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INTERVIEW - Marie, Zug, Switzerland

On the occasion of World Environment Day, I figured I could change a little the habits of the website to open the doors to external speakers and share their stories.

With many new visitors stopping by from all over the world, and my wish to change communication platforms from Facebook to Instagram, I realized it could be good to make ME answer the questions I normally ask, and introduce myself. I also invited my Insta followers to ask me some questions, which actually all led to one specifically: what was the motivation behind OUTSIDE THE BOX and where did I start?

So I hope you won't mind that I move out of my comfort zone a little and open the doors to my own story!

And if you want to ask me more questions, drop a comment below!


Who am I, after all?!

My name is Marie, I am 37 and living in Zug, Switzerland since 2017. I am French from my mum and Swedish from my dad, but I consider myself very international actually rather than one or the other.

I am married and we have a son (6,5...the half year is especially important, other parents will understand!) and a daughter (1,5). I am a Sustainability professional, meaning that the topic has been part of my Academic and professional journey. I have been working for a global corporate organization as Sustainability Manager; before that I worked for a not-for-profit organization, and before that even for a global public organization.

I love chocolate in all its forms and shapes (make it chocolate mousse and i'll be the happiest), I love cooking and sleeping, and if you've been following me for a while you'd know I like experimenting with plants ad zero-waste, and writing about it.

What is my definition of Sustainability, and how does it apply to my everyday life?

I often explain Sustainability as a big, complex puzzle, with no instructions to support you, no solution that will make you build a final, great picture. There are too many colours, too many shapes to deal with...and funny enough the picture seems to change as you progress, and more pieces are popping.

Here we are dealing with so many complex topics, stories, political and financial interests, which all have an impact on Life. Trying to grasp one of these topics without touching the others is pointless: all systems are inter-connected. And by moving one upward, you certainly might bring another one downward. It's a never-ending story, because a lot of times you might want to accept that the smallest steps are already good steps. And it's sometimes very hard to accept I have to say. Have you heard about "eco-anxiety"? it is sadly often part of my life.

When I am positive, I will tell you that all the small things we do at home, from recycling to consuming more responsibly, locally, etc... have a wonderful impact to make our communities better places. When I am negative, I will tell you that the exact same is useless, and that only big powers such as political and financial institutions will drive change, if they see the need and benefits to do it. Which they most likely do not.

So to manage on a daily basis, I focus on creative change. Showing how we can inspire each other. Learning and progressing. Admitting that small is good, and accepting that there is good in this world.

What was the trigger for you to look into environment and sustainability?

I think this was a gradual journey from early on. I always had an interest in biodiversity, nature, wildlife...I had the chance to spend a lot of time outdoors when I was small during summer times, back in the days we would spend weeks in Sweden visiting relatives and friends. We would hike and camp in Lappland, in Northern Sweden, spend time in the forest, and meet with the local Samis community. We fished, picked berries and crossed rivers together.

As a girl born and raised in a big city, I hated that, but with 30 years distance, what a chance I had to experience this! And I sincerely believe it left a long-lasting trace in me, whether in the mix of smells and colours that sometimes pop back: our planet is magical and there is a need to protect it.

I never thought however this could turn into a lifestyle, academic choices or even a career. As a teenager I wanted to be a journalist, "to write stories that tell the truth". No idea why my teenager brain decided suddenly it was a stupid idea, "because all media were corrupted". But writing was always a need. I had penpals, we would write each other amazingly long letters about life. After all that was before the age of mails and blogs.

One thing that remained, though, is the impression that I had a role to play, somehow. I always found the universe a very scary place: after all, questionning my place as a living organism into the world has always been a source of deep fear. But knowing I could probably do something good in there always helps recenter my thoughts and control my energies. And one the motivation that drove me back then was to save polar bears.

I was too small to remember Tchernobyl. Political, social and environmental topics that I grew up with were the droughts and famines in Ethiopia, the ozone layer depletion, AIDS, 09/11, and the polar bears dying. I did not understand why we, as smart human beings, were not helping each other and instead actually making things worse.

Where did OUTSIDE THE BOX come from, and what motivates you?

I have always loved writing. I loved my penpals and still have their letters somewhere in a box. I collected notebooks but struggling with First Page Fear, these notebooks often remained empty. Blogs opened a complete new world to me! I think I had 4 of them, each embracing a time of my life (my student exchange time, my studies, my life abroad, even one of being a bridesmaid!), before opening OUTSIDE THE BOX.

My first drive to design OTB was Humans of New York. I found it fascinating that some people were randomly willing to share stories of their life, whether good, sad, tragic, exciting etc...I somehow believed that if their stories could inspire me, why not looking into the same type of story-sharing on sustainability? Maybe these stories would help others change, try new things! I am even telling participants that sharing success stories is one thing, but sharing failures is as important, we need to learn from our mistakes!

Another driver was my unexpectedly long job search when we moved back to Europe after a few years in Dubai 4 years ago. Back then, the local job market did not seem mature enough towards Sustainability. So in order to channel my negative energy I decided to create a website from scratch and materialize my version of Humans...into a concrete platform. I joined a course, started playing around with Wix (as the easiest platform for newbies like me), and randomly invited people to answer some questions....and it worked!

OTB remains a hobby, even though I fantasized back then I could eventually become and eco-influencer and even monetize it through advertizing or partnership with brands. But this is a full-time job, and the only tangible benefit I ever got from it is receiving and writing about a toothbrush (which I eventually purchased after all!).

What are your favourite stories so far?

All of them are unique and special, it's almost impossible to pick one. But each time I am positively surprised that people, including many that do not know me personally, accept to spend the time and write a story, reflect on their journey and be honest.

How do you decide to interview a person?

There is a certain sense of personal curiosity here. When I know the people, I would like them to share a part of their story that I personally find interesting. Living abroad has allowed me to meet so many fantastic people, which experienced things that I would never think of, and if I feel this passion I just want to share it with the entire world! Sometimes I also want to learn about the triggers behind some projects. For example, what would trigger anyone opening a shop for second-hand toys or a business for toilet cabins?! Sometimes it gets absolutely random, of course - but isn't life random after all?

I always see the opportunity here to learn from the stories I receive. I feel sometimes limited in what I do, maybe stuck in my routines of my way of doing and thinking. By looking at what others do, even if they think their life is normal, I find their words inspiring and beyond this normality.

What challenges do I experience with OUTSIDE THE BOX?

Finding the time and the creative energy to invest has lately been the greatest challenge. When I started the site, I had plenty of time to work on interviews, dig deeper in some topics to dissect local sustainability news, and even work on "professionalizing" the page. For a while even, I refused to call it a blog, as I wanted to avoid sharing too many personal things here, and instead have a full, external focus only. My goal was to use OTB as a smart business card and introduce myself, my skills and centers of interest in one place.

Now, with a full time job I love and in which I invest a lot of creative energy, two kids that require a lot of attention, a global pandemic that somehow make the borders and families even further than they are...Finding the time has been the greatest challenge. It's been hard to accept that OTB is more or less a hobby in the entire equation, and that I need to let it go sometimes.

What is the Zug Art Project?

When I moved to Zug and made my way through the streets, I noticed all the art pieces that seemed to randomly appear. The map I found at the Tourism Office at the Train Station made it easier to position them in town.

The idea of turning the map into a treasure hunt has been in my mind for a very long time. Again, I never found the time to materialize the idea into a proper walk or bike tour, and pushed it until recently. I also wondered for a while how it could align with the overall editorial content of OTB...Well, knowing your city and exploring its treasure its part of of cultural development...yes I know it's a little pushed to the limits of what sustainability means...You know, like people playing Pokemon Go will tell you it is a mix of urban discovery mixed with physical activity...

OK I admit I did not want to leave the idea behind because it's not a perfect match, and I wanted to be the first one to bring it forward.

I am still hoping to see others join as the days get nicer, longer and warmer. But until then, I keep on the search quietly and I am glad to share progress here.

What are your current interest within sustainability?

My job forces me to look into multiple topics, which I love, as there is a constant learning curve in each and every direction I am looking into. But privately, I have been reading a lot more about gender equality and articles around the "Black Lives Matter" topics. See, I even do not know how to name it properly... I feel terribly ignorant around it and I want to correct and educate myself the right way.

Long-term readers will also know that I am interested in responsible consumption and fashion, continuously trying to declutter my wardrobe, appreciate quality over quantity, and change as a result the perception I have about myself. Self-love goes with body positivity as long as what you wear aligns with this. Feeling disconnected with your style is like feeling disconnected with yourself.

I also try to give myself some slack, also. I am extremely priviledged to love my job, but I've been challenged to set proper home-work boundaries and stop feeling guilty when acting "unsustainably". I am often judging myself too hard, if I buy new clothes, food with palm oil or too much plastic packaging, or when I forget my take-away thermos bottle. My favourite chocolate in town, for example, is Laderach, which has been pointed at for its owner's extremist, homophobic, fundamentalist opinions. Sometimes I am struggling with the impact I have as consumer: will buying my favourite chocolate make me complicit of extremism? I guess you get my point. Sometimes I just do not know where to stop, and it is particularly exhausting.

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