We interviewed the impressive Andre Eikmeir, founder of The Good Empire and co-founder of Vinomofo. While chatting with Andre we learn more about The Year of the Planet initiative which encourages simple changes to lead a more sustainable life.
How did you come up with the idea for The Year of the Planet?
In 2018, I vowed as a new year’s resolution to stop using disposable takeaway coffee cups. Just a small thing, but it got me noticing how much plastic I was using (and wasting), and it opened my eyes to how gratuitous our consumption is, in a lot of ways. How normal it has become for everything to come in plastic.
I really wanted, to do something to help change the way we consumed. I know big changes are hard, but little changes are not so hard, particularly when we’re not doing it alone. And yes, we need governments and big business to change the way they think and act, but we need to do our bit too. There’s a lot we can do. So we worked out a series of changes we could all make in our lives to live more sustainably, starting with clear, simple things, and getting more and more impactful as we went. That’s basically how Year of the Planet came about.
Your journey started with co-founding the successful online wine shop, Vinomofo. How and why was the idea for Good Empire born?
I was getting more and more concerned with the state of the world – politically, and just in principle – we couldn’t keep going with this zero-sum game where some ‘win’ and others ‘lose’. I started questioning my purpose, really. With all the privilege and knowledge and experience and reputation and connections I had, was my legacy going to be building a wine company, or did I have a responsibility to do something more directly impactful with my life? Was I just going to continue complaining about things at dinner parties, or was I going to do something about it?
I started looking to see if the world had a strategy, and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) looked to be the most comprehensive, accountable, supported strategy we had, so I created Good Empire in service of these goals. I pulled together a small team and started thinking up ways we could help change the things that needed changing and make things that are good for the world.
You have a number of start-ups and projects under Good Empire (Good Academy, Good Emporium, Year of the Planet). They all seem to have one common goal: to help change things for better around the world. How would you describe each in one sentence and what is the difference between them?
Yes, they all do share that goal, to change things for the better. Which is indeed aligned with the SDGs.
Year of the Planet is a global movement of people pledging to make one small change in our lives each month for 12 months, to live more sustainably. Our mission is to gather and unite 1 million people. Together we could save over a billion single-use plastic bags, bottles, cups, straws and containers, destined for landfill and our beautiful oceans, and significantly reduce our own individual carbon footprints to help fight climate change.
Good Emporium shares the same purpose – we find and share beautiful things made by good people to help us all live a little more sustainably. All our products are ethically made and sourced, our shipping is carbon neutral, and we’re striving for zero carbon, zero waste.
Good Academy is a ‘business for good’ community, learning and mentoring platform. There are live and online workshops and events for people to grow and shape their organisations to be a force for good in the world – to balance profit with people and planet.
When putting together The Year of the Planet project, what were you looking for most?
Impact. We wanted to change habits. Shine a bright spotlight on what we were doing that was harmful, and encourage everyone to make changes. We wanted to be hopeful, encouraging, not angry or shaming or judging. We wanted to give people permission and support.
It really is like opening the curtains. Once you see, you can’t unsee. It’s powerful and can lead to bigger, impactful change. We’ve got people starting to bring their businesses on board, to change the way they are at work, for instance.
What is the best part of your job and what you do?
I get to bring together very aligned people and together we get to directly impact humans and the planet. It’s big work, but so emotionally rewarding. I get to show my kids what we’re doing. And we get to bring to life anything we think could have a big and positive impact. There are no limitations. No rules. If it could be good for the world, we can do it. It’s up to us.
Any advice on what we as individuals can do to resolve a problem of this scale? What can we do NOW?
We’re all doing some harm and some good. Have a think about what’s doing harm and do less, and what’s doing good and do more. It sounds over-simplified, but that’s how you start. For instance, don’t buy fruit and veggies in plastic. Perhaps that means more apples, fewer blueberries.
We can do our bit, support businesses doing their bit and vote for governments who will do their bit. Join yearoftheplanet.org – seriously. That’s what it’s for.
Our readership are passionate travellers. How do you see travelling fitting into effecting the kind of global change we need?
Me too! I think travelling to new cultures can open your eyes. We can become blind to things around us, but if you’re standing on a pristine beach in a tropical island and you see hundreds of plastic bottles and bags washed up on the shore, you can’t ignore it.
I know travel companies like Intrepid do a lot in the space of more sustainable travel. Don’t leave your mark on the places you travel to. Walk softly. Take what you bring. Give something back – look into local organisations and community charities if you’re travelling somewhere. What a wonderful thing to contribute.
Any advice for those that want to help but struggle to change their habits, or who feel that they alone can’t make a difference?
Be kind to yourself, and forgiving. Habits are hard to break. Start with one thing. Make it non-negotiable. Be prepared to give up the thing you wanted if you’re not ready with a substitute. E.g: sit down and have a coffee in if you don’t have your reusable cup. Go home if you forgot your reusable shopping bags, or buy fewer things and carry them in your hands, your jumper, whatever!
You can make a difference. Alone, and together. It does all add up. But more so, it changes the way the system works. If nobody buys cherry tomatoes in plastic containers anymore, pretty soon the supermarkets are going to ask for them to be stocked loose, or in more sustainable packaging. We have a voice. We can use it when we buy, and when we vote.
Find out more: yearoftheplanet.org