Who is Rob Greenfield?

He has drawn the world's attention to waste, but Rob Greenfield is about much more than changing our throwaway society

Image courtesy of SierraNovaPhotography

It's an extraordinary journey for a man who has described his former life as a 'Social nuisance' and a transformation to one of being of 'benefit to the environment and society'.

Not just extraordinary in what he has achieved, but also the impact he has had on the lives of others. Here is a person who, in seeking less, has acquired much, much more.

So, who is Rob Greenfield?

'There was no moment of clarity or significant occurrence, just a realization through education that my simple daily actions were causing a lot of destruction to the earth, to fellow humans both near and far, and to the creatures that I share the earth with', said Rob in his Blog in 2015, but despite this it seems his travel experiences began a change in lifestyle that went way beyond just living sustainably.

It may not have started in a dumpster, but Rob's 'Food Waste Fiasco' project certainly drew the world's attention to just how much usable food is literally thrown into the trash each year.

Rob drawing attention to food quite literally thrown away, here in San Diego. This spectacle was repeated in many cities across the US.

Image courtesy of SierraNovaPhotography

In doing so, he was highlighting not just food waste but also a plethora of issues that people around the world are experiencing due to globalisation.

 

Rob's other projects range from his famous 'Trash me' campaign in 2016, in which he worse every piece of trash he generated for 30 days, his 'Green Riders' projects, both in the US and in Europe, and his 'free seeds' project, all of which aim to make positive changes to peoples' lives. There is no single message here. No strict agenda that can discerned. But quietly, discreetly and in many small ways, Rob is changing how we perceive our world. Some may say that this guy has taken in to extremes. He has for example reduced his reliance on just about everything people aspire to. At one time or another, Rob has got rid of his car, house, bank cards, bills, cash, clothing, cellphone and a host of things that you or I would consider the 'essentials' of life. Rob sees life in another way.

 

"The earth is my home and humanity is my family," He tells us in his blog My 44 Possessions a description of what he actually, physically owns - all of which can fit into his backpack, his mode of transport a bike made of bamboo, his living space a tiny home built out of recycled materials.

This way of life is not for everybody, as he freely admits. "The message is not that anyone must do just as I do. My life serves as a counterbalance to the extreme society that we live in. I have designed my actions and my life to be a wake up call and an opportunity for others to self-reflect and align their values with their actions." Yet I must admit a touch of envy for Rob's simple life. The idea of waking up tomorrow and not having to worry about bills, car maintenance, the rent/mortgage or doing the weekly shop is alluring, but scary at the same time.

Could I live without the material things? What would that do to my aspirations: if I stopped hankering after money, would I just give up? Would there be any point to it all?

Rob considers this perspective from a very simple viewpoint. It is not all about making sure everyone has food, or even that we can all live without waste and find inner sustainability:

"I am trying to be the change that I wish to see in the world. That change that I wish to see is love."

And he has a point. We are each of us apparently standing alone, each of us caught within the machinery of a corporate production line which brings with it the ethos that attracting stuff, material possessions, is well and good and necessary. This ethos makes us insular, caring only for our immediate world and by default leaving us uncaring to the planet.

Rob isn't just a philosopher, though. He is a pragmatist who uses his knowledge to make real and lasting change, be that through the distribution of seeds, turning acres of sterile lawn into veritable feasts of edibles, distributing free food that would otherwise have gone to landfill or showing us how one can live happily with the barest of things. 

His website offers not just inspiration, but essential tips and advice on everything from growing your own food, to how to obtain sustainable clothing, to foraging for wild food. And he manages all of this whilst at the same time donating 100% of his income from speaking events his book and TV show to non-profit organisations.

 

Rob's tiny home, built out of recycled materials

Credit: www.brandonkari.com

But for me the question still remains: Who is Rob Greenfield: A visionary? A man who wants to change the world? Or is it simply that he's a nice guy who basically wants to help people and the planet?

One could say 'all of the above, and more.' His enthusiasm for everything he does is palpable: one only has to watch a couple of his shared videos to understand that. This is not to say he hasn't had his low points but even these he openly shares. Yet everything he shares, his knowledge, his ideas and his messages is given not only freely but also quietly. You won't see Rob striding at the head of an organised demonstration. His bullhorn is the inspiration he engenders in others, yet his is not a 'movement', at least not within the same terms of reference that we have come to expect from, say, climate change campaigners. rather, one could say that he is helping to show humans the way out of the mess we are making of the globe.

And that mess is considerable. If one were to try and locate a root cause of the problems we are bringing upon ourselves, one could not do worse that point the finger sternly at globalisation which has in recent years been questioned and increasingly come under attack in what a 2017 Guardian article claimed was a 'backlash'. But it is perhaps far too easy to berate corporations and governments and to blame all the world's ills upon its' pursuit of free trade agreements and border-less markets. Because we are all part of this sticky web, whether we like the idea or not and being somewhat conscious about recycling and doing a bit here and there for the environment is simply not enough.

So, should we all aspire to live as Rob Greenfield does? Well, the world would be next to perfect if we could, but the reality is that it is unlikely to happen. Perhaps it is a human flaw, something in our human make-up that simply won't allow for an opportunity to create more go flying by; more money, more power, a bigger house, a nicer car...You name it, the list is endless.

Rob makes this simple case for freedom:

 

"Today, much of what is in our homes, the trunks of our cars, our storage units and also on our bodies, is there because a corporation with a large advertising budget sold us on an idea, a feeling, or an item in general. They are really good at what they do. They use subversive and manipulative tactics to become billionaires often at your expense. We have been tricked by billion dollar budgets. To say that you don’t need their stuff is to say that you are enough, in a world that is constantly trying to tell you that you need more stuff in order to be happy, healthy and a contributing member of society. It is to say that you are complete just the way that you are."

The recent pandemic has helped to focus our lives on being more sustainable and self-reliant and it has also focused our minds on the unintended consequences of a globalised system.

We need people like Rob to keep our feet firmly on the ground, to remind us of what's really important and in so doing, maybe there is a chance for us, our future and for this planet.

With thanks to the Rob Greenfield Team

Nick MacIneskar 2020