How Curiosity and Self-Learning Powered these Environmental Pioneers

April Hoang
Nov 21, 2019 · 6 min read
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When retelling the inspirational stories of environmental activists, the storyteller often neglects to mention how their amazing journeys started. So, we’ve gone back in time to reflect on the stories of five environmental activists.

And there’s a very interesting pattern.

No matter their previous experience, each transformation was initiated through curiosity and self-learning.

All five environmental pioneers’ are united in their intrinsic belief that humans need to take responsibility for the environment.

For each person, this realisation was formed by their curiosity to challenge the status-quo and ask why are these environmental issues occurring.

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In 2006, Bea Johnson moved around London, Paris and Amsterdam before settling in California with her husband and two kids. During her first year in America, she lived in a small apartment with only the indispensable items of furniture; the rest left in storage.

This was the eureka moment.

Bea realised that this minimalist lifestyle could have longterm benefits for her family. Creating more time and allowing for finite energy to be applied to richer experiences and to connect with nature as a family.

“Our biggest challenge at that point was finding balance, figuring out what works for us and what does not. There were no books or blogs on how to do zero waste when we started in 2008.”

Inspired by her realisation, Bea’s curiosity fuelled her to lead a minimalistic and zero waste lifestyle. Educating herself about the environment, and how to make conscious changes for her family.

Bea‘s first lifestyle changes would begin at home, cutting down on her water and electricity consumption. The family then moved to replace plastic bags with tote bags and jars. Little by little, she discovered solutions for all the wasteful aspects of her family’s lifestyle.

“I once urged my husband to compare bank statements from 2005 (pre-Zero Waste life) with 2010 (when we had adopted Zero Waste as a lifestyle). He found we were saving 40% on annual household costs by living this way.”

Bea is now the blogger of Zero Waste Home and also the author of “Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life” which has been translated into more than 20 languages. In her book, she presents a step-by-step guide for everyone wishing to reduce the waste in their daily life through her 5Rs formula:

Refuse what you do not need

Reduce what you do need

Reuse what you consume

Recycle what you cannot,

and Rot (compost) the rest.

These key principles can be applied to every area of your house, from the bathroom to the kitchen, allowing everybody to self-learn about this topic through many inspiring examples. You can discover all the useful tips in her ebook here.

Lauren Singer — Blogger of “Trash is for Tossers”

While attending an environmental studies lecture, Lauren noticed a classmate carrying their lunch in a single-use plastic bag, accompanied with a disposable water bottle. Lauren began to wonder about the amount of waste sent to landfill every day, and what we — the future of the planet — can do.

Lauren dived onto the Web, and came across Bea Johnson. Lauren was inspired by Bea’s example of reducing waste in her life and decided to launch her own environmental journey.

Now, Lauren runs the blog Trash Is For Tossers, where she shares her experiences and inspires others. Lauren recommends ways for everyone to easily begin their own journey. She is also the owner of Package Free Shop, which provides sustainable products for people.

Pete Ceglinski and Andrew Turton — Founder of “SeaBin”

Through a passion for surfing, Pete and Andrew witnessed the shocking amounts of plastic that littered the oceans.

They had an idea — what if we could install rubbish bins into the ocean?

Led by curiosity, the pair made the decision to quit their jobs and embarked on a quest to learn and find how they could protect the oceans.

The result? “Seabin” — A system that sucks in waste plastic, oil, and fuel from the ocean.

Seabin can be installed in marinas or ports that have a “trash problem”. Each Seabin can catch approximately 20kgs of trash and can be maintained for reuse.

Each Seabin has the capability to catch approximately 90,000 plastic bags, 35,700 disposable cup, 11,900 plastic bottle and 117,647 plastic utensils.

However, the team at Seabin Project understand that on its own, Seabin will not be able to clean up and protect the entire oceans. As a result, the organisation has developed an open-source education program, which includes a series of lessons. These are aimed to help schools teach pupils more about the oceanic littering problem and share in the creativity of young people to solve this global issue.

Shimon Schwarzschild — Founder of “Action for Nature”

When visiting Assisi in Italy, Shimon Schwarzschild, an environmental activist from San Francisco, discovered that many songbirds were being hunted and killed by humans. Shocked by this discovery, Shimon was determined to take action and protect the songbirds of Assisi, so began researching more on the problem.

He collaborated with other nature protectors, Maria Luisa Cohen and David Brower, to create the Assisi Nature Council (ANC).

ANC are aimed at protecting Assisi’s songbirds and raising awareness about the necessity of protecting animal ecology. They wrote letters and articles to spread the information all around the world. As well as liaising with Italian nature protection organisations.

Thanks to their efforts, the city of Assisi came to an agreement of permanently banning the hunting of songbirds, and created a nature preserve on the slopes of the famous mountain.

After the success in Assisi, Shimon founded Action for Nature to encourage everyone, especially young people around the world, to take personal action to protect the planet. The initiative includes an International Young Eco-Hero Award, which will reward young people between 8 and16 years old for their environmental impact.

Natalie Fee — Founder of “City to Sea”

After observing the shocking amount of plastic waste in her hometown of Bristol, Natalie Fee left her job in 2015 as a TV presenter to focus on reducing plastic pollution.

Natalie was motivated to take positive action, and through self-directed learning she took it upon herself to figure out how. Natalie eventually formed City to Sea — a non-profit organisation that campaigns to eliminate marine plastic pollution.

To fulfil this mission, Natalie has connected and collaborated with like-minded people across the environmental industry, such as practitioners, scientists and marine biologists. They’ve become a small but strong team, working towards a mutual goal to preserve our oceans and marine life.

By engaging communities and working with retailers and government officials, a recent campaign Switch The Stick gained traction. They successfully convinced retailers such as Johnson & Johnson, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, to replace plastic cotton buds with biodegradable paper stem buds by the end of 2017.

Upon discovering another powerful campaign from Refill app, City to Sea persuaded businesses take note and encouraged people to refill their water bottles, rather than throw them away.

By downloading the Refill app, you are shown businesses nearby that are willing to refill your water bottles, eliminating the need to reply on plastic water bottles. The project was launched in 2015 and in just a couple of months, 200 businesses in Bristol had signed up. Now towns and cities across the UK and Europe are taking part.

Change, however big or small, begins from humble beginnings and starts simply from you nurturing your curiosity. The shift from curiosity to change requires you to take action but it doesn’t have to be painful.

Harness your desire to grow, take small steps daily whether that’s reading a blog, watching a video or listening to a podcast about the topic you care about. As you discover more, you connect deeper with people like you; who share your values, and desire for positive impact.

No matter who you are, what field you work in or what you care about, we believe that you can always do something meaningful towards your ambitions.

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WONDR supports your interests and ambitions, by connecting you with like-minded people to collaborate and accelerate towards your aspirations.

Join the conversation and let us know your thoughts and perspective on the future of learning.


Connecting the World’s Lifelong Learners

April Hoang

Written by

Content Creator of WONDR. I’m especially interested in learning more about productivity, education and zero-waste lifestyle.


WONDR is an online platform built to accelerate learning and progress. It is a digital eco-system for people learning and working in environmental and social fields.

April Hoang

Written by

Content Creator of WONDR. I’m especially interested in learning more about productivity, education and zero-waste lifestyle.


WONDR is an online platform built to accelerate learning and progress. It is a digital eco-system for people learning and working in environmental and social fields.

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