Your Green Life: Tess Riley

When I first made a conscious effort to “go green” earlier this year, I knew I’d be travelling down a liberating road of knowledge and discoveries surrounding the world of sustainability. I was already aware of recycling, organic food and chemical free beauty products; but I knew there was more to it than that.  

So when I started this blog, a big part of sharing my green living experiences was delving in deeper – with my “Understanding” posts – to get to grips with the basics of sustainability issues; from understanding biodiversity, plastic waste and palm oil rain forest destruction, to the ethics of the industrialised dairy farming. It’s one thing to live green, but it’s another to try understand why it’s so important . 

This weeks Your Green Life interviewee has inspired me endlessly throughout my quest to understand these issues; and is someone who not only asks thought provoking questions (and presents well informed and reasoned answers as a result), but she puts her money where her mouth is and actively campaigns for positive change. For this reason alone, she represents my ambitions for the future of my green journey; where action can speak louder than words. 

Blog etc“Hi, I’m Tess, a London-based journalist, activist, cyclist and aspiring allotment owner.

I write about sustainability, food, farming and the environment for a bunch of organisations including The Guardian, The Food Assembly, Green Futures magazine and Transition Free Press.  I publish some of those articles plus extra bits and bobs on my blog right here, and tweet about related things here.”

What does green living mean to you, and how do you incorporate it into your life?

For me, green living goes well beyond recycling newspapers or not taking a plastic bag at the supermarket. It’s about looking broadly at the ways we can make a meaningful difference, including supporting grassroots campaigns such as the inspiring anti-fracking movement, investing in renewables, getting involved in local projects such as Transition Towns, and supporting progressive political parties such as the UK’s Green Party.

Brighton Uncut Topshop Protest (TR on right in blue jumper)
Brighton Uncut Topshop Protest (TR on right in blue jumper)

That doesn’t mean that personal lifestyle changes aren’t important – reducing our meat consumption, flying less/not at all, taking public transport, cycling and walking more, buying organic and local, cutting out packaging, minimising consumption, growing more, fixing things and sharing them rather than buying new… all these things matter, but without broader changes to our political and economic systems – led by the majority of global citizens rather than a minority of elite, wealthy individuals – we’re not going to ensure the significant annual cuts in carbon required to prevent runaway climate change.

“Allowing ourselves to be persuaded that reusing plastic bags will solve the significant challenges we face is a recipe for ongoing environmental degradation at the expense of the most vulnerable communities and ecosystems worldwide.”

Why do you think it’s important to live a sustainable lifestyle?

I’m a big fan of living our values. A degree of pessimism is important so we can keep challenging broader neoliberal narratives, but I’m also a massive optimist who believes that when we live our values, we realise that sustainable living isn’t about missing out on something, but about enriching our life experiences.

So many things that are associated with sustainable lifestyles – lower meat consumption, locally sourced  food, more active lifestyles, reduced conspicuous consumption – are also components of healthier lifestyles, greater wellbeing and an enhanced sense of community, which in turn is linked to higher personal happiness and satisfaction. To re-write the old cliché that we don’t lie on our deathbeds wishing we’d spent more time in the office, nor will we spend our final hours on Earth wishing we’d ensured we had the latest iPhone as soon as it came out. Life is about the friends, family and local community around us – living sustainably and equitably enhances that.

What have you found the easiest thing to implement?

Giving up meat when I was 14 was a pretty fantastic way to learn to cook, and over time I’ve switched to buying all organic. I now eat a mainly vegan, 100% organic diet, and enjoy making everything from pumpkin risotto to cobnut and herb pesto. People think it’s going to be a lot more expensive to buy all organic, but cut out a couple of glasses of wine a week, spend less on meat or fix an item of clothing rather than buying new each time and you more than make up for it in the long-run. Plus organic food often seems to have stronger flavours (as I recently discovered with a taste test on lots of different pieces of ginger) so I tend to use less in cooking.

“Living sustainably shouldn’t be about punishment, it’s about recognising the pleasures. That said, we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can go on limitlessly consuming the kinds of food, energy, goods and gadgets we’re currently investing in without a second thought.”

Tess helping out in the garden at SC - Oct 2014
Tess helping out in the garden at SC – Oct 2014

What habits have you found tricky to get started or maintain?

I love my bike, but as I’ve got older I’ve become less gung-ho about flinging myself onto a busy road that’s thronging with traffic after the sun has set. Why, when we live in city like London, have we yet to develop the kinds of adequate cycling facilities such as segregated bike lanes that cities like Amsterdam are so well known for? We’re missing a trick, and London Mayor Boris Johnson appears to be too busy calculating his political rise to power and deliberate media guffs to be investing properly in cycling, however he might try to persuade us otherwise.

What’s your favourite idea or tip for living green without costing too much time or money?

Can I be cheeky and name a few?

  • It makes sense to share stuff like garden equipment, DIY tools and camping gear – things which are incredibly useful but gather dust much of the year round. Projects like Streetbank enable neighbours to lend, borrow and give away things locally at no cost.
  • Ditto cars – parked cars block up our roads and cost money to run, so using projects like GoCarShare helps connect drivers and passengers together, saving both parties money and cutting per capita carbon emissions.
  • Grow stuff and compost organic waste. Enough said – once you start, you’ll know why this is just so very life fulfilling.
  • Choose ethically – we all need to buy things sometimes, but why opt for the cheap stuff when you have companies out there making beautiful ecological footwear such as Po-Zu, or fantastic organic cosmetics not tested on animals such as Lush.
  • Buying seasonally and locally makes sense, both for the environment and for our tastebuds. Projects like The Food Assembly and Big Barn connect producers directly to consumers, cutting out the middlemen. Win win all round.

Who or what keeps you inspired?

My parents have brought me up to believe in my convictions and question the status quo. My mum has taught me to grow food and respect the ecosystems that make that possible, and both my parents have supported me throughout my environmental campaigning, even when that has meant getting arrested occasionally.

Most importantly, they’ve helped me understand what matters most in life – not power or status or money, but being true to yourself and fighting for what you believe in. The many people I’ve met along that journey are a key part to maintaining that inspiration to keep going.


Keep up with Tess 

3 thoughts on “Your Green Life: Tess Riley”

  1. Thanks for flagging up Tess Riley’s thoughts, experience and values. It’s really grand to see green living souls emphasising the health/wellbeing/happiness benefits of a more considered life. It’s a card we really need to play! I’ll be following Tess’ blog, going forward.


  2. I completely agree with Tess that sustainable, conscious living does not require us to deny ourselves pleasures. And Mrs. M is right–we need to emphasize the benefits more. People HATE the mere suggestion that they’ll have to give up anything. Here in San Francisco last week, a soda tax failed, for example (people want their poison and they want it cheaply). But truly, I find the stuff tastes awful. It makes you sick. And a refreshing glass of tap water costs nothing.


    1. I’m in total agreement and am certainly one of those people who hates be told what I can’t have! I think it should be about what you gain about living more sustainably, but as Tess says: “we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can go on limitlessly consuming the kinds of food, energy, goods and gadgets we’re currently investing in without a second thought.” There has to be a balance where (in very simple terms) there is no such thing as loss of pleasures, only swapping for more respectful versions of the things you love!

      Despite being a massive foodie, being Vegan for me has never been about missing out on anything; as I have discovered so many other ingredients instead.

      Liked by 1 person

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