This blog entry „Living sustainably“ is bringing together ideas of how to lower the personal environmental impact and links different areas, aspects and alternatives and will be updated frequently as a source for us and others. We are no saints but are on our way. Stop, think, act: tbc.
Last week a very good friend of mine asked me if a friend of hers, a journalist, could contact me for a radio project on small actions of private people to lower their personal carbon footprint. My bad conscience constantly kicked in: I actually don’t do a lot, especially lately, definitely not enough. After all, I do know better, want to do better and so on and so forth … In any case, it made me think. And that is always a good start.
What really matters
I am sure I am not the perfect example of a climate-friendly lifestyle, but maybe perfect examples are also not the ones needed the most. Btw climate change is not the only area of importance. The way I see it, it serves as the topic or field to link various environmental problems from loss of biodiversity to over-exploitation and pollution to the collapse of whole habitats and ecosystems.
So, if you don’t like to talk about climate protection, maybe you are actually interested in keeping local wildlife alive or reducing plastic pollution in the oceans (Keep your plastic and clean up the rest). No matter what is your motivation, nobody can lead the perfect eco-friendly life in a world that is still focused on economic growth rather than the well-being of the planet and all its inhabitants.
Spiritual and cultural transformation: Living sustainably
Like many others, I have recently shared this picture and quote on social media (on Gus Speth). To make it very clear: We are no saints – (almost) all of us – and that is actually OK. If we stop judging ourselves and others on what we don’t do right and accept that everybody has at least a black spot somewhere and most likely some additional greyish areas in life where they aren’t on their best behaviour, we can start to inspire each other and transform our world.
Personal challenge: We are no saints
The biggest item on my personal climate record is flying. I would never travel by plane within Germany or to neighbouring countries, but since I am diving I have at least one long-distance flight a year plus some local flights in island nations such as the Philippines, India or Indonesia most years. This way we fly more than the average person. Hence the overall pollution and emissions of travelling become our biggest ecological backpack. I have used organisations (like atmosfair) to offset my air travel, but I don’t do it all the time. There is definitely room for improvement there and I have air travel and offsetting on my research and to-do list for 2020.
On the upside: I don’t own a car which doesn’t mean I am never using one. Nevertheless, I take lots of trains when in Europe and public transportation whenever feasible. I try to walk and bike all short distances if I don’t have lots of luggage or shopping bags (reusable ones, of course). Besides, I don’t rent or own an apartment or house, but share existing living space with others for most of the year or rent a room only. On average Yoeri and I call 10-20 square meters our home. I guess that is very much below average.
Living sustainably: Listing ideas & areas
Stop, think, act: But what are actually small things I am doing on a regular basis? Living sustainably lists some ideas and areas without holding one above the other or saying this is the best one can do. Our vision is to inspire and evolve, to share and connect and ultimately to transform us and the world we are living in, maybe one island at a time (Rubbish wave: Looking for solutions for small islands). Nevertheless, we are no saints.
Food: Less is more – look for alternatives
- no meat, no fish – for half my life
- seasonal and local – as much as possible
- organic – at least milk (and milk products) and sometimes fruits and veggies
- fair-trade coffee – since my student days
- no single-use plastic bottles – I carry my own bottles, our personal favourite for many years now is our 800 ml steel Dopper bottles and we Ask to refill: Water is life
- buy and return reusable bottles for juices, beer and soft drinks – at least in Germany
- right amounts and products with minimal package (Plastic Planet: Minimising plastic pollution)
- keep leftovers for another day to minimise food waste
Clothing: Find your own style
- long use and repair – still own various pieces from over 20 years ago
- up-cycling – I like to combine (parts of) old pieces to create something new
- Second-hand – I hardly ever buy new clothes
- If so: only high-quality clothing to make it long-lasting
- Wash clothes only at 30-40° and hang to dry
- no softener or other synthetic products
Energy: Look at the source
- an energy provider promoting renewable energy only – when I had my own and promoting it with others
- rechargeable batteries – for my own use as well as for family, friends and dive centres whenever possible
- switch off lights and stand-by on devices – unplug or have an additional switch on multi-chargers
- laptop instead of desktop or TV
- energy efficiency for new products – whenever new products are needed
- fan instead of AC – in the tropics whenever possible
- lower the heater – first put an extra layer of cloth
- air out efficiently (in a cold and warm climate)
- short showers, partly cold showers – healthy anyway
- energy saving lights
Consumables: Reduce, reuse, recycle
- bring your own bags – for as long as I remember for supermarkets and other shopping
- metal straws or simply say „no straw please“ – more and more often I need to say this also in Europe these days
- containers instead of plastic or aluminium foil to cover food etc.
- no single-use cups, plate cutlery and so on for parties or any other personal use – why the fuck anyway?
- organised or personal clean-ups (Keep your plastic and clean up the rest)
- products based on recycling paper – as much as possible
- Separate waste for proper recycling and compost (Out of sight, out of mind: Plastic waste isn’t recycled (yet))
- Search for the best alternative with regards to being green and fair – like on Utopia.de
Toiletries: Less is more and look for alternatives
- no hand wash in plastic bottles – back to the roots: soap bars rule
- body wash in plastic bottles is not needed – for years soap bars served me well
- no shampoo in plastic bottles – for quite some time just backing powder and now special shampoo bar
- shaving cream (in a plastic container) with a shaving brush instead of metal or plastic bottles to spray foam – lasts for months and months and months
- reuse containers of (shaving) cream and other supplies
- toothbrushes with heads that can be changed – since my childhood
- Reusable q-tips (like this one or that)
- a menstrual cup (e.g. OrganiCup) instead of tampons – if you don’t like the idea of these cups, check out menstrual underwear (like ooshi)
- big containers and quantities to reduce packaging
- natural ingredients and no microplastics
I wrote later „Why less is more: Starting with DIY care products„.
Durable goods and electronics: Sharing, repair and reuse
- organised a wedding party without buying items that won’t be used again with the help of many people and their resources (thank you!)
- car sharing – never owned a car
- house sharing – claim less space
- communication – I use the old mobile phones of family and friends for over ten years now
- repair and replace parts like batteries and cables
- pass old equipment on to others
- bring old goods to proper recycling places
- sign and pledge – so many causes and e-actions
- donate – find your match
- volunteer – both sides need to profit
- Educate and raise awareness – share your experiences and inspire others
- See confession above
And lastly, we actually save a lot of emissions and resources for future generations by not having any children ourselves. Most likely that is the lifestyle choice with the biggest impact of all.