This Clean-Living Guru Can Help You Green Up Your Life

Eco-activist and author Ashlee Piper constantly inspires us with her approachable, judgment-free strategies to save the planet.

Piper’s book, Give a Sh*t: Do Good. Live Better. Save The Planet, is a must-read for anyone seeking greener life practices. The Chicago-based former political strategist and government advisor has channeled her expertise into a full-fledged campaign to convert everyone she meets into an eco-warrior. In addition to the deep love for animals we share with Piper (whose shelter rescue dog, Banjo, makes frequent appearances in her Instagram feed), we also find her day-to-day green living strategies to be incredibly inspiring. We couldn’t think of a better expert to help guide us toward cleaner, greener lifestyle choices—in our beauty routines and beyond.

Earth Day is a global moment for everyone to take stock of how they relate to the planet and think about ways to tread more lightly. Do you have three easy, take-action tips for someone looking to really make lifestyle changes with earth-friendly impact?
Absolutely! I love Earth Day for that reason—people are more likely to be interested in the incremental, doable swaps that can make a huge difference. My top three are:

1. Enjoy a meatless meal (or many):
Traditional animal agriculture accounts for up to 51% of harmful global emissions. Meat and other animal products are also extremely labor intensive (you’ve no doubt heard the "2,000 gallons of water are required to create 1 pound of beef" stat). For myriad other health, karmic, and environmental reasons, embracing a more plant-based diet—in whatever measure you're able to—is the single most potent thing you can do to help the planet, not to mention its animal and human inhabitants (There's a huge human toll to meatpacking, too, that I dive deeper into in the book....).

2. BYO everything:
Single-use plastic is a huge part of our trash problem. Individually, Americans create about 4.4 pounds of trash every single day, and much of it never gets recycled (plus, recycling requires a ton of energy). Stemming the demand for these single-use disposables is key to helping Mama Earth out. It's become en vogue to pass on a plastic straw when having a cocktail or to bring a reusable bag when shopping. If you're already doing those things, great! I encourage folks to take this a step further whenever possible and assemble a "reusable arsenal" of items that will help you eschew disposables, especially single-use plastics, wherever you go in your daily life. A reusable drinking vessel, cutlery, cloth napkin, shopping bag, and food container don't have to weigh a lot and will serve you well whether you're grabbing a morning coffee, hitting the gym, or wanting to take home some restaurant leftovers.

3. Shop cruelty-free:
Whether it's makeup or laundry detergent, ensuring items you use in your daily life haven't been tested on animals is an important part of caring for the planet. These products also tend to have less packaging and fewer harmful ingredients than conventional versions as well. And with the gorgeous assortment of animal-friendly products out there, you never have to sacrifice performance, quality, or sheer delight when you opt for cruelty-free.

Beauty and wellness are two areas where being “clean” is increasingly important. Can you share ways to alter your beauty routine to green it up?
It's been so exciting to see the landscape change over the past few decades! In addition to supporting cruelty-free, as mentioned above, I also encourage folks to 1) look at packaging and try to purchase items that have reusable, recyclable, or repurposable materials; 2) avoid ingredients like antibacterial agents that do not assimilate safely into soil and waterways; and 3) embrace a “beauty fast.” I talk about this in my book—I'm a reformed product junkie and sticking to a beauty fast (limiting products, using up what I had, and not buying anything new until I needed a refill) actually cleared my skin, made my routine easier, and saved me money and time. I still enjoy beauty products and love getting made up, but I am also not hoarding products I never use or buying things on a whim that will likely collect dust. It's liberating in many ways.

Your love of animals is at the heart of your mission to clean up the planet, right?
You betcha! I dedicated the book to my parents shelter dog, Banjo. So, I guess you could say I'm a fan of animals. I also came to eco-friendly living through my commitment to ethical veganism and animal rights. If it wasn't for those personal journeys/convictions, I'm not sure I would've become so attuned to the interconnectedness of it all and passionate about doing whatever we can to help keep our spinning ecosystem in good shape.

"We have to create that celebratory, helpful, non-judgemental tone for others and we also need to maintain it for ourselves."

Intention is a huge part of living a clean, green life. Occasionally, though, people slip. Do you have coping mechanisms with eco-guilt?
Absolutely. I don't strive for perfection in the first place. I strive to simply make the best choice I can in the moment with what I have to work with. And I slip up a ton. It's funny—since the book came out, people will come up to say hello or ask a question and they'll be like, "Oh crap. Please don't look at me drinking from this plastic bottle." And I'm like, listen, it's all good. Because 1) I'm human and endlessly fallible and 2) Changes will never become habits unless people feel welcomed and like they can win. So, we have to create that celebratory, helpful, non-judgemental tone for others and we also need to maintain it for ourselves. Celebrate the little victories and move forward from the perceived setbacks. Replace militant perfectionism with curiosity and excitement of embarking on a new journey. And don't read too much into the sustainable examples you see on social media. They're wonderful and all, but not everyone can mill their own flour or keep their family's trash in a mason jar for 5 years. You have to find what works and is enduring for you and the way you live.

What does Earth Day mean to you?
It's kind of like Mother's or Father's Day. It's nice to have a singular day to commemorate and reflect on how precious our planet is and all it does for us, but it's also something that should extend to our everyday.

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