This last post in my short series of positive stories on how you can take action and do your bit to be more eco-friendly is about other measures. Here are some things we’ve done that will give you ideas for things you can do to be more eco-friendly, which weren’t covered in this series’ previous posts.
We are in a dire predicament but you have agency and can take action.
Many of these are covered in our green resolutions but we have made more progress since my last update. It’s important to think long term but setting targets for a year helps you achieve this.
The years are long but the decades are short
I haven’t flown since I got back from travelling a couple of years ago. Flying is fine as long as you do it very infrequently and spend a long time away. It’s the many frequent flights a small number of people regularly take for short trips that is the thing to cut down on.
An often neglected aspect of flying is that it exposes you to more radiation. Not just from being higher up in the atmosphere but also from the security scanners at the airport (particularly the new body ones rather than only the baggage x-ray ones).
It’s been a gradual journey but we are now practically fully vegetarian and part-time vegan. I’m not religious about it so would eat something rather than see it thrown away but we have almost completely eliminated meat from our diets. Reducing consumption of red and processed meat in particular is not only better for the planet and all of us but also healthier for you.1
Initially we started small, we simply cut out red/processed meat and just went meat free one day a week. We have gradually cut down to the point that we no longer eat it. We mainly eat wholefoods and vegetables but there are some good substitutions like crispy nuggets and mince made from Quorn.
Something surprising we discovered is that meat is an acquired taste and after not eating it for a while it doesn’t taste that good. Our kitchen bins also rarely smell now as it turns out that was caused by rotting animal products.
Meat is harder to cook right, particularly for a large group. Food hygiene is also less of an issue although you do have to be careful with rice. However, rice is also good to cut down on as growing it in flooded paddy fields releases methane.
Lots of people focus on food-miles and packaging but analysis of the data clearly shows that they do not make up the majority of a food’s environmental impact. These are things to think about after what the food actually is.
Climate breakdown is mainly caused by carbon-containing gases. Emissions from transport and packaging are mostly CO₂ whereas farming releases CH₄ (methane). This is very potent in the short term of the few decades we have left (this is why you see various multipliers, they are averages over different time periods).
We have also cut down on dairy and rarely consume cows’ milk at home. Oat milk works well in lots of dishes (e.g. porridge) and you can get it fortified with added vitamins and minerals. Of course the simplest solution is to omit milk entirely and I now take my coffee without milk and have switched to green tea that doesn’t require it.
People sometimes ask how you get enough calcium but it is a mineral found in the ground and absorbed by plants. It is found in lots of plants, particularly green leafy ones and this is of course how cows get it. There is obviously a link in people’s minds between dairy and calcium, maybe because bones are white like milk? In addition, lots of foods are fortified with calcium and with vitamin D, which is required to absorb calcium well and more often the deficiency. If you live in a hard water area like we do then you will even get some from drinking tap water.
Embarking on a journey to eat less meat will teach you lots about nutrition, which is beneficial on its own.2 Maybe you’ll discover some interesting new foods such as soy chocolate puddings, soy custard, vegan magnums and chocolate oat milk (great hot). It’s worth buying sustainable soy products but the reason soy sometimes has a bad reputation is that most of it is grown to feed animals. Switching to a plant-based diet, if done right will ensure you get your 5-a-day and eat lots of healthy fruit & veg.
We grow our own fruit and veg in our garden. We also reduce waste and create a more-circular system by composting most food scraps at home. This is much easier when most of your food is plants.
There are a few things you have to watch with home composting and a non-obvious problem is with teabags. Most teabags contain plastic and so don’t easily decompose. I use loose leaf tea or plant-based bags that are fine to compost.
We created a wildflower meadow to encourage wildlife by not mowing. We also collect rainwater in butts for watering when the rain is not enough (this is technically classed as grey water but it is better for the plants than tap water).
Water and Packaging
Our new house has a water meter and if you don’t have one then you should try to get one fitted. Using drinking-quality water for some of the things we do is madness but with the system we have the easiest thing to do is to reduce your use.
All that water has to be pumped and treated, which has a cost. In some places in the UK recently there was a shortage of chemicals and the water wasn’t safe to drink. This was, like the fuel shortage, caused by the logistics impact of the Government’s badly implemented terrible idea.
After seeing how much water we were using we took action. The main problem was the toilet flushing. I put some zip-lock bags and jars full of water in one of the cisterns and we replaced another. This simple change will save us a couple of hundred pounds a year!
This is just the first step. Using drinking water to flush a toilet is insane. A friend of mine even discovered their toilet had been plumbed into the hot pipes. Why pay for something that you can get from the sky for free and why throw it away when it is still useful? There’s an interesting parallel here with energy and solar/wind power.
Another way we save water is by having short showers. We have a shower that warms up quickly and stays warm when switched off briefly, in part because I insulated the pipes. This means you can turn it off while lathering and just use it for rinsing. Showers take 5 minutes and it is not on for all that time.
We also swapped our shower gel and hand soap for bars. These last much longer and come with less packaging. You can buy or make soap dishes and maybe even give them as a gift.
I’m not sure why people like pump-action hand soap. Maybe it is a similar misguided idea about hygiene to the one that encourages people to buy those ridiculous automatic soap dispensers. You are literally about to wash your hands! We are only beginning to understand the problems of being too clean, such as allergies.
I have personally planted a few trees on our property, from sources including the Woodland Trust. This not only adds more trees at home but supports work to plant and protect trees and woods across the UK.
The business I run has also paid to offset it’s carbon footprint over the last couple of years. This has resulted in over 500 real trees planted in Africa and Central America. As the carbon emissions they will sequester will happen in the future, in addition to this more than 20 tonnes CO₂e have been offset with other projects.
Money, Banking and Investments
I switched my business banking away from Barclays a couple of years ago, as they are one of the worst banks for investing in fossil fuels.3 I moved to Starling who are ethical, part of TechZero and support climate action.4 They don’t charge fees and so I personally donated the equivalent money saved to Extinction Rebellion (XR) UK.
We moved a chunk of our savings to Triodos, a transparent, sustainable and ethical bank. My pension is also invested in ethical and sustainable funds.
Moving your money is a very easy way to help and has hardly any impact on you (much like switching your energy supplier). With interest rates currently low the difference between one low rate and another is negligible.
You have a choice of what not to buy and what companies to support. If you don’t buy things then they won’t get made in the future. I attempt to minimise consumption, not buy products with a negative impact and support businesses that are doing the right thing with my patronage.
Buy things that last and are easy to service. I have a Fairphone, which is an ethical, modular and repairable smartphone. I prefer pre-loved products and charity shops are a great place to find these, as are your neighbours who are clearing out. If you come across people who complain about the emissions of other countries then ask them to take a look at the label of the last thing they bought and see where it was made.
We inherited a Numatic Henry vacuum cleaner that has been going strong for many many years. I would steer clear of Dyson products and not just because they don’t have eyes. I have had some in the past and they don’t last, and are very loud. There are better alternatives available, such as Lupe.
If something breaks and you don’t have the skills to fix it yourself then why not see if there is a Repair Café in your area? It’s not worth replacing an item just because one small thing has gone wrong with it.
Another approach to reduce consumption is to limit your exposure to
mind control advertising. An easy way to do this is to avoid social media, install an ad/tracking/malware blocker extension in your browser and reuse an old Raspberry Pi as a Pi-hole home ad-blocker. This could make a great gift for less-technical friends/relatives at Christmas.
When it comes to Christmas gifts, it can be helpful to come to an agreement with family to not buy presents apart from a token (maybe handmade or an intangible experience) gift with a low budget. This removes a lot of the stress in the run-up and it’s all about spending time together anyway.
Choosing who you work for and who you don’t work for has a huge impact. There is a big list of companies and industries I won’t work for. If a recruiter from one of these contacts me I tell them in no uncertain terms what I think of them. I try to pick companies to work with and projects to work on that are improving the world.
There are plenty of environmental startups out there doing innovative work using technology to help the planet and humanity. If you are working at one of these virtuous companies or on an impactful project and are hiring then feel free to get in touch.
Hopefully there are some ideas you can embrace here. Now it’s time to choose your own adventure. Remember to tell people about it and get them excited by showing how the future can be better. Lead by example.
Yet also don’t be afraid to stand up for what is right and call out wrongdoing when you see it. This could be as simple as politely asking someone to not idle their engine outside a school/nursery or challenging a corrupt government.
- A World Health Organisation evaluation shows that processed meat causes cancer and red meat probably causes cancer. ↩
- For example, if your are vegan you need to ensure you get enough vitamin B12 from fortified foods or supplements. ↩
- Barclays put the most money into companies planning to expand the use of fossil fuels, investing more than £20bn. Barclays is just behind the US banks for fossil fuel financing – and shows no signs of slowing down. ↩
- If you want to switch to Starling Bank then you can use my referral link. I don’t get anything but they’ll plant a tree for us. ↩