Consumeless for a year

A journal of a year of consuming less and consuming sustainably

Positive meeting news 15/01/2010

After complaining about meetings without veggie lunch options, I must also report two positive meetings I attended this week. The first one was a presentation of a project called The BlueCall Phone by Ithaka, a centre coaching people with a handicap. Part of the centre is an Oxfam Wereldwinkel, a shop selling fair trade products. It was an early breakfast meeting and Oxfam fair trade coffee, tea and orange juice  were served!

"Future friendly packaging" at TU Delft

Today I had a meeting at TU Delft‘s Studiolab. We had lunch in one of the faculties’ restaurants. Of course I should have brought my own lunch, but I find that a bit difficult, as I never know beforehand what the others’ plans are for lunch. I don’t want to be a killjoy. So. We went to the restaurant where I tried to assemble a sustainable lunch. I didn’t take any of the pre-prepared and pre-packaged salads or sandwiches, but took a unpackaged sandwich, some butter and some cheese. And a bowl of soup. I was happy to find organic butter milk (all dairy was organic). I was slightly less happy to find disposable plates, cups, bowls and forks, knives and spoons. However, all plates, bowls and cups had a sign saying “future friendly packaging”. No clue what that means exactly, but at least the restaurant tries to be more sustainable I guess!

By the way, we went to Eise’s parents last Wednesday, so I went to Delft by bike! 😉

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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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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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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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Laundry 31/12/2009

Clothes lines on the attic

So, after a final shopping spree in Den Bosch (ashamed to admit I bought two pairs of shoes!), we are gradually making our rules effective. Yesterday, Eise made enough clothes lines on the attic to hang the two washing machines full of clothes we wash every week. No tumble drying anymore!

Last week we also brought my hiking shoes (which were a tad too narrow) to the shoemaker who streched them (in stead of buying new ones). I still have to test them (usually my toes start hurting after about 4 kilometers). Eise fixed our kitchen geyser (which also provides hot water for our shower) himself. He dismantled the geyser, discovered a broken part (a membrane of some kind), ordered a new membrane online (for € 5) and fixed it! And, thanks to Ellen’s suggestion, we opened three bank accounts at Triodos Bank, a sustainable bank (they even won the award for the most sustainable bank of the world this year!). I still have to order a Visa Greencard (waiting for our new bank accounts to be fully up and running) and then we are completely banking sustainably.

Today is the last day we could do some thoughtless consuming, but we probably won’t have time for it.

Have a great New Year’s Eve everybody!

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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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