How do you remain solvent?

Content warning: this post discusses topics that may be distressing.

I was asked this question recently while recording an episode of The Plasticology Project podcast. The interviewer had become come the interviewee. The question struck a nerve and I didn’t like it.

Not because the question was rude, intrusive or insulting. But because it drove home a point that is at the forefront of my mind on a daily basis. In this work, money is hard to find.

I have bills to pay, I have a mortgage, I have to put food on the table. All of this requires an income. An income that very nearly doesn’t exist.

Almost all of the work that I do in the environmental space is unpaid. I sell copies of The Plasticology Project book that earns just enough from royalties to pay for the marketing to continue to earn more royalties. The book will never break even and makes no sense from a business perspective – but that was never the point. I often appear in the media, but these appearances are all unpaid. My contributions to NGOs and NFPs are all, you guessed it, unpaid. Really, the entire financial model is ridiculous!

I need to put some reality and perspective into the picture though. I am not poor, and indeed I am wealthy by global standards. I have a higher degree education, a home, clean safe water, nutritious food and some form of employment. Unlike a vast proportion of the world, I am, in comparison to many, very well off. There is no delusion otherwise.

The question of maintaining financial stability to continue doing activism work is, however, one that has many in the environmental space retracting into their shell and hiding from the light of day. It is a tough world, and made even harder when you are the voice that delivers the uncomfortable facts that people don’t want to hear.

I, like many others in this space have to work multiple jobs in other sectors to keep the lights on. But this is precarious, particularly when work dwindles in one of the financially gainful positions. Watching the bank account draw down, and wondering when the next paycheck will arrive is hard, and sometimes it can get very dark in that place.

Financial stability for environmental activism is difficult. Source: John Hain on Pixabay

But we do the work that we do for a reason. Something inside us compels us to do good in the world and help others. We all have our story – I have my own. That story aside, I am fuelled by the conversations that I have with incredible people doing amazing things to solve the many environmental challenges the world is currently facing. I am driven to leave this world just a bit better than when I found it.

I have been fortunate to meet people from across the globe, all doing their little bit to help solve problems. For example, Mutumba Faisal in Uganda, working to educate the next generation of environmental stewards about the importance of sustainable fishing in Lake Victoria, or, Lumbani Mvula in Malawi, creating an income for his community by turning trash into cash by making plastic bricks.

Lumbani Mvula demonstrating bricks made from plastic. Source: supplied.

Each individual contributing in a small way that will create a ripple effect through the generations. As I say in my book

“one small change at a time”

While the question “how do you remain solvent?” conjures up many uncomfortable realities, it also reminds me of just how lucky I am to be working in a space with so many passionate and dedicated people. Sometimes life is about more than just financial gain. Sometimes, the ability to help others in their mission to make the world a better place is more valuable than a bank account full of money. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to finance all of my pipedream projects. To help people like Lumbani build their enterprise, to support their community, and shape a different future. To create a legacy that will survive long after money no longer matters.

But maybe, just for now, my ambitions will have to remain just that: a pipedream.



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