This article’s focus is on how to move towards becoming a greener person throughout all aspects of your life, perhaps in ways you have not considered. It is not just the little things, that you have already heard of such as re-usable shopping bags, changing to energy saving bulbs and turning electronics off instead of leaving them on standby, these are very basic steps and not even the greenest or easiest. It covers as many aspects as possible with the most beneficially green ideas generally at the top of the list and a brief explanation of why it is a good idea where required. For more in-depth information on products and advice on suggestion here try going to specific links on Selected Links SELECTED LINKS here on BSG. For instance to find out about permaculture go to the Farming section.
USE ETHICAL INVESTMENTS FOR YOUR MONEY
The biggest influences on society and the environment usual come from the largest industries, and banking is one of the largest, so let’s start here.
Investments matter (and this includes your savings and current account, which are to banks investments too) because they fund the wheels of industry through the banks you hold them with. Most banks are not ethical and in fact they are downright hostile to the environment and will invest your hard-earned cash in industries you are campaigning against in other ways in your life. Industries such as fossil fuels which build coal fired plants and fund fracking, mega-dams that destroy forest and fishing. Firms that promote dangerous, usually untested GMO (genetically modified organism) crops, you get the picture. Why risk funding such polluting industries when with nothing simpler than transferring your accounts to a new ethical bank or fund you can make sure all your available cash is only invested in green industries. TRIODOS BANK
WORK IN A NATURE CONSERVATION OR ETHICAL JOB
Working full time in the green economy is one of the best ways to support and promote it.
VOLUNTEER FOR CONSERVATION AND GREEN CAUSES
If you are unable to find full time work in the green sector you can still contribute by helping charities not just by giving money but also by give your time there are thousands of organisations and thousands of ways to volunteer.
SELECTED LINKS at WORLDWIDE LINKS: TRAVEL ADVICE, VOLUNTEERING & ACCOMMODATION and Regional Links pages.
REDUCE, RE-USE, RECYCLE
Anything! I wash my car with bucket and sponge, I use old car engine oil to treat my fence and shed, I use waste water on my garden and compost old food. These are simple things, there are many ideas that you may not have thought of or adopted too which take no more time or energy but just a bit of memory and discipline. For instance in colder countries, once you have boiled your kettle and used the water, fill the kettle straight away again from the cold tap, thus using the residual heat of the kettle to raise the water temperature a little. Or when you have had a hot bath, do not just pull the plug out and waste all the expensively heated water, leave it there to go cold by radiating its heat to your house thus saving on your fuel bill. There are also more expensive ideas such as the use of compost making toilets (which are now clean, smell free and easy to use and maintain) which should at least be standard for all motorhomes, caravans, campsites and festivals instead of the polluting and expensive chemical toilets now in favour. But they can also be easily bought for home installation too.
This is a big issue and there are many different options to consider, it will all depend on your personal circumstances. For short distances, the most obvious green choice is to walk or cycle. Slightly longer journey may require power from an electric bicycle or from public transport. For longer journeys again public transport is a good option but where this may not be possible and personal transport has to be used then you will need a car or motorbike. The greenest of these, using around, at worst one tenth and very often one twentieth or less the energy per mile of fossil fuel internal combustion engine is an all-electric vehicle (EV) they are of course far greener if recharged from renewable sources of energy, such as home installed solar panels. Draw backs with some cheaper models is the driving range for the battery. The next greenest and economical is hydrogen powered vehicles, which again can be totally green if they use renewable energy, they also do away with range anxiety but on the downside are expensive and likely to remain so and will likely only have a market in the top of the range vehicles. The so called hybrid vehicles are the next best option, these have an electric power train like EVs and hydrogen powered vehicles but they have a small battery pack and short range. They however also have a small petrol engine that kicks in when the battery is drained allowing longer journeys without range anxiety. Their drawback is as with all compromises, you do not get the best of either world, the vehicles are heavy and the petrol engine can be underpowered. Conventional internal combustion engines though highly inefficient can be made greener by the use of renewable fuels instead of non-renewable fossil fuels. These come in many forms, from first generation (crops grown specifically to be made into biofuels) to second generation (biofuels made from by-products or waste). The most efficient and greenest are generally second generation, those made from waste products, depending on how much effort has to be expended to extract any usable fuels. The most efficient first generation crops are algae, since single celled algae are magnitudes better at photosynthesis than any multi-cellular plant such as corn or switch grass.
TRY TO WASTE LESS FOOD
Because food uses more land and more energy overall than anything else to produce, it destroys more habitat and wildlife (overall) so the less we waste therefore the more we save. A third to a half of all food in Britain is ultimately wasted! Do not take use-by-dates as gospel, these are the shortest lengths of time a product will last if stored badly. If stored as recommended in say a fridge they can often last much longer, smell and sample tasting are a good guide and are what we old-ens relied on before use-by dates were introduced. Below are some suggestions you do not see on those ‘be greener’ supermarket leaflets!
Be creative with ‘old’ food such as bread, it is often still perfectly edible when stale so long as it is not mouldy and can be toasted or used in bread pudding. Boiled rice can be fried-up (that’s what they do in your Chinese restaurant!), left over items can be used in stews and soups. Food that is past its best can be fed to pigs and chickens. Wild birds love bacon rind, hard cheese, bread and cold rice. Alternatively vegetable matter, including tea bags and old coffee grindings can be composted. Old wine can be used to cook with red meats. I use old tea bags and surplus boiled water and leave to stew and go cold, I then add about a quarter fresh orange juice and a dash of lime and leave in fridge till ready to drink then add a sprig of mint, superbly refreshing on hot days (so not too often in Yorkshire!).
Surplus food can be used to make jams preserves, wines, ciders and beers. Or they can be made into dishes which can then be kept by freezing.
BUY SECONDHAND CLOTHES, BOOKS etc FROM CHARITY SHOPS AND ANTIQUE SHOPS because reuse reduces waste for landfill. Also buying secondhand creates no consumer demand, so you can buy Mahogany or Rose Wood without guilt!
BUY PRODUCTS MADE FROM RECYCLED MATERIALS this can be anything from fleeces to pens and paper.
BUY ETHICAL GIFTS such as sponsoring a hectare of rainforest or fair trade product or something made from hemp.
USE LESS FOSSIL FUELS difficult I know, but generally it means just cutting back on consumerism and private travel. Combine trips to the shops with recycling trips (hint drop off your recycling first!). A good way to decide what you really need to buy or not is to look at things you bought in the last year or 2 and gauge how much use you actually got out of it. Go through your junk regularly and weed out unwanted items to give to charity shops or sell at car boot sales or on the internet. For travel, try to car share or use public transport, even better cycle or walk. Only heat water an hour before you need it, don’t leave your boiler on the thermostat all day, it only takes a little planning! When you have used the hot water you need, if there is any left wash the dishes or put some clothes in the washing machine to use it up rather than go cold. Wear more clothes in cold weather.
Buy electric from renewable sources such as RSPB Energy (see their website).
There are advantages to these approaches, including saving space by removing junk, helping others by giving to charities, saving money by not spending on items and travel, health benefits from walking and cycling and meeting new people by selling things and sharing transport.
ECOTOURISM HOLIDAYS can often help preserve wildlife and help conservation or local communities. Using small private firms rather than big travel agencies will help people who often have small private reserves dependent on them for a living, there are many examples on BSG. Not travelling as many air miles also helps, but if you really want to go far away do so only for longer holidays.
GROW YOUR OWN FOOD USING ORGANIC PERMACULTURE METHODS this means less transport and better land use because yields are far higher (for permaculture, in this country generally 4 times more production per hectare with a lot less input than normal modern intensive non-organic methods), it also means little fossil fuel use because machinery use is minimal. Organic farming does not kill the soil as farming with manufactured chemicals does so this is better for wildlife.
BUY OR TRADE WITH OTHER LOCAL FOOD PRODUCERS you may not grow everything you need, but may have a surplus of the items you do produce, so trade with like-minded locals for other produce.
USE NATIVE GARDEN PLANTS & GARDEN ORGANICALLY this is far better for native wildlife as these are the plants they co-exist with. Growing plants which produce feeding opportunities for native wildlife is far better than buying in artificial feeders with shop bought food.
DO NOT BUY OR USE PRODUCTS PRODUCED BY GM (genetically modified) METHODS. Most GM involves manipulating genes of one species and often mixing them in with another to give properties to the organism that it would never have in nature or through traditional selective breeding. This is bad because we have no idea what the long term consequences are of doing this, but we already know that these altered organisms and their offspring can contaminate non-GM organisms and wild organisms. In North America where GM is widely grown, this is not only devastating for wildlife, particularly plants, but it has virtually wiped out organic farming, because farmers cannot get certification in order to sell their organic produce.
This is frightening and for once Brussels and the EU are to be praised for not allowing GM to be grown in Europe (except as trail plots). There is however no ban on GM in foodstuffs imported to Europe, and it can be very difficult to avoid it. Perhaps the most ubiquitous GM food stuff is Soya lecithin from GM Soya. Just about all Soy is GM and so anything containing it has GM in it and labelling may not be easy to find. Soy lecithin is used in everything. Even certified organic products under EU rules can use GM Soya Lecithin, because they can use 5% non-organic in their organic certified foods.
Not all GM is bad though as we will see next.
USE HEMP PAPER AND PRODUCTS industrial hemp is hemp varieties naturally low in narcotics or hemp that has had the narcotic element genetically removed, either by breeding or GM manipulation (this genetically modification is ok, it only removes something, it does not introduce some genetic material from a totally different species into another species) so this industrial hemp is good for the tens of thousands of uses as the natural stuff but useless for getting high! Perhaps the greatest contribution hemp can make to a green planet is through its use as paper and cloth. It produces 4 times as much paper pulp as wood and “an area the size of the UK would easily meet all the USA paper needs forever and produce much better quality paper without any polluting bleaching processes”. Unlike tree paper, hemp being one of the world’s strongest natural fibres (second after silk) can be recycled hundreds of times without losing any fibre quality. It can be grown just about anywhere and needs little water and gives 3 to 6 crops a year (depending on climate) and needs no fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. For clothing it is much stronger and longer lasting and as comfortable as cotton but does not need the huge amount of chemicals that cotton requires. Even more amazing is the fact that for humans hemp is the most balanced naturally occurring food there is, it has everything the human body requires (the only naturally occurring food which does), it is a very healthy and nutritious food, and has half as much protein as Soya with a nutty taste. It is widely eaten in many parts of the world and is also used as an excellent alternative high protein livestock feed for livestock.
Look at FACTS OF THE WORLD’S MOST USEFUL PLANT here on BSG for its full potential. Unfortunately products from hemp are expensive because the stigma attached with the plant means few of the products are mass produced, hopefully this will change with more awareness.
USE ETHICAL BUILDING MATERIALS this means recycled or buying low impact new materials, you will find nearly all you need here, Ethical Junction: Ethical building suppliers except CO2 absorbing concrete which you can read about here CO2 absorbing concrete and can buy here CO2 absorbing concrete suppliers. Also remember old concrete can be re-used either in chunks, when rebuilding a fence say just throw concrete lumps back in the hole with the new cement or use as a base for any concrete structure. When crushed at an aggregates recycling depot the aggregates can be used for all manner of things.
BUY AN EBOOK READER so you do not need to buy or carry paper books, when you buy certain makes over 4 million books are available online free, so you must be able to find something you like.
USE PRODUCTS NOT TESTED ON ANIMALS this means cosmetics and toiletries etc try the Body Shop instead.
INSTALL SOLAR HOT WATER HEATING PANELS yes they are initially expensive but will pay back in full in a few years, for a large family more quickly, and with government grants are better value than ever. In summer, they can provide all your hot water needs and in winter should still easily provide half to three-quarters of your hot water for free. They are maintenance free (just a clean every year), can be installed in a day and last a long time. China is the world's leader on renewable fuels mainly because most households have (low quality but larger area) solar hot water heater, saving the equivalent of 40 nuclear power stations output. China-solar-hot-water-capacity
USE FAIR TRADE PRODUCTS these guarantee a liveable wage for third world production and often include environmental safeguards in production.
GOOSHING The Good Shopping Guide’s ethical search tool
USE MEAT PRODUCED TO ORGANIC/GOOD WELFARE STANDARDS also eating less meat overall means more primary source food can be used for humans, although much meat production takes place on land unsuitable for arable production such as sheep farming on Britain’s uplands. Buy meat that is fed on locally produced feed stocks and not imported high protein feed stocks such as Soy. High protein food stocks can be grown in temperate climates and sugar beet pellets are a good example as they can use a waste product. The EU surplus sugar beet is first used to produce BIOFUELS (which only removes carbohydrates) and the waste high protein pulp used for animal feeds.
USE FOREST STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL (FSC) APPROVED WOOD although some of the production methods approved by the Council have been shown to be misguided it is overall a worthwhile scheme which generally ensures wood or charcoal comes from well managed forests.
DO NOT USE PALM OIL other cooking oils are available, palm oil is only cheaper because it is produced in third world tropical countries, unfortunately it grows best in the climate where tropical rainforests once grew. Less biodiversity is lost by using cooking oil produced in temperate climates, such as sunflower oil. It is hard to avoid palm oil as it is often not listed as an ingredient in many products, such as all the leading washing machine powders and is often listed as just vegetable oil in others. To avoid it buy certified ethical products or if unavoidable make sure it is supplied from a certified sustainable source.
BUY A WOOD BURNING STOVE they are carbon neutral and can burn native fast growing wood such as Birch, Willow and Pine and waste wood from anything. Also cardboard which many recycling places do not want can be used to light the wood.
DON’T BUY OR USE PEAT not only does it destroy valuable wildlife habitat, it also releases huge amounts of CO2. You do not need to use it either, there are now so many good peat free, ethical alternatives, and anyway how much do you need that extra centimetre on your pumpkin or extra flower on your rose...enough to not bother about some foreign wilderness being destroyed? Try New Horizon. And last but not least
HAVE AN ETHICAL BURIAL using a cardboard coffin or having a tree planted or both.