Over the last year or so I’ve taken a few steps, not always consciously, towards being a more environmentally friendly person. Being “green” had never particularly been part of my identity or something I put much active effort into, but over time it has crept up on me.
The end of the year feels like a good time to take stock of things like this - to summarise what I’ve done already and what I will strive to do in 2018 and beyond. As well as helping me organise my thoughts, this post could serve as a set of tips for anyone interested in the same thing.
I’ve never owned a car, and I live and work in London, so really the alternative to walking or cycling to work is to take public transport, which isn’t the worst thing environmentally. However, I do now walk to work pretty much every day. I’m fortunate to live close enough to where I work that I can walk there, albeit far enough away that taking the tube for a couple of stops is also an option. In truth, the main reason I walk is that it’s so much more pleasant than taking the tube or bus, and much better for me. But as is so often the case, what is pleasant and good for one’s health ends up being better for the environment. It feels good to be a zero-carbon-footprint commuter!
I’ve always been a meat eater, but it wasn’t until the last few years that I became aware of the environmental and sustainability issues around eating meat. In the last year particularly, the amount of meat we eat at home has fallen significantly. But again, the impetus here isn’t only the environment. We aim to eat as healthy and balanced a diet as possible with a large variety of different foods, and in particular as many fruits and vegetables as possible. Often that leaves little space for meat.
Cutting down is also a huge money saver, which is a bonus given the rising price of food in the UK right now.
I don’t see myself giving up meat entirely (although who knows?), but there has definitely been a shift in my mindset towards considering it a luxury item.
Something I wasn’t aware of until quite recently is that many energy providers offer renewable energy tariffs. When our energy deal was last up for renewal, we made the switch! It’s only very slightly more expensive than a standard tariff, so it wasn’t a hard choice to make.
This is a simple one. Charities have specialist expertise and political power. Individuals, largely, do not. So, by donating, you can help achieve things that personal lifestyle changes alone cannot.
I didn’t spend much time researching the best place to donate, and chose WWF, one of the largest and best known environmental charities in the world. Perhaps that’s an area for improvement - there might be smaller organisations that use their money more efficiently. I’m not sure. The point is that not much mental effort is required to donate, meaning it’s possibly the simplest and most effective way to make a difference.
This is something I’ve focused on more recently. The Food Standards Agency reports that the UK wastes 7 million tonnes of food and drink each year, costing the average household £470. In the context of the rising levels of food bank usage in this country, those figures seem insane.
There’s no silver bullet when it comes to wasting less food, and it takes sustained effort. The following things can all help:
This is another one where fortunately the financial incentive lines up with the environmental incentive.
Recycling is perhaps the most obvious thing a person can do to help the environment, and I’m embarrassed I don’t do it better. There are a couple of small, stupid obstacles which probably do explain why I don’t recycle all the time, but aren’t really valid excuses. Firstly, our kitchen is small and even our regular bin is awkwardly placed; without a rethink, there isn’t space for a separate recycling bin, so we currently don’t have a place to put recycling. Secondly, our flat is on the third floor and we have to go to the ground floor to get to the communal recycling bin.
There, I said they were stupid reasons! As a result, the recycling we do is ad hoc, and lots of recyclable waste goes to the landfill. Must do better.
This is something I almost never think about. If you asked me where my food comes from I’d probably say “the supermarket”. We’re used to being able to buy any type of food at any type of year, forgetting that’s only possible because said food often travels thousands of miles before reaching our plates. We should make more of an effort to eat food grown in the UK; as well as having a smaller carbon footprint, it should be, by and large, cheaper.
Talking about this stuff can have two important effects, as I see them. Firstly, and most obviously, there’s the influence on your peers. I’m probably more in tune with environmental issues now because I’ve been influenced by people around me, and the same logic should apply outwardly.
Secondly, there’s the influence on myself. For better or worse, humans tend to succumb to the commitment bias. By publicly airing your opinions, you are more likely to stick to them, because you don’t want to be seen as inconsistent.
Which is the very reason I’ve written this post.