Consumeless for a year

A journal of a year of consuming less and consuming sustainably

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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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 http://bit.ly/qppfm)

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.

Lunch
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).

Energy
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

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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Sustainability grandmom 28/12/2009

A little example of sustainability from our own family: Eise’s mother found a pair of tights of her grandaughter in the trash yesterday. The pair was thrown away because it had a hole in it. She thought it was a shame to throw the pair away and decided to mend the hole. She even had a set of special mending tools in her sewing kit! A great example of consuming less (repairing!) and sustainability. And also a great example to the grandchildren, who watched grandmom mend the pair of tights with great interest.

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Eise's mother mending a pair of her granddaughter's tights

Special mending tools

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Our motivation 20/12/2009

As promised, in our first full post we try to explain why we conduct this experiment of consuming less and consuming sustainably in 2010. We have several reasons for doing this experiment, which we will elaborate on below.

First of all, one of our ideals in life is to contribute to a sustainable world. So far we have tried to do this by using organic products, by using energy sparingly, by eating no (or very little, in Eise’s case) meat, etc. Consuming less is another way to be more sustainable, and we would like to try to apply the principles of consuming less and consuming sustainably to our current lifestyle. Fully adopting a consumeless lifestyle would have quite a serious impact on our lives and it would probably be unrealistic to keep doing this forever. This is the main reason of doing this experiment for one year. In this year, we aim to pursue consuming less to the most extreme level as possible considering our jobs, living situation, etc. By the end of the year we hope to have found ways to comfortably apply consume ess measures to our lifstyle in the long term.

Besides our sustainability ideals, we see this experiment as a personal challenge. We would like to see whether we can really do this consuming less for a whole year. For Eise this is related to the whish to lead a simple, sober life and of not wasting anything. Karin sometimes feels that she could be less consumption-minded.

Finally, we hope to reach some financial gain with this experiment. At the moment, we never really think twice if we buy something. As a result, we quite often buy things we don’t really need, which is not too lucrative. Consuming less seems an easy solution to this. However, consuming as sustainably as posssible, as we plan to do in 2010, is not always the cheapest option. We will keep a detailed financial log during 2010 to see whether we really save money by consuming less.

Finally our motivations to keep a blog about the experiment. One of the most important reasons for keeping this blog has to do with motivation. It will not always be easy to consume less, so by publicly committing to this experiment we hope to find some external motivation. At the same time, this blog allows us discuss all decisions and dilemmas we encounter during the experiment. We hope to receive lots of feedback and tips from people reading this blog so we can make the experiment even more interesting. A third important reason for us to make a blog is to share our experiences. We hope that our experiment and stories will inspire other people to be more sustainable as well. Finally, we expect that we will use this blog a lot to explain to people what we are doing and why. This might come in handy if we decide not to go out for dinner with friends, or if we are being a pain in the ass by suggesting to take the train once again!

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