"It isn’t framed in terms of 'looking after it for our grandchildren' anymore. People see the immediacy." – Tamara DiMattina (pictured)

People have warmed to the idea of treading lighter on the planet since Tamara DiMattina started The New Joneses around 10 years ago. In this Q&A, DiMattina explains why people are suddenly flocking to the small footprint lifestyle in droves.

What’s the mood of the people on sustainability?

I feel the mood on sustainability has changed dramatically since I started creating campaigns to “take green from mung bean to mainstream”.

It had to.

I had friends with kids who would ask “so, how’s your charity work going?”

I didn’t see conserving our beautiful planet, ensuring we had clean air to breathe and water to drink as “charity work”.

Thankfully I’ve seen a real difference in the way people respond to conversations around sustainability and our environment.

It isn’t framed in terms of “looking after it for our grandchildren” anymore. People see the immediacy. They’re starting to see that the plastic we threw away yesterday comes back in the fish we eat today.

We run school tours at The New Joneses. The kids know so much more about our environment than we ever did.

It’s still a slow, ongoing process, but as Maya Angelou says, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know betterdo better.”

We know better now. So we must do better.

The New Joneses prefab pop-up in Federation Square, Melbourne. Picture: Dan Soderstrom

How has it changed since you started doing this?

The New Joneses actually started as a Buy Nothing New Month activation we were running with City of Sydney nearly 10 years ago.

We were installing a prefabricated house at Customs House forecourt. Working with Sydney’s secondhand retailers to promote the secondhand economy, (which Gumtree’s 2018 report values at $38 billion) we were styling the house entirely with secondhand goods.

When the story got into the media, I had politicians, media and retailers calling me stupid. “What about the retailers?” “What about the economy?” they said.

We won’t have retailers or an economy without a safe, stable planet to live on, I thought.

No one says that today. People get it. “We have too much stuff”, they say now.

Back then, some people were angry that we were suggesting that we should consider the impact of our wasteful, throwaway society and unnecessary consumption on our environment.

The then premier, Barry O’Farrell, called Buy Nothing New Month “nuts”.

Daily Telegraph journalist Miranda Devine suggested City of Sydney ratepayers respond to Buy Nothing New Month by not paying their rates for a year.

I never saw FebFast, Dry July or similar campaigns encouraging responsible boozing eliciting the same response. No one says “what about the alcohol retailers?” or “responsible drinking is going to harm the economy”.

Back then, lots of people weren’t ready to look at the impact of our wasteful ways or change.

These days, people are more receptive, further down the path and ready for action. I love Craig Reucassel and the War on Waste for the impact they’ve had in putting a spotlight on waste and what we can all do about it.

Another example of change – I was interviewed years ago about Buy Nothing New Month for a book by journalist, Clare Press.

At the time of the Sydney Buy Nothing New Month media sh*tstorm, Press was a fashion retailer who saw me as an “anti-capitalist Melburnian hippie rallying people to stop shopping”.

Press is no longer a fashion retailer. She is now Vogue Australia’s first sustainability editor-at-large.

In her book, Wardrobe Crisis, Press states when we meet: “I don’t want to like DiMattina, business ruiner, anti-shopping nutter”.

Press is now one of the most active and brilliant voices out there on sustainable fashion, buying less stuff, taking action to preserve our planet. Times have changed. Attitudes and actions have changed.

Crowd at City of Stonnington installation.

What sense do you get from business about the potential of sustainability?

It’s huge. There is such potential for business to benefit from leading the charge.

The chief executive officer of an AFL [Australian Football League] club told me this year, if it wanted to, AFL could stop climate change. Big call, but he was referring to the power of the AFL to educate and drive positive change.

Many of us are disillusioned with politics and the failure of our “leaders” to lead.

I understand some think it’s not the role of business, but I respect business leaders who take a public stance and show their values. Like Qantas’ Alan Joyce on same-sex marriage. 

The New Joneses aims to remind us of our people power and the power in our pockets to change the world by supporting the businesses doing the right thing.

What’s the biggest question they ask?

People always want to know what impact we’re having. I find this impossible to answer.

I can’t know the impact of a visit to The New Joneses on a school kid, a CEO or a council officer. But hopefully, we plant the seed for simple switches that are inspirational, aspirational, affordable, and achievable in our work and personal lives.

What are the biggest influences on your actions?

The biggest influences on me have been life experiences that have shown great alternatives to what mainstream advertising throws at us.

Twenty years ago, I was working at Sotheby’s, London. I had to look champagne smart on a beer salary.

I started op shopping, bought a second-hand machine and learnt to sew. I learnt to value resources, use secondhand stuff and look for quality, rather than cheap, throwaway stuff headed for landfill.

For five years, my mates and I went to Burning Man [conference] in the Nevada Desert. You can’t buy or sell anything. It’s non-commercial. It values experiences over “stuff”. Its tagline is “Leave no trace”. I started becoming more aware of the impact of our footsteps on our planet.

In Dharavi, Mumbai’s infamous slum, I saw where our “waste” gets recycled. Because the people there have so little, they see our waste as a resource. In India, as in nature, nothing is wasted.

In Antarctica, on a two-week expedition, we were taught about sustainability and climate change and asked what we were personally going to do about it.

All these experiences kept feeding the tiger in my belly that was starting to roar: “We’re stuffing this up but there is a beautiful alternative to our wasteful ways that’s not only essential but better for us, our people, our wallets and our planet.”

Everyday hero, Wayne Slattery with his dog Leopold the second hound.
Living like The New Joneses for a week in Australia’s first carbon-positive prefab house in The City Square.
Picture: Andrew Tauber

Who inspires you and from where?

The people who really inspire me are:

  • those who have been trying to get this message across since the 60s and 70s when people weren’t listening
  • those who do their bit every day, in their homes and workplaces.
  • those who stick their neck out to show us what’s possible (Joost falls into this category for me)
  • those with a social heart and commercial head. I think putting the two together is how we can turn this ship around

Who are your biggest supporters?

My project partners. The New Joneses couldn’t educate, change mindsets and inspire behaviour change if it weren’t for the support of the business community with a positive message to promote, including: Momentum Energy, HipVHype, Hickory, Elenberg Fraser, Nissan LEAF, Earth Choice, BMW i3, Natures Organics, TESLA, Fed Square, Bank Australia, Ian Potter Foundation, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Sacred Heart Mission, Leonard Joel, Enphase, Powershop, Sustainability Victoria, Grand Hyatt, SLF, Archiblox, The Sociable Weaver, Flex, Q Cells, Flexicar and many more.

How can readers get involved?

Contact Tamara at hello@thenewjoneses.com

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