change happened. I’ve seen more ice in the Southern Ocean and all routes have come further north. I’ve seen an increase in pollution in the water and now I’ve got the broad data of micro plastics present in the ocean. So I think because I’m seeing change and I’m seeing it getting worse I’m probably more aware of how important it is to action change. And you know it’s easy to say and to try and do is very different. But actually there’s so much information out there that it’s so topical that people are trying to do the right thing and we’re trying to change little habits in our households. But actually now it’s making people pull together to realize how much influence they can have on the next level up, on manufacturing, on supply and ultimately at government level.
Joshua: Can you describe some things that you personally yourself are doing?
Dee: Yes. So I use a key cup so a refillable coffee cup and I go into every place and I will ask my cup of tea to be put in there. I use a refillable bottle. Whatever buy a drink in a plastic bottle and then I’ve been caught sure and I’m a lover of diet coke you know I will buy a can and not the bottle now on purpose. So I actively make the right decision. I always have bags around so I don’t ever need a plastic carrier bag. I always use a reusable bag. And then I’m kind of addressing my toiletries in my bathroom and I’ve gone away from shower gel on my back to soap. And you know looking at shampoo you know you can get shampoo balls where it’s like a soap your hair and just kind of making slow changes say that I’m understanding that it is easy and it’s part of my life. And even now with my shopping how I choose my products. I don’t want them wrapped in plastic. I don’t want them prepackaged. You know itâ€™s a potato, it’s got skin on it, then that’s fine – I’ll just pick them up individually and put them in my bag. So it’s a conscious shopping, conscious correct decision making.
Joshua: You sound like you have an experience like mine that when I first started avoiding packaged food at first it was hardship and a couple of things happened. One, it felt better like I likedâ€¦ Well, certainly the food became more delicious once I learned how to cook and it became cheaper. And I had the feeling that if these little changes I liked and it stood to reason that if little changes improve my life a little bit, then big changes would improve my life a lot. And that led me to take on bigger changes and those changes stopped feeling like big changes. They started feeling more like just living by my values and I really enjoyed it.
Dee: And yeah I think you become more credible when you’re speaking to people, if you’re actually practicing what you’re preaching. You’re so much more credible and authentic and people believe you much more.
Joshua: Yeah, people say, â€œOh, you’re leading by example.â€ I think actually it’s more like if you don’tâ€¦ I think if you can live very environmentally sustainably but if that’s all you do people will say, â€œOh, that’s nice for you but I’m doing my thing.â€ But if you don’t do that, then people will say you’re hypocritical or whatever. They want to justify doingâ€¦ There’s something inside people that seems that they really want to justify not changing. So I call it you can unlead by an example environmentally. Leading by example you still have toâ€¦ In this day and age, it’s still swimming upstream for so many people that you still have toâ€¦ You can’t just say, â€œI throw out my garbage a lot less because I consume a lot less garbage or things that will become garbage.â€
Dee: Yeah, you’re right. And actually it’s our generation that is most difficult [unintelligible]
Joshua: Yeah, yeah.
Dee: I think it’s our generationâ€¦ Our generation have a bigger problem. I think the youth are really good. They don’t have any habit formed and they’re pretty open to new ideas. And if you make it relate to them, they’re really passionate about it. If you say to them, â€œHow good is fish and chips on a Friday night?â€ And then you go, â€œBut those fish are now eating plastic in the ocean because they’re thinking it’s food. And now you’re eating the fish. So you’re now eating plastic.â€, then suddenly they’re like, â€œOh, wow. What do I do?â€ You say, â€œWell, you need to change some habits. And do you need a straw in your drink? Do you need to buy that bottle? Why donâ€™t you use a refillable bottle?â€ And they start understanding how their actions have an influence and an impact. But our generation is stuck in habits and so habitual in what we do and how we live that that’s the hardest bit to change. And we’re quite a strong influence in the younger generation but fortunately outside and the youth now are driving the awareness of the environmental changes.
Joshua: Actually you said something very early in our conversation that not just awareness but action because a lot of people keep saying, â€œI want to become more aware.â€ I am like when something’s front page news for decades everyone’s aware you know everyone who’s ordered take-out food at least in New York they’ve this pile of plastic. It’s like a lot of plastic. They’re plenty aware that they’re doing stuff that they don’t need to do. It’s the behavior. And I think that’s where leadership comes in. Education alone without leadership I think it got us somewhere but the next step is really leadership and I’m really glad to hear from you what I think what took me a long time to learn is that if you start with telling people what to do or just facts, people have defenses to stop. But if you find something they care about first and connect it to that, it seems to be much more effective because then they do it for their own reasons, for themselves.
Dee: And people want to understand why. So when we talk about â€œEat less meatâ€ you know â€œTry being meat free on a Mondayâ€ for example they go on, â€œI want to be a vegetarian.â€ And you know that’s not what I’m about. And it’s like you have to explain how much it costs in water and environment and land to keep livestock and how much the process of making that livestock into their food is costing us in the environment. And I think when people start to understand the whyâ€™s then they’re much more willing to make a change. â€œAlright, I will try it.â€ and then you know you’re halfway there.
Joshua: So now I must share with you one of the reasons I want to have people such as yourself who are world renowned, who other people follow, who are influential is that not just have the average person pick up on these things but imagine the CEO of, I don’t know, McDonald’s saying what you just said or you know feeling like â€œI could really make a differenceâ€ because I think right now they tend to be older than us and I think they have this common thought of like, â€œOh, thereâ€™s going to be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050. That’s a problem for someone younger than me but it’s not my problem.â€ And then they make the decisions kind of not really thinking like Florida is going to be submerged because it is not going to be submerged within their lifetime. And so my goal is like to keep working with influential people and to keep meeting increasingly renowned influential people because I believe that systemic changeâ€¦ I think we’re talking about systemic change. If you get a billion people change but not the other six billion, you’ve changed a lot of people but the systems may still stay the same whereas if you change people who are very influential, then I think you have a chance of systemic change, people who are at the leverage points of the system.
Dee: Yeah, yeah, I know and I think they are the key people we need to get talking about the topic and I think you know you’re right. Let’s hear from the fast food chains about the issue and what they’re doing about it and I think the consumer now is much more willing to challenge – challenge authority, challenge that upper echelon to try and get them to either justify or make change. And I think that’s where we’re seeing the power from the consumer, from the average person.
Joshua: You know a lot of people keep saying, â€œOh, there should be a law about this.â€ You say to someoneâ€¦ You know here in New York anyone can get a plastic bag all the time. In lots of places they are outlawed, in lots of places they’re taxed or there’s some charge for them. And you say, â€œYou don’t need that bag.â€ and first they start saying things like… Normally I don’t say it because peopleâ€¦ I get too much pushback. But if it comes up someone will usually say, â€œWell, yeah, well I get the bag but I use it as my trash bag at home.â€ But of course you know that once you have it as a trash bag at home you start creating more trash because you have more receptacles for it. In any case, we people are like swimming in trash bags. Even if you turn away 90 percent of the bags offered to you, you still have more than enough bags. I turn away as far as roughly 100 percent of the bags and I’m still swimming in plastic bags because people leave them at my place that I never asked for. And if I were near one, I could just go under recycling bins in my apartment building. And people use a bag to bringâ€¦ People go to the grocery store, they buy a bag of potato chips, that alone it’s like a kind of odd thing to do, and then they put the potato chips up one bag in a bag. And so now they have a bag to carry a bag – totally unnecessary and theyâ€¦. Oh, I forgot where I was going. Getting me talk about bags it’s like, yeahâ€¦ I mean the low hanging fruit is so much that we could doâ€¦ Thereâ€™s so much that we could get rid of. People think getting rid of things is lowering their quality of life and there’s so much that we can get rid of. I would guess something like 50 to 75 percent of what Americans use we could get rid of and all that would be improvements by any measure of their life not like we’d have to make do with less but like weâ€™d just have more freedom, more mental freedom, more physical freedom, less spending, less money.
Dee: I think itâ€™s the awareness that we did exist before this came along. So plastics have only been around 100 years and it’s only been super popular in the last 60 years. And I think you know we did exist before that and we made the right choices but we went into this kind of very disposable environment where we speeded up how we lived and it was all very disposable and that’s how we treated everything. I think it’s just getting people to go back to form a values. We’re not asking people to go back in time or go backwards regress. Plastic has its uses if it’s multiple use. But anything single use, there is a better alternative. And it’s getting people to make those informed choices, I think, again that is needed.
Joshua: Yeah. Does that feel natural to you now? A lot of people they hear this and they can’t stop themselves from thinking, â€œYou want us to go back to the Stone Age? You want us to have all dying at 30 years old?â€ And this weird false dichotomy that I think people are new to something they don’t get the nuances that you cannot have single use plastic and you could drastically reduce the amount of plastic and you can still have the Internet and you can still have modern life and actually moreâ€¦ You know one of the people I had on this podcast, a colonel in the army, he’s at West Point and he stopped using disposable stuff and then it turns out he and his wife have had a box of China that they inherited from a grandparent and it was just a box. As they moved from place to place this one box would never get opened? And they said, â€œIf we get rid of the disposable stuff, why donâ€™t we use China?â€ And now people come over and they’re eating off the China is really nice. And even if they broke all the China, now they wouldn’t have the box and they could at worst go back to what they were doing before. But instead it’s like they got to China. It’s like really nice. And they were not using this really nice stuff in order toâ€¦ You know we don’t realize how much we externalize our costs and the cost of externalizing our costs. And once you make the switchâ€¦ What youâ€™re talking about feels to me natural but if you’d said it to me ten years ago, it probably wouldn’t have made sense to me. Is it the same with you that there was a time before when you wouldnâ€™t have really thought of like, â€œI just thought oh, whatever.â€?
Dee: Oh, completely. And I think it’s quite interesting the way once you become more aware and you understand that you see more of it. And we had this big discussion on compostable biodegradable and the difference in understanding that one will go into landfill and still stay there but one will go into landfill and slowly break down at the time and you know then suddenly become very aware of what you’re looking for and you start looking more for it. So it’s one of those things if you start to make the changes, the momentum comes back naturally, I think.
Joshua: When you said â€œwhat you are looking forâ€ do you have a sense of what you’re looking for? When you think about the environment what is it to you? Is it cleanliness and purity? Is it adventure?
Dee: I think right now it is more because I’m prepared to challenge. I go to an event and I am looking you know have they got a water station? Can I refill my bottle? Is it possible to buy a drink? Will they put my cup of tea in my cup? What are they serving their hot drinks in? Are they compostable? Are they biodegradable? Oh, itâ€™s plastic cutlery. Oh, no, it’s bamboo cutlery. That’s really good. And because I’m now aware of what the more choices there are available I’m very critical now to see if people are making the right choices. And I think there’s a demand of events, sporting events, cultural events, anything where mass population visit they almost have a responsibility to demand that their outlets and their retailers meet certain levels. There is you know the right kind of products being used at food outlets. And you know you start to look for those decisions and whether the right choices are being made a lot more.
Joshua: I mean this is exactly what I’m working on. Iâ€™d like to talk to you about that. I mean I went to an event on Sunday, I was a speaker. I brought with me my own metal fork and spoon, I brought a plate, I brought a napkin and I still couldn’t eat anything because everything was still single use wrapped up. And I talked to them and they were like, â€œWe really do want to change.â€ But when I actually spoke to them about, â€œAlright, let’s talk.â€ they’re like, â€œTalk to someone else.â€ So it’s like they want to but they’re still struggling to make it work.
One of the things I ask of people on the show and I think that this would resonate with you is that given yourâ€¦ I mean you describe it as a challenge and you have directions that you specifically want to go in. I like to invite the guests and I invite you at your option if you’re up for it to act on your environmental values in a way not to fix all the world’s problems overnight by yourself. It’s not you know to do everything but to act on your values to do something you’re not already doing and something that’s not telling other people what to do or paying other people to do something for you but something measurable. And you’ve already done a bunch but I wonder if thereâ€™s anything that you have been thinking about, â€œOh, maybeâ€¦â€ You’ve been looking for a reason to try something new.
Dee: Yeah. I think I need to look further with the food shopping for sure. I can make some changes. And a lot of it… Sometimes I’m making the right choices but sometimes I’m accepting what’s just there and I think you know rather than get that prepackaged meat or that prepackaged fish actually making the effort to go to the fish counter or the meat counter with my Tupperware and saying, â€œCan you put it in that?â€ I don’t do that at the moment and I believe in what I should be doing so therefore I need to step up and do it.
Joshua: So when people have something I suggest making it a SMART goal â€“ specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time based. Could we make it like a time based, specific thing and then talk about how it went afterwards?
Dee: Sure. Well, I am going to action that as of next week.
Joshua: Okay, yeah. Actually, I’m going to tell you somethingâ€¦ There was a guest of mine a while ago. She was going for reducing food packaging and she asked me, â€œWhat do you do about meat?â€ And I was like, â€œI don’t eat meat so I don’t really know.â€ But then another guest of mineâ€¦ Do you know Bea Johnson? B-e-a Johnson. She’s had a bunch of TED Talks and she found out the way to getâ€¦ Over in her experience if you gave someone Tupperware and said, â€œCan you put the meat or fish in here or cheese?â€, then they would say, â€œOh, we can’t do that.â€ And she learned that what she does is you have to not make eye contact so you hand it to them looking down at the stuff and say, â€œGive me a quarter pound of that.â€ and don’t make eye contact. And then if you do that, then they’re just like, â€œSure, whatever.â€ And then they do it sort of don’t ask permission, beg forgiveness sort of like that. So a little tip from what I’ve learned.
Dee: I love that. Probably 50 percent of my meals are vegetarian anyway so I don’t eat a lot of meat. I eat a lot of fish. And again it’s the same kind of packaging. So I’m willing to test that theory of whether I make eye contact, I don’t know. Iâ€™ll make sure I get my food in my own containers.
Joshua: Ok. Cool. I look forward to hearing that and I can report back to Bea how it went. And how long do you think you’d have to do it to be able to talk about it and share what the experience was like for to sink in?
Dee: I think you need to do it for a month. They say 21 days to break a habit and it’s too easy to go, â€œOh, I forgot.â€ or â€œI didn’t take my containers with me.â€ or â€œIt’s just too difficult. It would be interesting for me to think of the supermarkets near where I am, where I’m shopping to know how easy it is to do it at those various locations. So I think it be fascinating. But I think you need to do it for month to actually convince anyone that you have been credible at it.
Joshua: Okay. So after we finish the recording do you mind if we set up the second conversation for then?
Joshua: Cool. Now letâ€¦ The viewers are only listening to this, they don’t see this. I see a smile on your face. Is this something that you’ve wanted to do? Is this somethingâ€¦
Dee: Yeah. I mean we talk about it in the car all the time and it is something we should do better. And so now it’s basically just give me the kick to do it.
Joshua: Okay, cool. And I like to wrap up with a couple of questions. Is there anything I didn’t think to ask that came up in your mind that it’s worth bringing up or to share?
Dee: No, I think you’ve been quite diverse in all topics.
Joshua: Oh, man, there are so many topics I wanted to keep going on about but I want to be sensitive of your time and the listenersâ€™ times. And is there anything that you want to say directly to the listeners?
Dee: I just think if you can just take one simple gem from every person you listen to on this podcast, if you collect them all and put that into your lives itâ€™s going to make a massive change and massive impact so don’t be afraid of it. And you know you don’t have to like everything that people say but you can just take one gem and follow that for you in your life. You know it’s the slow change that will be beneficial.
Joshua: It sounds like you’re speaking from experience.
Dee: Oh, yeah. I read a lot of books, I listen to a lot of people and you don’t always agree with everything they say but there is normally one or two gems that I think should stand out that you want to kind of take on board and absorb and maybe emulate in some form in your life.
Joshua: Dee Caffari, thank you very much.
Dee: Thank you. Josh. Speak to you soon.
How many people do you know who can jump from classroom to Southern Ocean to corporate boardroom? I love hearing this breadth in anyone. I can learn from her in sports, business, education, life and really if you’ve not watch her videos, watch. I have the links in the podcast page. They’re amazing. As first listener with the level of change to everyone’s lives to reverse the effects we’ve had on this Earth to see the magnitude of her change in her life and how much she loves it is refreshing. I think most of us get the magnitude of the change we have to do. Most people act like the smallest change is too much. They will learn how to keep doing what they’re doing and still feel like they’re changing. Dee embraced change based on her values. It sounds like she loves it and something tells me that’s why she lives a life that leads her peers to calling her a legend. And like many who acted on their personal values despite her having done a lot she was quick to do more. I think because she expects she’ll like it. I look forward to hearing how it goes.
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