Speaker 1: Sheila Pinion, Health content editor, Bupa UK
Hello and welcome to Bupa’s Healthy Me podcast on sustainable and healthy homeworking habits.
My name is Sheila Pinion. I’m one of Bupa’s health content editors, and your host for this podcast. Today I’m going to be joined by Head of Sustainability at Bupa UK, Clare McMahon, and Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, Rex Fan.
We’ll be discussing what sustainability is, why it’s important, and how you can be more sustainable at home.
And this doesn’t just relate to the environment – because we’re also going to discuss how you can develop healthy habits to help you look after your physical and mental wellbeing while you work remotely.
One of the benefits of being more sustainable is that it can reduce your energy usage, which can also save you money. And as energy bills are going up, this could be a good time to think about steps you could take to be more energy efficient. So, I’m really looking forward to talking to Clare and Rex to dig a little deeper into the subject.
Hi, Clare and hi, Rex. Thank you for joining me today. Would you like to tell me a little bit about yourselves and your backgrounds?
Speaker 2: Clare McMahon, Head of Sustainability at Bupa UK
Hi, Sheila. And, yeah, I'm Clare, Clare McMahon, and I'm the head of sustainability in BGUK. And so yeah, I've been with Bupa now for nearly 12 years, always working in sustainability. Started out in care services and our care home estates. My first job was introducing cardboard recycling. So we've come a long way since, since 12 years ago.
But I started out in doing geography at university and always had a passion for the environment and looking after the environment and sustainability. And I started work really with an environmental charity looking at environmental advocacy for local charitable groups, local communities, small businesses, looking at fish box recycling on Grimsby docks to textiles recycling with charity groups, and then went from there working at an airport with communities and noise and air quality and yeah, trying to reduce emissions across the airport and then ended up within Bupa.
That's fantastic. What a diverse array of projects you worked on. That's amazing. Really is a great example of what sustainability kind of is and what it involves. So thank you. How about you, Rex?
Speaker 3: Rex Fan, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor at Bupa
Hi, I'm Rex. I'm a lead behavioural insight advisor at the BGUK behavioural insights team in Bupa. So our team tackles challenges from a behavioural perspective, which involves how people think and then behave as a result. So my specialty, however, is in behavioural economics, which studies consumer behaviour in the economy. I actually started my career as a software developer, interestingly.
So in brief, I'm really looking to harness both of my skills in tackling projects in Bupa. And it's great to be here.
Thank you both. That's great. It's great to have you both here. So before we delve into sustainable habits and what those might look like, it'd be helpful to get a feel for what sustainability actually means. So Clare, sustainability is a term that we quite often see these days, especially in the news, but it's a concept that's been around for a few decades.Why is it getting so much attention and what does sustainability mean on a practical level?
Yes. So sustainability, yeah, it has, it has been around and yeah, I mean, I remember learning about this at school and hopefully not showing my age, but the Brooklyn Report, I've learned that definition, you know, meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Back in 1987, I think that statement was made.
And so, yeah, it's it has been a concept that has been around for a number of years, and it has certainly accelerated in the last couple of years, certainly within my career as a environmentalist. And I think we've come from – it’s probably been a bit intangible before you know, historically it's been around the polar bears on the ice caps perhaps.
We've seen images before, and it's been a bit distant from our own lives. And, you know, we've not really felt it or had experience of it. But I think this last two, certainly three years, it's become a lot closer to home. I mean, I remember learning about, you know, as a geographer, you know, you're one in 100-year floods and your one in 50 year floods.
And these are becoming now probably annual events we're seeing, you know, within the UK and certainly around the globe, we're seeing, you know, every week there's a catastrophe happening that's kind of linked to climate change on the news. You know, this week we're seeing the crisis in Sudan. And, you know, after years and years of drought, you know, that they're in a crisis situation and not able to grow the crops and feed themselves.
Similarly with wildfire fires, we're seeing, you know, every year it's California or Australia or where. So we're seeing these on a fairly regular basis now. And even in the UK we're seeing the impacts of climate change. I mean, we're in November and I don't think I've put on a winter coat yet, we're seeing abnormally high temperatures for the season.
So it's becoming a little bit closer to us. So, you know, sustainability in the environment, what was sort of a distant, you know, thing that happened in the in the poles is something which is much closer to home. So we're now sort of seeing that closer relationship between our own impacts, you know, what we do and how we conduct our daily lives does actually have an impact on the environment and will have an impact on our immediate environment and localities that we live in.
That's a really good point. When it becomes that close to home, it's really hard to ignore, isn't it? It's one of those things, you know, you see it on the news, that's one thing. But when it's actually affecting you, like you said, like if it's just the weather, it has been very warm. Yes, it is quite strange.
And it does make you start to think, you know, climate change and global warming, all these things. They're not just a concept. They are actually happening in real time. And we're living through them. And, you know, the next generation, they're been quite vocal, aren't they? The younger generation, that are maybe a bit more aware or this is going to affect them as well, isn't it.
So yeah, I think that's a really good point. And do you think like, you know, social media, the rise of social media, communications in general, people are a bit more aware of what's going on in the world generally too do you think, make I think what the customer is going to be. I guess spitballing there, do you think social media, do you think social media is helping or do you think this is kind of inevitable really that, you know, we can no longer ignore it?
Yeah, I think, yeah, we're all becoming more aware and more educated. I think. I mean, the ambassador for all of this, you know, David Attenborough, you know, has certainly brought it more more to life or is just simply watching some of his programs, you know, and seeing the impact he’s certainly seen over the years. And that coming across in his documentaries, I remember the plastic pollution one a couple of years ago and the impact on the oceans it really brought, you know, everybody was engaged, and nobody realised actually how much plastic was in the ocean until we saw the images.
And then, you know, when you go down to the beach today, you have that, you know, I always get my kids with a bucket, like picking up bits of plastic. You can actually physically see it more. But yeah, social media definitely has helped educate people about it. And, you know, there's lots of and great apps and things and carbon footprint calculators and software is helping to understand it a bit more and help people sort of track their own carbon footprint and inform them about, you know, sustainability and perhaps what they can do in their own lives and know we're seeing it linked to different areas of your life, like banking, for example.
You know, you can track your own carbon footprint through your spending. And, you know, supermarkets, when you go to the store now, you can see you’re guided to more sustainable options. And but yeah, certainly the younger generation we're seeing it in schools now and I know my own son is talking about recycling.
And when we drive past wind turbines, you know, he talks about them generating electricity. And that's good for the environment if it's come from a turbine. So yeah, and people are of a younger generation generally more worried about it, I think, because obviously it will impact them and their children. So yeah, definitely. Yeah. We've seen sort of climate anxiety come through a bit more and you know, me, myself, I try not to worry about and try and do my own bit.
But yeah, it is getting that attention, but people are doing things about it now. We are acting, which is the important thing.
Yes. It's this sense of individual responsibility, isn't it? We're all starting to realize, especially this carbon footprint you mentioned. That's actually a term that comes up quite a lot these days, and it's a term that our listeners might have heard of quite a lot. But could you tell us a bit more about why it's so important?
Yeah, so carbon footprint and I won't get too technical because carbon seems to have its own language now but carbon footprint is essentially, carbon dioxide is a natural gas. We when we breathe, we breathe out carbon dioxide. But what's happening is we have too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
And I try to describe it as it's acting like a blanket of gases around the earth, which is, as you put a blanket on, of course, at home it's warming the earth and we don't want the earth to warm quite at the rate that it is warming. So that's what's causing us a problem. And when we talk about our carbon footprint, our carbon footprint is, you know, it's part of our everyday lives, has a carbon impact.
So, you know, sat at home today, if you have the heating on, if you're burning and gas or oil or whatever fuel it may be, through the burning of that fuel, you release carbon dioxide into the environment. So therefore, you have a carbon impact through your activity today and obviously to the tangible things in your household.
So, if you have, the clothes you're wearing and the food that you'll have for your lunch, we've had to to make that or process that or fly it in, and it has had to be manufactured. So, again, that manufacturing process has had a carbon impact through the fuel burned to cook it or make it or transport it to a point where you then purchase it from.
So everything has a carbon footprint linked to it be it small or large. So it's thinking about our everyday activity and trying to reduce that where we're able to kind of do that and lower our own, our own carbon footprints. I think they say the average carbon footprint in the UK is about eight tonnes for the average household in the UK and I think we're wanting to try and get down to three carbon tonnes per household in the UK.
So, yeah we do have quite a long way to go on that.
Eight tonnes is a lot isn't it. Wow. Okay. Um, that's yeah, absolutely fascinating. So, carbon footprint is a very important measure of our effects on the environment and also our routines and our behaviours have an impact on that too. And I think a really interesting example of that was obviously during the first COVID lockdown when we all had to start working from home or were on furlough and basically there was this notable decrease in air pollution and improvements in air quality.
And even though there's lockdowns have since lifted and air pollution has gone back up, our routines have changed quite a lot, including our commuting patterns. More people than ever are using or adopting flexible or hybrid working patterns, and we're spending a lot more time at home than we still, which can also have an impact on our carbon footprint.
So this is a question for both of you from health and sustainability perspectives. What would you say are the benefits to home working in terms of, you know, your health and the environment around you? And are there drawbacks? Rex, I'll come to you first.
Yeah, I think some people find that they can create a better work life balance when working from home. So the reasons can include childcare arrangements or healthcare needs, such as like hospital visits, health check-ups. But it can also be hard to make a distinction between your home and office because they're pretty much the same, right? So you might find that in general, you move less because you don't commute and also socialize less because you're working remotely.
Yeah, it does feel like the work life balance for a lot of people has changed and our habits and routines have changed and they might not even exist anymore. So we’re having to make new ones and we'll come back to what that might mean for our health in just a moment, because there's also the environmental impact to consider. So, Claire, you've touched on this already about the kind of household carbon footprint.
What would you say are the pros and cons to home working in terms of sustainability?
Yeah. So some of the pros, if you've previously had quite a long commute, I know I have about an hour’s commute into the office. So, I'm no longer taking that hour's commute and it was done by car. So we are seeing those travel impacts. There's a benefit obviously, there, of not physically traveling to the office.
But then on the flipside, where we’re sort of individually, probably, sat at home and particularly now we've got the heating on because it's turning chilly. So we're all heating our individual homes, whereas before we'd have taken ourselves into the office and we're collectively heating so 100 plus people in there, but that heating still sort of going on for the number of people that are going in.
So it's trying to get that balance right between the impact of your car travel or however you travel to work and seeing if you can make that more sustainable by and perhaps, you know, we talk about hybrid, you can have a bit at home and you can make that green in itself by, you know, my husband's always telling me to shut the doors, you know, adjust the TRV valves, your thermostatic radiator valves, you know.
So there's some tips that we can do at home and then think about how we can travel into work, you know, and perhaps think about the more sustainable options of that. But it's obviously sometimes the behaviour of that, you know, is trying to change change our working behaviours.
Well, I guess my next question really is, you know, it's good to be sustainable for, you know, it's the right thing to do for the environment and for future generations. And, you know, it's a good thing to do.
But actually as well, it can benefit us because if we are energy efficient, you know, we've got this backdrop of rising energy bills. This is going to be a topic that's on a lot of people's minds at the moment. Being more sustainable can actually, you know, reducing energy could actually save you money. So are there any particular points, Clare, that you might have that we could do to reduce our energy use while we work remotely?
Yeah. So this is things that we can take at home while we're working at home. So, yeah, you can go round and make sure you shut all the doors and particularly the room that you're working in and only really heat the room that you're working in. So by closing the doors, you're not then heating the whole house and wasting energy.
So that can save you money on your heating costs and simple things like draft proofing. You know, you’d be surprised if you go stand next to your keyhole or just put your hand over it, the amount of cold air that comes through your keyhole. So actually, you can get brass keyhole covers or simply just a piece of tape over it or draft curtains, for example, if you've got a particularly drafty front door, simply putting a curtain across your front door can help with the drafts.
And I'm a particularly big tea drinker, so I don't want to be boiling the kettle numerous times a day. Obviously that increases the electricity costs. So I’ve invested in a in a teapot and a teapot cozy. And, you know, so I don't have to boil the kettle all the time, I’ll probably, I don't know, halve the number of times I need to boil the kettle.
And there's also things like, you know, making sure when you when you log off at night or go out for lunch or whatever, you know, that you do switch your laptop off and make sure that you do switch it off, you know, fully off. Not just on standby because standby mode also consumes energy and your phone chargers as well.
Make sure you switch things off actually at the socket level because just taking your phone away from the charger, you still have an electrical flow there. So it's different small little things like that, you know, that you can build into your working day and it can have a difference. But the heating is a big one.
And yeah. Making sure you’re insulating and only really heating the space that you're in. And moving around a bit more as well. You know, if you’re starting to feel a bit chilly, if you've been sat for an hour or so, take a bit of a break, go for a walk around and heat yourself through your own energy whilst moving, or go grab a jumper, you know, take a series of steps before you actually need to perhaps turn the heating up a little bit more.
Those are really good points. It's one of those things where they're all they all seem like quite small things to do. But if you can build that into a pattern or a routine, you might not even notice that you're doing them. So yeah, it can make a big difference. You mentioned walking and, you know, keeping warm in other ways.
And actually that leads me nicely on to the next point, which is to do with maintaining healthy working habits when you work from home. So, Rex, I know some people can find it hard to switch off when they work from home. You know, they might move less or they might socialize less. And actually because lockdown was quite sudden, we might have developed kind of unhealthy habits that aren’t ideal for our general health and wellbeing in the long run.
So, you know, at face value it might seem like we're getting benefits from flexible working, but it can be hard even now to get a good work life balance. Do you have any tips that we could use to develop healthier home working habits?
Absolutely. I think it's easy to carry over bad habits from the lockdown days. So if you find you've been exercising less, for example, you can start by building in some light exercise routines into your day. So this can include doing stretches and doing yoga at home or having a light jog outside. And you should also remember to take regular breaks so you're not exhausting yourself.
And for those that find it hard to switch off when you work from home, it's important to develop habits that help separate your home and work lives so you can try wearing work clothes different from what you would normally wear at home and change into something more comfortable at the end of the day. It's also a great idea to have a morning and evening routine to help you transition between work and home.
So this can include like a light jog or reading for pleasure or a short session of mindfulness, and then also it's very important to remember to switch off your computer and clear up your workspace. At the end of the day.
Those are really good tips. I think I'm going to have to try some. So, generally speaking, it can be really tough to change our behaviour even when we set goals. Is that because our goals are too broad or unrealistic? And is there anything we can do to set more achievable goals and stick to them better?
I think you're absolutely right. So broad and unrealistic goals are some of the major reasons why we fail to change our behaviour so, for instance, if you've never gone to the gym before and then suddenly you decide to go three times a week, you are unlikely to keep going in the long term. To do that, you need to turn it into a habit and to build a good habit.
The most important point is how consistent you are at doing the behaviour, not how often or how much you do it. So as such as it's better to start small so this way you're more likely to engage in the behaviour at times when your motivation is low. So instead of going to the gym three times a week, for example, you might want to start by going once a week for a short 15 minute session, and then slowly you increase the frequency and time.
And this can also mean that it's helpful to make the behaviour as easy as possible to do. For example, you might want to pack your gym clothes the day before so you can effortlessly take it to work with you in the morning with the intention of going straight to the gym after work. And it's also important to be specific about your goals.
So for example, I'll go to the gym every Thursday after work for a 15 minute session is much better than I'll go to the gym once a week.
That's a really interesting way of thinking about it, isn't it? You're framing it slightly differently and you're trying to minimize hurdles that you might put up for yourself. And it's interesting because obviously those will apply to your, you know, your health and wellbeing, but also you could apply them to the habits that you use at home. Like Clare was saying, like, you know, turning off switches at the wall or only heating a room, once you build it into a routine, and make it a habit, it's a lot easier to stick to.
Before we draw things to a close, are there any other thoughts or reflections that you'd like to share?
I think at the end of the day, the key thing to remember about behaviour change is that it's not a one size fits all approach. So you should find what works best for you and your own unique situation. Try and experiment and change it up if you find that something isn't quite working as you’d hope, and to turn that behaviour into a habit, it's important to be consistent.
So missing one or two days is not a problem, but stopping entirely definitely will.
I think that's a nice point, it’s to be kind to yourself a little bit, isn't it? We're not. We're only human. But the main thing is that we try. Clare, is there anything you'd like to add?
Yeah, I think building on Rex's point on sustainability and being sustainable. You know, there's so many things that you could do, but it is about making it specific to you. And I always have the mantra to try and assess your health and behaviour, so pick one thing that's more relevant to you and do that kind of quite well and achieve a success with that.
So, you know, if it's making a cup of tea, for example, and, you know, make sure you fill the kettle to only what you need or, you know, like I was talking about earlier, get a teapot if you want more than one cup. But yeah, think about doing, you know, you don't have to go out and do every single action.
It's just about picking one thing and perhaps doing that, you know, to the best of your ability and making a change that way and then perhaps move on to the next. Once you've got that, that success, but yeah.
Yeah, that's a really nice way to look at it and it's a very positive way of thinking about it. So thank you both. I that's all we've got time for today, but thank you both for joining me and for all the great tips. It's been really interesting talking to you both.
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