An Interview With Sustainability Coach Kali Aevermann
Kali is a yoga teacher and sustainability coach in sunny San Diego, where she lives with her partner Brad, her dog Gerty, and a rotating cast of sweet foster dogs. Here she shares her sustainability origins (spoiler: a sailboat is involved), what it means to be a sustainability coach, her own low-waste goals, and a few of her favorite things. We are so grateful to have connected with her bright and kind spirit, which truly is a match made in heaven with the Kindred Community!
How did you come to be interested in living a low-waste lifestyle?
I worked at Starbucks when I was eighteen and saw all of the waste; just so many boxes of milk piling up in the trash because the business didn’t recycle. I would end up taking garbage bags full of cartons home to be recycled and my dad would be like, “...what are you doing!?” I didn’t know a lot about sustainability, but I had a common sense understanding of how much better it was for people to be using reusable coffee cups. I made little signs to put on the drive-thru window that said “save your sleeve, save the trees” to encourage people to reuse the sleeves. My manager kept taking them down, but I kept putting them back up!
It wasn’t until I lived on a sailboat -- when I was twenty-six -- that I really started to see more of the issue with plastic pollution, understanding where plastic goes, how the recycling industry was created in the 70s [as a for-profit industry] and how that’s not really the answer for all the plastic we buy. I started researching it more and that was around the time that the term “zero waste” started to become more well known.
You are super active on Instagram, providing tips for low-waste living and sharing adventures. How has social media impacted your low-waste journey?
I’ve learned so much from other people on social media, and then it always leads me to do more research so I can create an in-depth understanding and fact check. It’s inspired me to share more on my end and, while I definitely go through ebbs and flows of feeling like I’m on a more personal journey, I realize that people do value my opinion and want to know what I’ve learned. People are listening and if I’m going to be on social media, I want it to be inspiring for others. It’s so cool when somebody tells you that they’ve learned something useful or impactful from you. I started hosting clothing swaps in San Diego and sharing about them on Instagram and have heard from a few people that they were inspired to do their own in their hometowns, which is really cool!
Tell us what being a “sustainability coach” looks like. Why do people hire you and how do you approach helping them to live more sustainably?
What I’ve learned about sustainability is so individualized, very similarly to what I’ve learned as a yoga teacher in regards to how we all have unique and beautiful bodies. For me, teaching a yoga class is offering guidance that allows you to be in touch with your body and honor it in your own way. So, I brought that mindset into sustainability. We have so many factors contributing to our role in the world, like our privilege and what we can access. Coaching is helping each person individually find the right steps, the right actions, the right habits that recognize those factors and fit into their life -- if they have kids, a partner, where in the world they live, what their budget looks like. Depending on what they feel like may be missing in their habits and lifestyle, I present options and am there to be their guide and support them through making those changes.
When someone starts coaching with you, what is the process like?
First, we have a consultation call and we go over what they want to focus on, if there’s anything they want to learn about but just don’t have time to research, or what’s been holding them back. The next step is always a trash audit, where I ask them to hold their trash for a week; but we make sure that food stays in the freezer or is composted to keep things from getting moldy! I like a trash audit because people get to see first hand what their waste is like and it can be eye opening and exciting. At the end of the week, we go through the trash together and talk about swaps and find what things are non-negotiable keepers and what can be let go of.
After that, I write a personalized e-book, called an EcoBook, which is their toolkit to use as they make these changes over time. Whenever they are ready to make swaps, they can reference the book to see what products will work best for them, like swapping out regular sponges for coconut bristle sponges, or starting to use fabric towels in place of paper.
It’s really powerful to change these habits, especially when we grew up thinking they were the only way to do things. A really big part of this is helping to rewire the brain. Why is it that we are so attached to certain ways of doing things? How can we help ourselves adapt? It takes time and it’s not overnight. I remind my clients that I am always on the journey and will never be perfect.
What’s your holy grail, can’t-live-without-it, reusable item in your home?
My moon cup. But also so many other simple things, like lots of reusable cloths to be used as paper towels and rags around the house. Bar soaps! I love buying my bar soap from the local “soap lady.” I get excited to take my dog Gerty on a walk to get soap. One of the best parts of being intentional about what items you bring into your home is knowing exactly where they come from.
What’s in your bag/purse/backpack on a daily basis that makes low-waste living easier?
A water bottle and a coffee mug. I take them everywhere. I always have a reusable napkin -- which can be a thrifted bandana or an old washcloth -- and I wrap up my reusable bamboo cutlery in it which is always convenient to have. It’s fun to pop that out on a plane; people are always surprised! Currently, a lot of places won’t take your reusable coffee cups, but we try to work with them. If my partner and I are at a coffee shop, we always ask what workarounds can be made to see if we can minimize waste.
What sort of sustainability goals do you have for yourself?
I would love to find a way to sustainably feed my dog, Gerty, with a healthy diet that isn’t kibble. I don’t eat meat, so maybe that means I need to buy well-sourced meat and figure out how to cook that just for her. I started making her dog treats which is fun and I am interested in potentially doing something with that in the future, because I found a way to make them using discarded celery pulp from my celery juice!
Also, I’m really ready for the next steps of learning more about systematic changes that need to take place. While I know that what I do in my own home matters, and I want to continue to encourage others to make those changes as well, I’m ready to know what I can do next on a larger scale. It does come down to a lot of systems changing in order to save the planet in the way that it needs to be saved, as soon as possible. I think I would really love to go back to school or do some more education within the field, especially as it relates to helping businesses make big changes. I want to spread the word beyond my tiny little community, There is power in my community, but even more needs to be done. I’m excited to keep growing up, to see how I evolve and change and learn more!
One more question. Next time you find yourself in the PNW, promise to visit us at Kindred?
Yes, absolutely! I get such a high from being around people that are sharing things like this with their community, things that they love and believe in. We drive through the Pacific Northwest often and we will absolutely stop by next time we are in the area.