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Conversations with the Inspiring Audrey Saunders

Today we’d like to introduce you to Audrey Saunders.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Audrey. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My passion for the environment and animal welfare didn’t turn on like a light switch. Rather, it was a gradual evolution over time. Things really ramped up last year when I noticed my daughter making changes that raised my awareness about problems I hadn’t previously considered. She stopped using plastic water bottles and got a stainless steel bottle. She refused plastic straws at restaurants. She turned to secondhand shopping and minimized her wardrobe. Her example woke me up, inspired me to do my own research, and prompted me to start my “Think More, Waste Less” journey. This motto became the handle for my little Instagram account documenting the changes I’m making. I’ve worked toward reducing my negative impact on the environment while also trying to make a positive difference. Some changes have been small, like switching out paper towels for rags, replacing Ziplock bags with reusable glass jars, or using a safety razor instead of disposable plastic shavers. Other changes have been dramatic, like adopting a vegan diet, growing my own vegetable garden, and fostering animals to help a local rescue.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
We don’t live in a zero-waste world. Americans in particular value convenience and a good deal, which creates demand for cheap, disposable products. Doing things the zero waste way (a.k.a. “the old fashioned way”) can take more time and more effort. This is especially true in the kitchen. My biggest struggle is with plastic food packaging. I’ve had to learn to do without some of the things I used to buy. Rather than buying ready-made bagged salads, I buy the ingredients, wash, and prep the veggies, and make my own dressings from scratch. It’s not as convenient, but it’s better for the planet, my health, and my wallet.

The majority of my grocery purchases are loose produce and bulk goods, though some plastic still makes its way into my cart. I’ve learned to make my own plant milk to avoid non-recyclable tetra packs. A friend taught me to make my own bread, eliminating my need for disposable bread bags. I also look for pantry staples in glass jars or aluminum cans so that the containers can be reused or recycled. At first, learning to make things from scratch was daunting. Now that I’m getting a handle on it, it’s empowering.

My husband and I took a vermicomposting class last December at Arizona Worm Farm. From there, things snowballed! We created several small garden beds in our backyard, planted a few fruit trees, and started composting all our food scraps. We experienced great success with salad greens, herbs, zucchini, and tomatoes. Our cabbage, kale, bell peppers, and cauliflower were a total bust. Once the heat lets up, we’ll try again. Gardening is addicting!

Secondhand shopping for clothing and household goods is my new normal. It’s a practice that requires A LOT of patience and a little bit of luck. I love knowing that I’m taking items out of the waste stream while reducing the demand for resource-intensive products. My favorite purchase of late was an $8 vintage dress that I wore for our family Christmas pictures.

Some of my low waste habits are fun and have prompted some great conversations with people. Whenever I go out to eat, I bring my own stainless steel straw and cup. I’ve had many servers comment on it and it’s been 100% positive. Grocery clerks are happy to see me using my mesh, reusable produce bags when I come through their lines. I also get a great reaction when I give a gift wrapped in something usable like a tea towel and repurposed ribbon instead of gift wrap and plastic bows. I think people generally want to do better by the planet, so when they see others taking a step out of the mainstream it makes “green living” doable.

The most rewarding and impactful decision I’ve made to help the environment was my switch to a vegan diet. Food, Inc., and Forks Over Knives were documentaries that motivated me to go vegetarian 9 years ago. I simply couldn’t continue eating meat once I knew the harsh realities of factory farming. 99% of America’s meat is produced this way and it’s bad for the animals, the environment, and our health. Then, I learned about the impact of eggs and dairy. The work of Colleen Patrick-Goudreau and Ed Winters, along with documentaries like Cowspiracy and What the Health prompted me to go vegan this year. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.

Is it hard to be vegan? No, it’s not difficult for me to abstain from animal products. I have too many compelling reasons to live a plant-based life. The challenging part is dealing with social situations and the apathy, misinformation, and denial of others. I combat discouragement by volunteering for a local animal rescue, sharing information and experiences on my @thinkmorewasteless Instagram account, and helping others to make eco-friendly changes.

Please tell us more about your work, what you are currently focused on and most proud of.
The greatest work in my adult life was my job as a stay-at-home mom to my two kids, Jacob and Emma. My professional background is in early childhood education. Currently, I work part-time in the fitness industry teaching group exercise classes. Teaching is in my blood. I love to engage with people and see them progress. A recent personal highlight was giving a presentation about my “Think More, Waste Less” message to a group of teens. They ate it up! I could see little light bulbs going off and it was amazing to see their natural passion for the planet and animals. I’d love to have more teaching or speaking opportunities like that. When I started spreading my @thinkmorewasteless Instagram account last fall, I wanted to show that green living is for anyone. I’m a 42-year-old empty-nester. I’m not the typical environmentalist or animal advocate. I also don’t whitewash my journey. I share my hits and misses, successes and failures. I value transparency and I try to show that an average person can make a positive difference when armed with information.

My hope is to encourage others to be more mindful about their choices. If we’d all pause to think of the consequences before buying, using, eating, or discarding, it would make a real difference. I love the adage used by Anna Marie Bonneau (a.k.a. The Zero Waste Chef): “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” Little steps, made a little at a time really can make a difference. I’m always gratified when people tell me my example helped them make a change they hadn’t previously considered. It keeps me going.

What do you feel are the biggest barriers today to female leadership, in your industry or generally?
Personally, the biggest barriers to leadership have come from within. I’m not alone. Many women struggle with their identity, a fear of not measuring up, and a need to be accepted, These self-imposed obstacles keep us from reaching our potential as influencers. When we accept our uniqueness and try not to be someone else, we’re free to do great things.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Trinity Moore Photography (horizontal photo of my daughter and me only)

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