Many parents are increasingly aware of the need to care for the environment and to teach our kids to do the same. But it isn’t always easy for parents to be environmentally friendly. So, this Earth Day, makchic asked an expert on the matter, Yasmin Rasyid, to provide some tips and share her thoughts on green living.
Yasmin is chairperson of EcoKnights, a not-for-profit environmental organisation that promotes sustainability through community-centric programmes and activities focusing on education, empowerment and skills development. A Duke University alumnus, Yasmin is an accomplished speaker on environmental issues, and is currently pursuing her Ph.D. and conducting research in the field of sustainability science.
Parents’ Guilt – Environmentally-unfriendly practices
Yasmin understands the challenges parents face and their guilt at using products like disposable diapers. When asked what she would say to such parents, she answered, “I can’t blame them. There isn’t much choice especially if you’re from the low income bracket. Some green products can be pricey. Cloth diapers, which were common before, are now rare as mothers prefer to use disposable items.” Yasmin said lifestyle changes – with mums often being on the go – also leads to the tendency to use more disposable items such as baby wipes instead of handkerchiefs.
Even in such situations, there are other ways to minimise environmental impact, such as sourcing for local food produce. “Local food would have travelled less than imported food, hence a lower carbon footprint,” said Yasmin. There are really so many ways to learn about being eco-friendly, with the internet, and many easy mobile applications available about learning to be green. “The question,” she said, “is whether parents are motivated to be green. As adults, we often claim we don’t have time, except for things that interest us or reward us.”
What are your values?
Yasmin offered that rather than learning “new” green things, it is important for each person to revisit their own religious or spiritual values. “I feel the basic and essential values we have in common are quite universal and stress on being respectful to people and the planet, to be less wasteful, and to be more caring and responsible towards humans and nature. If any parent wants to start being greener, it is good to go back [to these values], as they are the catalysts to living sustainably.”
What’s evident is that parents make a big difference in setting the right kind of habits and attitudes in their children. “Parents need to acknowledge that their actions and words are observed by their child,” said Yasmin. “Kids need to have the avenue to converse with adults, and conversations lead to more understanding. It’s important to engage, not just to instruct.”
Children are Better Learners
Yasmin said that kids were “hands down”, more receptive towards the message of protecting the environment compared to adults. “Kids are fearless, and they expect to learn something new,” she said. “Adults on the other hand, are sceptical, and on guard.” “Kids’ vulnerability makes them better learners. My mission to raise a generation of sustainable Malaysians always starts with kids.”
She said one of the main challenges is that there was little emphasis on learning about nature, or outdoor education, in Malaysia’s formal curriculum. There is a lot of emphasis on grades and [subjects like] robotics or mathematics, she says, but little effort on going out there to explore and play.
“I did more of this in school and it helped nurture our eco-instincts from a psychological and philosophical aspect. I get many requests from parents for nature-based activities on weekends and especially during the school holidays. There seem to be a lack of such activities available for children.”
Studies have been conducted about ‘nature deficient disorder’, something Yasmin said was more prevalent in younger generations today. This disorder stems from a dissociation from environment- and nature-based activities, which results in a cascade of emotional, physical and psychological impacts on the growing child.
She said perhaps a support group for parents was needed to help organise activities outdoors with children. “We need to reinforce the need for nature-based activities for both parents and children to be involved in together. There’s a lot of room for working on creating such platforms and I hope the popularity of such initiatives will grow.”
Outdoor activities would not be possible, however, without green spaces. “We need spaces such as playgrounds, parks, urban farms, streams and rivers. For every neighbourhood, developers should ensure that a sizeable green space is created to benefit the residents,” Yasmin said.
Yasmin said she had been encouraged seeing the difference in some of EcoKnights’ participants and beneficiaries. Seeing the rise of more communities fighting for a sustainable future today has been an all-time high for her. “Be it protecting green spaces, of enforcing a localised recycling effort, I think the time is now, where we will see more community-driven efforts towards sustainability.”
Here are some of Yasmin’s practical tips for parents and her sharing on challenges and encouraging moments in raising awareness about the environment.
Practical Tips on Caring for the Environment
I strongly advocate breastfeeding. I breastfed each of my two daughters exclusively for two and a half years. This meant I did not use bottles and powdered milk, which comes in tins with plastic lids. By breastfeeding, I avoided the carbon footprint from the logistics and transportation of the milk product from factory to shelf.
If every mum could breastfeed for at least six months to one year, we would have less waste. Also, mother’s milk is more wholesome for a growing infant. Additionally, this helped me save money too.
I use [eco-friendly products] for doing the laundry and for household cleaning. I also use home-made eco-enzymes for cleaning oily areas in the kitchen. For myself, I avoid using a lot of chemicals on my skin, from perfume to lotion, and use more organic body products. I didn’t dye my hair throughout both my pregnancies, and actually haven’t done so since 2000.
I’m a big pre-loved fan. Many of my second child’s clothes are from my eldest daughter, which were kept very well. Items like baby cots and strollers were mostly hand-me-downs. I’m not a fan of buying expensive or new items, after all, the kids grow up fast. I guess I am not embarrassed about not having new things, although many first-time-mums prefer for things to be brand new. I am a pretty basic person, which I probably inherited from my mum and her mum.
Interview by Ding Jo-Ann
Ding Jo-Ann is a full-time mum, part-time writer, and once-upon-a-time lawyer.