“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”. Mother Theresa
As we begin 2021 – a new year (one that we hope will be far less eventful that the previous one) it’s the perfect time to consider how we can use this year to change the world. Don’t underestimate your individual power to effect positive change in our world. Our buying decisions, and both our individual and collective voices are some of the most important tools we have to make a meaningful difference to the environment. Politics can often be difficult to influence as an individual, and political change is slow. Private companies are often far more responsive to changes in public opinion. Many of the options pushed at us these days as being fashionable, “on trend” or desirable are incredibly destructive for our environment and the opposite of sustainable. Day after day big companies market things to you hoping you won’t look deeper than the shiny advertising before you decide what to purchase. This blog contains a list of things you can do now to have an immediate positive impact on the environment and your carbon footprint. Making powerful choices doesn’t have to wait, you can begin today!
- Think about the running cost and environmental foot print of kitchen appliances before you buy them. Gas hobs are terrible for the environment particularly if your electrical supply is renewable. Remember, gas is a fossil fuel. It is a finite resource, and it contributes to your families greenhouse gas emissions! Consider opting for an induction hob if you want something akin to a gas experience or stick with an electric oven/cook top. Our electricity here in NZ is 80% renewable so you are better off sticking with electricity than gas,
- Don’t install instant gas hot water. Using gas to rapidly heat hot water is extremely inefficient and results in large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions. It is easy to waste hot water if you have gas hot water because it never ever runs out. We were stunned at how easy it was to use huge amounts of hot water when we lived in a rental with gas hot water. It was expensive. As I mentioned above, gas is a fossil fuel, and it is a finite resource contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. Just stick with your electric hot water cylinder and consider adding a wetback and/or solar hot water. A future consideration that is important to bear in mind is that when the cost of carbon emissions are inevitably added to your gas bill in the future, the cost of heating your water will likely become prohibitively expensive.
- If you are building or renovating a house, choose locally sourced and produced materials. Try and avoid exotic materials that have to be shipped half way across the world. Be prepared to use demolition materials and recycled features eg, doors and windows. Reusing materials from within NZ saves on shipping and prevents things like timber, framing, plumbing fixtures and the like from ending up in the landfill.
- If you are building a house or significantly altering the rooflines as part of a renovation, make sure you consider the orientation and pitch of your roof so that you can put solar panels on. If you have a mono-pitch roof facing the wrong direction it will be extremely difficult (if not impossible) to put solar panels on your roof. Solar panels just make so much sense. I believe they are going to be a huge part of making NZ’s housing stock sustainable. We save a huge amount of electricity thanks to our solar panels, and they will have paid for themselves in a just a few years time.
- Make your appliances last. Check reviews and warranties before you buy and opt for the most durable choices rather than the cheapest price. Consider where it is manufactured and the labour conditions in the source country. A handful of manufacturers offer much better parts service which allows you to repair and keep the appliance going for many years. For example, Dualit offers a toaster with lifetime parts, and Magimix does something similar for their food processors (we have been able to replace parts very easily).
- Future proof your interior design. Consider the likelihood that furniture will fit with future fashion changes, and make sure it is high quality construction and designed to last. Once you’ve make your choice don’t be tempted to change it just to keep up with fashion.
- Sort your rubbish. When you make a dump trip don’t mix potentially repairable or surplus household items with green waste, and general rubbish. If you sort things, you can always give away usable items to charity or advertise them via something like Neighbourly, Trademe, Ebay or similar.
- If you build a house, make it the minimum size you actually need. Large houses have enormous carbon footprints and result in the production of far more manufacturing waste than small houses. They are also more expensive to heat and they reduce space for nature. The greenest house you can build is one you don’t build but renovate instead.
- If you want a holiday property at the beach or by the river, consider camping on it instead of building another house. If you must have a bach, then make it small and easily moveable to prepare for future managed retreat of coastlines, ideally a tiny home that can be towed to new land.
- Choose your food carefully. Animal products raised locally on pasture have a much lower environmental footprint than those which you can’t check how they are fed or cared for. Many global food producers are responsible for horrendous destruction of rain forest for conversion to palm oil and soya, much of which is used for animal feed. Grass fed local animals don’t have this impact. Likewise if you are vegan, make sure you are checking the origin of your food. As noted above, palm oil hidden on the ingredients as vegetable oil and soya grown on cleared rainforest land are something to avoid. Many reputable food suppliers have accreditations for their sourcing of these ingredients.
- Check you retirement investment portfolio. I investigated many of the common NZ and Australian retirement funds which are available for Kiwisaver investments and found to my horror than many are investing in oil, mining, weapons and active deforestation of the Amazon. My husband and I were deeply troubled and began to look into alternatives. One in particular which looks promising is Caresaver, and this is what we eventually chose, but you can also compare funds here. This simple action doesn’t take a lot of time and once you make the change to an ethical Kiwisaver option you are sending a powerful message to the banks and the government about what you think is acceptable. It is important that our investment actions match what we claim to be passionate about. The other thing is that this choice continues to support worthwhile causes indefinitely while you go on earning money and getting on with your life. Your choice of Kiwisaver fund is a powerful choice with far reaching consequences. I urge you to look into it and make the change to something ethical.
- Check on the environmental impact of your computing. If you are creating a website check on the environmental implications of the hosting company here. WordPress which I use for hosting doesn’t have a great record in this respect so I am investigating better options. Remember that cloud storage, subscription online service and streaming (including online gaming) use huge amounts of electricity, most of which comes from fossil fuels. Where possible choose a more efficient provider and where you can’t try contacting the company to lobby for change.
- Give feedback to companies about things you like or don’t like and ask questions. Where is your soy sourced from? Have you considered using recycled plastic instead of virgin plastic in your components? Have you considered using compostable packaging? Would you consider stocking ethical choices in your shop?
- Don’t wait for the government to fix the planet. Consider offsetting your carbon emissions by investing in carbon sequestration schemes directly. That way you can make sure the scheme you choose is actually benefiting the environment and not just an accounting scheme. Do your own carbon sequestration by joining up with a local community group to restore a river, beach or wetland. How about growing or buying some trees for it? Some examples include Ekos and Carbonclick.
- Opt for eco-courier services where possible. Some couriers make efforts to offset their carbon emissions and it is worth throwing your support behind companies that are prepared to make an effort. A couple of examples include Kiwi Express, and Urgent Couriers.
- When you are sending packages make an effort to use the new recyclable NZ Post paper bags. This is an exciting initiative that I am really pleased to see. Packages coming from my family in Germany have been wrapped in brown paper for as long as I can remember, and other packages have come in tough padded paper bags. I don’t know why it has taken so long to catch on here in NZ but now that it has let’s all support it.
- Buy a double skin drink bottle and an under-sink water filter and ditch single use plastic water bottles. You’ll save money and cut your single use plastic consumption.
- Support companies which package their products in renewable packaging or none at all. Here are a few suggestions. Health Post, Ethique, Thunderpants, Tumbleweed Tee’s, Proper Crisps.
- Sodastream vs bottles. This is something we have done as a way to reduce the amount of plastic bottles we have to deal with/recycle. We buy our syrups in glass bottles, or make our own from seasonal fruits.
- Have a compost heap and compost your food scraps rather than sending them to landfill where they will emit methane as they decompose. Home composting is a really big thing you can do to reduce needless food waste. Instead of paying the wheelie bin company to cart away your household food scraps, you can make your own compost for the garden. Anything that is not meat or fat can go in your compost heap. You can even compost toilet rolls, cardboard boxes, newspaper, and (as home compostable packaging becomes more mainstream) you can even compost some bags and packages. We have managed to do this quite successfully with Proper Crisps chippie packets. Our compost heaps are functional but not perfect textbook examples of how to do compost. Despite this our heaps have handled the compostable packaging we have thrown at them. There are some awesome rodent proof compost solutions available now if you are keen to get started.
So there you have it, a list of 20 things you can do now to have a positive impact on our planet and the environment you live in. We are completely dependent on our environment, without it we can’t survive. The damage we have been doing is often invisible to us as we struggle from one day to the next, but the impacts will be felt by our children and grandchildren and they will thank you for taking steps to make change. As a species we have created a built environment to live in and we forget that we are actually creatures of nature. We tend to think of nature as something to visit rather than something we depend on. We need to constantly remind ourselves of this and put the environment front and center in our lives. Every little thing you do has real power to promote positive change. As we head into a fresh year, take some time to consider how you can commit to reducing your impact on the environment and getting your voice heard.
“How lovely to think that no one need wait a moment: we can start now, start slowly changing the world!” Anne Frank