Category Archives: Sustainable living

Hot trends 2012 : Eco lazy

Savvy environmentalists have never had it easier. From washing less to shopping local (or not shopping at all), there are more opportunities than ever for consumers to display their green credentials while barely lifting a finger.

Check out some manifestations of the eco-lazy phenomenon:

The great unwashed

Melbourne Uni researcher Tulia Jack ran an experiment with a group of everyday people last year to prove we don’t need to wash our clothes as often as we do. The control group of 30 commited to not washing their jeans for three months.  Results have just been released showing half wanted to continue wearing and not washing the jeans, while nobody suffered any negative social impacts.

A recently produced calculator tells you whether you’re environmentally under or overweight when it comes to your clothing. It not only factors in purchases but also how often you wash and iron them.

 Slacktastic

Why go to the effort of scouring packed shopping malls for a new outfit when you can hang out at home? Buy nothing new October manages to make doing nothing an exercise in consciousness.

Shoptivism

Small Business Saturday was held in the US last August to boost the local economy and create jobs. Nearly 3 million people liked the Facebook page and 10,000 people committed to shopping small in 2012.

In a global economy where the exploitation of third-world labor is becoming the norm rather than the exception, the stories behind the shop are becoming more important than ever. Businesses like The Social Studio in Collingwood are gathering customers by training young refugees in fashion design and using eco-friendly materials.

Squatting Supermarkets in Italy created an art installation/activism where iphone apps displayed the eco-credentials of each product as well as sounds, images and voices creating a relationship with the producers. There are also plenty of apps you can download to make sure your purchases have a positive impact.

And of course there’s Carrotmob, influencing positive change by going to the shops and buying stuff as a group.

So forget about the compost bin, the solar panels and the donations to charity as we show you how to be eco-friendly the eco-lazy way this year.

Advertisements

Using pester power for good not evil this Christmas

Like every little girl in the ‘80s I really wanted a Cabbage Patch Kid as a child. I never got one – a cheap knockoff called a cauliflower kid was the closest I ever got.

My parents seemed immune to ‘pester power’ until we all got a bit older. A few years ago my sister decided we should have a completely fair trade Easter. To start with it was just the easter eggs the kids handed out that were fair trade. But eventually even my parents got on board (although I’m still waiting for the year when my mum doesn’t feel the need to mention how much more expensive it is).

Research from Victoria University that came out a couple of months ago suggests that my family’s experience is pretty average. In a survey of 400 Melbourne families Victoria University researcher Dr Torgeir Watne found parents accepted their children as experts in sustainability and would choose products such as organic food, chemical-free cleaning products and energy-saving light bulbs based on their opinion.

“When the family perceived the child to be knowledgeable, parents were happy to cede decision-making power on the subject to their children, in a similar way to how parents often take their children’s advice on technology,” Dr Watne said.

Carrotmob is taking a break over January for some lazy beach times but we have some plans cooking for a bigger and better new year.

In the meantime we’ll be purchasing plenty of local, fair trade, sustainably-made goodies for our loved ones. And if the research is anything to go by, we’ll be receiving some too.

Why I can’t leave my hairdresser – a story about real sustainability and customer service

I’ve gone to the same hairdresser since I was born. You may be wondering what this has to do with Carrotmob or thinking I don’t get out much. While I did grow up in the one place, since I was 18 I’ve managed to juggle overseas travel and moving house with trips to the hairdresser.

For the last few years I’ve lived about an hour away from Paul and his salon. Just last week a friend gave me a recommendation for his hairdresser down the road that I ignored. Even Mel, who colours my hair, asked me last time I was there if I’d ever tried a city salon. Apparently other people have come back, turned off by the city prices. And while I was raised to be a penny pincher, that’s not the reason I haven’t left.

It’s all about relationships

When my mum had cancer Paul came over to her house and cried with her while he shaved her head. He then cut a wig to match her old haircut and refused to take any money. He gives a makeover every year to a year six kid at the local primary school who needs a self-esteem boost.  There are countless stories of his generosity. But even that isn’t all of the reason why I go back.

Maybe I could find a hairdresser who switches from politics to reality TV to inappropriate comments about his, mine and other peoples’ love lives in the blink of an eye. Maybe he could even give me a decent haircut. But he wouldn’t know that even though I was adamant I wanted a spiky fringe in primary school, I cried as soon as I saw it. They don’t know the mate I travelled around Eastern Europe with and they didn’t watch my sister walk down the aisle (and do the hair of both of them, of course).

Paul and his hairdressing salon are entwined in my life like a vine around the trunk of a tree. You could cut it away but the view would be a lot less interesting.

It’s about small business as well as the environment

So here’s to small businesses like It’s Individual. The places that make Melbourne and its suburbs unique. Carrotmob is about looking after the environment . But it’s also about supporting our small businesses. After all, Melbourne is the place where we’ve protested the arrival of McDonalds and Starbucks. It makes sense that we’d also want to support our locals.

If you have your own favourite small business we’d love to hear about it.

* This post is dedicated to Sean who asked me why we were investing time to support profit-making businesses. Sean remortgaged his house to make an amazing documentary called The Thin Green Line about African park rangers who risk their lives to protect the animals in their care. All profits from the documentary and foundation help equip these rangers and support the families of rangers who have been killed by poachers while on duty. Another good cause worth supporting.

Is collaborative consumption really good for the environment?

You can’t scratch your nose these days without accidently reading something about collaborative consumption.

ÁBC Environment suggested last week the trend towards renting or borrowing rather than buying may actually be driving us to consume more, making gas-guzzling boats and high-end labels achievable whatever your budget.

As someone who had a panic attack over buying a fridge after years of share house living, I’m probably not the person to wonder whether collaborative consumption can get out of control.

But I do know it’s a very middle-class thing to feel more evolved because you value experiences over stuff. And it’s an interesting question – who’s really making the least impact on the environment? Someone like me, who doesn’t own very much but travels a lot, eats out and ‘does things’. Or someone like my sister who has a big suburban house full of gadgets and furniture but stays at home?

I don’t have the answers. But I do think what’s more important than collaborative consumption is conscious consumption. People like to give things labels these days and spot trends but really it’s the stuff your mum or your grandma asked back in the day. Do you really need it? Is it made well and will it last? Can you borrow it from someone else rather than buying it? And the more modern day question – does my purchase impact on less fortunate people?

Now the weather’s a bit warmer, we’re aiming to have our next mob at a restaurant. It’s a way to make your lifestyle a little more sustainable even if you’re not a shopaholic. And it’s really another form of collaborative consumption – consumers collaborating together to influence positive change.

 

Can you be an environmentalist without being a hipster?

Last week I got accused of being a hipster. Apparently knitting is a sure sign of the hipster (possibly if I was actually a hipster I would have already known this).  So I started to run through the list of hipster cliches and a lot of them were things environmentally conscious people would do too. It used to be that you were labelled a hippie if you cared about the environment but now the big question seems to be can you be a greenie without being a hipster?

Are you a greenie or a hipster?After a bit of analysis, environmentalism seems to be a gateway into the hipster lifestyle. If you think one of your friends might be crossing the line from recreational environmentalism into hardcore hipster behaviour, here are some warning signs to look out for:

Op shopping

If you like your clothes second hand, you’re an environmentalist. If you call them vintage, you’re a hipster for sure.

Music preferences

If you’re buying vinyl you’re a hipster. There’s nothing environmentally friendly about pressing vinyl when you could just be downloading an mp3. If it’s second-hand vinyl you could claim to be both an environmentalist and a hipster.

Reading literature

Reading your Hemingway and Sartre on a tablet? You’re a hipster. Surprised? Slap on the wrist to early adopters everywhere. Endless consumption of the latest gadget, not environmentally friendly, no matter what spin Apple puts on it. Still borrowing from the library? Environmentalist. Of course in five years time reading paperback books will be retro, tablets will be mainstream and this will switch (see music preferences above).

Takeaway coffee preferences

If you use a KeepCup you’re an environmentalist. You also clearly drink lattes, cappuchinos, flat whites or some other milk tainted abomination.  If you drink espresso you can shot down your single origin while chatting with your barista. No need for a KeepCup for the hipster.

Bike riding

If you commute to work on a bike and get changed once you’re there, you’re an environmentalist. If you ride a fixie and wear a skate helmut, there’s no way to avoid your hipster status. Only an inner urban dweller would buy a bike that forces you to pedal non-stop. The possible exception to this is if you also have a coffee cup holder attached to your bike (see takeaway coffee preferences above).

Recycling

If you compost and recycle, you’re an environmentalist. If you upcycle, you guessed it, hipster.

Food shopping

If you get your food at a regular market you’re an environmentalist. If you buy your food at a farmer’s market, you’re bound to be a hipster. If you buy your food at CERES, you’re so much of a hipster, you’re probably on one of those websites that posts photos of hipsters.

Food preferences

If you’re a vegetarian or a vegan you’re an environmentalist. If you’re an ecotarian/locavore or some other made-up term you’re definitely a hipster. What could be more hipster than making a political statement about your food without actually giving up any of your foodie favourites like slow cooked lamb tagines?

So Carrotmob readers, are you an environmentalist or a hipster? In this time of national Census, please share your status and help us with this important demographic profiling of our target market.

Forget the carbon tax – reward the top polluters the Carrotmob way

It’s been hard to avoid the carbon tax over the past week. I’ve talked to people who support it and people who don’t. But I haven’t talked to anyone yet who thinks we should be doing nothing.

The big argument seems to be people still aren’t sure if what is being done is going to help. Clearly there are still people out there who don’t believe in climate change or sustainable living. But if you’re interested in Carrotmob I’m going to assume you’re not a sceptic.

In the whole climate change debate you do often hear the argument households switching off a light doesn’t make much difference. So by the same token it follows that big business can mean big change. The top 500 polluters the carbon tax is targeting haven’t been officially announced. But as Annabel Crabb pointed out on The Drum it’s pretty easy to figure out who’s likely to be included by looking at the latest emissions report.

The obvious top polluters are power generators. But there are also plenty of businesses you would buy from or do business with that made it onto the list for having 87.5  kilotonnes or more of greenhouse gas emissions—:

  • ALDI
  • Bega Cheese
  • Cadbury
  • Coca-Cola
  • David Jones
  • Harvey Norman
  • Heinz
  • IBM
  • Fairfax (The Age)
  • Fosters
  • Lion Nathan Foods (Berri, Dairy Farmers, COON, PURA, Tooheys, James Boag)
  • Mars
  • McDonalds
  • McCains
  • Murray-Goulburn
  • Myers
  • National Australia Bank
  • Nestle
  • News Australia Holdings (The Herald-Sun, MX, The Australian)
  • Woolworths (Safeway)
  • Wesfarmers (Bunnings)
  • Westpac

As consumers we need to keep asking, what are you going to do about it? How are you diminishing your impact on the environment?

Carrotmob tends to focus on helping small businesses. It aims to show business and government that people will choose to spend their dollars on sustainable business rather than just the cheapest product. But it doesn’t hurt to use the same principles for the high polluters too. Reward the ones like Linfox who have supported finding ways to move to a cleaner future and have already cut their carbon emissions by 28%. And be wary of the ones who spend their dollars on slick advertising campaigns to convince us they’re sustainable when they could be spending it on research. It shows we do want a sustainable future and we’re willing to pay for it.

Of course Linfox is a supply chain solutions group for business so it’s kind of hard to support them as a consumer. So Carrotmob is throwing the challenge out – any corporations on the list above want to pledge some environmental improvements in return for some consumer love?

Nazis, celebrity chefs and radishes: why heirloom food could stop famine and make fortunes

When’s the last time you saw more than one variety of radish at the supermarket? The number of radish varieties in the world has shrunk from 463 to just 27 in 80 years. And it’s not just the radish gene pool that’s slowly shrinking – fruit, vegetables, even animals are becoming less diverse. But why should we care?

Fear of global food shortages

According to a recent National Geographic article by Charles Siebert biodiversity is important for two reasons:

  • it has the potential to increase yield and
  • to reduce the risk of crops being wiped out by disease.

State-owned companies in China and the Middle East have been buying up swathes of land in Australia to safeguard their future food supply so the threat of worldwide food shortages is already becoming an issue for Australians. And Siebert says 90% of the world’s wheat is currently susceptible to a strain of stem rust fungus known as Ug99. According to Siebert stem rust is the same fungus that wiped out the potatoes in Ireland and led to the potato famine that killed and displaced millions, due to Ireland’s over reliance on one food source.

The positives of biodiversity

Of course in the developed world there’s a third reason why biodiversity is important. It tastes better. Known as heirloom varieties, many local gardeners are growing heirloom plants and storing their seeds in seed banks to look after obscure varieties. It’s also a way of preserving the family history with some gardeners keeping seeds which have been passed down from migrant ancestors.

The history of seeds and seed banks can often be fascinating. According to Siebert the story of the first seed bank plays out like a Spielberg movie. The Russian creator scoured the world for seeds before dying of starvation in a Stalin prison camp. At the same time Hitler planned an attack on the seed bank but a band of supporters whisked a selection of seeds to safety, several dying of starvation while protecting the food source of future generations.

A cash cow for the future

It’s no wonder that heirloom food is capturing the imagination of cashed-up foodies. It works on similar themes as the local food movement. London chef Oliver Rowe recently had a successful restaurant (and TV series of course) sourcing all the ingredients for his menu within access of the London Underground.

Yet a Google search on cafes specialising in heirloom ingredients came up with zero results worldwide. It’s a great idea for our next set of Carrotmob businesses. If I was wanting to open a café I’d be keeping my mouth shut and writing a business plan. Given the appetite for sustainable food with a story at the moment, setting up an heirloom café sounds like a winner to me.

The crowd comes to farming

A crowd, a business, voting and raising awareness of sustainability.  No, it’s not Carrotmob, it’s MyFarm.

The UK’s National Trust has just started MyFarm, turning over it’s 2500 acre farm in Cambridgeshire to the online mob.  For just 30 pounds a year each online ‘farmer’ gets to discuss farm issues and vote once a month on the farm’s major decisions.

Decision making will include:

  •  crops being grown
  • livestock being bred
  •  wider issues around the farm’s interaction with the environment

Farm manager Richard Morris will help the farmers make decisions by providing the choices which are being voted on as well as sharing his knowledge through the forum, blogs and videos. The aim is to help people reconnect with farming and learn more about how food is produced.

The farmers have already decided to grow wheat. As Richard has warned “a good decision but not going to be easy with the weather we’re predicted.” The next decision is which sheep should get breed.

Back here at Carrotmob Melbourne we’re still making decisions about our own megamob at Fed Square but a recent one has been not to hold it until the weather gets a little warmer.

So if you’re looking for a way to be part of the sustainability crowd in winter, but like the idea of doing it from the comfort of your cozy home, maybe you can give online farming a go.

Is local shopping the answer to happiness?

Everything is amazing and no one is happy. It’s the catchphrase of the first world. According to Helena Norberg-Hodge the answer is simple: shop local.

Norberg-Hodge presented her documentary The Economics of Happiness at Melbourne Uni in conjunction with the Australian Conservation Foundation last week. The doco serves up localisation as a way to improve the environment, increase a sense of community and improve local economies. It’s the same concepts Carrotmob is built on so I thought I’d go along and check it out.

A sense of community
The idea for The Economics of Happiness began in the small villages of  the Ladakh region of the  Himalayas where Norberg-Hodge spent many years as linguist. She noticed how connected village life was and how content the people were – plenty of leisure time, the basic necessities, time with friends and family. As globalisation impacted on their lives, the contentment was eroded and envy set in as they saw everything they were missing out on.

Back in the first world, when shopping in local stores and markets the number of conversations shoppers have increase. Everyone gets that it’s a nicer experience to shop locally rather than at Coles and Safeway. But it’s also less convenient and more expensive.

A reality show aired on the ABC recently on shopping through the ages. It fast-tracked decades of change on a British high street. Customer after customer talked about how they loved the sense of community in the high street but when prices were deregulated shoppers went for cheaper prices and convenience. Specialty shops closed down and supermarkets took their place. The ‘chamber of commerce’ on the show blamed consumers for buying cheaper and more convenient but it didn’t look at what policies could be put in place to encourage more local shopping.

Norberg-Hodge’s message is “start with local food…it should be up to society to set the rules for business and not the other way around.” She’s right. But the reality is business works on what the market wants. And at the moment we tell business we want fast and cheap. And economies of scale mean cheap only gets provided when a business is big (global).

Local business, local dollars
For $100 spent in a bookstore, $45 stays in the local community with the local bookstore compared to only $13 in the chain. Norberg-Hodge says government  should  have  regulation, tax and subsidies that encourage small, sustainable business rather than pouring subsidies into big business.  San Francisco has legislated that all government institutions get their food from local sources. This means schools and hospitals are benefiting their local community, not only socially but also economically.

Environmental and cultural savings
In the US and the UK products like coffee are imported and exported in almost exactly the same quantities. When you look at it like that the wasted fuel and resources really makes no sense. And again, Norberg-Hodge says concerns that third world countries won’t survive without first world trade don’t stack up.

Interviewed in the documentary, Vandana Shiva said 15 years of study in India showed small biodiverse farms produced three to five times more food than larger industrial monoculture farms set up for exporting. Shiva is the founder of Navdanya International which aims to provide alternatives to the global food system. She also says smaller farms produce more jobs for locals.

Local = happy?
So is localisation the answer to global happiness? Village life might be connected but it’s also hard. I don’t think we’ll ever stop people from striving for a better life and I don’t even think we should. My dad grew up on an orchard. And I grew up with stories from him of my grandpa pacing up and down during every hailstorm, muttering “We’ll be ruined, we’ll be ruined.” Wherever you are, life on the land is hard and there’s no getting around that.

There are also plenty of young people in the first world who grew up in ‘connected villages’ who have been happier ever since they left. But neither of these thing take away from the premise that localisation is better for the environment, the local economy and could assist with alleviating third world poverty.

It’s up to you and your government
The take away for me was, we all need to start making bigger picture choices around where we spend our money. Fair trade is good but local is better. But even that’s not enough. Regulation does impact on consumer choice as the shopping reality show highlighted. It doesn’t even need to cost us if taxes go hand-in-hand with tax cuts. The Australian Conservation Foundation Better Than Growth report gives plenty of examples such as “By reducing pension taxes while increasing fuel taxes, Germany reduced greenhouse pollution by 2.6% while increasing employment by 0.5%.”

And on the eve of the federal budget announcement it made me think about the carbon tax.  Even though there still isn’t any detail (and I am not a scientist or an economist) my research tells me penalising bad environmental practice (while providing tax breaks or incentives in other areas) forces change. Business goes where the easiest profit is and government has a part to play in making the easiest profit a sustainable one. Unless you set consequences, people don’t change their behaviour. You see it in schools, in jails and in workplaces. And what is business but a collection of people whose core purpose is to make a profit.

And if your consumer choice is Carrotmob we’re working really hard to set a date at Fed Square soon.

Happy Easter from Carrotmob

We’ve just been discussing whether Easter egg foil is recyclable at my Easter lunch. Our research says it is. We also liked the tip we found to make it into a ball of foil. Ours is currently the size of a golf ball but could be more like a basketball by the end of the day. Happy Easter from carrotmob.