Unshackling conservation from its colonialist roots

Sophia Cheng / 7 min read / Digital Nomad Days, Newbie Activist Life
22 April 2018
Interview with Aca Alamsyah

I want to lead a more ethical lifestyle, I read a lot on the subject and can talk passionately about it over a pint. But what does that mean in practice? I’ve listed the main activities I do; I am sure there is more, but it’s a start.

Cutting out the plastic in my personal hygiene

  • My month long experiment of cutting out plastic back in May has had a lingering effect – my wash bag has hd a complete overhaul. Thanks to Lush, I know used solid shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant, perfume and moisturiser that all live in their reusable tin packaging. Not to mention saving on weight in my baggage!
  • Dental hygiene is now courtesy of Lush’s tooth tabs, now in recycled plastic packaging but you can return the packaging to the store, and a bamboo toothbrush. The bristles are still an issue but once I separate them the rest will decompose
  • Facial wipes have been replaced with a muslin facecloth and reusable facial cleanser from Bodyshop
  • Use the Mooncup

Where I am still falling down: floss, daily use contact lenses

Cutting down on single-use items

  • I’m getting pretty good at carrying around my reusable cup and bottle for hot drinks and water. I’ve now imposed myself a rule, that if I want a hot drink but I’ve forgotten my cup and paper cups are the only option – I deny myself the coffee. I learn pretty fast to take it with me.
  • I’ve started carrying around camping knife and spork, street food is a big deal here in Mexico and I don’t want to deny myself everything. I’ve carried around some tupperware recently but haven’t felt brave enough to bring this out. **UPDATE** As of June 2017 – now include a glass straw and napkin.
  • x2 tote bags are now a stable in my usual bag so I’m ready for last minute purchases. I am perfecting, “no quiero una bolsita, gracias’
  • Re-use paper or plastic bags when we do get them
  • Don’t use straws,
  • Eating-in more, taking time over my lunch

Where I am still falling down: not being as organised as I’d like to be when I leave the house, I need to get more assertive at saying I don’t want a straw proactively, before my drink arrives.

Consuming more ethically


  • I have found my label – reducetarian! As a former carnivore I find it difficult to go completely vegetarian. My mind play tricks on me, when I try and ban something it becomes even more desirable. Also not wishing to put people out when I am a guest means and wanting to try the odd cultural delicacy means I do end up eating some meat. After watching Before the Flood I’m making renewed efforts to stay away from beef.
  • I’ve cut down on dairy, partly because I’ve finally accepted that my body doesn’t take to dairy well as well as for ethical reasons. Cheese is still a tough one though.
  • Try to buy organic and/or local where possible. Try to avoid imported goods and keep it seasonal. There’s an abundance of markets here so we’re spreading our buying power around a bit.
  • Try to avoid palm oil – and fail a lot
  • Adopt a cooking style that aids using up unused food to avoid undue waste.
  • Try to select items with less packaging


  • Shopping is no longer a pass time, although it was for many years (a mall used to be a good day out), now I try and swap that with something more active, a walk or a cycle or a coffee somewhere.
  • Avoid impromptu buys for convenience or due to my laziness.
  • Try and use minimalism principles – do I need it or will it bring me joy?
  • Avoid certain brands that do not align with my values- Primark, and other fast fashion outlets. Amazon etc.
  • Book buying is my weakness, my go-to is second hand bookstores online or in real life. But I also do love to buy new books from wonderful bookstores I’ve visited around the world. Most books, when I’m finished with them, I write a little note and pass them on. I love the idea that the book goes on its own adventure. **UPDATE** As of June 2017 I believe in book fairies.
  • Research before I buy, using tools like the Ethical Consumer magazine in the UK, means when I do find a brand I like I become very loyal, Bam Clothing, Fairphone and Lush for example.
  • Speak with friends and family and let them know my views on this, request they do not buy me gifts for birthdays or Christmas
  • Buy with a story – Of course there are pieces I’ve wanted to pick up along the way, I try and make sure they’re not generic pieces but items with a story; bought from this market, handmade by this person, bought when I’d made it that far on a hike, support the mission of this Kickstarter etc.

Use less water

  • Can’t remember the last time I had a bath, take short efficient showers
  • If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown flush it down. Or what about this campaign: Go with the Flow!

Putting my money where my mouth is

  • If you’re earning more than £26500/year (and you don’t have dependants) you’re in the top 2.7% of the wealthiest population on the planet. Surprised? Have a go yourself with Give What You Can calculator. After learning this I decided to donate 2.5% of my annual income on initiatives that have either been deemed effective and/or are very close to my heart. My regular monthly donations still allow enough cash leftover to donate to impromptu activities. I hope it up it gradually over the years. (Give What You Can are looking for those who can pledge 10% of their income – one day!) **UPDATE** As of August 2017 With Many Roots donates 10% of profit to charity***
  • My savings, little as they are currently, are now with Triodos ethical bank. As an aside I am now saving more and have spent time putting a plan together to regularly save. I have opted for the lower interest but ‘ethical fund’ in my pension as well.
  • When I return to the UK I plan to leave HSBC and open a current account with Metro. It’s a hassle yes, i have so many direct debits set up etc but I no longer wish to put my money or let’s be more honest pay credit card monthly payments or overdraft fees to a bank that continues to exploit the earth’s natural resources – see the latest palm oil scandal.
    **UPDATE** As of August 2017 I now have a Triodos current account – see dedicated post here.
  • Offset my air miles. I fly, a lot. It’s something which sits uncomfortably with me and I know others are quick to point it out. However I still have a few more heavy years of flying ahead of me so I have done the research and now donate to Cool Earth for my miles flown. Cool Earth have been deemed by third parties to be one of the most effective ways to combat carbon emissions, providing alternative incomes to communities to keep forests standing.
  • Support constructive journalism by regularly supporting Democracy Now and Positive News


  • Try and journal a bit each day
  • Get outside every day, regardless of the weather
  • Practice mindfulness via the Headspace app
  • I’ve made a recent commitment to take a week offline, off screens every quarter

I fall of the wagon, a lot, but I hope overall I am making small positive steps in the right direction.

What do you do? And how do you keep on track?

Avatar photo Sophia Cheng With a decade of communications experience across the for profit and nonprofit sectors, agency and in-house, Sophia has made a habit of making ‘the hard stuff’ more accessible. Since 2018, she has reorientated her life around the climate crisis. She has forged her decade of communications experience into offering workshops, mentoring, blogging, and more, on the biggest issues of our time. View all posts
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