Laura Trotta is one of Australia’s leading home sustainability experts. She has a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering, a Masters of Science (in Environmental Chemistry) and spent 11 years working as an environmental professional before creating her first online eco business, Sustainababy, in 2009. She has won numerous regional and national awards for her fresh and inspiring take on living an ‘ecoceptional’ life (including most recently winning the Brand South Australia Flinders University Education Award (2015) for the north-west region in SA and silver in the Eco-friendly category of the 2015 Ausmumpreneur Awards). With a regular segment on ABC Radio and with her work featured in publications like Nurture Parenting and My Child Magazine, Laura is an eco thought leader who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo. A passionate believer in addressing the small things to achieve big change, and protecting the planet in practical ways, Laura lives with her husband and two sons in outback South Australia.
You can connect with Laura at www.lauratrotta.com.
Prefer to read? Here’s the transcript:
Lisa: Welcome everyone. On today’s podcast, I am talking to someone who I am lucky enough to call a friend. We met online. Sounds rude, but, you know, how else do people meet these days? And I’ve been able to watch her journey. When we first met, she owned a business called Sustainababy, which she has since sold, and has created a totally new business. And it fascinates me, I support her work 100%, and I think she’s got lots and lots of nuggets of wisdom to share with you today. So, I’m very pleased to welcome Laura Trotta. Welcome, Laura.
Laura: Welcome, Lisa. I’m just as proud to be your friend too. In fact, yes, sometimes it’s a bit all about, you know, popular girl at school, ‘I can’t believe I’m friends with Lisa.’ And I’ve got some of my friends that are going, ‘You’re friends with Lisa? I’m so jealous!’
Lisa: Get out of town!
Laura: They do!
Laura: You know, my school mum friends. It’s like, I’m just a school mum to them, and they think, ‘Oh, you’re friends with Lisa. You’re friends with, you know,’ yes, you know what it’s like.
Lisa: That’s like me, when I meet people at school and they’re like, ‘What do you do?’ I’m like, ‘Oh I just-, I have an online business,’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, cool,’ don’t get it. But then I think if they come across me, they’re like, ‘Oh my God. Okay, hello, you can’t come to my kids’ birthday parties any more.’
Laura: Yes, because you see what I feed them!
Lisa: Anyway. Today, you know, the reason why, you know I’m all about small steps. And I have interviewed you before for my members. Because what I love, in this world where we’re constantly being bombarded with information, is people who take a really rational, a really real life approach to, sometimes, big issues. You know, like food, like the environment. And some people might not be aware, but, you know, before I had kids I worked in the sustainability space, especially around the area of behaviour change. Where you’re trying to connect people with a very big issue, and one in which they can often feel very powerless and disconnected from. So, when you first started off. I mean, let’s go right back. Let’s go right back, I don’t want to go just back as far as Sustainababy. I want to know what you studied at uni, and then where you worked, and how this has helped inform the decisions that you’ve made in your life.
Laura: Yes, sure. So, right back. So, I grew up in Country Victoria, so Eastern Victoria. Gippsland, beautiful part of the world. And I was a child of the ‘80s, you know, teenager of the ‘90s, so I spent a lot of my childhood outdoors, and we lived just, you know, in the middle of town. Like, a country town, but there were the lakes, there were wetlands. We had holidays up in the Victorian High Country, and we had a boat, we’re out on the Gippsland lake. So, I was very much an outdoors kid, and I had some really strong connections to nature from a really early age. I just loved being outdoors, and I felt my happiest when I was outdoors, and, you know, just mucking about. And I guess, yes, I was always that outdoorsy kind of kid, but I was really good at maths and sciences. Like, really good, and maths was my favourite, and biology, chemistry. So, they were the subjects I was doing at school because I was excelling in them, but I always was also doing, I guess, geography, you know, because of my environmental interest. But I couldn’t really decide what to do. I was a trumpet player too, so I was really heavily into music, and I wanted to be a musician. And actually, for my work experience in Year 11, I actually went to the Australian Defence Force School of Music, because I was going to be a trumpet player.
Lisa: Did you really?
Lisa: Get out of town!
Laura: So I went down to Melbourne for two weeks, and was in the Watsonia Barracks, doing music every day. And I came back from that two weeks, I loved it, I loved every single minute, but I was kind of, like, ‘I’m sixteen years old, and that wasn’t challenging.’ It was a hell of a lot of fun, and I’m like, ‘Wasn’t challenging. Am I going to be bored by the time I’m 25 or 30?’ And at the same time, I’m thinking, ‘Hmm, what sort of job will I get? Will I just play in bands all the time?’ And then, you know, my dad was very much, you know, it’s kind of like that parent of an artist. ‘You won’t make money. You’ll be barefoot pregnant,’ all that doom and gloom sort of stuff. And then I’m thinking, ‘Oh, yes, I’m not sure about that.’
And then my boyfriend at the time, at school, his brother was in university, and he was at our MIT uni in Melbourne. And one of his best friends was in a course called Environmental Engineering, and it had just been released. So this is, like, early ‘90s, so it was a brand new course, these environmental courses hadn’t existed. And he brought the pamphlet home for me, and he goes, ‘Laura you should read this, I think it is totally you.’ And then I read it, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, it is so me. I love this course, I want to do it.’ This was, like, towards the end of Year 11, and you’re trying to think about Year 12, and I’m freaking out because I don’t want to be a trumpet player any more, and then this pamphlet lands in my hand. Because there was no internet, I had to get a pamphlet.
Lisa: Oh yes. No way, there wasn’t back then.
Laura: Yes, so I thought, ‘Yes, I’ll check it out,’ and then I went down on the open days, when I was in Year 12, checked it out. I did another round of work experience, just, my uncle was an engineer. But he was an electrical engineer, and he was in a consulting firm in Melbourne, so I just went, and hung out with the environmental engineers there for a week, to decide if I liked it, and I thought, ‘Yeah.’ So I was off on the most contaminated sites on Melbourne soil, testing, like, you remember, is it Coode Island, the one that blew up in the ‘80s and had that toxic cloud over Melbourne?
Laura: So I was sampling all the soil, and groundwater, there. I thought, ‘This is amazing, like, I want to do this.’ So, yes, I went to uni, left home at seventeen, as you do, when you’re in the country. And, yes, went down to Melbourne, and partied a lot, and had part-time jobs to pay my way through uni. But at the same time, I did really well, because I was in a course that I loved. All the concepts just made sense to me, even the maths.
Lisa: You’re a freak!
Laura: Well, maths, there are, like, 500 first year Engineering students in maths. I did really good at maths, the lecturer took me aside and said, ‘We’d like to get you into mathematics,’ and all this sort of stuff, because of my exam result.
Lisa: Did you get, like, top of the class, Laura? You can say it.
Laura: In maths, yes, I did, in that exam. And then I said, ‘Oh,’ you know, I’m just like, ‘That’s okay, I’m cool with this,’ but I just liked maths. It just made sense. I’m not saying it to brag, it’s just, when things make sense, they make sense.
Lisa: Laura, I’m sick of the tall poppy here. If you’re good at something, claim it! You know, ‘I’m a rockstar at maths.’
Laura: Yes, I will. So I did, so I loved my course. Like, I was a party girl, and a country girl, but my marks were still good. I think it’s just one of those things, you’re in where you deserve to be, you’re enjoying it, it just soaks in and you do well. In my second year, a mining company decided they needed to get some more women into engineering roles, because there were, like, none, or something like that. So they were, like, pinpointing the students as they were coming through, so they offered three scholarships for women, and I applied, and I got one, as a student. And that involved, kind of, like, well they paid your uni fees, which was amazing, and then some summer vacation work. And then, if you did really well, you could get a graduate job.
So yes, I was nineteen years old, and I was bundled off down to Tasmania, on the west coast of Tassie, so mountainous. And I was working in this 100-year-old zinc, lead, gold mine, underground, in a small town of, like, not even 1,000 people. Rosebery, on the west coast of Tassie. And yes, nineteen years old, and I loved it. Like, I was hiking in the Tasmanian wilderness, like, every weekend, so my outdoors cup was full. But the work, it was like, this is a really old mine. Their waste rock, it had pyrite in it, like, iron sulphide, and when that reacts with water, it can produce sulphuric acid. Which, if it leaves a mine site, it can get into creeks, and it lowers, obviously, the acidity, things will get acidic, and metals can get dissolved, and cause a lot of toxicity issues in creeks. So I was seeing this issue, it was called acid rock drainage, or acid mine drainage, for the first time, at these historic mine sites. And obviously, that wasn’t far from Queenstown in Tassie, where that King River was pretty much dead, because that mine used to pour all the tailings down the river.
So, in the west coast of Tassie, wilderness areas all around, but then you’ve got pockets of the environment that are just dead, because of historical issues. And I just thought, ‘Gosh,’ you know, it was just, it’s like you’re just freaking out on chemistry, really. It’s like, I love this stuff, but it’s in the environment, it’s something you want to be so passionate about. So I’m sounding like a real nerd here. Yes, so I ended up working in the minerals industry for eleven years or so, I loved it so much, especially that chemistry, and that acid rock drainage issue. I did a Master’s in Chemistry, but that specific issue, at a mine I worked in North West Queensland for four years. Again, living in a remote mining camp, near the Queensland Northern Territory Border. I think I was 23 when I went there.
Lisa: Wow. And with a lot of dudes, I’d be imagining? Like, a lot of blokes.
Laura: Oh yes, there were some really feral dudes that slipped notes under your door in the middle of the night. You might go to the mess, after work, like, the wet mess, and all of a sudden, there’s a beer or two in front of you, and you think, ‘Where’s this come from?’ and then you look up, and there’s a really feral guy in the far corner, that’s covered in hair, smiling at you. So I just, kind of, didn’t really go there much. I’d just go to work, you’d work twelve hours, thirteen hours, and then I’d go to the gym, where I’d swim in the pool, and then maybe there’d be that feral guy standing at the end of the pool, waiting for you to get out. So, I think I was there two months, and I had to put in a sexual harassment case.
Lisa: Oh, wow.
Laura: As a 23-year-old, and I’m just like, ‘I just want to work.’
Lisa: Like, you were breaking ground back then, being a female in these remote locations. Being a female in mine sites, and engineering, kind of, in general.
Laura: Yes. It has changed a lot, but there’s still a long way to go.
Lisa: Yes. So, I mean, I just love hearing about what other people do, especially when it’s something that I would never, ever, choose to do. I could do maths, but I remember in Year 12, I decided not to do maths, and my parents were having conniptions. Like, ‘You can’t finish school without maths.’ ‘Ah, pretty sure I’ll be okay.’ So, I love hearing stories about people who do things that are really quite extraordinary. I mean, that’s an amazing story, and to be so good at something that you do must be an amazing feeling. Because you have been recognised in your industry, and, you know, you downplay, I think, your achievements. But, talk to me then, what happened. Because then, you must have met your husband somewhere along the line, he was probably one of the good blokes. But, then you had kids, and so no more mine sites?
Laura: Well, not really. Not for me, although my husband still works at one, but we’ve got plans for him to move on from that. Yes, so I met my husband at that mine in North West Queensland. Like, I met him in the first few months when I was there, and we actually dated at that time, because we were on the same roster.
Lisa: Where do you go on a date?
Laura: Well, I worked fourteen days straight, and then I’d have seven days off, in Townsville, so, away from the mine. So, you’d fly back to Townsville, and he was on the same roster, so it was convenient.
Laura: Try not to laugh. No, I didn’t just get together with him because it was convenient. He’s a lovely guy, he really is.
Lisa: (Laughter.) ‘I had nothing better to do in Townsville. So yes, then we got married.’
Laura: Yes, but we weren’t together all that time, because being in the industry, he was on secondment there, which just means he was just placed there by the company. Because it was a brand new mine, he was there in the construction, and the commissioning phase. And I came there at the end of construction, for it to move into production, as one of the environmental engineers there. So I was there at the opening, and Paul Kelly sang at the opening, and all that sort of stuff. So that was, like, in, yes, February 2000, it opened. And yes, so, we were together then, but come that February, he was then moved down to Broken Hill, and so we, kind of, broke up. And he was in Broken Hill for, maybe, twelve months, and then he was put down, get this, in Tasmania at that mine that I started at when I was nineteen. That same mine, and he worked there for, like, three years, or something, as a metallurgist.
But we stayed friends, and I mean, in that time I had dated some other people. I had to be so fussy who I dated with, though, because you can imagine, a girl on a mine site. And I was very career-focused, I was even starting my Master’s by then, too, and I had a very clear direction where I wanted to go in the industry. And, it’s like, one bad relationship, or something, can just screw it up for you, because of gossip, and everything. It’s, kind of, like, you had to be squeaky clean. Because people would make stuff up anyway, but if you can put your hand on your heart and say, ‘That’s not true, I did not have that affair.’ It’s like, you know, that was the kind of thing, everywhere you look, you’re just looked at.
Lisa: Geez, far out!
Laura: So you downplay your looks, and I just would never wear anything revealing. I’d just wear my work clothes, and then I’d just wear, like, a baggy surf t-shirt and shorts. You just learnt not to draw attention to yourself, because you had so much attention anyway.
Lisa: Because, Laura, you do have great boobs! Like, you’ve just got really good boobs, and that must have been awful.
Laura: That’s why I’ve got a hunched back, because you hide them, you know what I mean?
Lisa: It’s awful. Anyway, boobs. Okay, so then you hooked up with your man again, you made some babes. What’s happening?
Laura: Yes, well, we had a big move before then, because I’d left that mine in Towns, I was consulting with a consulting company in Townsville, and meanwhile, we got back together. But he was still in frigging Tasmania, and I was in North Queensland, when we decided, ‘Yes, let’s give this a go.’ And yes, we went on holiday to New Zealand, decided we wanted to really give it a go, but, it’s kind of, like, there’s still 3,000km, 4,000km between us, or whatever it was.
Laura: He, then, his old boss from Broken Hill was in South Australia, working in Olympic Dam, and offered Paul a job. And I said, ‘You know, I’ve just done four years in the desert. Don’t really want to go back to the desert. I’m, kind of, happy to work here now, and then, maybe, move back to Victoria where my family are, or something like that.’ But then I thought, you know. But he was struggling to get a job in Townville, and then I said, ‘Okay, look, I’ll consider Roxby if this job came up.’ And I said the name, of the title of the job, and the next week, that job was advertised.
Lisa: Oh man. Manifesting.
Laura: So I applied for it, and I got it.
Lisa: Of course you did.
Laura: And then I thought, ‘Okay, this is cool. We can do this.’ And so, we thought, ‘Well just come here for two years,’ and that’d be great. And that was twelve years ago (laughter).
Lisa: Yes. I know that story.
Laura: Because the global financial crisis happened, it was very hard to move on and get other jobs. And then, of course, we married. And then, getting back to that question, we had kids. Yes, two kids.
Lisa: Like, someone who is very driven, who has set her sights on the best jobs, you know, the highs of the highs. Not only were you studying, you were even getting people to pay you to study, because you’re so clever. So then what happens to the woman that is Laura, who has to find herself in play, once kids come along?
Laura: She really struggles. Yes, because when I was pregnant, I was about to step into manager, at the largest industrial site in Australia. So, I’d been taken out of the environmental role, and fast-tracked through a two-year program on running businesses, and business improvement, and business strategy. And really loving that. So, it’s called Lean Six Sigma, really high end, high training. Very intense working hours, and put on multi-million dollar projects, with the intent that, ‘We’re fast-tracking you to step into a manager role.’ There were no female managers who were mothers, on the site, and I’d only ever known of one in the entire eleven years in the industry, that I’d worked with. And she was my boss, and a mentor of mine, but, yes, she had a stay-at-home husband when she stepped up to the high levels. Her husband quit his job, and he was a metaller, just a very, very good one. But, you know, they had two kids, and someone has to give. I was about to step into the manager role, which, again, just kind of means, sort of, selling your soul-ish. You can’t really have much balance, when you do those sort of roles. But then, we were having a much longed-for baby.
So, when I did announce my pregnancy to work, it, kind of, wasn’t received that well. And I could, all of a sudden, been treated a bit differently, and taken off training. Or, my boss at the time took me off training. ‘Oh, so you’re going to be leaving the company,’ and all this sort of stuff. I’m just like, ‘I’m not leaving the company, I’m just having a baby. And I’ll take some time off, and I’ll come back.’ But it just didn’t work, so I ended up being miserable, because I was struggling with the change, and I was getting treated, at work, differently. When I’d, kind of, been a bit of the golden girl, to being, you know, pushed aside. So then, I went on maternity leave pretty angry, and a bit pissed off, but also, just looking forward to the break. And then, when I actually walked out those gates-, it had got a bit worse throughout the pregnancy, and I thought, ‘You know what, I don’t ever want to go back, and I’m going to make sure I don’t go back.’
And actually, before I walked out those gates, at 28 weeks pregnant, I had the idea. I was looking for eco-friendly baby products, you know, that I wanted to buy, and I just couldn’t find them. And then I was going right to suppliers, you know, this was 2009. There wasn’t really much online, because I’m living in remote Australia, trying to buy these things. So I thought, ‘I’m going to set this,’ and then the idea, name, ‘Sustainababy’ just popped in head. Had a little look, URL is available, business name is available, everything is available. ‘Why hasn’t someone thought of this? It’s just so simple. I’ll just grab all them, and I’m just going to do it.’ Didn’t think too much about it. I think if you overthink things, you stop doing things.
Lisa: Oh, yes.
Laura: I did do up a business plan, because I’d just been two years in a business improvement role, so you don’t start something without a business plan. And I had my very risk-averse husband to check over it, and I said, ‘Pull this apart. Am I crazy, is there something I’m not seeing?’ And he gave it back to me, he goes, ‘No, Laura, you should do this.’ And I’m just, like, ‘What?’ It’s like, you know, I was 28, 30 weeks pregnant then. And he was like, ‘No, you should do it.’ That’s what I said, ‘Why are you so supportive? You’re so risk-averse.’ And he goes, ‘Because the alternative, you’ve been so miserable this last six months, I never want you to be that miserable again.’
Laura: Yes, so I had his big tick. So, yes, I just went off and did that, on maternity leave, and never went back. And I’m glad I never went back.
Lisa: And it was such a successful online business.
Laura: It was, it was. Like, yes, success is normally measured in money terms. So, it was turning over six figures within twelve months, which was great. And I made some mistakes, I made some very costly mistakes as well, you know what I mean? But, we kind of absorbed them.
Lisa: It’s part of the whole deal, though. You know, going out on your own. Like, I think that’s amazing, that you, holding other people’s stock. Like, there’s big-time investment that needs to go into setting something like that up.
Laura: There were no online coaches at that time, because everyone was just figuring it out for themselves. So, kind of, just soldiered through. Like, the first four or five years in the business, just on your own? I kind of, in hindsight, probably wore that as a bit of a badge of honour, but there weren’t really any people out there to hold your hand. There were a couple of mentors in the offline world, that I bounced ideas off, but they didn’t really get what I was doing. But they could still help you, confidence-wise, to steam ahead. But I loved the business, I truly did. I loved it right up until my second son was born, yes.
Lisa: And then what happened?
Laura: Oh, he didn’t sleep, for, like, eighteen months.
Lisa: How nice.
Laura: And he screamed as well. So, when he was born, I had, like, three months of blog posts already written. Like, you know, I can take it easy for three months, and then everything will be under control, and I can, kind of, just keep going. And I had an employee that was packing all the orders for me, so I could take that time out, and I thought I’d organised it really well. But Christopher had other ideas.
Lisa: And they have a way of doing that, don’t they? You know, ‘Let’s just, you think that this is what your life is about. Actually, I’m going to right ahead and make it about me.’
Lisa: And I think also, I don’t know, before I had my son, who is my eldest, I had this period of working at home. Like, about two years. And it was awful, like in the beginning. I don’t know whether I got depressed or not, but I was pretty low, because I was used to working in a media environment, daily deadlines, hustle and bustle. And then it was just me, and we were in Sydney, so I had no friends. My sister was there, thank God, but it was really, really tough. But I remember thinking, at that time, or when I was going into then having a baby, that I was so glad I’d had that chance to just be quiet in a house, be by myself. And I had also really been struggling with some freelance work that I’d been doing, and not getting much traction on things. And I kept thinking, what if I’d just gone from, like, winning awards for this TV show in 2007 to having the baby? That would have just been shocking, and I wouldn’t have known whether it was just because it’s such a huge lifestyle shift, to go from having a job where you’ve got an important role, to then just, you know, being at home a lot. And, you know, having a baby, or is it just the lifestyle change? Like, what’s the thing?
Laura: I think it’s the identity change.
Lisa: Yes, so much. So did you struggle? Like, has that been part of your, you know, transition into motherhood?
Laura: Yes. Well, I still remember doing a prenatal class, the one you do before the baby’s born. And I was in Melbourne, at the hospital there, and they were running it. And I still remember the presenter. She drew a graph, and she said, ‘This is women in traditional communities, and countries,’ how their status improves as they get older. And she drew this graph, and it was like, ‘Okay, so we’re a girl, and then she gets married,’ and she notched up on the graph. And then she has a baby, and she went up on the graph, like, her status, and how the community held her. And she has another baby, and it goes up. Oh and then she has a boy, and it goes up, do you know what I mean? And then she goes, ‘And this is in Western society,’ and she did the girl. ‘And this is a girl, and then she gets an education, and then she gets a job.’ Hang on, the other one, she gets married, I said that went up. So, she’s back in the Western one, she gets education, gets a job, she gets married, and goes up. Then she gets a promotion, it goes up. And then she has a baby, and it dropped down.
Laura: And then she has another baby, and it drops down again. This is why postnatal depression is, like, one in six in these Western women. And I saw that graph, and her talking through that, and no sweat, this is a group of, what, twelve women about to have babies. Like, we were 35 weeks pregnant or something, then, 36. I just dissolved into tears, and I just thought, ‘I’m feeling this so much, because that was my whole experience, during my pregnancy, how I just felt like everyone who used to look at me with so much respect weren’t looking at me any more.
Lisa: Oh, Laura.
Laura: I look back, and now I’m saying, I’m so much wiser now. I don’t need all that anyway, you know what I mean? It comes from within, not from the external environment. But back then, it was a massive deal. And I think, building Sustainababy, you talk about that massive shock. If I’d gone from working so intensely, at such a high level, in the minerals industry, to just being with my baby, I think I would have been one of those terrible statistics. I think starting that business kept my mind sane, and I had something else to focus my energies on. And I was creating, but I was still absorbed in the world of eco-parenting, and being able to buy all these awesome organic products for my own baby, do you know what I mean, at wholesale rates. You know, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, really. But you know what I mean? It’s like that graph, in that prenatal class.
Lisa: But do you know what I reckon about that graph? The reason why it’s frustrating is, I was talking to someone about this the other day, I can’t remember who it was. And for all that I achieved, or didn’t really achieve, in my career, or anything that really happened pre-children, I feel like, you know, just like you, you’ve had two, I’ve had three, and I’ve done it away from family. So, no-one around to, kind of, pop in if people get gastro or something, touch wood. You know, my eldest was still three when the third was born. And I feel like I can do frickin’ anything. I feel like my strength has come because I’ve seen what I’m capable of. When I didn’t think I had anything left.
Laura: You’ve still got to get out of bed.
Lisa: You still get out of bed. You get up and you do it, like, you can’t hide.
Laura: You’ve still got to put tea on the table.
Lisa: You can’t-, you’ve just got to show up. And then, I guess, I honestly feel like this experience, the past six years of motherhood, has given me this feeling, like I can do anything. Anything that I set my mind to, I can do. And that’s totally opposite to that graph. You know, what is going on, that our society’s not recognising the strength of the mother, the ability of the mother? And I get people asking me, like you must, too, ‘How do you do it, with kids?’
Laura: I don’t. I get help, I get outsource, or, you know what I mean? Or, I don’t do it all. You can see my messy lounge room right behind. You know, it’s like, I let things go.
Lisa: Yes. And because we’re not doing it, we have to create our own villages because we’re not living in a village any more. And yes, I just find that a really interesting thing to think about too, because it’s opposite to the way I think about myself. But I must say, you know, I did an event down in Melbourne, with Amy Taylor-Kabbaz, beautiful Amy, and the women in there were really broken, and really sad. One woman came up at the end, and she was just so gorgeous. She’d sat in the front row, she’d had a very high-powered job, and she just said, ‘I just don’t know how my life has become about nappies, and getting kids fed.’ You know, so there is also this part of us that’s like, ‘Really? This is my life? What?’ So, yes, it’s a very, very big transition. Okay, so, we’ve totally gotten off tangent here.
Laura: Oh we have, totally.
Lisa: Totally. Let’s talk about the frickin’ environment here. It’s just like, ‘Let’s just chat.’ So, what I really wanted-,
Laura: I kind of forgot we were recording a podcast, I thought we were just chatting, you know?
Lisa: I know, I’m the same. It does feel like that! ‘Welcome, everyone, into Laura and Lisa’s private chat today, just catching up.’ So, you sold Sustainababy, and then you’ve created a totally new platform. So your direction keeps changing, which I think is also the sign of a great, and responsive, leader in their field. And also, someone whose drive and passion just can’t be stamped out. Like, you’ll find a new way to get your word out, you’ll find a new way to communicate, to teach. And I see you as that, I see you as an educator. I see you as someone I can turn to, who knows all the shit that I don’t have time to look up, but if I just want someone who knows what they’re talking about, I go to you. All your resources are so solidly researched, and you are also a mum who is living in a remote part of Australia, and you get that it’s not about perfection. It’s just about trying your best. So, talk to us a little bit about what you’ve created, and why.
Laura: Yes, well, why. It gets back, again, my time in running Sustainababy, and all my customers constantly asking me, ‘How can I do this, Laura? How can I get rid of toxins in my home?’ Or, ‘How do you do this?’ And I was also, talk about frustrated. I was a little bit frustrated running a retail business, because I wanted to educate and inspire, and I don’t know, again, why does an engineer create a retail business? I never had any experience in retail, ever. Even through uni and school, my part-time jobs were all hospitality. So, you know, retail wasn’t my passion, but the why behind Sustainababy always was, and that was to make green mainstream, to get more people adopting sustainable ways of living. And so, I had a period of crossover for about two years, with Sustainababy, where I’d started to launch some online eco-living programs.
Yes, so I’ve actually got three all up. So my Home Detox Bootcamp was the first one, that helps people remove toxins in the home. It’s, you know, just steadily grown over the years, and we’ve had a few hundred people go through it, with fantastic results. And I did one on home energy use, so GreenHOUSE Home Energy Blitz, but my main one these days, and we’ll talk about it towards the end, is Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs. So, I guess, that’s how I got into it, because people were asking me how. And then when I started doing it, I just realised, ‘This is what I want to do.’ Like you said, I love educating, I love inspiring. My life just got so crazy running retail business and trying to do this at the same time, so I guess I made the decision. Or maybe the decision was made for me, with personal circumstances around something that happened with some money in our family, that we were running pretty tight there, so I sold Sustainababy. But I could now just focus on my education, and just changing people’s lives like that. Have I answered the question, or have I gone off on tangent again?
Lisa: Yes, yes. No, it is. So, Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs is now something that you’ve rolled out. I saw lots of Facebook ads for it, and the concept appeals to me. Because where I feel like we can sometimes go wrong in life, with lots of things, is when we’re waiting for the circumstances to be right, in order to start making changes. So, like, you know, ‘I’ll start taking care of myself when the kids are in school,’ or, ‘When we’ve got extra money, we’ll go on a holiday.’ Instead of just finding ways, right here, right now, to add the goodness back into your life. And I know, personally, Nick and I are always like, ‘When we get our house in the country, and have chickens,’ or, ‘When we buy a house,’ because we rent. ‘When we buy a house, we can do this, this, and have veggie gardens, and blah blah blah blah blah.’ Even, although, in the inner west of Sydney, in our concrete little tiny back gardens, Nick built veggie gardens himself.
Laura: And you so can.
Lisa: You so can. So I feel like Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs is saying, ‘You can do this right here where you are. You don’t have to change your life, in order to live a more sustainable life.’ So, how do you actually teach people how to do that? And what are people coming to you for? Like, what do you feel is the current mood around sustainability?
Laura: I think the current mood around sustainability, it’s not like it was twenty-whatever years ago, when I first started studying Environmental Engineering. By then, you know, the average person didn’t really have a really good understanding of what was happening. I think people are much more aware these days, I think in the online world, and in media. But just the news stories, there are more and more environmental ones, because things are really reaching a big crisis point, and the average person is becoming a lot more aware. I don’t mean average is average, just the everyday person is becoming more aware, and worried. So people are more aware that they need to make some change, but the same thing, there’s always that belief out there that by changing, you know, I’m not going to have as good a standard of living, or it’s going to take more time. Or, it’s going to cost more money, or do I need to move to the country, and have my own chickens there?
It’s like, my message is, ‘No, you don’t have to do that. Let’s do this, without turning your back on the modern world. Because you like your Netflix, or you like your smartphones. Or, you know, you like your daily latte, whatever it might be. We can work with all that, and we can just make a series of small changes in an ongoing way.’ It’s just all about continual improvement. I’m still making changes, and I’ve been doing this for frickin’ decades. And I will always be making changes, because there’s always another step you can go. But I just try and guide people through, from the beginners, all the way through to the advanced, to just keep making these changes, keep supporting each other. The benefits are totally worth it, yes.
Lisa: And this is the thing that used to come up. I used to work with a lot of NGOs, and they would say that they’d come across people who would be like, ‘Well, why should I make a difference, when China is putting up a new coal-fired power station every month?’ There are two things in that. One is, like, ‘What’s the point?’ And the other thing, that I feel like there’s a mood shifting, in terms of, ‘This stuff makes my life better.’ So, it’s not about, any more, convincing people that doing certain things is going to-, you’ve got to do it for the environment. It’s like, ‘Do it for you.’
Laura: You do it for you.
Lisa: Yes! Because your health improves. Because your kids aren’t, you know, off the charts.
Laura: You’ve hit it on the two biggest things. I think you’re right, I understand some of those feelings, because people can get overwhelmed. Like you said, China doing that, or our oceans are full of plastic. Species are becoming extinct every single day. Like, ‘How can I stop that?’ And also, it can be annoying when, like, you might be making changes, but yes, your next door neighbour’s bins might be overflowing, or their house might look like a Christmas tree all year round, because they’re leaving all their lights on, or whatever like that. But, you know, big change at the top needs to happen, like, with policies, and our global policies. Without a doubt, big changes have to happen. But a massive, massive groundswell of many, many people making a series of many, many, small changes also needs to happen.
And it is happening, and like you said, people are no longer thinking, ‘I’ve got to do this for the environment,’ you’ve got to think about the benefits of living sustainably. You know, you’re healthier, you’re happier, you’re simpler, you save cash, and you’ve got a much deeper connection to our earth. But not just that, to the communities in which you live, as well. And placing a value on that, because they’re so worth it. So yes, you’re not just making a change for Earth. You’re making a change for you, and your life. So I think people’s mindset’s starting to shift on that, which is helping with getting this massive groundswell of people making smaller changes. Which will have a massive impact, positively, on Earth.
Lisa: And don’t you feel like-, I see a lot of the environmental problems are the same as the problems in our head. You know, we’re so cluttered. There’s too much junk, and there are all these similarities between so many different aspects of our lives. When I was doing the work with the NGOs, we were trying to actually reach people around products, and more sustainable products that they can buy. Anyway, that’s a whole different story. But I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t made the connection between the food I was eating, and the choices that I was making with that. That took a long time for the penny to drop. I knew about food miles, but it all, sort of, seemed very much like other very greeny people were doing that. Or, the restaurants that were taking that into consideration. You know, this is back in 2007, 2008. They were all, kind of, on the fringe, and it didn’t seem to be something that seeped into my brain. Until I really started to, kind of, own that one of the easiest things for me to do was to change the way that I ate. And, you know, just stop buying a lot of this processed, and packaged, food, was like, that is the simplest win for me.
Laura: And it’s probably the win that has the biggest impact on the environment. On your health, and on the environment.
Lisa: So, when I started to go down this path, I was like, ‘Well, I’m just going to start talking about food more. Food. Because we’re doing it every day. People go to the shops every single day, and, you know, it’s just something that we could really raise our awareness around.’ Because it’s also for our health, like, it’s not for this big, other thing that’s going on out there, that we don’t have any control over, really. But I’d love to know from you, before we finish up. What are some of the easy, and quick, wins that you help people with when they’re just starting off? Like, the small steps. What are some of the ones that are just so easy to tick off?
Laura: Oh, there are so many. Do you want to have a bit of fun about this?
Lisa: Yes, go!
Laura: Because you can give me an area. Like, you can say, ‘In the garden,’ or, ‘In the kitchen,’ or whatever, and we can do some small steps there.
Lisa: Okay. Well, what about household cleaning? Like, cleaning clothes. It’s like my nightmare!
Laura: Cleaning clothes. Yes, clothes are a nightmare. Well, small steps you can do there for the environment. Very first one, if you’re not using a washing line, use a frickin’ washing line. You know, because sunlight, for one, will help fade the stains on your clothes, and also just that air dry. Your clothes will last longer, because they’re not just getting pummelled in a dryer all the time. And if you live in a cold, or wetter climate, get a clothes horse, and just pop it in front of your heater, or they can dry overnight, or something. If you are in the habit of using a dryer regularly, that’s something very quickly you can do, so that’s obviously going to save you energy, and obviously, with the sunlight fading the stains.
When you come to washing, your own detergent, it’s actually really, really simple to make your own laundry detergent. One of my recipes in the home detox bootcamp, and it’s also in Self Sufficiency, is just a very basic one where you can grind up, like, a pure soap, like a Castile soap, and blend it with washing soda, so, sodium carbonate. So, the carbonate makes the water softer, so the soap doesn’t form a soap scum. Like, it doesn’t have that chemical reaction in the water, so you don’t get that insoluble soap scum. Yes, and that cleans clothes really well, you only need a tablespoon, and it’s around about a 50/50 blend, but depending on your water quality, if you’ve got harder water, you’ll need more washing soda. Yes, that’s very simple steps there. And that detergent, I might grind one or two bars of soap, and it takes five minutes in a thermomix, and I’ve got three months’ worth of washing detergent.
Laura: It’s a very easy small step. Very effective washing detergent.
Lisa: I love that small step, I’m going to do that small step. Because I buy the eco stuff that is super-expensive, and it could be a lot easier for me.
Laura: It is. And if you trip over the ingredients on that, you’ll see sodium carbonate, maybe sodium bicarbonate. You can just make it yourself.
Lisa: Super easy. And you just get that stuff from where?
Laura: Well, sodium carbonate, it’s just washing soda in the laundry aisle at your supermarket, but it’s, like, A$1.75 for, like, a kilo bag.
Lisa: And castile soap from the health food shop?
Laura: Yes, health food stores. Even David jones, like, a brand, like Doctor Bronner’s which is available everywhere, pretty much, or online. Or another small step, a bit further away along the line of your journey, you can make your own soaps. But yes, there might be a local soap producer, olive oil soaps, or something like that.
Lisa: Okay, that’s good to know.
Laura: Like a natural soap.
Lisa: Natural soaps. Okay, so what about, then, in the car? I mean it’s an obvious one, but, you know, apart from getting a Prius, you know, what do you do?
Laura: Yes, well we live in a regional area, so one, we still need a car, because there is no public transport where we live. Yes, the cars are a funny one. So, diesels, for example. And I must admit, cars aren’t the topic that I know the most about. But diesels are more, what’s the word, efficient in terms of their fuel, and how far the fuel goes, but then sometimes the combustion of diesels, you know, you’ve got particulates and things like that. But they are more kind for how far you can go, more energy efficient in that way. But yes, I think hybrids are where it’s at, but of course, you’ve got to shell out the money for them.
Laura: And we don’t have an eco-car, but I would love one, down the track. I would love the cost of these things to come down.
Lisa: To come down. I know, we just need all the rich people who can afford them to just start demanding them more, and the price will come down.
Laura: And maybe things like the Australian government, that all the cars they buy are the hybrid cars.
Lisa: Subsidised, yes.
Laura: Or, you know, some of these businesses, they’re buying them, to help bring them down as well.
Lisa: Well, what do you say then, as someone, like, Sustainababy in your past. The toy room, how could we, kind of-,
Laura: Yes, that’s a good one. Well, if you’ve got babies, don’t always-, sorry, I don’t want to say, ‘Don’t,’ I hate saying, ‘Don’t,’ because it puts a judgement on people. Just remember, you, as a mother, or a father, you’re your baby’s favourite toy, and that is so true. So, there’s nothing wrong, if you’re cooking dinner, to have them sitting up in a high chair next to you, and just put a little bit of food on their tray, and they can just play with the food, while you’re cooking dinner. And you’re interacting, and having that connection, rather than just popping them on a playmat with all the toys. You know, we’re so quick to revert to toys to entertain, and singing, and just going outside, and looking at the leaves blowing in the trees, and having that connection. The plastic toy invasion is very real in my life too. I’ve got a four- and a six-year-old, and just trying to keep that under control is a nightmare. Trying to gift experiences, like, ‘Let’s go on outings, let’s go to the zoo, let’s go to this, and that,’ rather than always buying something. And requesting that relatives do the same, not that they always listen.
Lisa: Do you know what’s infiltrated our house? Pokémon cards!
Laura: Oh, really? We don’t have them.
Lisa: Oh, Laura! These tiny little cards, like footy cards back in the day. And those Shopkins, have you seen Shopkins?
Laura: Oh, yes. My son, they’ve got one each, but my niece wants the entire collection or something. Like, who comes up with all these ideas? And, like, at the start, when Matthew’s now about to turn seven, and he still loves the Octonauts, and when he was three, he loved them. So for that birthday, that year, he got the Gup-X, right? His third birthday, and we thought, ‘This is really cool.’ It’s not like Thomas the Tank Engine, where they’re bringing out a frigging new train every month. It’s like, there are eight Octonauts, they can’t just turn around and call them the Deconauts or something, and add another two. There are eight Octonauts, and there was the Gup-X, and the Octopod. We thought, ‘This is cool.’ But now, there’s like the Gup-A. I’ve got a video recording of Christopher, last year, for Christmas. ‘Chris, what would you like for Christmas?’ ‘I’d like the Gup-A, the Gup-B, the Gup-C, the Gup-D, the Gup-E, and the Gup-G. Oh, and I’d like the Gup-H.’
Lisa: Oh, get out!
Laura: You know, it’s like, far out! They keep bringing out all these things, all the time, so kids feel they need to collect everything, don’t they? So, we’re getting off track again, but yes, the toy room. Gift experiences, go for quality, not quantity. And this year, we’re putting our money, we’re getting monkey bars for the kids in the back yard. And then, they’ll get one extra thing, from us, or from Santa, and then whatever relatives decide. We’ve asked relatives to try and pitch in for the monkey bars instead of presents, but we’ll just see what happens there. That’s our aim, to just try and like-, our house is three bedrooms, it’s not getting any bigger. They toys are taking over. Can we try and stop this, please? We need to breathe.
Lisa: Yes, I know. And I love a good clean-out, love it, because it helps with how I’m feeling about life.
Laura: Yes. But the clean-out, I’ve got two little hoarders. The kids take out the recycling bin, every week, and they get 50 cents pocket money. Yes, we’re stingy. But they take out the recycling bin, and they don’t put it all in the recycling bin, because they find some of their drawings. Like, because it’s a lot of their drawings, and little squiggles they’ve done.
Lisa: Oh, yes.
Laura: And they come back in. ‘Mum, I drew this for you, why is it in the recycling bin?’
Lisa: ‘Oh, darling.’
Laura: ‘Oh, Dad must have put it there. “Dad”, go talk to Dad.’
Lisa: Yes, ask Dad! ‘Daddy, why did you put this in the recycling bin?’ Okay, so just to finish up. I’d love for people to know where they can find you. If they want to get involved in Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs, tell them how they can do that.
Laura: Well, the best thing is probably to click the link below this video, because Self Sufficiency in the Suburbs is quite a long domain name, it just opens the opportunity for people to type typos. So, I just say selfsufficiencyinthesuburbs.com, you can click on it below, you can get started for A$19. But if you want to, I guess, get a feel about me, and my work, a little bit more before you look into that. By all means, head over to lauratrotta.com, my main blog, or if you’re a bit of a podcast junkie like me, listen to Eco Chat in iTunes.
Lisa: I just loved our chat today, Laura!
Laura: Oh, it’s been great fun, as always.
Lisa: And every time I talk to you, I learn something new about you. So, it’s just awesome. Because, you know, at the end of the day, I think that we’re all just trying our best in life, to make our way through. And for some of us who appear online, and, you know, have programs, or products, or have had success in whatever it is. There can just be walls of expectation up around people, and understanding why people are doing the work that they’re doing in this world, I think, helps break that down. And you become more of a person, and at the end of the day, we just need to be around people. And I love that in your work, like just before, ‘I don’t like saying, “Don’t,” because, you know, I don’t want people to ever feel judged, or feel like there is a right or wrong way to do it.’ You’re putting that out into the world, and that’s what people get, when they come in and learn from you. And understanding where you’ve come from, it just builds credibility. Because there are so many people with messages in this world, there are so many teachers, and online we are just bombarded all the time. And I love finding the little gems, like Laura.
Laura: Like Lisa.
Lisa: Well, I’m just the conduit. Like, I see myself as someone who can just bring people like you, and your work, to a bigger audience. And, I mean, you did that very well yourself. You broke the internet with your salt blog post.
Laura: Yes, kind of did, that one.
Lisa: That was a bit crazy.
Laura: I don’t mind pushing boundaries sometimes.
Lisa: You’ve got to! You’re a strong woman, who has educated opinions on things, and we need to hear them. So, just tell people which salt they should use, again.
Laura: Well, if you live in Australia, because it does vary depending on where you live. So, if you’re an Australian listener, just check out some of our Australian mineral salts, rather than just going for the Himalayan rock salt. So, my favourites are the Maori River. This is not a paid endorsement, of course, the Maori River pink salt flakes, but there are some other great ones around, too. So, yes, I mean, Himalayan rock salt, it doesn’t really make sense to be buying a salt that travels thousands of kilometres, and it’s a mined, finite resource, as opposed to our mineral ones. They’re coming from saline ground waters, that have been rising with salinity, but the harvesting of this salt from the ground water. It’s not harvested from the Maori River, is actually helping to combat salinity in the Maori Darling basin, which is still Australia’s food bowl. So, it’s combating that environmental issue as well.
Lisa: Laura, I just love hearing you talk eco, and a little bit eco nerd, as well. It’s sexy, Laura.
Laura: You too, Lisa. I hope Nick and Paul aren’t listening to this podcast!
Lisa: No, we still want them to be buying us flowers and stuff. Okay, thank you so much Laura. I very much appreciate it.
Laura: Thank you. I love your work too, Lisa. You’re a gem in the online, and offline world, too, so you are amazing.
Lisa: Oh Laura.
Laura: I’ll send you some flowers!
Lisa: Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. I very much appreciate your time.