Jo Wood has been fighting for a cleaner, greener planet since the Nineties, when she first discovered the benefits of buying organic, whether that’s the food she consumes or the products she uses on her skin. It’s why she first launched her own organic beauty and lifestyle brand, Jo Wood Organics, and why she’s such a prominent ambassador for so many eco-conscious charities and initiatives, including Friends of the Earth and Project Zero, which was co-founded by her son, Tyrone. Here, in honour of World Oceans Day, the long-time eco campaigner shares her advice for how you can have a real impact on the future of our oceans and reveals why she believes the climate emergency is more pressing than ever.
The oceans are like the lungs of our planet – it’s where we get our oxygen from. That’s why it’s so important that we look after them, and why it’s so desperately sad that we don’t. The same goes for the Amazon rainforest – these lungs are vitally important to our environment, and we’re destroying them. Initiatives like World Oceans Day are great for raising awareness, but it can’t just be one day – it’s something we should be living with every day.
I got my first big wake up call about what we were doing to the oceans in the Nineties. I remember being on holiday and standing on a beach on the coast of Kenya, looking at all the plastic that was washing up and thinking, “Where is this coming from?” Up until that point I had no idea people dumped so much plastic in the ocean – there were bits of Barbie dolls, pieces of Lego, old lighters. Thirty years later and nothing has changed – when I went to Panama two years ago to film Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls, we were on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean and it was mind-blowing how much plastic was washing up there. We have to find a sustainable alternative to plastic, and we all have to become much better at recycling and reusing.
I do everything I can to avoid buying anything made of plastic. I’ll always buy glass packaging over plastic and I make my own beauty products through my brand. I never buy cling film and use wax cloths instead. I’m also very conscious about the packaging my food comes in – I grow as much of it as possible at home now, which requires zero packaging. And I’m fanatical about recycling – even when it comes to clothes. There are fantastic designers out there doing amazing things for sustainable fashion, like Vin and Omi. I’ve done four fashion shows with them now, and they take discarded plastic and turn it into wonderful materials. One time I wore this great camouflage jacket on the runway that was made out of plastic found in the Thames. They’re very ahead of the times.
Vin and Omi
I’ve always dreamt of going completely off grid and in November I did just that. I moved out of my house in Camden and bought a farmhouse in Northamptonshire, where I have my own well with water that supplies the whole house and 24 solar panels for my energy. And I’ve got all my own organic fruit and vegetables – lettuce, courgettes, potatoes, strawberries. When I can pick it and eat it 10 minutes later, I know all that goodness is going straight into my body. I used to grow my own in Camden too, though I had a very small garden. But it’s important to remember that even if you only have a tiny garden, there’s still plenty of stuff you can grow.
Jo Wood Organics
I try to use natural products whenever I can. This is particularly important in terms of cleaning products, as people forget that all those harsh chemicals end up in the water. I’ve been using natural cleaning products for years now and my new favourite ones are from Tincture. All of their products are made from nothing but plant-based actives, essential oils and botanical extracts. And I always use natural laundry detergent – I love the one from Method, which is made of 98% biodegradable ingredients and comes in lovely scents like wild lavender and peony. It’s also important to think of the other pollutants you might be releasing into your home, like from scented candles, which are often full of toxic chemicals. That’s why I make my own, which are just made with essential oils and soy wax.
We need to work with nature, not against it. That’s why although I do eat a mainly vegetarian diet, I still eat meat occasionally, though always organic, hand-reared meat and never mass-produced. My good friend Patrick Holden, who started the Sustainable Food Trust, told me it’s really important that we include a bit of meat in our diets, so that the ethical farms around the country can keep things working well. If we all went vegan, what would happen to all those fantastic organic farmers? I order my meat from Riverford, who deliver amazing free range, organic British meat and wild fish.
As consumers, we actually have a lot of power – the more people demand ethical suppliers, the more they will become mainstream. We can change things really easily if we just take a stand and say, “I’m not going to spend my money on that anymore”, whether it’s mass-produced meat or fast fashion. But we all need to work on it together, and that’s the tricky part. Education is key, both for parents and children, so that we can all live in a better world. If we lead, then the government will follow.
It was very important to me that my children shared my love of the planet. We were very lucky to go on lots of adventurous holidays as a family, like walking safaris in Africa, and my son Tyrone always had a great love of nature. I thought he would either go off and live somewhere with animals or do something that involved looking after the planet – so when he came back one day and said, “I’ve got an opportunity to start this initiative, Project Zero, and I’m going to save the ocean”, I thought, “Yes! That’s my boy!” He founded it in New York with the CEO Michele Clarke and their big focus is fundraising and education. I’m so proud of what they’ve achieved already and they have lots more planned, including a big campaign launching at the end of this month.
There are so many fantastic initiatives you can support to help save the oceans. Alongside Project Zero I’m an ambassador for Friends of the Earth, who have recently launched a petition to get the UK government to pass a new law to phase out plastic pollution. And I work a lot with the P.E.A. (People. Environment. Achievement.) Awards, which are the UK’s leading sustainability awards. Their founder, Jarvis Smith, is a great friend – we spend a lot of time talking about all the things we’re going to do for the planet.
My favourite place to be by the ocean is this tiny eco island off the Seychelles, Cosmoledo. It’s 600 miles from Mahé and they’re not allowed to build on it so they just have 10 shipping containers that they’ve turned into beautiful bedrooms. I went with Tyrone last year and it was just the most beautiful place. We did a beach clean every day we were there – I do that anywhere I go if I spot plastic around. It’s something I find so hard to understand – we all love to go to the beach and go on holiday by the sea, but then why don’t we look after it? It just doesn’t make sense to me.
This is a key moment for our planet and we need to take action now. During the lockdown we’ve seen the positive effects that a drastic reduction in pollution can have on our environment – just look at Venice, where people can see the bottoms of the canals for the first time in years. But what happens when industry starts again and the pollution comes back? We need some powerful people to stand up for the planet and make sure there’s real change, especially in light of the new threat of disposable gloves, masks and hand sanitisers, which will inevitably end up in the oceans. I’ve just got some lovely re-usable face masks from Po-Zu that are anti-bacterial and organic cotton, so there are alternatives out there – people just need to look for them. Now is the time for governments to be talking about what we can do and how we can cut back on pollution permanently.