Motherhood & Zero-Waste Living: Q&A with Terry Butler

August 5, 2019

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Green Tribu, Founder
Como, Italy

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Meet Terry Butler, co-founder of Green Tribu, an Italian company that sells plastic-free, sustainable, and eco-friendly products to help make the zero-waste lifestyle a bit more accessible. Terry, who is originally from California but currently living in Como, Italy with her French husband/Green Tribu co-founder and their three sons, has been living a low-impact/zero-waste lifestyle for the past few years — a shift that occurred, like many women, after having children. 

Here’s what she has to share about her zero waste journey.

Q & A with Terry Butler, Founder of Green Tribu:

1) What is one thing about motherhood that you were least expecting?

This may sound naive, but I thought it would be easier! I was definitely a more stressed out mom than I expected to be in the beginning. Now that I have 3 little boys, 6 and under, I wouldn’t say it’s easy but we’re able to be much more relaxed –we don’t sweat the small things. You have to laugh a lot as things can be pretty crazy at times.

2) How has motherhood/pregnancy changed you?

I have become an expert at multitasking. Being a mother, wife and having a career on top of it all, it’s incredible how much I am able to accomplish in a day, even if the motherhood accomplishments are less tangible.
Also, my priorities have changed significantly – and for the better. I used to want to continue that climb up the corporate ladder. While my career is still important to me, it has shifted more than I expected. Now the family is #1 and I seek career satisfaction in other ways, such as starting a new side-project to make the world a better place – green tribu.

3) How long have you been living a low-impact/zero-waste lifestyle?

I ‘d say I’ve been seriously following a low-impact/zero-waste lifestyle for about a year.

4) What inspired the transition?

The first turning point for me was having children as I was searching for the most natural solutions possible for my little ones. The second major turning point was about a year ago when I discovered that only roughly 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled and the tragic impact plastic pollution has on the environment. As I thought we were practically model citizens in Italy with highly organized recycling, it was a shock to discover recycling is far from being enough. After researching and discovering the impact on birds, marine life, the oceans and ultimately us, and subsequently discovering the zero-waste movement, the transition came surprisingly quickly thereafter.

Photo Courtesy of Terry Butler

3) What three things have you found to be the most challenging when it comes to living sustainably (eco-friendly, ethical fashion, etc.) & raising children?

So many times I’ve heard the comment: I have enough going on with my normal life, who has time to worry about sustainability as well! And I get it! I am not able or willing to make 100% of our food from scratch, sew our own clothes, etc. Rather, I always recommend that parents looking to lead a more sustainable life take it 1 step at a time. That way it’s more manageable and less overwhelming, and likely to stick.

For us, regretfully reusable diapers were something that just terrified me until I finally gave it a try about 1 year ago with my 3rd baby. I already had so much else going on! Now I’m kicking myself for not having started earlier, but it’s better late than never.

Secondly, I’d say clothing. I’m always on the lookout for sustainable and DURABLE kids brands. Having 3 little boys, they are rough with their clothes. We generally only buy for my oldest and pass down, and luckily have cousins who give hand me downs, but when we do need to buy, I find it difficult to find brands offering affordable, cute, simple, durable and eco-friendly clothing here in Europe.

Third, it can be challenging at times to reconcile zero waste with parenting, especially with all the presents! Well-meaning family members just love showering our little boys with gifts, often plastic. It’s tricky explaining to the boys why we don’t buy balloons and other plastic toys, but at the same time, they always impress me when they are able to explain that plastic is bad because it can harm fish and birds when they eat microplastics.

4) What tips (things that worked best for you) can you share with other mothers/fathers to help them along their eco-conscious/slow fashion journey?

Planning and baby steps. Take it one step at a time and don’t stress if it doesn’t work out every time. Tomorrow is always a new day.

1 – Make your own baby food. It’s much easier than it seems and you can work in large batches which takes less time. No fancy tools needed, just a blender and freezer. I would steam a bunch of fruits, veggies, and proteins on the weekend and then blend them, put the puree in ice trays, and keep the cubes in labeled baggies or jars. I used Wholesome Baby Food which has tons of information and recipes. Also, it seems more common here in Italy/France to make your own baby food which helped me stick with it as I felt culturally supported.

2 – Give cloth diapering a chance. I waited way too long to do this! When I realized even eco-friendly diapers aren’t fully compostable, and that I am already doing laundry every day with 3 boys, I decided to give it a try. Now I’m hooked! The best is to find a way to try them first before making the investment. In Italy, there is a fabulous Facebook group that offers a kit with different kinds of cloth diapers, they allow you to borrow cloth diapers for a trial period and all you have to pay are the shipping costs. Friends are also a great resource, or otherwise, buy some used before really making the commitment. Then once you start, make sure you’re supported with a community (Facebook groups are amazing for this) so you’re set up for success. Now I wish I had tried earlier!

5) Living an eco-friendly/slow fashion lifestyle isn’t always convenient or easy, but why does it matter that we at least try our best (there’s no such thing as perfection).

It is definitely not always convenient or easy but there are some misconceptions out there making it seem much harder or expensive than it really needs to be. For me, the turning point was awareness. When I began discovering the heartbreaking statistics about the environment, and in particular plastic pollution, coupled with the solutions offered by the “zero waste” movement, I couldn’t help myself from making changes. I truly feel that once you understand what the consequences of our consumer choices are and what alternatives are available, it becomes more and more automatic in your mind when you are making choices in the supermarket, purchasing online, in shops, etc.

That being said, I would never recommend that anyone try to throw away everything and replace it with all shiny new “zero waste” products. The zero-waste movement is about using up what you have first, trying to first find alternatives in your home to allow you to reduce your waste, and then purchasing items that are reusable and will either reduce the packaging of the alternative or will simply replace the disposable alternative. When approaching zero waste in this way, you will often find that you invest more upfront but end up spending less overall!

Another common misconception is that you have to DIY everything to be sustainable. We have jobs, kids, other problems, not everyone has the time or desire to make everything themselves. And you don’t have to! That’s one of the main reasons we created green tribu. We wanted sustainability to be accessible to everyone! We do make some things DIY but only when they involve 3 ingredients or less 🙂

Lastly, and you said it in the question – there is no such thing as perfection. There’s a great quote: “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.” – Anne-Marie Bonneau. And it’s so true. We all can make a difference, even in little changes we make. With baby steps, and together, we can have an incredible impact on changing the world for the better.

6) List three of your favorite ethical and eco-conscious children’s brands (toys, clothes, food, etc.) Any Italian brands you love?

We try to buy mostly wood toys for when they are little, and educational or creative toys as they grow, and look for hand me downs whenever possible. But, one brand that we are really excited about is Pura Kiki, who is actually from California! I wish so much that we had known about them when my first was born. Pura creates stainless steel bottles that transition from baby bottles to sippy tops, to straw tops to sport tops – all with the same bottle. Not only are you not exposing your child to the less than ideal material of plastic but you’re also able to avoid buying countless new cups and bottles over many years!

7) What has been the biggest difference when it comes to raising children in Italy vs the US? How about when it comes to living sustainably, what differences have you noticed? 

There are wonderful things about both places but at times they feel very different! When I had my first baby, I was frustrated by all the wonderful baby products I wanted from the US and couldn’t buy in Italy. Now, I realize it’s actually better I was less likely to succumb to the temptation as I did not have access. Years later, I’m approaching parenting with a much more sustainable approach – Less is more. It’s hard to avoid the excellent marketing and millions of baby products in the US. In Italy, there are still plenty of baby products but there is less of the push towards consumerism.

Also, in France and Italy (I’m also highly influenced by France as my husband is French!), I have the impression is more common to make your own baby food, repair clothes rather than replacing them, and to choose to use hand me downs rather than being tempted to buy new. Of course, you can’t generalize as the opposite can definitely be true but this has been my experience, which has helped me when looking to parent sustainably.

8) Bonus question: 
”I don’t believe we as individuals should be held responsible for our consumer and lifestyle habits — it’s nearly impossible to live a sustainable lifestyle and honestly, I have other things to worry about — I am a busy mom! Rather, I believe it’s up to our governments and businesses to lead the way, to change their policies, etc. Climate change, ethical fashion, plastic pollution, child labor, etc. these are top-down issues, not bottom-up issues, my choices won’t make a difference.” Agree or disagree? why or why not.

This question is absolutely an important discussion point. Our focus at green tribu has been to make leading a sustainable and minimal waste lifestyle accessible to everyone. Sometimes we do hear comments that zero waste is too expensive or time-consuming, but this does not have to be the case.

We as consumers need to break the cycle. Governments have many priorities and as we have seen, the environment is not always put at the top. If we wait for them, it may be too late. If we as consumers continue to consume without being aware of the impact, companies will continue to act in the same way. Businesses will act based on their consumer preferences and governments will act based on what the voters want. After all, consumers are voting too, with their money! The first step is awareness and then we should lead the way by buying less, buying quality, and making it last. Once businesses see these changes in consumer preferences they will begin to offer products that meet these demands. Once we as consumers begin to understand the implications of our choices, it becomes natural and even easy to choose the more sustainable alternatives.

A bit about Green Tribu:

Un passo dopo l’altro verso una vita più sostenible // One step after another towards a more sustainable life

1. Name of founders: Terry Butler + Guillaume Lebobe

2. City of residence:
Como, Italy

3. Place of birth:
Terry: San Antonio, Texas, USA (but raised in California!) // Guillaume: Lyon, France

4. In under five sentences, define your business: At green tribu, we want to make the journey to a sustainable lifestyle accessible to everyone. It shouldn’t have to be too time-consuming, too expensive, and you shouldn’t have to sacrifice beauty in the process! At green tribu we offer a curated selection of sustainable, eco-friendly and plastic-free alternatives for everyday use.

5. What social or environmental impact is your business making?
Did you know only 9% of the world’s plastic is recycled? And that recent studies say that we are consuming the weight of a credit card in microplastics every week on average? These bombshells among others were what drove us make changes in our own lifestyles to reduce the use of plastic and non-recyclable materials in our home. While making these changes, we found a lack of availability of many alternatives, which led us to the creation of green tribu.

6. What is the best part about the work you’re doing? Why?
Not only do we finally get to finally work on a fulfilling project that contributes to decreasing plastic pollution, but we get to do it to it together as a couple, which we have always dreamed of doing.

7. List three of your favorite sustainable/ethical brands?
Georganics for dental hygiene
Eco Femme for cloth pads and their wonderful social mission
The Reformation for fashion

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