Nature Relatedness: How It Can Help You.. And The Planet

Recently at #TOGETHERBAND's pop-up store, Francesca Willow - of the Ethical Unicorn blog – was in conversation with Bottletop's Head of Content, Charlotte Moore. If you missed the event, here's what we learnt about how to have a healthy mind and save the planet.

Tell us how you became interested in sustainable issues
Some friends decided to try out zero waste living and added me to a Facebook group about it. As I followed their journey, I had this moment of realisation that I did a lot of things because I wasn't aware of alternatives, so I just started to make lifestyle adjustments. At the same time, I had a friend working in fashion and beauty PR who started representing cruelty-free and vegan brands. I thought that was great but started wondering about the human impact of companies too. 

I couldn’t find a UK based blog that was looking at these different aspects of our choices, so I decided that maybe I should try and be that person. I had the idea on a Wednesday, called a few friends on Thursday to ask their opinion of it and help me pick a name, bought the domain on a Friday, wrote some posts and launched on a Monday. No business plan, no specific goal, just a lot of passion. 

Do you find the act of writing, or taking visuals for your Instagram, forces you to constantly question your life choices and your impact on the planet?
Yes, and I think it is a bit of a feedback loop. If you're going to publish two things a week, then you start having to look for things to talk about. 

In the beginning, I was documenting things as I was seeing them. it was like, "I got a mooncup and a bamboo toothbrush." I wrote about zero waste makeup that I was trying. Then people started to ask about fashion, and I fell down that rabbit hole, so I started looking into homemade clothes, fabrics, and it just spiralled. 

Now I always have a running list of things I haven't written about. It becomes more proactive as people who are following you start asking questions and asking for advice, then you get more ideas. I'm now talking about air pollution, or the ethics of Amazon, which takes weeks to write. It really did just build up and now it is a lot more systematic stuff, such as indigenous land rights. 

Did you see your blog as an act of activism?
At the beginning I didn't even think anyone was reading apart from my Mum. I have this weird drive to keep writing, even though it's very impersonal – you just see numbers and it is hard to connect them with real people. Now, some people email to say, "I read this thing and it was really helpful" and I'm like, "what? you did?!" And I realised maybe some people were listening to me. I started to take that responsibility a lot more seriously and that comes with recognising your privilege. I have to use that the best I can to advocate for other people as well. 

Tell us more about what you mean by Nature Relatedness
The idea of Nature Relatedness is to shift the understanding of your identity in relation to nature. People, in the city especially, think of nature as something 'over there'. We go out and connect with it, then we go back to our lives, and there is a distance between the two. There is a theory called Biophilia theory, which is that humans inherently need a connection to each other and the land around us. And it is how we shift our perspective from nature being something we connect to, to something that is inside of us or we are a part of. Starting to see ourselves inside a web and not in a hierarchal triangle – with humans at the top of the food chain.

The hypothesis and research around it says that the more Nature Relatedness you have, the more likely you are to behave in conscious ways. It has also been quite strongly linked with better wellbeing, with decreased anxiety and stress, and more feelings of hope. That doesn't mean everyone has to go live off-grid in the woods; it is about an internal perspective and how you cultivate mindfulness and health practices, as opposed to thinking you need to drop everything and live in a field or you'll never be happy. 

How did you get into that?
I went a workshop at a place called The Mindful Kitchen. They bring awareness to how certain foods end up on your plate, and cultivate Nature Related practices through the food that they eat and prepare with an understanding of seasons and food systems. I left wanting to know more. There is also an organisation called Kiss the Ground which runs soil advocacy training, which does not sound very exciting at all but soil is our future – it has the ability to draw carbon down. People that I saw taking the course had the most hope and understanding of solutions with the least amount of despair. 

Are there any practical things in ordinary day-to-day life that are easy for city dwellers to do?
I lived in London for seven years and then I moved to Cornwall, but you can incorporate it in the city. Sometimes I get off a tube stop early and walk to appreciate those surroundings more, or go for a run outside instead of the gym.  

The best thing about London is the Lidos and opportunity for wild swimming. Or you could go for a walk for 10 minutes on your lunch break, even if it is an urban environment. Try finding ways to incorporate it, and don't make it feel like a burden or a task. 

You’ve done some research around indigenous communities - tell us more about this. 

In Britain we don't have indigenous communities in the same way, but our history with colonisation means we affected most indigenous communities. There are 350 million indigenous people in the world, and 80% of the world's biodiversity is in indigenous land, although some of that they might not have the legal land-rights to. The problem is that we have the conservation, but it can really easily become colonial again; where people live in other western countries come and say "this is how we should protect it". But indigenous people have lived there forever, and they do a much better job at conserving. Indigenous people are at the forefront of what is happening and they know so much about conserving Life On Land and living in harmony with it. 

Social and racial justice have to be a part of Life On Land because indigenous people deserve the recognition that they should have always had. We can't change the past but we can change the responsibility and there is a reason these people have lived on this land for such a long time, and make a living for themselves. We may have resources and platforms in the west, but it is about how we use those to support people who need our help. 

How did you become interested in #TOGETHERBAND? 

What I am passionate about is expanding people's ideas about what Life On Land might look like. That links to Nature Relatedness because we are more connected with thinking. If you don't know a lot about sustainability you think Life On Land is animals, plants, humans...but that understanding of how they are all related is key. Helping people understand it in a broader perspective is what I am passionate about.  

Tell me what's next for you? 
My hope is to keep growing the blog and reach more people, continuing to make it more digestible for people who aren't scientists. I've been really lucky with how much it has grown and how people value me. And that is all I want.