HLN Meets: Katie Hill
Tomorrow is World Earth Day, so it seemed fitting to get our heads together with Katie – co-founder of North Yorkshire sustainable lifestyle brand My Green Pod and one of the brains behind Britain’s biggest sustainability awards
Katie Hill began her career by pursuing one of her two huge passions: writing. She delved into the world of investigative journalism and became a senior writer, researcher and, eventually, a deputy editor for Which? Magazine. She also spent two years in Mumbai at the helm of Right Choice Magazine (the Indian Which?), as well as a contributing co-editor for GreenSpirit Magazine.
But we mentioned Katie had another mammoth passion in life, didn’t we? And that is the environment. So, in 2013, she co-founded the labour of love that became My Green Pod with partner Jarvis Smith – and successfully combined her professional experience for exposing (and publishing) the truth with her lifelong love for clean living.
My Green Pod started life as purely an independent magazine, uncovering various unethical business practices and revealing the truth about what’s really lurking under the surface of some of our favourite household brands. But recently, Katie and Jarvis have taken the brand one step further – and have now created an ethical online Marketplace. They research and personally select all of the brands and products they showcase, so whatever takes your fancy, you know that you’re buying from a company who take sustainability seriously.
By doing so, they’re offering us mere mortals a hassle-free way to save the world – one effective, affordable, bloomin’ gorgeous sustainable switch at a time.
The P.E.A. Awards are now the UK’s biggest sustainability awards. How did it all begin?
My partner and My Green Pod co-founder, Jarvis Smith, launched the P.E.A. Awards 10 years ago – I can’t take any credit for it!
He’d had a bit of an awakening after living on a landfill site for a Channel 4 reality TV show called Dumped. He realised our wasteful, throwaway culture was poisoning the planet and committed himself to doing everything he could to encourage people to live more sustainable and conscious lifestyles.
The P.E.A. Awards were launched as a way to recognise, celebrate and encourage the individuals helping to drive that shift, in what was, at the time, a largely unrecognised sustainability sector.
When did you first realise you had a passion for the environment and for clean living?
There wasn’t really a lightbulb moment for me; I grew up with natural products, home remedies and alternative medicines, so that side of things just felt normal. I’ve always loved animals and have been a vegetarian for 30 years, (vegan for the last five). It was only when I was in my 20s that I joined the dots between animals, the environment and non-toxic lifestyles. After that, everything fell into place for me.
In the first instance, my passion was fuelled by anger and disbelief that companies could legally poison the Earth with the products they were manufacturing and selling. It felt so wrong that animals had no choice but to eat food and drink water that humans had made toxic – in many cases, just because that was the cheaper way to do things.
You started your career in the world of independent and investigative journalism. How did that lead you to co-found My Green Pod [MGP] with Jarvis Smith?
Jarvis already had experience in publishing (with GREEN Magazine) and was looking to start something new. I had experience in writing, researching, subbing and editing, so between us we had most bases covered for our own publication.
When we met, we both shared a similar vision and started to map out what a more lifestyle-centred magazine might look like. I felt very strongly that people should always be aware of all their options and be empowered to make informed choices. This simply wasn’t happening in the sustainable product sector – so many incredible artisan brands were falling under everyone’s radar because no-one was talking about them. These companies weren’t making enough profit for mass advertising and couldn’t sell at the ridiculous prices that would get them into supermarkets.
It felt important to tell their stories and share the incredible things they were doing so readers could see that attractive and effective alternatives exist – and that using them would protect their own health, as well as that of the planet.
MGP exposes the truth about mainstream products, the companies who make them and the environmental impact they have. What was the reaction like from businesses to your revelations?
In the beginning, they didn’t pay much attention – we were just a small business and sustainability was very niche. Now it’s a huge concern that has taken root in the public consciousness; people want to buy from purpose-driven businesses that are doing their bit to protect the planet.
Lots of companies are now clambering to get on the bandwagon because that’s where the money is. Unfortunately, this is leading to a second wave of greenwash and a glut of ill-conceived products that have been rushed to market in a bid to cash in.
We’re always very clear with companies if we take issue with their products; some have all the best intentions and are really open to constructive feedback, which is great because it can lead to product improvements. Those who aren’t are generally the ones who are in it for the wrong reasons. If trends continue, I suspect they won’t be in business for much longer.
One of the biggest hurdles that stops many people adopting a more sustainable lifestyle is convenience – is that why you decided to branch out and start up MGP’s ethical Marketplace?
Yes, that’s exactly it. We have a curated set of ‘Hero’ products and services on the site, which we believe are currently the best in their class. The idea is to be able to give everyone an ethical alternative to any everyday product if they feel moved to make a switch but don’t know where to start.
As an example, if you’ve just run out of shampoo and you’re toying with the idea of switching to a natural one, we want to make that switch really simple by recommending just one alternative that we’ve scrutinised, tried and tested.
After that first switch, people often find they’re on a journey and they start looking for other small switches that, together, add up to make a real impact. From here it was a natural progression for us to add a Marketplace to the site so people could buy the products we were recommending.
MGP’s Marketplace only sells items from brands you and Jarvis have personally researched and know take sustainability seriously. How difficult is that to establish?
It becomes quite clear after the first conversation. On top of that, you can tell a lot about a company from the packaging it uses, the ingredients in the product and all sorts of other clues that help to build a picture of whether sustainability is a genuine passion or just a wobbly claim that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
Have you noticed a change in the public’s reaction to what you’re doing with MGP since you began in 2013?
We have an incredibly supportive and just lovely community of readers and subscribers, and that has always been the case. As I said, sustainability was quite niche eight years ago, so back then our readers generally had a grasp of the issues. In a sense, we were preaching to the converted. Now we’re getting lots of new people who really want to do something – anything – to make a difference but just don’t know where to start. If we can offer some support and guidance to those people and make a seemingly mammoth task feel more manageable (and fun!), then we’ve succeeded.
What would you say are the greatest challenges to living more sustainably that we face as a society?
I think the single biggest challenge is the pace of our modern lifestyle. Many of us live at break-neck speed and are driven by instant gratification, making it very difficult to live in harmony with natural cycles and experience a oneness with nature. If we don’t feel connected to the world around us, then it’s unlikely we’ll want to do anything to protect it.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Honestly, everything! It’s so inspiring to see new people doing great things and to feel the real momentum for change.
I love reading about new developments, researching the fantastic individuals behind them and having a platform to share their stories with the wider public. I feel grateful every day that I’ve been able to combine my two passions – writing and the environment – in a family business that means I can work my own hours and spend quality time with my kids.
There can be a lot of doom and gloom in the sustainability sector, but I get to see the amazing things people are doing and it fills me with hope for the future.
What advice would you give anyone looking to start living a more sustainable lifestyle?
Every change – no matter how small it might feel – makes a difference. You don’t need to overhaul your lifestyle overnight; start with a small switch and a product you’re interested in, then take it from there.
A sustainable lifestyle should also be fun! There are so many great products and services out there that it shouldn’t feel like a sacrifice.
We have lots of recommendations on MyGreenPod.com, so with any luck it should be easy to get started!
Nominations for the 2021 P.E.A. Awards will open on Thursday 22nd April. To make your nomination and find out more visit here