Digital activism: shaping the world we live in

When I started blogging about my Zero Waste Week efforts seven and half years ago, I would never have called myself a digital activist.  I wasn’t even an ‘analogue’ activist. I wasn’t any kind of activist – no placard waving, not even campaigning from my armchair.  I was just an observer of things and a random blogger with a tendency to share news that I found interesting.

Then out of nowhere, I was hit by an issue, the enormous problem of waste – and suddenly I was hooked! But it wasn’t the problem alone that hooked me.  It was also my growing awareness of how easy it is to reduce waste, the importance of doing so plus the financial and environmental benefits that shrinking our bin bags can bring.

And this weekend, I’m both excited and delighted to have the opportunity to share my experience at BritMums Live, joining Hayley Goleniowska, campaigner at Downs Side UpJean McLean from Save the Children and Michelle Pannell of Mummy from the heart on Saturday’s Digital Activism panel, addressing how we can shape the world that we live in.

Before I pack my bags and scoot off to join hundreds of other bloggers, I thought it would be useful to share some thoughts about my own experience in championing a cause close to my heart.

1. When the passion hits you

When I registered for my council’s challenge to slim my bin for their Zero Waste Week, I was a different woman to the one I became eight weeks later, when the landfill rubbish that we threw away consisted of just one small plaster.  In just those short few weeks, I’d researched how we could improve our recycling and tackle our food waste.  The impact was amazing and seeing the number of bin bags reduce was incredibly motivating. I no longer felt guilty about throwing so much rubbish away.  We were also saving money and time. I’d caught the bug and became passionate about sharing the challenge with others.

That’s when I started inviting other bloggers to take The Rubbish Diet Challenge and mentoring people along the way.  However, writing a blog about rubbish still felt odd and out of synch with the interests of the wider blogosphere.  But the more I blogged about those experiences, the more I got to know others who were following similar or related challenges.  Knowing that others were also finding their feet and shared the same passions was a key motivator in building my own voice.

Warning – shameless plug alert:  If you want to give it a go yourself, I’d love you to check out the website. Just sign up and you’ll receive emails with lots of tips on sorting out your recycling, smart shopping and making the most of your food.

2. Curiosity

Being a Newbie to the topic, I soon developed a curiosity to find out more about what happened in the world of waste beyond my bin.  I quickly found myself on a mission of self-learning to discover why landfill was a real problem, why Energy from Waste wasn’t the ultimate solution and what really happens to our recycling.  I nervously invited myself along to industry conferences and attended exhibitions.  In all honesty, I became a bit of a groupie.  I wanted to know more about the issues and more importantly the opportunities.  I blogged and tweeted my discoveries mostly with my overactive enthusiasm and sometimes disappointment.  For anyone who wants to add their voice to a campaign or a cause, curiosity has its benefits.  It’s what creates an individual story that goes beyond just sharing a press release. Your personal contribution can become a compelling tale.

3. Motivator not dictator

Waste reduction, as I eventually discovered, is a complex issue to promote.  It might have been easy to reduce our landfill rubbish at home but that doesn’t make me an expert in your bin.  If there’s one thing I can guarantee, your lifestyle will be different to mine and most likely so will the types of stuff your council can recycle.  Your routine will be different, as will your shopping preferences and disposable income.  However, what I have learned is that if you set a goal to reduce your waste, you will find what works best for you. That’s why I’d rather show what’s possible instead of telling folk what to do.  It’s a subtle difference but having respect for people’s personal circumstances and boundaries is at the core of my campaign work.

4. Enthusiasm is infectious

Genuine enthusiasm, care and excitement can change a thousand hearts.  It’s what brings a blogpost and a campaign alive. Even a tweet can be packed with infectious passion. Your personal voice matters in being able to connect your audience to your cause.  Just take care not to overdo it though.  There is always a risk that one too many tweets with the same message can switch off your audience, no matter how enthusiastic you are.

5. Offline activism for digital impact

It’s often said in the blogging world that we should get away from our screens, go out and do something, then come back to blog about it.  The same applies to digital activism.  We can choose to share simply share and retweet campaign messages, and that’s good.  However, if you get the opportunity to attend related events or even organise one of your own, it can be inspiring.  At The Rubbish Diet we now run ‘Beyond the Bin‘ visits for our followers and dieters, creating opportunities for people to visit recycling plants to find out what happens to certain materials.  In the past, I’ve organised local community collections to support Recycle Week and liaised with local schools to run one-off events.  These have provided not just interesting stories and great case studies for what can be done, but they’ve also had stand-alone impact in their own right in raising awareness and creating action in local communities.

6. Passing on the baton

Related to my previous point, one of the most rewarding experiences has been supporting others in taking the baton and adding their own voice.  Inviting friends and social-media contacts to take The Rubbish Diet challenge and then blog, tweet or share their updates on Facebook has been a great way of raising awareness and encouraging action amongst their own audiences.

And it doesn’t have to be limited to social media. Several years ago, a local newspaper editor took the challenge and shared his experience in print to an audience of 24,ooo readers. Another great project was the BBC Radio Suffolk Suffolk Diet where over eight weeks, we featured updates from listeners and experts from around the county as well as personal experiences of BBC staff.

And last year, a Love Food Hate Waste event at a local restaurant inspired the restaurant owner to embark on an exciting social enterprise mission, which is currently under development.

Empowering others to take on the message in their own way is a great way to collaborate and create wider impact. And thanks to partnering with a consultancy that specialises in community action, raising awareness and helping to create change has become much easier.

I’d like to send a huge thank you to everyone who’s joined this crazy journey, slimming their own bin or influencing others. Every ounce of effort counts.

7. Taking the rough with the smooth

If you’re a passionate activist, you’ll find your commitment and energy will carry you along but sometimes, for all sorts of reasons, you might crash and hit the wall.  You might experience a crisis of confidence or self-doubt. Perhaps it might be a rejection email from someone with whom you wanted to collaborate.  Perhaps you feel your tweets are falling on deaf ears.  Sometimes national headlines of the wrong kind may anger, frustrate or disappoint you, making you feel that your actions, no matter how large or small, are futile.

If you suddenly find it becomes all too much, if you can, take a break and return when you’re refreshed.  It sounds simple advice, but when you’re deeply embroiled in trying to change the world, it can be hard to step back when you most need to. You’ll be more resilient in the long run.

8. Finding balance

If you can, make the most of every opportunity that comes your way.  However, this also comes with a risk that your passion can take over your life.  And that thing that you told your spouse would only take up eight weeks of your time, in a blink of an eye develops into eight years.

Due to life changes and different stages of your children’s development, where you once had the time to say Yes to every opportunity, you may find yourself having to say No – a tricky skill for a ‘Yes Person’ to master, especially when it’s a tempting opportunity and you love what you do.  However, people really do understand that balance is important.

One of my current projects is with a TV company that’s filming a BBC programme about waste.  Now that’s such an exciting experience that I couldn’t turn down, especially as it’s being led by a well-known presenter and campaigner whom I admire and who I know will have a huge impact.  It’s most definitely taught me the art of juggling but I love every minute of it.

And I certainly couldn’t say no to BritMums either. I’m so looking forward to catching up with old friends and getting to know some new faces.  And some of the best blogging pals have been those where we’ve connected through rubbish – oh, and Chuggington, but that’s another story.

Blimmin’ ‘eck, I haven’t even packed yet – what was that about finding balance?

See you in just over 12 hours.  But first, supper and sleep or I’ll have trouble activating my own eyelids into action, let alone anything else. x

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