Consumeless for a year

A journal of a year of consuming less and consuming sustainably

Family visit 18/01/2010

Making candles

This weekend we visited Eise’s brother Victor and his family in Bloemendaal. The good news was that we didn’t take Lotte, our dog, with us, so we were able to use public transportation. We bought a NS Voordeelurenabonnement, which gives a 40% discount (on all trains in weekends and on trains after 9:00 AM on week days). Hopefully this will stimulate us to take the train more often this year! This will be a major bottleneck, I’m afraid, since taking the train is about twice as expensive as the fuel it takes to go by car (with the two of us). We had to choose who of us would buy the Voordeelurenabonnement (the pass allows the owner plus 3 others to travel with a discount, so one pass is sufficient if we travel together). We figured that Eise would probably use the train on his own more often, so he bought the pass.

Home-made beeswax candles

We had a really nice weekend and finally spent some decent time with Eise’s nephews. And we had a very sustainable weekend too! Maaike, Victor’s girlfriend is fully into macrobiotic cooking, so we ate very healthy and very organic food! We brought a candle-making set as a present (beeswax candles, of course, paraffin is terribly unsustainable since its made of crude oil) so we made a huge amount of strange-looking candles (making candles isn’t that easy!). I was slightly tempted in a shoe store (Victor needed new shoes), where they had really cool and warm woolen slippers (something like these, but in bright pink) in my size for less than half of the price. But I didn’t need new slippers. So I didn’t buy them. Actually, it really was that easy! And furthermore we did mostly consumeless and sustainable stuff (feeding deer, visiting gnomes, etc.).

The coming few weeks I am home alone, so I have to cook for myself (I have to admit, Eise does most of the cooking, and usually I don’t take the trouble to cook a full meal when I’m home alone). Today that was no problem because I didn’t go to Leuven but to Hasselt so I was home earlier than usual and had plenty of time to cook.

One final thing worth mentioning is that I participated in a biweekly meeting at work via Skype so I did not have to travel to Leuven. Not a bad experience actually. With a little bit of microphone aiming by my colleagues I could hear everything quite well and we lost connection only once.


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Car vs. public transportation – trade off 12/01/2010

I’ve had a couple of work meetings since we’ve started this experiment, and our rule about work-related transportation says I should “take public transportation to meetings if time allows”. We knew beforehand that this was a rule which is very much open to interpretation, but I have actually been comparing the time it would take to travel by car to that of traveling by train or bus for each meeting. I ended up taking the car to each of these meetings. To be honest, I really feel that the extra travel time that public transportation would cost me is too much for each of these meetings, but I’m curious about your opinions. What time difference do you think is acceptable?

Some examples:

  • Yesterday I had a two-hour meeting in Genk. Driving from Maastricht to Genk (I was working at home) takes about 35 minutes. The quickest public transportation option was taking two busses (Maastricht – Hasselt – Genk), which would take 1 hour and 40 minutes. Extra consideration: working in the bus is not really feasible.
  • Today I had two meetings in Gent (in total from 12:00 to 17:00). I drove to my work in Leuven first (my normal commute), which took about 1 hour and 10 minutes. I arrived at work at 8:15 and left to Gent at 10:45. Driving to Gent cost 50 minutes. Afterwards, I drove to Oostende (about 40 minutes) because I have a very early meeting tomorrow morning. After that meeting, I’ll drive to Leuven (which should be an hour and a half), and in the evening I will drive back home (which should be a little over 1 hour). So total travel time by car is approximately 5 hours and 10 minutes.
    Taking public transportation would have looked like this:

    • The trip Maastricht – Gent would take 3 hours (by bike – 2 trains and a bus). It would not have made sense to go to Leuven first, so I would have missed the 2 hours and 30 minutes of working time, but I could have worked in the train for about 2 hours (split into 90 minutes and 30 minutes slots).
    • From Gent to my hotel in Oostende would have cost 1 hour and 30 minutes.
    • From Oostende to Leuven would have cost 2 hours and 15 minutes (of which I could have worked 1 hour and 40 minutes in the train).
    • From Leuven to Maastricht would have cost 2 hours.
    • Total travel time would have been 8 hours and 45 minutes.


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Consumeless & sustainable in Italy part II 09/01/2010

View on the (Talfer?) river in Bolzano

So there I was, in Bolzano for a business meeting (quite cool acutlly, a PhD comittee meeting about a thesis on interaction design for deaf children). My first attempt at consuming as little and as sustainable as possible while traveling. It wasn’t too difficult, actually. The thing that I found most awkward was spending time in city centres (and at airports) with the knowledge that I couldn’t buy anything. It made me look at shops and city streets in a completely different way! Actually, who would ever have thought I would say this, I lost almost all of my interest in shopping! I had a few hours to wander through Bolzano and I automatically started looking for shopping streets. But since I lost interest after a few minutes, I just wandered around, watching beautiful old buildings and took a stroll along the river. When I got back at my hotel, I thought I had walked for at least two hours, while in realt it was only 1 hour and 20 minutes!

The thing I thougt would be most difficult was eating. Of course, I was quite limited in my choice of where to eat. I had breakfast in the hotel and the people who organised the meeting took me out for lunch. I haven’t found any organic food, but I was able to make some choices. At breakfast I ate nothing that was packaged and I did not eat out-of-season and out-of-location fruits. I ended op eating muesli with seeds and yoghurt, a croissant with (not prepackaged) jam, a cappuccino and home made (!) apfelstrudel. Lunch was a vegetarian pizza (with artichoke cream, eggplant and courgette). Eggplant and courgette probable were local, mabye in the south of Italy they even grow in winter, who knows! I had dinner in the cafe of my hotel. Polenta (very local!) with mushrooms and gorgonzola. Also not too bad I guess. And I asked the waiter which of the red wines was local (there was one from Bolzano even, which was lovely!).

One dilemma was the hotel sauna. They had a small sauna complex which was open every afternoon and evening. I really felt like going to the sauna, but I wondered how unsustainable that would be. Of course, the sauna was on, whether I would go in or not, but I hate to use such an argument (“the plane is flying anyway, so I might as well take it”). Eise thought sauna’s are not very unsustainable, because they are isolated very well. I ended up going (which was great!), but I noticed that the heating system went on about every minute or two… And I got two towels and a set of disposable slippers… Anyone an idea about the energy usage of a sauna?

I did take the stairs in stead of the elevator all the time (which turned out to be quite an exercise; my room was on the fourth floor, but the floors were about two normal floors high (23 steps)!). Then Eise told me that elevators hardly use any electricity when they go down, in stead, he though electricity might even be generated and stored because of the flywheel that is used (anyone knows more about this?)…

On my return trip I hardly consumed anything. I filled the bottle of water I got at Rome airport with tap water (which they are very proud of in Bolzano, straight from the mountains). In a supermarket I bought organic mais crackers and some (local) fruit. I took a train to Innsbrück, then a bus to the airport and from there I flew to Brussels (where I took a train to Maastricht). I ate all the stuff I brought for lunch, so I didn’t have to buy a thing.

So all in all, this first consumeless trip was quite OK, I think. Next time I’ll definitely try to go by train and I’ll try to find more sustainable hotel options (now I stayed in the hotel that was suggested to me).


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Sustainability at the airport 07/01/2010

Yesterday I had to travel to Italy, to be part of a PhD commission. So I had to consume as little as possible while traveling. Not so easy. It was a long trip, had to take the train to Brussels and fly to Rome first, where I had a very long stay over. Next, I had to fly to Bolzano (in a tiny tiny plane, with propellers!). The first part was easy. The only thing  I missed was buying a cup of coffee on the train station. Unfortunately, the train to Brussels (which runs only once every hour) was cancelled so I had to call Eise to drive me to Liege to take a train there.  Not the most sustainable option, but the only option.

One of the two power sockets I was able to find at Rome airport

At Brussels airport I didn’t consume anything. I did plug in my laptop to a power socket to work a bit. In the plane I very economically asked for two drinks so I didn’t have to buy so many drinks during my stop over. I was pleased to see that they did not have cans or bottles of drinks in the plane. Everybody got a (plastic) cup of water, juice or soda from a large bottle.

At Rome airport, I really needed to plug in my laptop again to finish my work. And really,  there were no publicly available power sockets, not a single one! How do the cleaners vacuum that place? They need electricity! But I finally found two cafés with one socket each. So during my stay over I bought two cups of espresso to be able to use some electricity :-s.

Most sustainable food option I could find at Rome airport...

I had supper at the airport as well (I did bring my own sandwiches for lunch!). I had a vegetarian pasta and a bottle of water. No other choice than a bottle, unfortunately. But I kept the bottle to refill it for the remainder of my stay at the airport and in the plane. As for the pasta, I planned to choose seasonal and local ingredients, but I’m afraid no seasonal ingredients were available. So I had pasta with cherry tomatoes. Very little ingredients though! Unfortunately, the café I had dinner had plastic cutlery… Not so sustainable and also not so comfortable.

In Bolzano, I had to take a taxi to my hotel. No trains or busses there. My hotel room was so immensely hot that I switched off the heating completely and took off my vest (and I never take of my vest!). Not sustainable at all. Who wants a hot hotel room? I should actually say something about that to the reception guy, but that makes me feel such a bore!

So overall, I am pretty satisfied. I would have appreciated more sustainable options, but I think that given the circumstances I did OK. And I noticed that I wasn’t at all interested in all the shops at the airport, I wasn’t allowed to buy anything anyway! What I do really regret, is that I didn’t look into train options to travel to Bolzano when I booked the flights last year. I think that might have been a seriously good option for this trip! I have a few new dilemma’s though:

  • Do escalators use significantly more energy when people are standing on them (I mean escalators that are working anyway, not those that are not moving when no one is using them)?
  • How long could you politely stay seated in an airport café (and use the power socket) after buying one drink?


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Consumeless meetings – part II 05/01/2010

A short update of my experiences at work. Today I had another meeting with sandwiches, and guess what, not a single vegetarian sandwich! Meat and fish only! So I had a dilemma. Normally, I do eat fish, but I don’t eat meat. This year I wanted to eat purely vegetarian. I had two options (besides not eating anything at all, which was not an option): call the situation an emergency and eat fish after all, or remove the ham from a ham & cheese sandwich (with the obvious disadvantage of ham taste on my cheese sandwich). I chose the fish option, but I regretted it a bit afterwards. Next time I’ll remove the ham in the hope the persons ordering and delivering the sandwiches see it as a sign that not everyone likes to eat meat!

I did have the opportunity to make the right choice for drinks by the way. In the meeting room were loads of canned and bottled juices, sodas and waters, but also a thermos of coffee and a can of tap water. So I drank coffee and tap water! No waste.

Tomorrow will be a more challenging day. I’m flying to Italy for a meeting. I have a terribly long stayover at Rome, and I’m not allowed to bring my own bottle of water. I’ll bring lunch, but I’ll have to buy drinks and dinner I’m afraid. Let’s see what Rome Fiumicino airport has to offer in terms of sustainable food!


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First consumeless day at work 04/01/2010

Today was the first workday after the Christmas holiday and the first day at work in our consumeless and sustainable experiment. And I’m pretty satisfied! My colleagues were happy to think along with our rules and we had quite some fun about the experiment. Let’s see what I did (and didn’t do) with respect to consuming less and consuming sustainably:

Paperless office

My Moleskine notebook (hack inspired by

I’ve tried to work according to paperless office principles before, but I never really liked it. But now I’m planning to persist. I actually think that when I do this for a year, I’ll get used to most parts of it. Today I wasted one post-it by writing a useless note (thoughtlessly), I wrote notes on four pages in my large Moleskine notebook and two in my small Moleskine notebook (I use the big one for taking notes during meetings and the small one for taking notes during the day for this blog). I just visited the Moleskine website to check their sustainability policy, and was slightly disappointed. The only thing that was mentioned was that acid-free paper is used and that the FSC certification is pending…. Hopefully they will get the certificate soon, departing from my Moleskines will be hard! The best paperless act of today was a meeting I had with two colleagues during which we had to judge 40 slides according to a lot of dimensions in an Excel file. Normally we would have printed the slides (probably with the colour printer), but both of my colleagues were more than happy to view the slides on a laptop!

Car & bike
I started applying the rules of ‘ecodriving‘ today. In addition to this style of driving, I also drove with 110 km/h in stead of my usual 130. I have done this before for a while (last year in summer, when fuel was rediculously expensive), and it saved about 10-15% of fuel! Also, I had a meeting quite close to where I work, so I borrowed a bike from one of my colleagues (to plow through the snow!). I even thought of bringing my hat and gloves this morning.

I had a meeting including sandwiches. Usually I eat either a vegetarian sandwich or a sandwich with fish (salad). But I don’t want to eat fish this year (besides not eating meat, which I never do), so I picked veggie sandwiches only. Which is actually not too easy! It is really hard to recognize a meatless sandwich in a huge pile of (mostly) meaty sandwiches without touching all sandwiches first. Finally, I decided not to eat a prepacked cookie with my coffee. Because it was packed, it can be reused for another meeting, it doesn’t need to be thrown away (the art of exaggeration).

I always switch off the light in the bathroom after I leave, so I continued doing that. This morning, I arrived at work first (which I often do), so I only switched on the lights in our office, and not in the hallway (which is separated from our office by a glass wall, so there’s plenty of light from the office in the hallway, as long as nobody’s working there). The interesting thing was that nobody took the effort to switch on the lights in the hallway the whole day!

There are still a few things I have to get used to more and that I still have to do. To name a few: I am going to ask our secretary to change my food preferences to ‘vegetarian’  in stead of ‘no meat’. I am going to take my laptop to every meeting to try to take digital notes (although I am not sure whether this is really a lot more sustainable than carrying a Moleskine with me). I’m going to send my boss a request to switch to fair trade coffee and to have at least one type of organic tea (actually, he was the one pointing out that I should make organic tea today!).

Additional tips for consumeless and sustainable offices are of course very welcome!


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First ConsumeLess days, and first (micro)dilemmas 02/01/2010

We’re two days into our experiment! Happy new year to everybody!

Making lunch to go

The first of these days is not really worth mentioning, consumeless and sustainability-wise. We spent New Year’s Eve at friends in The Hague and New Year’s Day at Eise’s family. We went home after dinner so we didn’t have to purchase anything ourselves yesterday. We did however leave for The Hague right before lunch time on Thursday, so we brought our own sandwiches! Consumeless act number one.

Today was more of a day according to our new lifestyle. We did nothing special (doing some new year’s cleaning) and there were hardly any moments we had to think twice before doing something. We did buy six energy saving light bulbs to replace the last ‘normal’ bulbs in our house. And Eise had to go to both the supermarket and the organic food store (in stead of the super market only) to buy organic ingredients for our food this weekend. We had dinner completely according to our rules: we ate pumpkin, with onions, garlic and goat’s cheese (all organic) from the oven, risotto (not organic, but we still had it in stock) and (organic) salad.


Dinner brought us a (tiny) dilemma though. We usually leave the oven door open after taking out the food in order to let out the remaining heat. However, we have a oven/microwave oven combination which has an automatic light that switches on when the door is open. The question now is: does the heat from the oven that adds to the temperature in our kitchen outweigh the energy that is used for the light? I think not, but I’m not sure…

A related problem would arise (we just thought) when we want to heat something to drink. In winter, we like to drink hot apple juice with cinnamon (De Werf-style). What would be better: heating the apple juice in the microwave oven or in a pan on the stove? We have a halogen stove, but I have no clue whether heating something on this stove requires more energy than heating it in the microwave oven.

It’s not so easy, this applying consuming less and consuming sustainably to all aspects of our daily life!

A question that was asked a couple of times the last few days was how essential we thought visiting family and friends was (refering to our first rule, saying we only buy things if we really need them). We haven’t made up any rules about this except for the transportation rules. We have been thinking about this issue and decided not to make a special rule for this. The idea of this experiment was to try to live our lives as consumeless and as sustainably as possible, and our lives include visiting family and friends. Of course we will keep the transportation rules in mind all year!

Finally, a shocking fact I just came across reading National Geographic’s Green Guide (which I found in our stack of magazines I was sorting out), related to cotton production (which we’ve dicussed in the post Inspiration as well): “Conventional cotton production uses more than 18 percent of the world’s pesticides”! We’re seriously considering to never buy any other cotton than organic cotton in the future. Which is not too difficult anymore. Most mainstream stores (H&M, C&A, HEMA) have cotton basics these days. And buying organic jeans is not difficult as well (Kuyichi, Levi’s, Ascension, and probably many more).

So, this really is the start of our experiment to live as consumeless and as sustainable as possible for a year. We hope to hear from all of you, so please let us know what you think of our rules, our experiences and our blog! We are happy to receive any tips and suggestions!


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