Examples of when we succeed at saving the environment

Some people are just tired of hearing about environmental disasters. It’s just easier to live in one’s own bubble of happiness and not worry too much about the wider world, right? Media has a tendency to write more negative news than positive one’s. “No news is good news”. Well, luckily there are many stories of success when it comes to environmental protection. Maybe if we did a better job of spreading those stories, people would find it easier to stay engaged with the wider world? I just found an example of how the actions of an individual can make a great difference. I found another example that gives me hope that the world can come together and make decisions that benefit the greater good.

When I wrote my Bachelor’s thesis about how climate change is portrayed in the media, I came across many articles saying that people suffered from “climate fatigue”, that is, they were tired of hearing about the disasters of climate change. I have heard many of my friends saying similar things too. “Why bother when everything is going wrong anyways?”. I think there should be more positive news that show people that change is possible, and disasters can be avoided.

I just watched this short documentary about a man in India who single handedly planted a forest larger than New York’s central park and saved his home-island from an environmental disaster. I also read about how the Montreal protocol, forbidding chemicals that cause the ozon layer to diminish, has had an effect. The hole in the ozone layer is now smaller than it was in 2005! The chemicals, called chlorofluorocarbons used to be found in refrigerators and hairsprays but their use was restricted in an agreement made in Montreal in 1987. The ozone layer in the stratosphere helps catch harmful UV radiation. The destruction of the ozone layer lead to increased rates of skin cancer in Australia. Now the problem is being reversed and I am so happy! It is perfect news since I am going to Australia on Monday.

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Eco Edit online shopping

Looking pretty or saving the planet? There can be a balance. Whereas I would prefer not to encourage anyone to consume more, I am also a realist. Most readers of this blog will buy consumer products such as clothes at some point.

68% of all Finnish Carbon footprints are directly a consequence of personal choices. My choice of consumption, and yours. Globally, this number is quite similar: around 70%. In Finland, about 25% of this goes to goods and services. Like clothes and travelling. It’s easy to complain about industry emissions but in fact, if all Finnish people stopped buying new clothes and flying, the impact on the national carbon footprint would be fantastic. The study I am talking about, estimated that it would be fully possible to reduce this type of consumption by a third!! They said the best way is to extend the lifespan of products.

So guys, buy quality, not quantity. Expanding the lifetime of products can either be done by expanding the lifetime of the product itself, or by it’s materials. I buy about 2 pieces of new clothing and probably one pair of new shoes per year. In 2017 I bought zero new shoes, I’m so proud of myself because I used to be a major shoefreak! It would of course be better to buy nothing, but sometimes even sustainability-freaks like me love treating ourselves. I just bought this swimming suit made from recycled yarn, expanding the lifetime of the oil-based material of polyester. The world is becoming a better place when even companies like Asos start using recycled materials for their clothes! I will have to wash it carefully so that it does not shred micro plastics into the ocean, but as long as I take good care of it and do not slide on rocks, it should be fine. Now we really have the option of choosing better, which means there is no good excuse to ever again buy a swimming suit that is not either the most durable thing you have ever seen, designed to last forever, or then made from recycled yarn.

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Source:

https://media.sitra.fi/2017/10/23144245/Consumption_choices_to_decrease_personal_carbon_footprints_of_Finns.pdf

 

One book taught me more than three years of Economics

I started studying Economics in 2014 at Hanken in Helsinki. Motivated to understand what it actually means when people say “money runs the world”, I hoped to learn about the economy in order to one day be able to affect it and use it to make the world a better place. But what is the economy really even trying to achieve? I was still a bit confused after 3 years of studying. Economics has an important role in our society, but the way it is taught to undergraduate students is too simplified and does not challenge them to think for themselves enough. I recently finished reading “Doughnut Economics”, a book that discusses other, more sustainable ways of organising our economy. I am still not sure I can ever understand all aspects of the global economy, but I really learned what economics could achieve from reading this book.

The Doughnut is an economy with two boundaries: a minimal social boundary that we hope everyone can be above, and an ecological boundary that we can not exceed without seriously harming ourselves long term. This is so self evident to me. Economics is all about making sure that people have a tolerable life, while making sure we do not overuse natural resources.

But studying economics, no one ever said this was the goal or purpose of economics. Instead, the goal was said to maximise “utility”. Micro economics assuming that people’s behaviour is driven by only a strive for “utility” left me not knowing whether I should laugh or cry, because it just seemed so absurd. Utility, things that are good only for oneself. Research show that people who have studied Economics tend to be more selfish than people who have not studied the discipline. More money and more things.  Do we really want to teach young people that good behaviour is to be motivated only by money? I certainly don’t think we should. Therefore, whenever I hear a politician justify something by talking about economic theory, I instantly become very sceptical of whether they are just quoting 200 year old ideas of Adam Smith, without really reflecting on what kind of world she or he is advocating to create. There have been many really interesting economic theorists since Adam Smith but it seems like the stuff they teach at undergraduate is stuck in history. Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes are studied but really not much more, the discipline need more debate and more opinions.

My favourite Economics teacher at university said it very well “Economics is mathematics of social science”. Mathematics is great for understanding large concepts and simplifying is not always wrong but I think it is wrong to calculate based on false assumptions, assumptions that also teach people to behave in ways that can lead to inequality and environmental destruction. There has been ideas in my studies of Economics that I have found very interesting. The discipline has provided me with quite interesting tools to think about the world in. I however disagree with many of the values that underpin current economics taught at undergraduate level of university and repeated by 60-year old top-bankers. Most of all, the notion of eternal economic growth is just absurd. My first lesson in economics taught me that “economics is how to manage finite and scarce resources”. If resources are scarce, how on earth can the economy keep growing?

So I was thrilled when I finally discovered a book that offered an alternative to the current economics that is being misused by politicians. Raworth talks about why many economic theories that are taught to undergraduate students are just plain wrong. She envisions a future where economies are “growth agnostic”, where the goal of the economy is not growth. She talks about how different currencies, such as time banks, can promote a non-growth economy. She talks about how it is damaging to have a system that rewards people for being selfish and unsustainable.Inequality pushes for growth, because the poorest aspire to become more like the richest. If we share more, we don’t need growth to take care of the weakest in society. Finance does not have to be built to make the richest even richer.

She does not offer the perfect solution of how to get to this sustainable, equal dream-economy. But I think she does a lot more than most economic policy makers who are currently given a voice in media.

Christmas trees – plastic or real?

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Last week I bought a little Christmas tree and of course did some research before. What Christmas tree is the most eco-friendly? I went for a little potted, living tree and it is definitely the best option according to my research. If you live in Finland or somewhere else in Scandinavia – the real tree wins for sure, even if it is chopped down. A study from Canada showed that you need to use the same plastic Christmas tree for at least 20 years before it’s environmental impact becomes smaller than an annual real tree. However, if you live somewhere where spruces don’t grow as abundantly as in Finland, a plastic tree might be slightly better. Five years of plastic-tree use beats real Christmas trees in places like London, where I currently live. The potted tree is still better.

I refuse to buy a plastic tree through. PVC plastic, which these trees are made of, is essentially the worst type of plastic. It’s not widely recycled at all and it contains chemicals with negative health impacts. Plastic Christmas trees shred “needles” and these tiny plastic pieces can end up in nature where they cause much harm. For example, our tap water already contains micro-plastics which has negative long-term health implications. Most plastic trees are also shipped from China so actually they don’t come from very near either.

So if you live somewhere really far from where Christmas trees grow, you intend to use your plastic tree for at least 10 years and your first and foremost concern is climate change – then maybe consider the plastic option. I personally went for a tiny, potted Christmas tree. A potted tree can be kept alive and hopefully I can use the same tree again next year! We will put it in the garden and keep watering it over the summer. If we are lucky, it might stay alive for one or two seasons more but to be honest: after that it will grow too big to like living in a little pot anymore. Getting a new Christmas tree only every second year means a 50% lower carbon footprint which is not bad.

Have a lovely Christmas and New Year all, I’ll be back writing more after the holidays!

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Annoyed at politician

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I am now on the train back from Amsterdam to London. I have spent the past for days on the European ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats) Party Congress in Amsterdam. I agree to a certain extent with liberal ideas about free choice and wholeheartedly embrace liberal values such as LGBT rights. However, I was quite annoyed at some of the politicians. During a panel discussion about the EU Common Agriculture Policy and the future of sustainable agriculture, I asked the politicians what they thought would be good solutions to decrease meat consumption. One of the politicians, MEP Jan Huitema from VVD replied that as a liberal, he is opposed to anyone else interfering with his free choice of what to eat. He also said that even though meat consumption does have a high environmental footprint, so does flying to Japan and the government should not restrict that either.

I think his reply showed that he completely missed the point. People can only have a free choice if they are offered an alternative. At the ALDE Congress, there was one evening NO meatless food available. The only meatless option was tiny pieces of cheese, and then I got offered a chicken sandwich from which they had removed the chicken. If the choice people are offered is between plain bread and a chicken sandwich, I do not blame people for choosing to eat the meat. To be honest, I do not care so much that I did not have food to eat, I just went to the supermarket and problem solved. However, I do really care about this on a larger scale. How can we encourage people to make the free choice of eating less meat, if you literally do not offer them any vegetarian food? How can we expect people to choose vegetarian food, if we do not make sure that our chefs are trained to be able to prepare delicious vegetarian food?

As for his comment about flights to Japan. I do not believe the government should fully forbid that either, but I do believe the government can play an important role in decreasing flight emissions too. If people are presented with a good choice, they will sometimes also choose not to fly. At the moment, I am sitting on the Eurostar train. I went to the conference with a team of four and can proudly say that we all took the train there and back, instead of flying. I was very active in buying the train tickets for my whole team. Luckily I have a manager who was very supportive of us taking the train, once I had showed her that it would not take more time and it would not cost more money. This shows that by being proactive, you can also impact your workplace to become more sustainable! Don’t just blame bad practices on your workplace, your manmagers or your colleagues. You can take initiatives to decrease paper use, take trains instead of flights for business trips and recycle at work.

Most people will choose to good if you give them a good choice, the right price and the motivation. But that better choice needs to be provided, one way or another. Offering people better alternatives is what gives them a real choice, it is not in any way restricting. That is what MEP Jan Huitema clearly fails to understand.

“When we stop going to conference after conference, that’s when we know climate change is about to be solved”

I went to a panel discussion on green finance titled “Making London the leading sustainable investment capital” at the London Stock Exchange last week. It was an interesting talk. But also it was a talk. Just talk. The quote in the headline is by Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, who is the Head of Government Affairs at HSBC Bank. “There are way too few real bankers in this room”, he said. Sustainable investment has become a real buzzword in the latest years, but there is still more talk and less action.

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Talk talk talk. And talk.

COP23 happened in Bonn last week. I have listened to a few talks from it. So far I have not really heard anything new in these talks.  The UN meetings on climate change and all it’s related conferences are endlessly important right now, but hopefully in a few years there will be fewer conferences and more action. The scientific community does invaluable contributions to understanding climate change and other environmental problems. Science also gives us solutions. But it’s time to start implementing those solutions, not only discuss them.

“Sustainability occupies a fringe space. The main space of finance is not yet sustainable, but it is also controlled by normal people”, said Saker Nusseibeh, CEO of Hermes Investment. He’s right: the world is pretty much controlled by the normal people, through billions of micro choices. The problem is that normal people don’t know enough about the environmental challenges our world is facing, and people also don’t realise that they have the power to change things. Companies want to make money, that’s not a secret. However, it is a lie that this always means they want to be unsustainable. They only want to be as unsustainable as their customers or the government allows them to be. Since customers elect the government, it is essentially the normal people who are responsible for demanding companies to do better. It is annoying to hear, because I am sure that both you and I go around wishing that someone else would make the environmental problems go away. Companies need to take responsibility, but we need to demand it from them. The politician present at the London Stock Exchange panel discussion was Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the party I currently work for. He is very in favour of a green economy. The truth is though, that as long as voters don’t demand long term commitments to the environment, politicians find it difficult to truly do something about it. Politicians want to be re-elected, what do you judge them by as a voter?

“Everyone should call their pension provider and ask them to implement sustainability standards to their investments, everyone should write e-mails to the companies from where they purchase their products and ask them to become more sustainable”, said Mr Nusseibeh. When he said that I feel a bit of satisfaction. I write an e-mail to a company probably as often as every second week, asking them to do better. This week I asked O Bar in Soho to stop using plastic straws, Nando’s Restaurant to allow for take away in the customer’s own Tupper Ware and to Amazon to (for the 5th time!) stop using so ridiculously much packaging material when shipping. I always feel a bit silly when writing these letters, like “who actually cares?”. It feels good then when someone older and wiser reminds me that it does matter. If enough people write them, it will make a difference. Companies want to make money and happy customers give them more money than angry customers.

People often don’t have enough information and time to actually research to know what they should even demand from companies. I have really high hopes in our newly founded Spark Sustainability company. My friend Amanda Bjornberg asked me to be a part of an awesome team to build a website and later an app that will make it easy for people to know where they can have most positive environmental impact. Stay tuned for our website to launch in January at sparksustainability.com 😉 “We are creating the change that makes people go from wanting to save the world to actually saving it”. Spark will empower people with the information they need to be able to demand more from companies, to demand more from the government and demand more of ourselves in our every day lives.

Please start demanding now. Demand sustainability at your bank, at your supermarket, from your clothes store, from your energy supplier and from your elected member of parliament.

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Fantastic when people enable change

The average EU citizen produces 161 kilograms of packaging waste per year. 161 kilograms is an insane amount of waste! Globally we produce 420 million tons of packaging waste. This is only packaging. 420 million tons that is literally wasted. Many products come in excess packaging. The typical example is bananas, they have a great peel and really don’t need any plastic packaging to keep fresh!

Packaging waste mainly includes paper and board (40%), glass (20%), plastics (19%), wood (15%), and metal (6%). That means lot’s of trees unnecessarily chopped down!

Luckily there are people who actively try to turn around the trend of increasing packaging waste. Ingrid Caldironi has recently opened London’s first package free shop! The Bulk Market in Dalston is a small but well stocked store. I think it’s fantastic and the world needs more people who do concrete actions like opening a zero waste store to tackle large-scale problems. I would not be able to even try to live zero waste if it weren’t for the people who decide to sell packaging free products.

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I had the chance to visit the store last week. For 5 minutes only because had to visit in such a rush after work and before the store closed but the service and the products were excellent. I had with me a washed glass jar that used to contain pickled cucumbers, my favourite reusable bag from the Finnish Red Cross webshop, and two tupper ware boxes to fill up with deliciousness at the Bulk Market. I ended up buying soy sauce, popcorn, pasta and plastic free toilet paper. I wanted to buy a reusable straw but I want a long one and they had run out of them and had only short ones at the moment. Buying popcorn in my own bag was pretty awesome, I’m back on track with my snacking I can tell you 😉

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Sources:
2015, Qingbin Song, Jinhui Li and Xianlai Zeng: Minimizing the increasing solid waste through zero waste strategy
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S095965261400849X#sec2.4

2017, Emma Henderson/The Independent: Inside London’s first plastic free shop
http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/food-and-drink/bulk-makert-recycling-zero-waste-first-plastic-free-market-london-hackney-a7924781.html

 

No disposable plastic this week

This week I try to live completely zero waste. It just feels absurd when I walk into any normal store or supermarket. Whenever I visit a beach I find trash everywhere. Whenever I visit a supermarket there is plastic every where, shelf up and down. Whenever I read the news I hear more and more about kilometers after kilometers of plastic waste. Some researchers even think plastic waste is a greater ecological catastrophe than climate change! Did you know that 70% of European tap water is contaminated with micro plastic? In the US this rate is over 90%! Even the sampled bottled water contained plastic.

Knowing this, it is just absolutely absurd that humanity keeps producing more and more plastic. I usually avoid plastic and packaging as best I can but doing it 100% takes a lot of energy. This week I try harder than normally and I try to get as close to 100% as I can!I got inspired when I saw a Facebook event called “Muoviton Marraskuu”, plastic free November in Finnish. I’ll see how long into November I last but I’ll try my best! I have not yet made my own toothpaste though…

So my first totally zero waste day was yesterday. Many people trying out zero waste find food shopping to be the hardest part. You can avoid buying many things but you have to eat. So I am going to share my Zero waste dinner from last night with you! For any readers living in London, there are a few good zero-waste places to shop: for East London, head to the Bulkmarket in Dalston. This is Londons first absolutely zero-waste shop! For Elephant & Castle, head to the FareShares co-op. Borough market at London Bridge is also great. I am lucky to have a store called Greensmith’s near Waterloo station which is right on my way home from work! They sell most of their vegetables without packaging. I always carry my own reusable bags with me (it just lives in my backpack) so it is really easy to do even spontaneous food shopping on my way home, without causing any waste! I’ll post the recipe for this zero-waste meal later this week.

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Plastic Pollution Garbage Dump Bottles Floating

 

Not the inspiring sustainability role model anymore?

Lately, I have felt like I don’t really have much new sustainability hacks to share with everyone. It just feels like I have not been particularly environmental, just living my normal life. I have not written this blog in a few months now. I often strive to be a good example. To practice as I preach. To show other people that hey, I’m just a normal girl and I managed to cut my carbon footprint and waste, why don’t you try as well? I do feel good about writing this blog and I am now trying to restart the writing again.

There is an attitude that one should not brag about good things. I don’t think sharing my thoughts about sustainable lifestyle here on this blog is bragging, any more than people posting pic from their holiday’s is.  If I stop and think, I know that I am still living a pretty sustainable lifestyle. It is just that it has become the new normal. The things that a couple of years ago made me feel like an eco-hero, don’t really make me feel that special anymore. Is that sad? Not really. Because it means I don’t have to think about how to be eco-friendly. It means many of my habits have become so rooted that they don’t require any effort. Therefore I thought I would make a list of things I do that I am proud about, even if I don’t even remember to be conscious about it anymore!

 

Sustainable consumer

I buy less than one piece of brand new clothing per year. I buy some secondhand clothing but underwear I obviously prefer as brand new. About half of the new lingerie I get is from sustainable brands such as Luva Huva. I repair my things when they break, little things like replacing my phones battery instead of buying a new phone. Even when I can afford to buy new, I often choose to repair. The same goes for my shoes, I have had some of my shoes for 7 years now! Whenever I need to buy stuff, I always first look online to buy secondhand. Like yesterday, I bought a stool from a guy on “Shpock”, which is an app for selling unwanted things. Sometimes I fail my ideals, and buy stuff from Amazon that comes packed in thousands of dead trees because they use way too much packaging material at that firm. Most of the time, I do good. I recently bought a hemp shower curtain from Drapers Organic, because most shower curtains are PVC plastic that cannot be recycled. For festivals and parties, I bought biodegradable glitter from Wild Glitter!

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Wild Glitter doesn’t litter

Sustainable eater

When I started this blog, I was not a vegetarian. In fact, I documented my first stuggles of cutting down on dairy products and becoming a vegetarian on this blog. Now, even though I am essentially a pescatarian, I have managed to cut down my fish consumption to 1-2 times a month as well. Sushi, fish and chips remains delicious but luckily I don’t eat them that often. I buy package free as much as I just can. I don’t go out of my way to be zero waste, I could probably do more to go to farmers markets instead of local Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s. If I have a choice, I always buy package free though. Today, I managed to find an aubergine that wasn’t wrapped in plastic in Sainsbury’s! Happy day! I also found a zero-waste cooperative down in Elephant and Castle which is close to where I live here in London. I have been there only once but I bought so much organic, British quinoa in my own reusable bag, that it will last for the rest of the year!

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Always treat yourself, but better do it with a Bamboo Reusable Cup from Ecoffee!

Sustainable transport

I cycle or walk to work most days. I am wearing a pollution mask here in London to stay healthy while cycling, it feels good that at least I’m not contributing to more pollution with my method of transport! I try to avoid taking taxi’s or Uber’s, but on some rainy day’s I am not perfect. I have a rule: if it takes less than 10 hours to get somewhere by train, I will not fly. I currently fly about 5-6 short-haul roundtrip flights per year. 10 flights in total, it is not ideal. I am currently looking into offsetting these flights via Climatecare.org. I rarely drive a car. I recently rented a car for 1 day and drove about 200 km to explore nature in Scotland, and sometimes I drive to our summerhouse. However, I try to not drive more than 1000 km per year.

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I wear this when I cycle, to protect myself from pollution in London!

 

 

Sustainable companies

I have devoted time and some money to Secco, an online secondhand fashion shop. It is really nice to try to build sustainable business. We are launching in November at our new international site, Secco Collection! My friends Anna and Ellen founded Secco two years ago, and I am so grateful to have become part of their team, trying to tackle sustainability issues of the garment industry together. I am also involved as a co-founder for a company that will hopefully formally exist next month, Spark Sustainability! My friend Amanda, who is a sustainable energy engineer and a team of me and 4 other girls are going to build a website and an app where people can track their environmental footprint, and become inspired to make changes. Really grateful to soon be part of the Spark project as well!

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I probably will never be a famous sustainability role model like Lauren Zinger, writer of the blog Trash is for Tossers. That’s fine, because I am not trying to live sustainably to get fame or recognition in any ways. Don’t get me wrong: I think Lauren Zinger and many other sustainability bloggers are absolutely fantastic. My blog is not nearly as professional as many but still, I notice that keeping this blog makes me happy. In the same sense that someone who spends a lot of time at the gym might be happy to keep track of their results on a blog, I feel good about keeping track of choices I feel good about here on this blog. Writing this blog also helps me push myself to be even better. To always carbon compensate my flights, and to make even more effort to live zero-waste.