Consumeless for a year

A journal of a year of consuming less and consuming sustainably

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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Meaty lunch meetings – this is it!

Filed under: Food & drinks,Work — Karin @ 21:37
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Again, I found myself in a meeting with fish and meat sandwiches only. That’s the second time this year (while it is only January 12th). I have decided that from now on, if I know for sure that there will be sandwiches during a meeting, I will e-mail ahead to kindly inquiry whether there will be vegetarian sandwiches. If not, I’ll bring my own lunch. I find this quite stupid, but it seems to be the only option. Why aren’t meat and fishless sandwiches provided by default? As if non-vegetarians only eat sandwiches with meat! A simple cheese sandwich would do the trick for me. Quite frustrating!

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The Story about Stuff – film 10/01/2010

Did you know that the food at the top of the food chain containing the highest level of toxic contaminants is human breast milk? That only 1 % of materials involved in product manufacturing and consumption is still in use after 6 months? That people today see more advertisements in one year than people 50 years ago did in a lifetime?

I didn’t.

In the book No Impact Man I read about a project called ‘The Story of Stuff‘. The Story of Stuff is a short film made by Annie Leonard. The film shows the real costs of “our consumer driven culture—from resource extraction to iPod incineration”. Although clearly aimed at a US public (referring to the happy presentation style here), this film quite closely explains our motives to consume less and to consume sustainably. We definitely like her way of thinking about consumerism and sustainability! See for yourself, some astounding facts make it worthwhile anyway:

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According to Annie Leopard, most people’s main leisure activities are watching tv and shopping. So in that respect we are definitely going to change our lives this year!

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Biodynamic pet food arrived 09/01/2010

Filed under: Food & drinks,Pets — Karin @ 19:43
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This week, the biodynamic pet food I ordered arrived. I was especially curious what Lotte, our dog would think about it. Our cats mostly eat anything, but Lotte really didn’t like a (huge) bag of dog food we bought a while ago. She even left half of the food in her bowl all the time. But watch this video (pls ignore the kitchen, it came with the house, not our style, needs replacement)! Here Lotte (and the cats) get the organic food. I’m so happy! I’ve ordered two huge bags of dog food and two moderately huge bags of cat food. The good news: when you order large amounts, you get a 5% discount and you don’t pay shipping costs.

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Consumeless & sustainable in Italy part II

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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Green search engine 05/01/2010

Filed under: Energy,internet — Karin @ 23:01
Tags: , , , , ,

Sorry for over-posting tonight! But I got a tip about a green search engine I’d like to share. Their servers run on green energy and with each search they say you save a part of rain forest. Sounds good. However, I’m slightly concerned by the fact that Yahoo and Bing apparently have a large share in this initiative. But hey, it can’t hurt to try! I’ve installed the toolbar and will test it out.

The video below explains how search engines add to climate change and how Ecosia (hairball!) works. I like the fact that they constantly show you how much forest you’ve already saved. And please pay attention to the amusing banner about harassing Google :-).

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