Katie Patrick is one of those Facebook friends I have no recollection of first connecting with. I know we both worked in conservation, we share similar philosophies on life, climate change, sustainability work and health and particularly how they’re all inter-related. And now, later in life we’re both single mums. I also know she’s a go-getter. In 2006 she started a print and digital media publishing company that grew to employ 20 people with 1000 paying customers. She grew up in Brisbane but calls California home these days.
She now designs games and web apps for changing behaviour, with a specific focus on using environmental data for motivational design. But her most recent project is an e-book focused on living a life with zero waste. And the good news is, you can own it for less than ten bucks.
The HUGE zero waste manual includes tips, data and revelations and is the world’s most comprehensive manual about how to live without making any trash whatsoever. Coming in at a whopping 215 pages and with 148 ‘zero waste actions’ complete with detailed explanations, DIYs, tips, recipes, home hacks and product recommendations the book will transform you into a sustainability superstar.
While I’m swanning about Thailand and Katie Patrick is in California, we exchange emails about her new project.
Tell me about winning 2008 Cosmopolitan Woman of the Year?
It was fun! It’s pretty much just a media popularity contest, so I didn’t take it too seriously at the time, but I got to have very involved photo shoot and a fun celebrity party and red carpet photo, which is rare in the environmental change game!
You’ve been involved in a heap of entrepreneurial projects – tell me about some of them?
It’s pretty much been mainly Green Pages that changed form through the years. I built a green directory in print and online, a magazine and a community portal with geolocation tagged content. I was lucky enough to raise venture capital finance back in 2007. But it’s pretty different in Silicon Valley. You have to be 1000x more talented than in Australia – it’s quite overwhelming and intimidating. Recently I’ve been working on my new start up Hello World from which I’ve been writing a book on data-driven social change, I’ve designed a zero waste behavior-change game and been working on my youtube channel for teaching zero waste. I hope to work on some pretty innovative stuff with the gamification of environmental data, but it’s a nascent field so I’m still pulling it together.
You’ve said before that living with zero waste will change people’s lives. How so?
For starters you save LOADS of money. If you quit buying disposable stuff, you quit spending the money on all that stuff that you throw away. It’s also dramatically healthier. It kind of demands a whole foods diet as all junk food comes wrapped in plastic. It sparks creativity because you need to make and fix things. It also has a kind of spiritual dimension that makes people feel freed up from clutter and mentally clearer. The psychological effect can be quite profound. It’s like getting rid of a ball and chain of plastic waste that has been following you everywhere. Hard to explain until you have experienced it, but it’s real!
What are some of the environmental and social impacts of waste?
An area I’m very passionate about is emphasising the embodied energy in items we throw away. That means that every item, recyclable or not, required coal, natural gas, crude oil and chemicals invested in it to be made. I think these environmental inputs could easily make up one third of a person’s whole environmental impact. Then there are tremendous issues with ocean pollution. There is six times as much plastic as zooplankton in the Pacific Gyre. I love to read life cycle analysis reports and then creatively show the data in ways that will resonate with people. We’ve been taught to focus on recycling after the thing was used, but I like to ask ‘what impact did this thing have before it got to you?’
What made you decide to write the book?
I have actually been trying to develop a behaviour change game that taught zero waste, kind of like those habit apps and biometrics apps that are in vogue now, but it was taking so long, I just put all the information into a PDF so people could access it. But I started on this project because I wanted to pursue an environmental issue that was clearly measurable, where I could set clear metric goals. Landfill seemed like a great place to start that had not been given as much attention as other areas of sustainability.
You’re a single mum with a gorgeous little girl. What was your strategy for getting shit done with a baby underfoot?
I have a great thing going where I have between two and four half days of home day care which is quite affordable, then I have a gym that has wifi and childcare, and a grandma who takes the baby for a walk nearly every day. Babies also go to sleep early so I get time between 8.00pm – 11.00pm. With focus, I can get at least four, if not eight hours a day of work, with eight hours for baby/life things, then eight hour for sleep = 24 hours. Sometimes I stay up all night when the baby is asleep. I’m severely ruthless about my productivity when I have these slivers of time, I don’t f*ck around. The areas of my life that slip are things like cooking, cleaning, grooming, friends, exercise, TV, reading and eating which are squished to their absolute minimum. I am quite productive, but at a personal cost.
I also eat a low fat vegan diet made up mostly of fruit and veggies which I blame all my good fortune on!
You really love your work, don’t you?
I’m focusing on making content and building a community / movement for zero waste and LOVING this style of work! I can work on my own without employees or clients and really focus on the meaning of the work. Since I took a turn towards measurement based environmental change, figuring out a ‘number’ I wanted to change in the world, my creativity just exploded and I’ve loved the creative process much more than anything else I’ve done. It’s working too – people are messaging me all the time saying they’ve made these eco behavior changes and stopped doing this or that thing. This has never happened to me before! I want to share with the people the power of finding your master metric in what you do.
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Detrash Your Life in 90 Days is a wonderful and comprehensive guide and sets out clear strategies for making a massive impact on your personal plastic and waste footprint. It’s just $6.99 USD online. You can also subscribe to Katie’s youtube channel.