Monday, October 15, 2007

Going Green...

So, apropos again of Blog Action Day, and following what I posted yesterday, it is clear that the debate has now finally moved onto the much more constructive questions of: What can I do about man-made climate change? What can we collectively do something about it?

What I found helpful is to not listen to those who say that green living has to be a huge change and involve enormous sacrifice/nuisance, the kind that the No Impact Man and his family are putting themselves through (thanks Laichungleung for the NYT link, though the report of which would put every sane person off green living immediately, and if that's the kind of press green living is getting in the States, even by apparently progressive papers like the NYT, then no wonder Americans in general are extremely wary of the Green movement. I would too if faced with similar media coverage).

I'm very glad to say that we have a much better approach in Ireland, and that although our Government is defective in its policies in quite a number of areas (the public transport system, the healthcare system, etc.), in a few areas we have managed to get it right (e.g. smoking ban, plastic bag tax). In particular, compared to the UK next doors, we run a much more informed Green education campaign. It started off under the simple injunction to get people to "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle", to the present much more comprehensive "Power of One" campaign.

The key message is that it is not about changing and adopting a whole new different lifestyle, but about being more aware of the impact that you're having on your environment by going about your everyday business, and see if there are ways to go for greener options. And Make. One. Change. Today. For me, green living manifests in the following mundane ways: like using energy-saving CFL light-bulbs in my apartment instead of your typical halogen/flourescent bulbs (which have been popular in HK at least a decade before it caught on here in Ireland); like printing on both sides of the paper in the office when it's not necessary to have it on single-sided page (and better yet, don't print/copy unless I have to); like turning off lights when I don't need them, both at home (like mother always says) and at work, and making good use of the timer for my heaters; like always having a cloth bag with me so that if I need to do a spot of grocery shopping I don't have to buy plastic bags; like reusing my plastic bags at home; like taking showers instead of baths; like using the "economy" setting on the dishwasher and the washing machine and only starting it when it has a full load; like buying local produce; like always using public transport/walking (easy for me, as I haven't learnt how to drive and don't own a car)....

A lot of these didn't mean I was making a big huge sacrifice, not at all. They simply made good sense (and of the last, pure necessity), and I think the long-forgotten virtue of thrift has finally come into fashion again with the Green movement. What used to be frowned upon as anal-retentive behaviours like unplugging your appliances when you finish with them (like what one of my ex-roommates used to do, as he unplugs even appliances like microwave and water kettle, which drove me insane!), now actually made a lot of sense (though I have to admit, I still don't unplug my microwave, but my guilt is somewhat assuaged by the fact that my microwave LED timer is off when it's not in use - a green feature that drastically reduce energy consumption).

But as I wrote the above, I realised that individuals like me are helped into doing a lot of the above sensible green behaviours, not only by the availability of green products (e.g. electrical appliances now all have ratings according to how environmentally-friendly they are, taking into account a range of parameters, from energy and water consumption to waste impact), but also by the overall cultural vibes at our workplaces and high-street shops. For example, the fact that there is a huge recycling drive at my workplace, where paper recycling bins are placed in all offices and emails are sent at the end of each year regarding how many tonnes of papers we managed to recycle (I think the overall figure to date, since this drive started a few years ago, has been 9 tonnes if I remember correctly) really help us believe that individually we all made a difference even just by throwing our paper waste into the right bin, and also help to legitimise new greener office behaviours like sending correspondences on double-side-printed page for internal mail, and having non-private paper memos sent without envelopes (just a tri-folded page with an address sticker to "seal" it).

And using non-plastic shopping bags, as I explained at length to Raymond Poon on a previous post, is a no-brainer for us Irish shoppers not only because the Government instituted a low plastic bag tax, but because all shops provided viable alternatives - from high-end luxury boutiques with their gorgeous paper bags, to supermarkets with their cheap cloth tote-bags, and corner newsagents with their cheap paper bags from recyclable materials. It makes me feel grateful that I am living in a country where our national government is encouraging people to be a bit more responsible to the environment, although I must say we're still quite far behind countries like Germany where they have sorting waste bins that divide one's litter into paper, glass or metal as a matter of course in all public places.

I think it's most important, for those who are not familiar with the concept of green living, to not fall into the trap of the win-lose mentality - going green doesn't necessarily mean that consumerism is dead. Far from it. From smart cars to VOC-free wall paints, it simply means we can now have (and should demand) greener products as not only alternatives but as desirables. For example, my favourite favourite home store Laura Ashley (and those of you who have visited my other blog know how I wax lyrical over this store), prides itself on ensuring its products, from furniture to bedding to ornaments to wall paints, including its product catalogue and shopping bags, are using recyclable / sustainable / environmentally-friendly materials as much as possible. And they are not just good for the environment, they LOOK and FEEL really good, too. For example, I chose their water-based wall paints for my apartment, not only because they are less harmful to the environment than oil-based paints, but also because they have the most gorgeous pale duck egg blue shade that I was looking for. I didn't have to sacrifice quality for green.

In fact, it may surprise people to know that quite a lot of times, green products mean far superior products. Goods can be green in a variety of ways, from being made from recyclable / biodegradable materials, or materials from sustainable sources, to those that involve the least amont of impact on the environment in their manufacturing processes and transportation logistics as well as in waste disposal. By paying attention to what we buy and how we dispose of things, we can all be a green consumer. In fact, those of us who are avid collectors of antique items and like second-hand books or vintage clothing are already doing our bit in green consumerism. Buying green certainly shouldn't, and doesn't, mean that one would end up only with sweaters made from hemp!

Another way of buying green is buying local, which has been a key trend in retail grocery in this country. Buying local means that you are getting the freshest, seasonal ingredients (and have the added benefit of supporting local businesses). More importantly, you know where your food comes from, which is important especially in light of the foot-and-mouth disease and the recent bird flu scare for turkey meat in the UK, which made people here in Ireland want to ensure that they are buying Irish and know the precise source of our meat and poultry products. Food traceability programmes, with catchy slogans like "From Farm to Fork", have been adopted by many supermarkets here primarily to restore consumer confidence, but it also has the unintended benefit of ensuring that people are buying local too. Not only is it really reassuring to see the name of the actual farm printed on my pack of steaks, but I also like the fact that my meat doesn't have to travel in refrigerated containers by sea or air to arrive at my supermarket. People now pay a premium to buy locally-produced, natural, organic products, and businesses know this of course. The appeal of the Green Consumer is evident by the recent opening of several upscale organic foodstores in Dublin.

Of course, we have quite a bit of ways to go yet. I still can't find energy-saving spot-light bulbs in shops. And personally I still leave my lights on longer than they really should, and I quite often forget to unplug my mobile charger. But I'm getting there. And I do believe we in Ireland are getting there too, by helping to elect the Green Party into Government at the last general election (I say helping, because the final decision was down to Bertie as to which party he chose to form a coalition government, and thankfully he chose the Greens over Labour or the PDs. But we did our bit by ensuring that the Green candidates have enough seats to be a "king-maker" in coalitions).

It takes 21 times to solidify a new habit, and taking a light green baby-step one at a time, we can all get there. Even if, in the end, it doesn't avert man-made climate change to the degree we hope, it doesn't mean we have wasted our efforts, because we would have made our livelihood on this planet just that little bit more sustainable and that little bit less destructive, which is always a good thing.

(and Phew! Just made it in time for the Blog Action Day to post this!)

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At Tue Oct 16, 02:17:00 p.m. IST, Blogger Unknown said...

Everyone can make a difference! If you are passionate about stopping global warming and the environment you should check out this website . Changing to CFLs is a great way for individual people to really make a difference! You should also check out this site for more ideas on how to help our world!

At Tue Oct 16, 05:14:00 p.m. IST, Blogger laichungleung said...

I guess I am not as psyched as you are. But I do think environmentalism or conservation is no longer a personal virtue thing as our vice president Mr. Cheney once put it. There got to be some better cleaner alternate fuel other than crude oil somewhere to be developed, soon.

Lastly, may your (or my) toilet seat get recycled as a lovely little plastic stool in your living room instead of your toothbrush.

At Mon Oct 29, 04:32:00 p.m. GMT, Blogger Snowdrops said...

To Krissy, if you bother reading my post before you comment, I'm already using and extolling the virtues of CFL bulbs. I'm not too comfortable with your linking to a particular company's CFL (unless nvision is the only company manufacturing CFL in the States???).

To LCC, there ARE already alternative energy sources (e.g. solar, wind, hydro) and there ARE already nonpetroleum fuels available (e.g. biodiesel, ethanol). The problem is not lack of technology on the supply side, but lack of information on the demand side. I agree with you though that personal action is not enough. Governments dominated by vested business interests (cases in point: the Bush administration in the US and the Tsang administration in HK) are working towards obfuscating the issues rather than being proactive in tackling the problem on a systemic scale, ill serving not only their own citizens but ultimately all citizens in the world.

Lastly, I don't mind the idea of toilet seats being potentially recycled as toothbrush handles, because in reality the recycling processes by themselves would have removed all impurities before the material could be re-fashioned into something else. Anyway, the key is not whether individually you have to be "psyched" about green living to do it. You can start turning off unused lights NOW, and teach your kids to do the same, not as some radical new gesture towards Mother Earth, but as simple good habits to have as decent human beings.


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