Friday, December 14, 2012

No Impact Week - Day 6: Giving back

I've been putting off writing about day 6...

The No Impact Project has a list of registered partners you can volunteer with in the States, and probably other places in the world. It is with zero pride that I say that we didn't manage to complete this part of the project. We tried to Google some places to volunteer but one-day opportunities were not plentiful...and I wasn't even sure what to Google. I hope to find a solution for this before we do the second segment of NIW in the Spring.

In the meantime, I had written to a company to complain about some pretty new shoes I'd bought which were already falling apart. They wrote me back and offered to send me a new pair for winter. I struggled with the idea because a) they would be new and b) it was still no impact week even if I'd receive them after. I finally reasoned that if I didn't get this pair, I'd have to get another pair eventually and the chances of me finding a pair of really great shoes second-hand was slim to none...and I'd still have to pay for them.
I guess there are still some solutions I do not see possible, like only buying shoes second-hand since the shoes mold to your feet after awhile and if you're not the first to wear them, they mold to someone else's feet.

I do, however, plan on buying more high quality shoes (though the tough part is figuring out the quality ahead of time since price isn't the best indicator anymore... as was the case this time) and having them fixed. I think we should support our local shoemakers since they have a unique type of knowledge that is worth having around. And when you buy shoes, when you can, buy for life. Obviously this is a lot easier to do with a pair of boots rather than running shoes but it's a good concept to think about and research. If you know companies like this, please let me know!

So no, today's post may not be inspirational but at least it's realistic. Sometimes things don't work out the way you intent and you can draw lessons from them, share ideas with others and see what comes up. Please feel free to leave comments and suggestions for what you would've done!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

No Impact Week - Day 5: Energy

Thursday was no/lower energy day so we figured we should reduce the use of appliances and lights around the apartment. In addition, we turned the heat slightly down from chilly to what felt like none existent. (not completely off so the pipes wouldn't freeze but the heaters were cold so I'm not sure that made any difference.)

Oh yeah, and at some point, this happened...

This is pretty much what we did step-by-step:
1. Make a list of all appliances and lights and anything that uses electricity, whether re-chargeable batteries or plugs, etc.
2. Look at list.
3. Unplug everything possible. (including TVs, radios, stereos, whatever you have! We put these on a powerstrip and turned the whole thing off. Also, your wifi router - not on the power strip - can be unplugged when you leave the house.) We didn't have THAT much stuff but it was nice to try to make some new habits. For example, I always unplug the coffee machine and toaster but I'd never thought to unplug the microwave before.
4. Figure what we could cut down on...and then forget about list.

Basically, we didn't enforce anything super strictly, but we only used what we needed. Tried to open the fridge and freezer less (by putting everything in a pile beside the fridge before loading it in) though this didn't always work. The temperature outside wasn't quite low enough to empty the freezer but it might be later on.

One thing I found really challenging was not using kitchen appliances as much. Since we were relying on mostly unpackaged, unprepared foods, they needed quite a lot of cooking (ie. beans: 12 hours of soaking, 2 hours of boiling - who knew!?) This brought up interesting questions for whether these would just be easier to purchase packaged and pre-cooked so as to save the energy used cooking them since they're probably done more efficiently en masse. The guide recommended eating raw foods but since we'd planned the menu at the beginning of the week, we didn't really have this option. Though I'm wondering, what raw foods produced locally could have served as a meal? Any thoughts?

That evening we tried to keep the lights off as much as possible. Although it felt like we'd missed the point since we were sitting in the dark on our computers, we still played hide and seek! (oh yeah, I kid you not :) ) and some board games (though we had to turn the light on at some point because we couldn't see the board clearly by candlelight.)

Which brings me to my last and final point, candles. I had candles burning all day long pretty much, but not the good kind. From what I understand, only beeswax and soy candles are good, whereas all other candles have some kind of plastic content and are burning different toxins into your air. I was just trying to get rid of the candles I already have instead of chucking them, but honestly, I'm not sure that's a good idea even. Any thoughts on this?

Saturday, December 1, 2012

No Impact Week - Day 4: Food

Wednesday was food day! The instructions asked us to note down where we'd be eating and to figure out whether the food was locally sourced or came from further away. Since we'd already bought most of the food for the week though, this information came a bit late (I'd read over the manual but it's 17 pages so some details slipped through the cracks.)

We decided that since sticking to none packaged, in-season foods, this was a worthy effort. Also, the within 200 miles rule would work great in places with lots of seasonal variety, like New York or the San Francisco Bay Area but much harder to stick to in Finland. What grows within 200 (320km) of here? That's why if we'd do it right next time, we'd probably decide that whatever comes from Europe (not necessarily the EU's definition but actual Europe, would be legit.)

Otherwise, it wasn't hard not to buy anything, not to create any waste, not to drive anywhere (since we don't have a car)...but it also felt like somehow I wasn't trying hard enough either. I've been doing a fair bit of reading about perceptions and social pressures for my thesis and it seems that once you put something out there (ie. I AM DOING NO IMPACT WEEK) you're more likely to stick to it since you blabbed to all your friends that that's what you're doing. So in a way you start to feel dishonest if you're not putting your best effort in. But as I said in my last video, the difference between taking and bus and riding my bike, didn't really feel like it'd make a difference in impact (since you save so much time by jumping on whatever bus comes by, but that bus is running because of demand and it is burning fuel... but it'd still be running anyway since that's better than all the people on it driving cars instead.)

SO - any thoughts on that? It took me awhile to bring this up because I don't feel great about it (and other shortcomings over the week) but didn't want to make it seem like I was doing everything perfectly and effortlessly.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

No Impact Week - Day 3: Transport

Mostly a review of no waste day, with a quick note about transportation:

I should also clarify that we didn't buy everything at the market, as I forgot to mention in the video since I was too busy babbling, but rather went to the Punnitse ja säästä (Finnish Bulk Barn) first, then the market place then the grocery store. The only packaged item we bought was a small can of tomato paste (it was 25 cents, the really small ones). We found that the market only have quite small sized vegetables (albeit organic) but they were also quite expensive. This was alright for a few ingredients, but I decided it was worthwhile to get some stuff at the grocery store as well for a bit of a compromise. Also, when dealing with tiny root vegetables, even if organic, the smaller they are, the more annoying they are to peel!

We also used some ingredients in our cooking that we've had for ages, such as spices, and others which 'turnover' regularly but still have some packaging, like butter, ketchup, mustard, olive oil.

Today we also bought dishwashing tablets since we'd run out. I tried googling home-made solutions on my phone (however last-minute). I think this didn't work for two big reasons:
- the sources I access most easily are in English, and thus contain ingredients easily found in Canada or the States, such as Borax. I tried searching in Finnish (after we'd already gotten home with the box of detergent) and it seemed there was some confusion among Finns who had read similar solutions and were trying to find equivalents in Finland. All in all, my search led me nowhere.
- until Juha pointed out that we ran out of dishwashing tablets/powder, I was entirely oblivious. This also meant that I had very little time to prepare a search on viable options. The unexpected is not the friend of the best-intentioned consumer as change in patterns seem most challenging when time is lacking, and we often find this too difficult to overcome and instead retreat to old habits. (or at least that's my spin after reading 32748923748394 articles related to my thesis =/)

Monday, November 26, 2012

No Impact Week - Day 2: waste (morning video)

On a sleepy Monday morning, I thought the way to get the day started was to try something a little different: a video blog to keep track of the progress so far.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

No Impact Week - Day 1: Consumption

Today is the first day of No Impact Week in our house!

I thought it might be a great way to get back into blogging, but also to keep a record of the week's findings to have for learning and sharing purposes.

The No Impact Experiment is a week (8 days to be precise) during which you change your habits to live more sustainably and see what you can change on a long-term basis, what you can't and why. For more info about the week or how to participate in your own, check out The idea is that it just might make you happier.

Or click here:

Day 1: consumption

The first day focuses on consumption and is rather fitting for the time of year, especially with Black Friday having just passed.

Already, I have to make a confession. Juha and I have both been looking for winter coats for what seems to be an endless amount of time (about 3 visits to Stockmann over a couple of weeks). Due to a 20% off sale this weekend, we put a coat on layaway Friday and went back to pick it up today (we only later realized that it would be purchased on no-consumption day, go figure.) Since we tend to buy relatively little, and keep our coats for years (his old one was 8 years old, mine is about 6) we figured the purchase was justifiable and there was no point going back a week later and getting it at full price just for the sake of the experiment. It was in no way an impulse buy. For some of the other items on my list, such as a lighter backpack (mine seems to weight a ton when empty!) I'll be checking out some second-hand places around Helsinki to see if there are any viable options.

But before my ramble confession, this is what happened:

I started off the day by reading the newspaper online and catching up with what's going on in Canada. To my delight, had an entire "hot topic" dedicated to Black Friday. Since the green community has spent the last week buzzing about Black Friday, and its counterpart "Buy Nothing Day", I expected the Star would have some thoughts on the topic, regardless of their opinions. But I was sorely disappointed when clicking on the topic, several articles opened up:

- Canadian retailers fight back against Black Friday deals
- Canada’s Black Friday: Internet provides hassle-free bargain hunting, if you know where to look
- Canada’s Black Friday: Holiday shopping levels off, as online takes off
- Photos: Cool holiday gift ideas
- Black Friday shopping? Only on impulse, thanks!
- Black Friday shopping: Personally, I prefer to do some homework

So with a bit of hesitation, I decide to give the last article a try. Maybe it has something on sensible consumption and how to find more stuff second-hand, buy less overall, etc. (You can read the article here, but no need to waste your time.) Basically the author is against impulse buying, and compares her friend's impulse buy of a Mercedes Bens, with the complexity she faced when buying a horse... is this journalism?

In any case, one thought-provoking item in the news was the appearance of Black-Friday in the headlines, alongside a very brief article about yet another garment factory fire in Bangladesh killing at least 112 people (these happen quite often and always seem to leave dozens of people dead).

The two do not directly relate; I will admit to that. Regardless, I do feel that we owe some thought to the victims who slave away to make us an endless assortment of clothing and were tragically killed in the process. I am not trying to guilt anyone about this, just to bring some thought about where our clothes come from.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Dyes, Colours and Spring!

It's been awhile since my last post but those of you who know me know that I have not abandoned green endevours.

I recently came across this video posted by a high school friend of mine on Facebook (Thank you @Kali Carys for posting!) and I thought it would be a great way to ease back into blogging. Click here for the video: DIY dyes from your kitchen & garden: magic of living colo(u)r.

It doesn't have all the details you might need for actually dying your own fabrics but it's a great source of inspiration to get you thinking about dyes and natural colours in a different way.

This peaked my interest because I took part in organizing and chairing a panel discussion about Corporate Social Responsibility in the textile industry back in December 2011. We invited panelists from the industry, from the academic community, from the consumer association of Finland, etc. After turning over all the metaphorical rocks there were to be turned on the issue, paniking about all the environmental and human rights issues, as well as other externalities, I wonder if any of the class' participants felt that the panel had really answered their questions or calmed their fears. I, for one, felt more overwhelmed than ever, albeit grateful for the chance to learn more about the indutry and perhaps conduct some of my own research.

One of the most memorable questions I remember asking the panelists, and which was answered by the representative of the textile and fashion industry went a little something like this:
"Generally speaking, the textile industry is chemically intensive. The chemicals are used in the process of dyeing fabrics, printing and finishing the clothes, which pollutes bodies of water around the factories. The latest Greenpeace report states that as much as 70% of the rivers, lakes and reservoirs in China are affected by water pollution and hormone disrupting chemicals were found, discharged from factories and which can be hazardous at low levels. One devastating effect of these chemicals can be that they accumulate up in the food chain.

This may sound like a naïve question but is there a possibility to remove all the hazardous chemicals from the production?
Can you comment on how H&M plans to remove 80% or all of chemicals by 2020?"

Funny enough, I don't recall an answer to the question but just the beginning of the answer: "Practically speaking, the clothing industry is a chemical industry..."

Granted, I was standing on a stage trying to listen and plan how the next question would go but for me to remember exactly what was said, I would have to watch the video. Overall, and as you can probably tell by my memory, the answer was disheartening and not necessarily what I had wished to hear. That being said, and if you've already watched the video above, you might be smiling because I did eventually get an answer to the question. Yes it is possible and yes, some companies are doing it! Not just in less damaging way, by not dumping the waste straight into rivers and dying light colours first then adding darker colours to the same water but instead by just using plants and natural dyes.

In any case, I was exciting to have found such an informative and inspiring video. Not necessarily because I'm going to start dying my own clothes in the 4m2 bathroom of my apartment building (well why not!?) but because it gives you an appreciation for people who are doing it and who are sharing their passion through their own businesses. If anything, I get the feeling that if we all play a small role in conserving the world's natural resources and helping one another do it, we'd start to feel more interconnected than ever before.

For more about the label mentioned in the video, check out Adie+George.