The Sunday Interview with journalist and sustainability profile Maria Soxbo

För att komma till inlägget på svenska, klicka här: Söndagsintervjun: med journalisten och hållbarhetsprofilen Maria Soxbo

Maria Soxbo is a multi-tasking super hero. Yes, it’s true! She runs an incredibly well written blog – which used to focus on interior design but is now all about sustainability in various forms – and is at the very forefront of Sweden’s climate action movement. She’s one of the founders of Klimatklubben, author of several books, podcaster, moderator, influencer… and all of those things rest comfortably on a journalism degree. To us, few people deliver their message as humbly as Maria does. With an ever so inviting and warm tone – together with self-perspective and lots of compassion – she inspires, educates and guides whoever wants to listen, and as a result, she contributes to positive change. For real. This is a person who wants to encourage and cheer on as opposed to scare and shame, and who highlights each individual’s ability to influence the world but also the great things that can come of working together.

In this interview, we talk about sustainability (of course), but also challenges related to it when it comes to parenting. Add to that topics such as entrepreneurship, drive and boundaries, and you get the idea. This is a jam-packed read where Maria generously shares her thoughts with us, and we recommend each and everyone of you to sit back, relax and take part. Enjoy!

What made you change paths from interior design to climate and sustainability?

I’d say a few different things, actually. The whole interior design world was just spinning faster and faster, with more and more short lived trends, ”limited edition”-lines and shopping hysteria. I left the fashion industry many years ago simply because the high pace took such a toll on me, and back then, the interior design industry was so much calmer. But in the past few years, I’d say it’s gone down the same path. A good friend of mine, Isabelle McAllister, put it so nicely: ”I don’t want to work with the garbage of tomorrow”. And that’s kind of how it felt, we’re encouraged to replace everything so often that what we bought yesterday is practically risking ending up in landfills tomorrow.

At the same time, I’ve become so much more aware about the climate crisis, and that combined with the turned up pace in the interior design industry just didn’t make sense. It was so liberating to basically hop off the train. I can still love that world, admire great design and feel inspired by beautiful environments. But I want to disconnect that from trends and consumption, and view our homes as something we design and decorate to live in – not to show off on social media.

If you got to choose one thing or one behavior that everyone would do or realize pertaining to the climate crisis, what would you say?

Do a carbon footprint calculation. It’s so easy to focus on the wrong things, such as decreasing your plastic usage but still boarding planes as soon as vacation time rolls around. A climate calculator shows where you specifically should start changing your behaviors for the greatest net effect, and prevents us from spending too much time on the wrong things. The best bet is to Google your way to a few different ones and then compare the results as they all measure slightly differently from each other.

Besides that – look past yourself. Look past your own home instead of striving for perfection. It’s much better for the climate to inspire five friends to eat more plant based, travel by train or buy second hand than spending 24 hours a day trying to go zero waste. We don’t need a handful of people living perfectly, we need lots and lots of people changing their current habits. To do your best when it comes to your own emissions and then trying to get others to do the same is the smartest thing we can do. And it’s so much more fun doing it together too!

“There’s so much about our modern society that doesn’t make us happy. We stress ourselves halfway to death in order to squeeze in as much work as possible so that we can pay off our giant mortgages and buy things we don’t really need.”

I also have to add that I think we should try to see this transition as something positive instead of viewing it as a bunch of sacrifices. There’s so much about our modern society that doesn’t make us happy. We stress ourselves halfway to death in order to squeeze in as much work as possible so that we can pay off our giant mortgages and buy things we don’t really need. Most people complain and say that there’s isn’t enough time and that they want to hop off the hamster wheel. A life within the carbon budget will automatically put you so much closer to that. And I’m also always much more about carrots than whips!

Taking a look at your own personal life, what’s your biggest climate related challenge?

Ah, an odd combination of cheese and our summer home in Gotland! I really don’t have any problems not eating meat, I happily have my tea with oat milk, I eat vegan yogurt for breakfast and have found so many great vegan replacement products for most things. But – cheese is my Achilles heel! Unfortunately, it’s one of the yummiest things I know, and it’s very hard for me to abstain entirely. So I try to substitute other things as much as I can, and then I allow myself cheese every now and then. But the vegan alternatives keep getting better and better, so I feel hopeful for the future for my cheese loving self! 

And we’ve had our beloved Gotland house for over ten years and it truly is our paradise on earth, but sadly, it’s located on an island to which we can’t get unless we hop on a ferry with way too high emissions. We’ve rented it out now for a year to see what that feels like and if we’re perhaps ready to sell and find a place on the mainland instead, so sometime this fall we’ll be making our decision. It’s hard, because when we bought it we definitely had a lifetime in mind. But there’s a time and place for everything, I guess.

I’m recalling that half of your family eats meat and the other half is more or less vegetarian. Has that felt like a conflict? How do you deal with similar situations at home?

That’s correct! My son and I eat vegetarian, he’s at 100% and I’m maybe at 95% – I’m a little too fond of pickled herring come midsummer and Christmas to go all in. My husband and daughter, on the other hand, both love meat.

To begin with, we were all eating vegetarian because that’s something everyone can eat, but it felt a little strange that half the family was dictating what everyone was going to eat. It wasn’t really fair. So now we eat two different dishes every night, but take turns cooking – I cook vegetarian for my son and I one day but enough for two nights. The next day, my husband cooks for him and our daughter, also enough for two meals. And some dishes, everyone likes and can be adapted easily, such as homemade pizza, and then we of course make that for everyone. It’s maybe not the smoothest setup we have and perhaps we’ll solve it differently in the future, but it works out at the moment and it also means we always finish our leftovers which has actually brought down our food waste a lot, even though our family’s climate footprint unfortunately has gone up a bit.

It’s never been a conflict though, but instead it feels important that everyone gets a say and that we find a solution everyone is okey with. We’re testing and trying as we go. You’ll have to ask me again in a year!

What do you feel like is the hardest when it comes to sustainability and parenthood?

Two things: that I grew up under such different circumstances, and that all other parents don’t think the way I do. The first one is related to, for example, the fact that I’ve traveled a lot in my life, I’ve been to the US, Australia, Iceland and South Africa and I’ve loved every second of my trips. I would really, really love for my children to get to have those same types of experiences, but looking back, I was the one to be clueless and reckless – and I don’t want to pass that onto my kids.

The other one is that the older the kids get, the harder it gets to stand by your principles. So far it’s been pretty mild, but things such as trips abroad, new phones, designer clothes and lots of other things will definitely become more of a conversation topic the more my kids compare themselves to their friends. And right now, the sustainable life isn’t the norm, so we’ll be the ones standing out – which of course is a challenge when basically the second worst nightmare for any parent is that your kids won’t have any friends because they don’t fit in. I don’t really have any good answers here but instead just think we have to take one step at a time, try to pass on sane values and keep our fingers crossed they’ll find more and more likeminded friends. And of course do what we can for society as a whole to transition to staycations and secondhand becoming new norms.

How much climate do you talk with your kids?

It’s really not until now we’ve started to talk about it, now that my twins soon turn eight. So far we keep it very simple, and talk more nature and environment than climate. But my kids did participate briefly in Emma Sundh’s and my podcast Plan B-podden when we did a climate episode, and it turns out they’re pretty up on things anyway. Listening to them there definitely makes my heart go heavy, but I do click play every so often to remind myself why I’m doing this.

I don’t want to scare them, they’ll grow up soon enough and be able to process the news themselves. But I do want them to know and understand at least a little bit why we dream of train trips instead of vacations where you need to fly and why we try to avoid throwing away food, because I think knowledge is power.

I also want to prepare them as much as possible for a life within the planet’s resource budget, so that the transition there won’t be too tough for them. In some areas, I think I’ve done a great job – my kids automatically ask me if we can check out Blocket or Tradera (Sweden’s version of Craigslist and EBay) when they have something they’d like to use their allowance towards. They more or less only wear used clothes, which has never been a problem – to them, a “new” shirt can definitely have been worn by someone else first. I’m actually really proud of that – to them, used is the norm. I can’t say my daughter’s love for hot dogs and meat falls in that same category of preparing them for the future, but one step at a time.

Where do you think your drive to work for positive change is coming from?

I’m not really sure, it’s kind of come over the years I’d say. I get more and more frustrated when standing along the sidelines and watching something that isn’t working or should be changed and it makes me feel good when I feel like I’m doing something – whether it’s enough or not.

I’ve also gotten to see first hand that most of us can accomplish a lot, much more than we think, even if we’re not rich or have political power for example. That makes it all the more exciting to try it – can I actually make a difference if I try? 

“I’ve also gotten to see first hand that most of us can accomplish a lot, much more than we think, even if we’re not rich or have political power.”

My blog is really not big compared to many other ones, but I do have a large platform after all. It would feel weird to not have a higher purpose with it than trying to become famous or, even worse, encourage others to consume.

Do you have to put up with lots of hate and unpleasant comments through your blog and instagram?

Actually very little, which I’m so happy about! My readers are generally both very insightful and nice, as well as constructive if they do want to criticize something. Most people who have thoughts on some of my content put it forwards in a very objective and matter-of-factly way, and it actually just makes me happy that I’m given the chance to correct something that was wrong or perhaps nuance a text where I’d forgotten a perspective. I couldn’t ask for better readers, and I know that lots of other people writing about sustainability have to put up with a whole lot more criticism than I do, so I feel very fortunate in that sense.

I think that every single voice about sustainability is needed, which is why it makes me so sad when people who are really trying to inspire others to live more sustainably have to put up with critical voices when they’re not perfect. There’s such a risk they won’t have the energy to continue eventually, and what is left if the sustainable voices go silent?

Photo by Caroline Solberg.

You balance personal and private very well in the world of social media. Has that always come easy to you, or how did you find your way there?

I think I’ve always had a lot of integrity. I’ve never done a feature about my own home, for example, even though I worked as an interior design blogger for so many years. My children have practically never appeared in any pictures, with only a few exceptions where their faces have been hidden still. I actually rarely appear in pictures myself, if I’m completely honest – but that has more to do with the fact that I’m not very comfortable in front of the camera, haha.

I don’t judge anyone sharing their homes and families, not at all. There’s nothing wrong with it one bit. You guys are, for example, and you do so in a great way and it’s so inspiring to follow you! But because I’m a journalist after all, I’m used to not focusing on myself, which has definitely rubbed off on my content as well. In other words, I don’t really invite people into my life too much, but I love being personal. I like to talk about what’s going on inside of my head in hopes of having others resonate with me and creating relatability. At the same time, I really want a personal life and the feeling of my home actually being mine and not thousands of strangers’. That has never felt like the wrong decision, even though I sometimes feel tempted – on days where I lack inspiration – to just fire off a picture of a semi-organized corner of my home and write about that…

What would you say is the biggest challenge when it comes to being self employed?

To find balance. Between work and free time, between income and time spent, between volunteer work and paid gigs. The best gig is the one where I have fun, get paid enough to motivate the time it takes and feel like I’m doing something good and important. It’s hard to combine all of those at the same time, but I manage to more and more often.

What kind of personal career goals do you have?

To be able to stand behind everything I do 100% and that my company and I will contribute to positive societal change on some level. I don’t think I’m quite there just yet, because compromises do happen sometimes. But I feel like I spend more and more of my time on the right things, and that’s a feeling that trumps a fat paycheck pretty easily.

What do you enjoy the most about your job?

That I decide everything for myself! Haha, that sounds very dictator-like of me, but I have been my own boss now for more than ten years and at this point, it feels a pretty foreign concept that I wouldn’t be in charge of my own time.

And I really love to shape the way I bring in income based on what I want to work with. That has of course changed over the years, and it obviously has to generate enough of an income so that I can survive off of it. But I’ve realized that the more particular that I am and the tougher the standards I set when it comes to what I’ll consider working with, the easier it gets to charge what I want for what I do.

When do you feel your best?

Days of summer vacation on Gotland where there are no such things as musts. Just calmness, serenity, good food and pretty surroundings. But that has to be combined with the opposite as well – super creative days where I get to engage in something, flip things around and try to find solutions to problems, brainstorm with other people and learn stuff. Life is all about contrasts!

If you were to describe a perfect day, what would that sound like?

A morning dip in the ocean, scones for breakfast to the tunes of Billie Holiday, followed by a fun work gig before noon. An almost too long of a lunch with someone I haven’t seen in a long time, an afternoon off with friends where we manage to squeeze in both an art exhibit, a flee market and a restaurant dinner and then home for a cozy Friday night with the kids and then a good tv show with my husband when they’ve gone to bed. Haha, that’s doable in one day right?

What’s your favorite place in Sweden?

Gotland! A magical place that feels ancient and changing at the same time. I love having the ocean so close, that there’s so much history and the unique nature. But I also love how every summer, new, charming restaurants and cafés pop up, so there’s always something new to explore. I’ve considered moving there permanently many times.

And last but not least: what’s your favorite ice cream flavor?

It’s totally crazy that this was the hardest question! I take it I’m not very loyal to my flavors, haha. I’ll either go for traditional vanilla, if together with for example rhubarb or apple crumble, or browse around the 260 flavors at Glassmagasinet in Visby harbor and find the perfect combination there.

Thank you so much, Maria, for sharing some of your time with us! We continue to look to you as such an inspiration, and hope our paths will cross again and again in the future. Would you like to know more about Maria? On her website mariasoxbo.se you’ll find endless high quality material on the topic of sustainability, her book Gör skillnad (co-written with Emma Sundh and Johanna Nilsson) should be a mandatory read for everyone and on Instagram, you find Maria through @mariasoxbo.se.

Feature image by Caroline Solberg. All others, unless otherwise noted, courtesy of Maria Soxbo.

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More posts in our interview series:

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