Five Ingredients to Reach a Tipping Point

May 5, 2018

The Tipping Point. That Holy Grail for all those wanting to see cultural change. It’s something we long for in many different areas, but it’s frustratingly elusive and nigh-on impossible to predict when it will happen.

In the UK we have witnessed an amazing tipping point recently around plastic. Individuals and organisations have been trying to go against the current for years: reducing our own plastic use, asking supermarkets to make changes, pushing the government to do more on this issue… and then suddenly, within the space of about six months, we find the tide has turned and we’re being caught up in a surge of interest, with individuals, government and businesses tripping over themselves in a bid to show who’s dealing most with the problem of plastic. The government recently announced both a £61.4 million aid investment in improving waste management and plastics reduction in developing countries and support to a new Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance, and this latest announcement from more than 40 companies, pledging to cut plastic pollution over the next seven years is, I’m sure, not going to be the last to come from the business world.

So what can we learn from this? How do we reach a tipping point?

1. Perseverance

The tipping point for plastic was reached, of course, in the final episode of BBC’s Blue Planet 2, though it had been building throughout the other episodes as Attenborough hinted at the horrors that were to be laid bare at the end. What strikes me though is that Attenborough has been doing these sorts of series and saying similar things for decades. Would he have predicted the impact he was about to have with this one? I doubt it. But it only happened because of all the years he has spent wowing us, woowing us and earning our respect. None of us knows when a tipping point will be reached, but we can be encouraged not to give up and to keep going with dogged perseverance.

2. Boldness

Having said that, the BBC took a risk with this one and allowed the programme to present the facts more starkly and say more than any other Attenborough series has done in the past. Well done BBC for making the decision it did – and may we all be encouraged to speak out with boldness on the issues where we want to see change.

3. Beauty

Blue Planet 2 had its impact because we were captivated by the sheer amazing beauty of our seas and oceans. And then the realisation of what we were doing to that beauty struck deeply. This is a reminder that hitting people right at the start with bad news stories and terrible predictions of the future is rarely going to be the motivator that brings about change. Instead, we need to help people find a sense of wonder and awe at the world we live in – to marvel at the beauty of what is around us and, from that place, engender a determination to look after it. For me, recognising the beauty that God has created and starting there is more motivating and powerful than starting with ourselves.

4. Hope

I’ll confess, knowing what the last episode was going to say, I nearly didn’t watch it: I wasn’t sure I could bear it. But I knew I had to and, much to my surprise, it wasn’t the slit-my-wrists experience I thought it was going to be. In fact, it taught me a valuable lesson because the programme highlighted the problems through focusing on the wonderful people who were helping and working to bring about solutions. So we were exposed to the terrible, heart-breaking problems, but in a way that didn’t lead to paralysis and a sense of being overwhelmed, but rather led to hope and a sense of, ‘yes we can do something too’.

5. Togetherness

The Plastic-Less Lent initiative I did caught me totally off-guard. My aim had been to get 100 people to join me, but instead over 2500 joined in, from 55 countries. One of the things that struck me about people’s comments on the FB group we created (and which has continued beyond Lent to become Plastic-Less Living) is that people felt able to make changes because of the support of the group, even one that was only virtual: ‘The community, learning and solidarity has been a great source of inspiration’; ‘This has proved to be the boost I needed to get on and make those changes’; ‘This group has been so good – challenging and encouraging. Thank you and let’s keep on!’, and, ‘This group has been brilliant and reminded me of things I know are important, and I don’t feel so alone in the struggle’, are just some of the many comments people made. Tipping points come when people feel they’re not on their own but are part of a movement.

Five things that help change a culture. There is more that could be said (for example, the media have been hugely instrumental in building public momentum, with the Evening Standard, Daily Mail, Guardian and Sky News all focusing on plastic over the last year) and I would love to hear what you think are key ingredients so we can keep learning together.

Of course, it has only just begun with plastic and there is much more that needs to be done. And, we need to see many more such tipping points: towards vegetable and grain-based diets, for example, and away from fossil fuels and frequent flying.

Knowing how we build movements and reach tipping points will always be frustratingly elusive. But let’s take encouragement from what we have seen in recent months and know that, when all sectors of society combine to take action, we really can see change.


People power is key to a plastic-less future

April 29, 2018

Back in February, my family and I decided to try a Plastic-Less Lent and put together a Facebook group to see if anyone else wanted to join us and share ideas and challenges. Much to my amazement, the group grew to well over 2,000 within a matter of days, from around 55 countries. Clearly this was an issue people were interested in.

People were engaged and excited. Such was the demand, the group has now become ‘Plastic-Less living’ and is continuing past Easter.

A survey by ComRes for the Global Challenges Foundation (GCF) found that 84 per cent know they should try to prevent future ‘climate catastrophes’, even if doing so has an impact on living standards. And yet, according to WRAP, the UK still generates about five million tonnes of plastic waste a year. So, public will, it seems, is not enough.

The government has already started to capitalise on this wave of discontent with our throwaway culture, and that is very welcome. The plastic bottle deposit scheme, where shoppers can claim money back if they recycle the containers, was announced a few weeks ago with little controversy.

When the five pence tax for plastic bags was introduced, usage plummeted by 80 per cent almost overnight – so do we need laws to help us change our lifestyle? It makes it easier to remember your reusable bags when you know you’ll be charged if you don’t.

Ministers are acutely aware of being a minority government and so it seems that for more of this kind of law, there has to be a swell of public support and demand.

At Tearfund we’ve been campaigning for more of the UK’s international aid budget to be spent on waste management in developing countries. Two billion people in the world have no rubbish collection and as well as causing environmental damage, mismanaged plastic waste is increasing the likelihood of diarrhoeal and infectious diseases. On top of that the toxic fumes from burning waste leads to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths a year.

Earlier this month thousands of Tearfund supporters emailed the Department for International Development asking it to take action on plastics and poverty. Last week the prime minister announced she would agree to the request and pledged to spend millions of pounds on this issue. A real sign that government listens to our concerns and a great step forward. But there is more to do.

It’s not just here in the UK that people power is convincing governments to make changes. In Recife, Brazil, Tearfund is working with communities living on the River Tejipio who are often flooded because of plastic waste. People have started campaigning, marching and demanding action from government. As a result the local authority has started some waste collection services.

Business also seems to be responding to the growing public dissatisfaction with the damage we are doing to the planet. The Iceland chain, for example, has pledged to get rid of plastic on all of its own brand products and a growing number of independent coffee shops are now refusing to use single-use cups.

So what can we do? Let’s keep putting the pressure on government and business to bring about changes that will benefit us all – people and blue planet alike. Our generation has an opportunity like no other. We are more connected and better informed than ever before. We can choose to work together to break down injustice, build up a more equal society, and a more sustainable planet.

Tearfund is part of Renew Our World, a movement of Christians from all over the world who are coming together to live simply, call for urgent action on climate change, seek justice, challenge inequality, and praying together for a world, and an economy, that brings restoration and renewal. Why not join us?

(This article was first published on Christian Today. See the original article here.)
Green living

Plastic-Free Hair Care

March 11, 2018

I decided to stop washing my hair with conventional products almost exactly two years ago (though for years I’d often used more environmentally friendly products) as a result of researching for this article on ethical beauty. As I researched, I found myself going down an unexpected avenue of thought around hair care as I discovered lots of articles about either not washing your hair at all (lovingly called ‘no-poo’) or using natural ingredients.

Something clicked in me and I decided there and then it was no more conventional products for me. Time to try a different approach to my hair and see what happened.

When I decide on something, I throw myself in. So, suddenly I found myself totally preoccupied with trying new things, and my lovely family grew used to me doing things like harvesting and whizzing up aloe vera gel from our plant to try on my hair with honey (it didn’t work!), or soaking brown rice in water for a few days and washing my hair with the strained water. I remember one morning Greg looking at me with incredulity as I whisked up a raw egg in a dish and carried it upstairs to the bathroom….

Having read around, I decided I wasn’t going to go for the full ‘no-poo’ approach. It looked as if that didn’t work so well with hard water, and I figured that living in today’s polluted atmosphere meant my hair probably did need to be washed. But I thought if I stopped using chemical-filled products that stripped my hair of its natural oil (hence provoking it to produce more, which is why conventionally-washed hair needs washing again so quickly) it couldn’t help but be incredibly good for my hair and I could reduce how often I washed it, plus I’d be stopping using all those plastic bottles and would take another step away from the conventional beauty industry that ironically does us so much damage.

I kept a hair diary for the first three months, noting down each day how it was feeling, noting when I washed it and with what, whether it worked, how long I could go between washes etc. And my eldest daughter joined me and also stopped using conventional products.

So, two years in, how is it going? Well, here is what I’ve learnt:


  1. It helps that I don’t dye my hair or style it with any products (I don’t style it at all), and that it’s long so I can just put it back if it’s not looking so good. In the early days that was a real bonus. I don’t know how all this would work on dyed and styled hair.


  1. It does certainly go through a transition phase as your hair takes a while to catch up with the fact that it doesn’t need to produce so much oil anymore. How long that takes really does vary person-to-person but I see from my diary that by about four weeks I was beginning to notice a change.


  1. As in so many areas when you move away from conventional ways of doing things, your whole perception of what ‘normal’ is changes: and so part of this is changing your understanding of what natural hair feels like. When we use conventional conditioner, we’re not actually conditioning our hair in any way that benefits it (‘conditioner’ is a total misnomer): what we’re doing is applying chemicals that smooth down the hair and coat it to make it feel a particular way. That’s why the adverts say ‘for healthy looking hair’ – companies can’t actually claim that the hair is healthy, it only looks healthy. Actually, the opposite is happening – we are damaging our hair by using those products.


(Where the conditioning comes in is that we have been conditioned to think our hair should look a certain way and so it takes time to adjust to hair that is truly natural.)


  1. My hair has definitely changed. It is noticeably thicker than previously; I can go much longer between washes (I often leave it ten days, putting it back for the last few days); it doesn’t get itchy between washes like it used to, and the ends don’t split anything like they used to, making me realise just how much damage I was causing it with conventional products.


  1. My hair is inevitably getting older with streaks of grey, and my conclusion is that letting it go natural means I don’t always get the look I might get it if I smothered it with chemicals. And that’s a choice I make. I am aware my hair doesn’t quite look like Nicole Scherzinger or Sheryl Whatever-her-surname-is-now, but…you know… I can live with that!


  1. For my eldest daughter though, the results have been incredible and her hair has been absolutely transformed. It’s become long, thick and lush. She has hardly any split ends, and when she brushes it it’s like a golden curtain! I don’t know if it’s because her hair type is different to mine or because her hair is ‘younger’ (or if it is to do with the oil – see below). All I know is that it’s made a huge difference.


  1. So what do I use? I had great fun trying all sorts of different things and have settled on a few that work for me:
  • My basic ‘go to’ is one or a combination of some strange-sounding things I’ve discovered: shikakai, aritha and amla. They are different dried Indian fruits (aritha is actually the Indian name for soapnuts) and you can mix them with water to form a paste that you use to wash your hair with. I won’t say more because of the length of this article, but you can find out more online.
  • My other ‘go to’ is simply an egg! Egg contains both naturally cleansing lecithin and all sorts of good conditioning amino acids and other things (I’m not very technical!). I just whisk it up a bit, wet my hair in the shower, apply it (yes it does feel funny) and rub it in, leave it on while I have my shower and rinse it out (don’t use very hot water as you’ll end up with scrambled egg in your hair!). Your hair will feel different but I find it works surprisingly well. Sometimes I mix in a teaspoon or so of the shikakai and other things in the first point, and that’s really nice.
  • Bicarbonate of soda and apple cider vinegar. I suspect these ingredients aren’t good for your hair long term so I don’t use them regularly, but if I want my hair to look particularly nice I use these because they have the best effect on my hair ever. Dilute a tablespoon of bicarb in 250ml of warm water, and a tbsp of acv in another 250ml of warm water. Wet your hair, pour over the bicarb mixture and leave for a few minutes or while you wash. Rinse it out. Then pour over the acv mixture and rinse that out.
  • Although I haven’t used them regularly, I do like the shampoo bars from Lush too and they have worked well when I’ve borrowed one from a friend and tried them.
  • I let my hair dry naturally and, once it’s just damp, I like to put a bit of oil on the ends. You can use any oil really, but coconut oil is the classic. Mali regularly oils her hair – mixing up coconut, almond and olive oil and rubbing it through her hair, then leaving it overnight before washing out with the shikakai mix. That’s too much for my hair, but hers thrives on it.

My overall conclusion is that we have been totally conned by the big pharmaceutical companies into spending literally billions of pounds on plastic, chemical-filled products that actually do our hair no good and pollute the natural world.

It’s time for a revolution!

Green living, Spirituality

Plastic-Less Lent 2018

February 1, 2018

Would you like to find a way to reduce the amount of plastic in your life? Then join me and a whole lot of other people in doing a Plastic-Less Lent this year.

The idea is very simple: over the course of Lent, we will take steps to use less plastic – we will do this together, helping each other and learning along the way.

So how do we do this?

Well, because it’s such a big area and because plastic so dominates our lives, we’re not going to make it prescriptive. We can each decide what we do. But, here are some options you might like to consider:

  1. You might decide to fast one thing – for example, single-use water bottles or disposable coffee cups – and resolve to do without that item for Lent, even if it means having to forgo a cup of coffee at the station because you forgot your re-usable cup that day.
  2. Or, you might decide that each week you will fast one thing, building it up over the six weeks. Maybe single-use water bottles… then disposable coffee cups… then plastic bags… then yoghurt etc.
  3. Or, you might want to go further and take as many steps as you can. On the Plastic-Less Lent FB page I’m going to put up a plastic-less tip each day to give you lots of ideas both for Lent and for after.

Why do this at Lent?

Lent is a really good opportunity to focus on a particular discipline for a set period. It is a time to break out of bad habits and, in particular, to reflect on the things that are wrong in our lives as we lead up to the events of Holy Week and Easter. The traditional word for this is sin, and when we consider the terrible damage that our plastic usage is causing God’s creation (including humans), I think it is entirely appropriate to focus on that this Lent.

So join in!

It would be great to hear how you are going to do this so please do join the Plastic-Less Lent FB page (don’t forget to make sure notifications is ticked) and leave a comment and join in the conversation.

And Finally…

It’s nearly impossible to be entirely plastic-free, and my guess is there will be some things you do still buy. So here’s an idea: let’s all keep all the plastic we use over Lent tucked away in a bag somewhere, and at the end of Lent we can take a picture of it, share it on our FB page and see what things we really haven’t been able to shift. There’s learning even in that.

Thank you for joining me in this. It’ll be a Lent adventure, and together we can take many little steps in the right direction.


Poverty, Planet and Prayer

January 14, 2018


I’ve just got off the phone from a marathon of radio interviews. Starting at 6.50am with Radio London, I’ve done back-to-back interviews with all the local BBC radio stations: 18 interviews in total and a reach of about 15 million people, talking about Tearfund’s new research into the importance of prayer for people in the UK, and explaining how integral it is to all we do. I didn’t dare have a cup of tea in case I needed the loo and I’m definitely needing some breakfast now.

But how exciting to be able to speak to so many people about prayer!

This year Tearfund is turning 50 and we have declared it a year of Jubilee for us as an organisation, with many things planned, both outward-facing and internal. Prayer has always been a central part of what we do, but this year one of our commitments is to up the ante on that and focus on prayer even more.

To that end, we are setting aside five days throughout the year as Jubilee Days: days when we turn off the internet, stop our regular work, and take time to commit ourselves again to God and each other. We have also teamed up with the 24/7 Prayer movement to pray constantly, everywhere we work around the world, for a year.

We also want to encourage and equip more people to engage with worldwide issues and to pray for the sort of work we are involved in around poverty, climate change, conflict and natural disasters.

Inevitably some of the interviewers asked me why I was calling people to pray at all – shouldn’t we be getting on with the practical stuff instead? It was great to be able to talk about a whole life response to poverty: yes we want people to give and also to act, both in our lifestyles and in calling governments and global institutions to work on behalf of the poor. But we also know that prayer changes things and, alongside the gritty, practical work we do in some of the neediest of places, we need a movement of prayer to bring about significant change.

So, at Tearfund, we are committing ourselves to praying for global transformation. Sounds grand doesn’t it, but I’m going for it! On a personal level, I’ve committed myself to pray an hour every week for the whole of this year as part of our 24/7 prayer initiative.

Would you join me? We’ve developed Tearfund One Voice to help us all to pray regularly and effectively for global issues of people and planet, and Archbishop Justin Welby has written us a special Jubilee prayer. So please: take a look, sign up and get praying!


Blue Planet Living

December 10, 2017

Let’s get two things out of the way right at the start as we reach the end of the amazing Blue Planet 2 series. Yes, the problems highlighted in this final episode – particularly plastic pollution, climate change and overfishing – are huge and feel insurmountable. And yes, a lot of the problems are caused by other countries and industries, and not only by those of us who have been watching. Now let’s move on.

What David Attenborough and the incredible team at the BBC have done for us is provide us with a vision of what our seas and oceans should be like: healthy and teeming with life; colourful, vibrant ecosystems full of creatures and patterns beyond our wildest imaginations (a fish that can see through the top of its head? No way!); weaving, spinning, jumping, flying around each other.

As I’ve been watching Blue Planet 2, each episode has hinted at the devastating consequences our human activities are having on this beautiful part of the world. I can hardly make it through to the end of this last episode, even with the positive stories that are bringing hope; the knowledge of what we are doing is almost too much to bear.

A drop in the ocean
But we CAN do something about it. We really really can. And there are three very obvious things we can all do now as Blue Planet 2 concludes. The waters we’ve been marveling at over our Sunday evenings come from billions of tiny drops. Each one of us, with each of the actions we take, can be a drop too, building a wave of momentum that creates a sea-change in our attitudes and turns the tide on the fate of our seas and oceans. As Attenborough says, ‘we have a responsibility to care for our blue planet. The future of humanity, and indeed all life on Earth, now depends on us.’ So what can we do to help?

1. Reduce your plastic
Seriously people, the time has come for us to do something about this. There are so many simple things we can do to make some big reductions: don’t buy any more single-use plastic bottles (just don’t. full stop.). Use soap and shampoo bars. Try to buy things in bulk rather than in smaller individual bags. Become aware of the problem of microplastic pollution from synthetic clothing. Avoid cosmetics with microbeads, and ladies, ditch the tampons with plastic applicators (check this out). Finally, keep nagging your favourite shops to reduce unnecessary packaging.

2. Take action on climate change
As sea temperatures continue to rise due to climate change, causing massive problems for all sea creatures great and small (and for the humans too who depend on the seas for their food and livelihoods), it becomes clear that if we want to look after our seas and oceans then we have to tackle climate change. We can do that in two ways. Firstly, take steps to live in ways that consume less energy (eat more plant and grain-based meals, have more holidays that don’t involve flying, get out of your car more etc), and secondly, let’s push our global leaders to turn the historic promises they made in the Paris Agreement in 2015 into reality. You can do that here, through an excellent campaign called Renew Our World.

3. Eat your fish well
This is quite easy really, we just need to make a decision to do it and stick to it. The basic rule is, when buying wild fish or seafood, only buy it if it carries the Marine Stewardship Council logo on it. This blue fish-tick logo is your guarantee that the fish or seafood comes from a sustainable source (and includes things like tinned tuna as well as fresh produce). If you’ve never seen it before, you will now suddenly notice it when you’re in the fish aisle! If you’re buying farmed fish, make sure it is at least RSPCA certified, preferably organic if you can.

(Photo by Wexor Tmg on Unsplash)