Ten Questions with Rhian Berning

Rhian Berning is the founder of Eco Atlas, which is loaded full of products and services that empower people to make better lifestyle and travel choices. She recently went through the process of designing and constructing a green home after her family’s existing home was consumed by wildfire.

We will only have a healthy planet when we have healthy communities.

  1. Where do you go for inspiration?

I am very grateful that I don’t have to go anywhere at all, I find it so inspirational to simply live where I do. Our homestead is designed to be part of the ecosystem, we harvest all our rainwater, use it in the home and recycle it back into the garden to grow food, as well as harvesting all our energy from the sun. So literally stepping out my door and spending time in my vegetable garden, where I feel connected to the cycles of food growth, water, sun, and all the incredible insects, microbes and constantly growing plants, gives me a deep sense of inspiration. Feeling connected to our living systems is indeed my inspiration. Just beyond that, I can step into the fynbos biome where there are constant wonders, especially after the fire, of resilience, symbiosis and incredible diversity of life. I breathe deeply in on this.

2. What do you think is the most urgent global environmental challenge facing us?

The great disconnect. As a species, we have removed ourselves from the natural living systems and yet in truth, we cannot. We live completely disconnected from the living systems, the food systems, the microbes and even the people behind the scenes who make our way of life possible (bar the indigenous tribes, nomads and subsistence farmers who are still deeply connected to natural life cycles). This, in combination with a growth focussed economy, means we are completely out of touch with the impacts of our daily choices and the fact that everything is interconnected, we cannot function in isolation from our living systems and in fact we depend upon them for our survival. Climate change, loss of biodiversity and social inequalities are simply symptoms of this disconnect.

3. What is the most useful tool that helps you every day?

Here I would love to answer Eco Atlas, because that is the drive behind it, to be an essential online tool and empower better everyday lifestyle choices that are good for both people and planet. But that would be biased! I would have to say that at the moment I am most in love with our solar power system, we have only had it since our rebuild, but I still have to pinch myself to believe that we are powered 100% by the sun and while we are energy conscious, we want for nothing and run a very happy healthy homestead with everything we need.

4. What do you feel is the biggest issue in the sustainability industry that we have to overcome?

That the sustainability industry cannot be seen in isolation from the social injustices and inequalities that go hand in hand with environmental degradation. We will only have a healthy planet when we have healthy communities.

5. When was the last time you were scared? What is it that scares you?

Sandton City! Seriously! I was there for a Disrupt event with Hivos and walking through the well-lit mall made me realise how far we have to go. There were little to no local or natural products, and the packaging! And then I multiply that by all the malls in the world and I get scared. But slowly slowly the movement which is good for people and planet will reach a tipping point.

6. What are you reading/listening to?

I have just started Wellbeing Economy by Lorenzo Fioramonti and it’s one of those books where you find yourself nodding in agreement from the very first sentence. This is a book after my own heart, written by a local political economist about how we need to move away from the growth economy to one which focusses on wellbeing for radical change. I also enjoy Russel Brand’s new podcast Under the Skin, specifically his interview with Charles Eisenstein, as well as his book ‘Revolution’ had a great impact on me. Eckhart Tolle’s New Earth was also very impactful and I consider it daily.

7. What achievement are you most proud of?

My children. Being a full-time mom when they were little has definitely been my most challenging ‘job’ as they teach you to be present, to be patient and to be conscious of your interactions with the world. Eco Atlas being recognised with a Green Economy award by the Mail & Guardian was also a biggie and most recently, building our fully off-grid, green home.

8. What is the best part of your workday?

Having a conversation, meeting or Skype with another change maker no matter what field they are in, it’s those conversations that spark inspiration, collaboration and make me realise that all our impacts added together can create a tidal wave of positive change.

9. What is a message you would like to shout from the rooftops or put on a billboard? Something you wish everyone could know and take to heart.

We are all interconnected, what I do to you, what I do to the living systems, I ultimately do to myself.

10. What is a nifty, ‘sustainability hack’ that you use in your daily life to live more environmentally friendly?

It seems so simple, but I carry a fold-up shopping bag in my small handbag so that I can always refuse plastic for those quick convenience shops. So many people say they have forgotten their shopping bags in the car or at home, but it is just about creating new habits. All the other reusable alternatives like a good water bottle are also very useful so that I can refuse single-use plastic at every turn.

Rhian’s gorgeous off-grid green home near Plettenberg Bay.

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