‘It’s time to stop excess buying. Most of us have way too many clothes, more than we could ever wear’
Consultant Paula Butler believes it’s up to all of us to do our bit for climate change
Paula Butler, who runs a business providing advice to companies and households on how to reduce their environmental impact. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.
Ever wanted someone to come to your home and help you work out what changes to are needed to live in a more planet friendly way? Environmental consultant Paula Butler does just that. Her work is focussed on helping people find ways to make positive environmental change in their homes, by cutting back and living more sustainably.
The independent environment consultant, previously worked at a public policy level, but, central to her current business, is the belief that individuals have the power to make an impact in tackling climate change. And she’ll come to your house to show you how.
Butler’s degree in science led her to post-grad studies in environmental management and a career that included advising the Government on home improvement grants. But after 20 years of consulting,and with two young boys at home, she started to ask herself questions.
“I felt like a hypocrite. I was on this busy treadmill. It was time to step aside and take a long hard look at my life. I believe we’re the solution to climate change, not Government and business. It was time to go out on my own.”
Butler now gives talks on sustainable living and one-on-one consultations in homes. It’s not, she says, about taking a purist approach. It’s about being practical and offering simple advice. Her lifestyle workshops are attracting an increasingly interested and well-informed audience.
With a new year and a new decade freshly out of the wrapper, Butler has been looking back over the personal changes she has made.
It starts, she says, with the ultimate new year’s gift to one’s home: a serious dose of decluttering. Chez Butler, this initially started with a sweep through the whole house, examining what needed to stay and what could be upcycled or go to a new home.
She has cut out buying unnecessary items and stopped excess purchasing. The decluttering moved to more than the immediately visible, with a look at things like - time, energy and air-mile sapping areas such as online shopping.
Minimising was the priority. With more clothes than the average wardrobe or planet can carry, embracing second-hand clothes shopping was another area where she could engage in a sustainable practices.
“Clothes take up so much space in the home. Most of us have way too many, more than we could ever wear. So pass them on. Cut out impulse-buying. Think about how, where and if you really need to buy.”
When it comes to cleaning, Butler advises getting rid of chemicals as much as possible. But is chemical-free cleaning going to cut it for the more house-proud among us? Yes, she says. If you commit to no other change, make a home-made cleaning spray.
“A tablespoon of Castile soap is all that’s required. Add a cup of water. Put it in a spray bottle. It cleans well. It’s not in any way corrosive.”
Invest in a steam cleaner is another tip. Using just heat and water, a household steam-cleaner, says Butler, is the business.
She advises switching from liquid soaps and shampoos to bars, preferably those that are Irish made. Butler even has a suggestion for the final dregs, those slivers of soap that we might usually bin: pick up little hemp bags, and put the ends of soap in. There’s no waste and you keep the bag in the shower, using the soapy pouch as a body scrub.
Butler has advice too for how we eat and again, it’s about practical, sustainable change. She’s not, for example, demanding that people become vegans or vegetarians. “We’re not a vegetarian family, but we certainly eat far less meat than we used to,” she says.
She advises clients to sign up to a green veg-box delivery. “It takes a bit of work, but kids will engage with the box that arrives every week if you capture their imaginations. When I explained the veg had come from a nearby farm my kids were intrigued. All of a sudden my youngest was scoffing the red peppers that arrived in the box from the farmer. He ate all three of them.”
On the bigger decisions around the home - areas like decorating or furniture, insulation and new-builds - sustainability can be at the heart of your plans. Every change counts, says Butler, no matter how small or how big.
If you’re starting into a new build do your research and try to bring up the energy rating. If you’re retro-fitting insulation or putting in solar panels or heat-pumps or whatever, first take a look at the SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland) home energy grants that are available.
Basically it’s about becoming a much more conscious consumer. What am I buying? Where did it come from? Is it as natural as it can possibly be?
“It can be as simple as deciding, when your dustpan and brush falls apart, to get a metal one with a wooden handle. When you really need something new, try to source it sustainably.”
Sometimes a lot of the communication around the environment and climate change is fear or guilt-based, says Butler. But her approach is much more about empowering people to make positive choices at home.
“Making the choice to be more natural and sustainable may not, at an individual level, seem like the sort of action that creates massive change; but if everyone made those changes, it really would have a massive impact. When you think in that way, it just becomes an obvious thing to do.”