Be more Greta

So there’s quite a lot of you still out there reading and interacting, which is motivating me to keep writing! I dropped a link to this article in my last post – “Be more Greta: seven ways to help reduce your environmental impact”. So I thought I should actually read it properly and use it as a springboard to maybe relaunch #SaturdaySwitch or at least trigger some thoughts about next steps on the eco journey. I’ve been feeling pretty jaded of late, and I know that reading articles like this, while taking a forensic view of my family’s day-to-day life, does help bring things into focus.

So. How are we doing? (NB this list isn’t Greta’s, it’s from WWF. The “Greta bandwagon” has of course been the subject of a gazillion column inches and maybe I will write about that one day too, and try to fathom why a bunch of white, middle-aged men who made all their money from trashing the planet are so afraid of a teenage girl who gives NO shits whatsover about who she upsets…)

  • Switch to clean energy. Check. We switched to Green Network Energy last year. I don’t fully understand how the National Grid works with power generated from different sources, but this explains reasonably well why no power company can guarantee that every kilowatt of power that enters your home is from a renewable source. We don’t have a smart meter yet but I would like to get one – partly to try to shave more money off the bills. We do have gas heating and hobs, and I know gas is worse for the environment but my understanding of the physics of all this is very limited. So perhaps this is something to research further. I have a new slow cooker I’m keen to try out, and running this on electricity may well be cheaper and better for the environment than prolonged hob cooking.
  • Ethical banking – I’ve just kept my eyes tight shut on this one for a long time. I bank with Barclays mainly, although our joint account is with First Direct. I have no clue what either of their investment policies are, although I expect Barclays to be pretty dire. I also have no idea whether my pension pots are invested ethically. Work to do here.
  • Sustainable food – there’s nothing new to me here really. Less meat and dairy, more seasonal and local food. It often falls into the “too difficult” category to really nail this, especially when trying to budget, but this is true:

[food production is ]“a major driver of climate change, deforestation and biodiversity loss. It’s responsible for more than 60% of biodiversity loss worldwide and almost a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Must try harder on this one.

  • Be a conscious shopper. I’m mainly interpreting this as trying not to be a shopper as much as possible. I’m following a few No Spend/Buy Nothing 2020 challenges on social media at the moment. People have varying motives for wanting to take this on – often financial as well as focusing on sustainability. It’s been a challenge over Christmas, to be sure – I’m still reflecting on this… It’s hard to resist the urge to buy new stuff that you know your very cute two-year-old will absolutely love… But equally I feel sick whenever I think about the kind of planet he’s going to grow up on if we don’t get to grips with this, and fast.
  • Reduce your waste – there’s lots here I’m already doing, especially in terms of reducing food waste, batch cooking, planning meals etc. The article is a bit disjointed here though, as it veers from talking about low level individual decisions, to stressing the importance of product design fitting within circular economies, to enable things to be reused, recycled or repurposed. I feel like we get lost in the individualistic view of saving the world, making heroes out of ourselves and agonising about the best carrier bags to use. But actually, the sweeping changes have to come from governments and big corporations. See the final point…
  • Make space for nature – I am crap at this. We have a garden but it’s bare except for lawn. No time, no knowledge or skills. Come spring/summer I might be able to do something about this, but most likely not, as we will be hopefully mid house build by then. Eeek. Must not think too much about this, or I will lose my mind. Maybe I will grow some herbs indoors. We are also robust supporters of our local parks and woodland. Which also helps prevent the impending madness.
  • Speak up – as above, one person giving up single use carrier bags isn’t enough. I’ve been sceptical about the value of writing to MPs, signing petitions etc., but it certainly can’t do any harm… I’m going to try to be a bit more strategic about this and chat to some friends who are more active in this area than me about what actually has the most traction to make a difference.

So. Overall I think this article is a bit weird and disjointed, and taking a bit of a classic tick-box new year’s resolution approach. No mention of reducing car use, stopping flying, not much about single use plastic.

I wonder what Greta would actually say? No one is too small to make a difference, sure, but some people are big enough to make a huge difference, and putting pressure on them to change is where her energy is being directed, rather than bickering on Facebook zero waste groups about fabric wrapping paper.

Next week – some vegan(ish) meal planning, another visit to the refill shop and maybe I will have done some research about banking. Maybe a #SaturdaySwitch tomorrow too.

How green are you, anyway?

A friend of mine (the great deodorant co-experimenter) told me about this WWF personal carbon footprint calculator, so I thought I would have a go at it and share my thoughts with you.

The methodology section is a bit confusing, but essentially it measures your personal footprint in tonnes of CO2 equivalent carbon emissions. This is based on questions on four categories: Food – diet, food waste and buying habits, Home – energy type and usage in the house and presence of energy-saving measures, Travel – personal and public transport usage for leisure and work, and flights, and Stuff – purchase of consumable items.

It then gives you a percentage score – 100% is the average required for every citizen to meet the UK’s 2020 carbon emissions target. Less than 100%, you’re doing well. More than 100%, you’re contributing more than your fair share and could/should do more.

The “target” is the 2008 Climate Act’s goal to reduce emissions by 80% from the 1990 total by 2050 – to remain on track, we have to be 35% of the way there by 2020. More info here.

So I ran the questionnaire and came out initially with 98%. All good. Then I realised I had probably filled out the question about car travel wrong. We hardly ever use the car – literally one trip to the shops every 7-10 days or so, maybe a less than 50 mile trip once a month and longer trip every few months. So I initially answered the first car question saying “I walk/cycle/use public transport for all journeys”. When I went back and redid it, and answered the questions about the type of car we have (terrible huge diesel estate), even saying that I use it less than 2 hours per week made the answer came back at 112%… 11.2 tonnes. Still less than the UK average of 13.56 tonnes, but above target. Hmm…

Just as an experiment, to see how the weighting works, I ran it again with all the same answers but changed the food answer to “vegan”, and it came out at 109%. So the impact of car use seems to have a very high weighting. It would be really interesting to re-run it a few times playing with the other categories like recycling, flights taken etc. and see how that impacts the score.

The tips the calculator gives me are as follows:

Travel:

  • Cycle more – no, not going to. People would die. Probably me.
  • Use public transport more – I do this for everything except supermarket and visiting family, not sure how we can reduce this as I’m not really up for long train journeys with a toddler.
  • Drive smarter – remove excess weight to maximise petrol efficiency. Hmmm… 10 day camping trip with roof box coming up. Also, it tells me that “having the correct air pressure in your tyres results in better petrol mileage, better handling of the car, cheaper maintenance costs and a smaller environmental impact. This simple step can make a big difference.” This is my husband’s department (sorry, feminists), and I’m pretty sure he’s on it. And finally, my favourite: by slowing your travel speed by 10km/h, you could improve your car’s fuel consumption by 25%. Dear husband, please read this! (Cause of a few tiffs, this one)

Stuff tips – buy one expensive thing rather than lots of fast fashion, buy second hand. On it – see impending eBay post and my thoughts about fast fashion.

Food – eat in season, less meat and dairy.

Home – this was my highest score: switch energy supplier to a renewable energy company, switch to energy efficient bulbs (already doing this) and “embrace new technology” – this seems to be something about using apps to monitor energy use, or maybe installing a smart meter? More research required.

There’s a couple of non-negotiables in here which I’m sure have an impact (e.g. cat food spend, and we would really be sad if we cut down on our takeaways and the odd restaurant date night), but I re-ran it with the following changes:

No flights (won’t be flying anywhere next year anyway), changed meat from “some meals” to rarely, changed food to “a lot locally sourced” rather than just some, 100% renewable energy tariff, house temperature changed from “warm” to “cool” (grrrr….), no new household items (we bought new laptops last year with wedding present money, no plans to make anymore big purchases). I kept clothing spend at £0-£50 rather than zero, as I do have to buy the odd thing new despite my best efforts.

Drumroll please….. this takes me down to 11.4 tonnes, which is 93%. And this is with what I consider to be quite modest changes really, that we are heading towards anyway. More radical stuff could take it lower, and the methodology section says we should be aiming for 1.05 tonnes each by 2050. The global average is 5.28 tonnes and that feels like a good long-term aim.

Interesting stuff. I would love to hear what yours comes out as and whether it triggers any thoughts towards lifestyle changes.