A journey towards sustainability
Updated: Jul 5, 2019
By Nick Morrison
I now run my own sustainability consulting business, co-founded a plastic bag behavioural change campaign, ride an e-bike, have pushed my football club to become plastic free and compost my food scraps. I eat meat around twice a week (and only if I know it is free range), I live a life almost free of single-use plastics (cheese, crackers and chips are still the hardest to give up), I don’t own a car (I’ve got a sweet e-bike!), I meditate (not as much as I like to) and I’m in a really happy relationship.
But I wasn’t always like this. This is my sustainability journey.
I was born and bred in Timaru. A small South Island town two hours South of Christchurch on state highway one. A town of around 30,000 people, with an economy driven by the surrounding rural communities and the Timaru Port.
In my opinion, it is a fantastic place to grow up.
Being that I lived there for the first 17 and a half years of my life I can’t really say what it’s like to grow up in another NZ town, but I feel like it had a culture that is pretty typical to small-town New Zealand.
Rugby is hugely influential, as soon as we were legally old enough we drove everywhere, as soon as we were old enough (which doesn't many we were legally old enough) we drunk everything, we ate a lot of meat (at least twice a day), and we bagged the “greenies” and the “hippies”.
It wasn’t cool to care about the environment or about how clean the rivers were. We just took all of that for granted. Whoever thought when they were growing up in the 90’s that one day we wouldn't be able to swim in so many rivers…?
But despite this culture of ambivalence, or at times disdain, towards caring about the environment there were pockets of light.
I vividly remember the terrible home chore of having to take the food scraps to the compost. (Oh how I used to complain). And I remember Dad always coming back from a run around the Scenic Reserve (one of the jewels in Timaru’s crown) and proudly announcing how many cans he’d picked up. We would then take great joy as children in squashing them with our feet, collecting in a sac and then delivering to our local recycling centre (that was cleverly located right next to a liquor store).
Or the Environment Club I was part of at my high school (Timaru Boys’). Led by a passionate and intelligent teacher by the name of Mr Cooper who was ridiculed by my peers for riding a bike and speaking out about environmental issues. After leaving school I actually wrote a song titled ‘Me and Mr Cooper Are Gonna Save The World.
I now often get asked how I “got into sustainability”. The more I have been asked the question, the more I trace back the memories. I am now convinced it was the influence of the upbringing I was so lucky to receive from my incredible parents and one influential teacher who spoke up about what he knew was right, and dared to be different.
But I definitely took a hiatus.
After successfully gaining University Entrance there was only ever one place I was going.
I had four incredible years there where I learnt all about Sports Science (I graduated with a Bachelor in Physical Education), how to think critically, how to research and how to seek out answers.
But I learnt nothing about how the world works. The natural world. Or as I prefer to call it - the real world.
I remember the conversations with my uni peers being about which good-paying jobs our degrees would get. Not for a second did we consider whether these jobs would enrich or exploit the earth or other human beings to make that pay.
There was no mention of climate change, carbon emissions, plastic pollution, soil erosion, species loss, or the exploitation of human beings to make a profit. That was someone else's problem.
I lived first for a year in a hall of residence, then in a year in a mixed flat (2 gals, 3 guys). Following that, I had two years living with all boys in a culture of heavy drinking, meat-eating, sports playing, sports watching, and chasing girls.
As I write this I cringe a little but that’s just how it was. And I have to admit I had a helluva great time!
But 5 years after Uni I chose to travel. It completely opened my mind and changed the way I view the world.
Travelling now creates huge conflict for me because I know that the burning of jet fuel is one of the biggest emitters of CO2 into the planet's atmosphere. But travelling changed my life. I shudder to think who I would be now had I not experienced some of the world.
Travelling exposed me to things I would have never experienced in New Zealand and I was free from my mates to make choices based on what I wanted to do, not on what peer pressure was telling me to do.
It’s true, I believe, travelling really does help you find yourself.
But other than learning about myself I learnt about history, I learnt about other cultures, I learnt about religion, I learnt about food, and I learnt about human connection.
I remember visiting an orphanage in Siem Reap, Cambodia where the kids had no career hope but to become a tuk-tuk driver. An impact of the evil Khmer Rouge wiping out a generation. I also remember seeing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, a lake that provided a life for hundreds, or even thousands, of locals being dredged dry in front of my eyes as the international hotels moved in to take advantage of the post-Khmer Rouge economic void.
All these experiences had an impact and my understanding started to add up.
Using my fitness expertise I lived in London for four and a half years teaching Pilates to the rich and famous (I do love reminding my mates that I trained Claudia Schiffer!), and was privy to “how the other half lives”. I experienced insane levels of wealth and met some incredible people. My takeaway learnings were that wealth does not equal happiness (you need much more than just material things), and so many people are concerned by what they don’t have rather than thankful for what they do have.
Following my joyous time there (I fricken love London!) I spent six-month travelling solo through Brazil (where I lived out a boyhood dream and went to the 2014 football world cup), Colombia, Central America, Cuba, and America.
Again as I travelled I was confronted by the mindblowing inequalities in this world and the horrific damage we are doing to the planet and the other species we share it with. Deeply moved by the plastic pollution strewn on beautiful beaches, the begging children, the polluted drinking water, and the disconnection so many have from the real world I clearly remember saying (and my travel diary will confirm), I will do all I can to solve these problems.
I returned home and felt that helping wealthy people squeeze into their new clothes wasn’t really helping the world as I had pledged to myself so made a career change and took up an opportunity to work for a compostable packaging company.
It proved to be a great decision. After two whirlwind years there learning loads about business and sustainability I made the decision to leave and start a sustainability consultancy. It is now my vocation to help New Zealand businesses and citizens learn about sustainability and implement positive change to help solve the massive issues facing humanity.
So anyway, that’s how I got into sustainability.
Nick Morrison is the founder of Go Well Consulting, a sustainability consultancy that helps business understand and implement sustainability while guiding them through the transition to a circular, zero-carbon economy. Nick is also a co-founder of the single-use plastics behaviour change campaign, "Bags Not", and an associate to the Circular Economy Accelerator programme run by the Sustainable Business Network. Plastic Free July 2019 will be the 6th year Nick has participated.