SIT IN WITH JYBE: 10 Questions with Friday Apaliski | Sustainability Concierge

Friday Apaliski helps people do better. As San Francisco’s renowned “Sustainability Concierge,” Friday has managed to create a space where making earth-friendly choices is both obvious and easy. After spending six years at San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, witnessing first-hand just how nuanced being eco-conscious can be, she is now an invaluable personal guide for those looking to create a greener home and make more sustainable choices.  We had the honor of sitting in (virtually) with Friday to gain insight around turning environmental aspirations into reality.

We are big fans of your work as San Francisco’s go-to Sustainability Concierge. For those who aren’t familiar, would you share what services you offer as a sustainability consultant and what does “going green” mean to you?

To me, “going green” means doing everything you are able. Nobody is perfect; that isn’t a goal we strive for. But I know that everyone can do better, and I think of it as my job to help you identify where those areas are and show you how to make them easy. And sometimes I even do it for you, for example, I often change all the lights in a home to LED (because let’s be honest – that never gets to the top of anyone’s priority list).

Speaking of San Francisco (our latest launch spot!), you spent six years at San Francisco’s Department of the Environment. In your view, how is San Francisco paving the way as a best-in-class sustainable city and what do you feel still needs improvement?

San Francisco has done a great job with leading the way on resource recovery; from being first to require city-wide composting, to requiring drug manufacturers to safely dispose of their unwanted/leftover products. But what we need to aim for next is REDUCTION. This has always been a difficult discussion because the immediate presumption is that it will negatively affect the economy (a sentiment that is politically unpalatable, and also untrue). But the truth is that we need to find a way to value, reuse, and spend our money in ways that don’t litter our planet.

Accessing and disambiguating the information needed to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle can become confusing or overwhelming, which often leads to inaction. How do you help demystify that information for people looking to make strides towards a greener household?

I find that my clients don’t need or want to know all the ambiguous information – they just need the solution. So I always start there. Of course, when a solution is presented there are always questions about why one thing over the other, and that gets us to the disambiguating part. But we don’t start there. Because when we think of sustainability it is SO BIG! How can each of us do all that?!? We can’t.

When each of us takes a small step and brings the next person along with us we make a difference. And it isn’t just us. Consumers influence business. Constituents influence legislators. And we need ALL of us working to get this right. But it starts with you and your first step. You don’t have to be perfect at it all – nobody is! That would be impossible. But I always help my clients start with the things that are easy for THEM. Everyone is different, for some it is easy to change light bulbs, for others it is easy to ditch paper towels, some people have a little extra money to use, other people focus on how changes can save them money. It is all important.

As a mamma and a true expert in the realm of maintaining a green household, what sustainable products do you find keep kids the busiest? (asking for a friend…)

My most favorite trick is making play dough at home. It is cheap and easy and fun and compostable! (I’m happy to share my PDF recipe with you)

What I know as a mamma is that every kid is different and every household is different, so what works for my kiddo might not work for yours. But here are some guiding principles that I think work for everyone:

Always look at secondhand first. I shop for kid clothes on ThredUp because I can filter easily to see only what I need. I look for toys on Craigslist. I’ve cultivated a “river” with other families who pass down to us, and we pass down to the next family. We trade and share and lend whenever possible. And my kiddo NEVER feels like he is getting something that is second-best.

Talk about why you make the choices you do. I have always told my son why I choose to avoid plastic. And when we go to the beach and he sees plastic there, or when we go to the aquarium and they talk about plastic in the ocean, it all makes sense for him. I don’t sugar coat it, and I don’t keep it silent. By making my reasoning known, and bringing my kiddo along, I don’t end up with much push back when I say “no” to some disposable plastic thing.

Remember that your way is their way. Kids are learning from us. We set the example. So when I chose to use bubbles at our park party rather than balloons, my kiddo didn’t feel like he was missing out, because this is what he knew as the way his family throws a party.

When the price is forgotten the quality remains. This is a saying my dad taught me and it has served me well. Here are a few kid products that fit that bill:

Legos (always second hand) *Protip – put them into a delicates bag and wash them in the washing machine or the dishwasher.*

Stabilo markers (find them on Wisdom Supply Co)

Wooden blocks

Quadrilla marble runs

Brio train tracks

A common concern in the sustainability space tends to be the increase in costs associated with leading a more eco-friendly lifestyle – how would you respond to that perception?

This is a REAL good myth that a lot of companies want you to believe. If you buy cheap stuff over and over and over, you will spend more money than if you buy one quality item that you reuse. Full stop. That is the truth every time. It applies to paper towels, markers, toys, food storage, clothes, everything.

Have you always been a conscious consumer or was there a moment that made you re-examine the way you consume? What woke you up?

My mom will tell you that I’ve wanted to “save the planet” since elementary school. So I would be lying if I didn’t say it is somehow ingrained in me. That said, I didn’t get really into the day to day of it until I started working at the Department of Environment and was surrounded by so many amazing teachers. And then, when I was pregnant, that really took it to the next level for me. I almost wish that wasn’t my journey, because I really don’t want to imply that one must have a child in order to “wake up” to sustainability and how our health is so closely related to the health of our planet. I’ve done this job and worked in this industry long enough to know that the thing that wakes you up is different for everyone. There is almost no way to predict what it will be. But I know that once you wake up to it, there is no turning it off. I haven’t seen anyone turn around and go backwards.

What are your top 3 suggestions for people looking to reduce their carbon footprint at home? (pandemic version)

1 – Change ALL your light bulbs to LED. And sign up for 100% renewable energy if you can. (Google Community Choice Aggregation)

2 – Refuse single-use items. (I’ll let toilet paper be an exception)

3 – The next time you go to buy something ask yourself “do I need this right this minute? And can I get it secondhand first?”

Are there any companies/organizations/restaurants you feel are really doing it right in terms of implementing and/or promoting truly sustainable practices?

Food is a tough one right now because of the pandemic, but here in San Francisco, we are SO lucky to have Dispatch Goods. They are working with restaurants to provide take-out in reusable containers.

Other companies that I think are doing really well include Meliora, which is non-toxic MadeSafe certified, plastic-free, refillable, inexpensive, American made cleaning products. I also love Non-Disposable Life, Goods Holding Company, Wisdom Supply Co, Full Circle Wool, Life Without Plastic, Wild Minimalist, ThredUp… I could go on and on. My advice to readers is to look local – there are so many local small businesses doing it right. And then I would say, question everything that is advertised to you. Sometimes the claims are true, but more often than not, it’s what I call “greenwashing”.

What big piece of advice do you have for folks looking to turn environmental activism into action?

VOTE! – seriously. Tell your representatives that you care about the environment and you will not elect them again if they don’t make progress.

Then vote with your wallet. Make the very best choices you can. When you are unable to make the choice you want, tell someone. Write to the company that has terrible packaging, tag them on social media, and show/tell the people around you about your choices. You will be surprised how many people make changes just because you showed them how.

You were tapped as the sustainability expert we “had to connect with” on our last Sit In With Jybe. Now, we have to ask, who should we speak to next?

Oh, so many good choices! One woman who inspires me locally is Eva Holman. I’m also head over heels for Heather Itzla the founder of Wisdom Supply Co.

For readers who are looking to follow some more sustainable folks, I highly recommend Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Aja Barber, and NonToxicMunchkin (Aida Garcia-Toledo). There are many, many more but those are a good start.

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