Travel – Everyday life - Repeat: Living Green at Home and Elsewhere

Updated: August 2021.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report is 'code red for humanity.' I asked myself years and years ago what can be done? What can I do? It is an ongoing process - one thing I know for sure. I should not keep on living as if nothing is happening. Everybody can do their bit. This is the full IPCC report.

I understand that by myself I can't change the situation. But ignoring the situation is no option for me. The latest IPCC report is just another wake-up call. Instead of sticking my head into the sand, or wait for others to fix the situation, I started to bring on change. It is not overly expensive. Quite the opposite. In most cases, I refrain from buying unnecessary items. After years of living this lifestyle, it feels normal to me to live like this.

Earth Day is every day. These are over 60 things I do to conserve our planet and a friendly world community. It is a work in progress. What I find unusual is that people get annoyed by somebody who cares about stuff. I don't want to feel bad for caring about people, for the environment, for living a green life and for believing in human equality. I’m also obsessed with ethical social media. What is wrong with wanting to live in a fair world? Exactly. Nothing. Inclusiveness matters. When a human gets bullied, bad-mouthed or ignored, I stand up for them. It all goes in the same direction. I do the same for the planet. Nothing less, nothing more.

How do you feel about keyboard activists? Sustaining a green lifestyle means a permanent hunt for the latest info. It never ends. Before I buy something, I research what its impact on the environment and society at large is. I strive to do better, almost enjoying this constant state of imperfection. My ethical and eco-friendly lifestyle is a work in progress. It took me years of investigation, questioning, talks, thought, reflection, adjustments and modifications. It would be deceptive to pretend that it can happen overnight that a home and a life become green. Far from it. It is hard work.

I would go so far as to say it has to be put on the curriculum. Children should be taught about social justice, tolerance, diversity and how this all works in favour of our environment.

The more I read about the importance of biodiversity, the use of pesticides in agriculture, and the impact microplastics have on our organisms and the environment, the less can I ignore the situation we are in. Who am I to disregard scientific facts? I am driven by a happy and positive idealism.

According to the UN, "Climate change is now affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people, communities and countries dearly today and even more tomorrow. People are experiencing the significant impacts of climate change, which include changing weather patterns, rising sea level, and more extreme weather events. The greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are driving climate change and continue to rise. They are now at their highest levels in history."

It is one thing to read about it and another that we can see all of it happening in real-time already. The planet experiences warmer conditions due to human-caused climate change. Look at all the bushfires, hurricanes, and floodings, and the permafrost melting. Wildfires release more carbon into the air, which is not good. More wildfires will become a problem, they mean more carbon release, which results in warming, which means even more wildfires.

Individual action is a great thing. It is also clear that politicians (worldwide and everywhere) need to take action and offer incentives to the ones who won't change otherwise. It is challenging to do better. I made up my mind, it feels easy to change. Many of these things I do make me healthier. How do I live green and responsible while travelling, and how do I live green and responsible at home? Please read on. I am a hypocrite, no doubt about it.

The world in photos. Travelling the world. The Touristin. Dorothee Lefering

Real-life action is so much better than keyboard activism

I seek to connect with people that inspire me to do better. I aspire to encourage others to act. There are many keyboard activists out there on the various social media channels. Using relevant hashtags like #greenlife, #ecofriendly, #sustainable, #savetheplanet, #zerowaste, and/or #plasticfree is all very well. What I cherish even more is when people jump into action and take steps to improve things in real life. We can all wait till somebody somewhere makes us change things. We all know we are in the driver’s seat of our life. That means we can start today and look forward to meeting all the others who join us later. Lead by example. Blaming others never works, it is easy, but it is lame.

I know people say it is too expensive to live a green life. The greener you live the less money you are going to spend. Have you ever thought about how expensive it is to not live a green life? Quality comes at a price. One needs to remember that somebody somewhere pays for the everything cheap. You become more conscious of how you spend, and you start to buy less. Your relationship with goods will change over time. I know there are all the ones out there who will say that what I do is all nonsense, and nothing is ever good enough. They are the same ones who would say people of my sort are dreamers. I keep on envisioning and trying hard to change things regardless.

It is helpful if everyone starts somewhere, it is better than doing nothing at all but complain all the time. If I want to change the world, I must take the first step. I put a lot of time and energy into it. Again, I’m not saying it is easy. What I know for sure is that it is an enjoyable and exhilarating journey. I love to learn about how to do better.

Urbanisation, deforestation, agriculture, and energy use are major issues the environment faces worldwide. Every time I am about to buy more things, I think of everyone and everything big and small. I remember the penguins I saw at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, and I picture the lions I saw in the Kalahari in South Africa. I remember the Koalas sitting high up in the branches of Eucalyptus trees in Australia. I hold myself accountable. Which impact has my purchase on the environment? Which impact has my purchase on other people? Something I ask myself all the time. I changed my thinking.

When I read that a big corporation buys an established certified organic brand, I start searching for other independent and eco-friendly brands. I don’t want to support large companies that harm communities and the environment. Many large retailers now sell their wares as green, in which reality is everything but (green). Research their policies and try to figure out whether you share their values.

I replace products over time. Throwing away stuff I already own doesn't make much sense to me (it is not sustainable to buy new things). I could do so much more to live a green life, and I’m working on it all the time. One of my biggest worries is air travel. I 'flight shame' myself, I'm aware that I fly too often.

Living green and ethical while travelling?

The World needs eco-friendly airlines. Travelling is a lifestyle. It fuels curiosity. It is somewhat destructive for societies worldwide when people stay at home all the time. There will come a time when people will get too preoccupied with themselves. As a result, they might stop caring about the ones around them. In the worst case, people will no longer have an idea who these others are. Some already tend to think small (living on their little island). People who see only themselves. Unable to be empathic, or to accept the perspective of others. To them, it is inconceivable that others who live elsewhere want them being well. They care only about themselves. Some want to build walls, want to speak only their language and want to support only their culture. How dull is that? There is a whole world out there.

Many things I know I learned while travelling. To me, it is outright negligent to stay put in one place. I'm scared of how many populists are being followed blindly by enthusiastic voters. What binds them together is the dream of building new walls and borders. Fear mongers unite. That is all rubbish. The more connected we are in this world, the better we understand each other. The more we know about each other, the more we care about each other's wellbeing. The more we know the more we care about the environment. Even if the oceans, the forests and the rivers are all in far-flung and often exotic locations.

Leaders (some of them) plan to introduce a tax on CO2. Consumers worry about these pending higher taxes. Introducing an aviation tax/carbon-tax, where tourists pay a tax on the pollution they generate, helps. The people who can afford to fly will do so in the future regardless of it. Why can we not change the attitude of passengers and airlines? Would it not make more sense to aim to fly green(er)?

So much energy gets poured into endless talks about CO2 taxes. Politicians should determine that airlines start developing eco-friendly planes. Meanwhile, airlines should plan routes better and stop the servicing national flights. Tourists can take the train. Hard to believe. Some are flying short distances of 550 kilometres between towns.

I dream of an eco-friendly and sustainable airline. Lightweight seats, plastic-free packaging and furniture, organic catering, alternative fuels. Airlines should produce far less CO2. Good things take time. Let’s hope green airlines are going to be a reality rather sooner than later. Of course, many say environmentally friendly airline travel isn’t possible. You remember all the ones who said flying isn’t possible? We know they were wrong.

Support local, at home and everywhere

Starbucks is a big franchise corporation, who now also cooperates with Nestle. Franchises destroy cultural diversity. Small independent coffee shops cannot compete against them. Same goes for the likes of Costa Coffee (owned by Coca Cola), Pret a Manger or Krispy Kreme (owned by JAB Holding). It is all the same boring stuff. All these cafés are run by multinationals. They could not care less about your local neighbourhood. Why would any consumer support a company who sees neighbourhoods as part of their investment portfolio is beyond me. Would it not be lovely to have lots of artisan shops in our town centres? All the ones who buy stuff at a franchise do not care enough about their community, they do not care enough about our environment, they do not care enough about equal opportunities.

I only visit independent coffee shops and restaurants. I seize opportunities and often buy products from them to take home with me. I do this while away on a trip, and also at home. If you buy homemade jam or honey from the region you visited, it is also a good souvenir. It gets me nicely through any occurring travel blues.

What about a green life at your final travel destination?

Mass tourism is a thing. Travelling off-season is a lovely way to take away stress from towns. Museums, galleries, cafes and restaurants are sort of near-empty off-season.

I pack my stuff into a sustainably produced travel-holdall. The company is family-owned and cares about working conditions. They use recycled wares and no PVC.

I buy locally produced wares. I stay at owner-run businesses and try to avoid large hotel chains whenever possible. At hotels and guesthouses, I make sure to bring a reusable water bottle, soap and shampoo bar. I won't use products in plastic bottles provided. I rent the smallest available car.

I make a point of sitting down at a café for coffee, and even if only for a few minutes. It is beautiful to discover a new (old) habit and to sit down at a café. By now, should not every person on the planet have read that we have a problem with generating too much waste? It is foolish carrying a drink in a paper cup while strolling through town. It is old fashioned; it is what people did at the beginning of the new millennium. The excuse that we do not know it any better is obsolete these days.

When I'm at a café and the drink gets served in a cardboard cup, I let the barista know it makes me unhappy. The last time I bought a takeaway coffee in a paper cup was over a year ago. On road-trips I carry a reusable coffee cup. It is always surprising how excited servers get when they see me bringing a cup. It tells us that it is still somewhat unusual to bring one. 

Social Media and being fair - Respect is key

People travel. People want to show where they visited. This is a complicated one. Before we share locations on social media, we should always think about what this might mean for these locations and locals. Are they going to be overrun by tourists? We might only have a few followers; they might share it further and it can multiply. How are visitors and/or tourists going to behave? Are they leaving litter? Are they trampling the local flora? Are they disturbing the local fauna? We all heard about certain streets in Paris or London, where locals started complaining about a lack of privacy since visitors are posing in their streets and with their front doors thanks to social media.

One example is Hallstatt in Austria, locals there even rent out Dirndls to tourists wanting to take photos in them.

Often, these places are struggling with huge crowds of people, mountains of rubbish, and too many cars.

I always ask myself, what can be done better? What can I do better? I stop using the exact location on posts I publish. When taking photos, I make sure to not leave any rubbish behind. I make sure to never intrude on personal space. With everything we do in life, it is best to think of other humans and wildlife we share this world with. It might not bring change; it might be a step in the right direction. Think about respect, and about the impact before you share on social media.

Read more about Ethical Social Media.

Generally, what about a green life at home?

It is all these little things combined. I live in a flat. I buy certified green electricity from my utility provider. My electricity comes from renewable energy sources. I use energy-efficient light bulbs. I don’t own a TV. I switch off the lights when I leave a room. I unplug unused chargers. I use cloth napkins. I use a dishwasher and only start it if it is fully loaded. I load up the washing machine, an energy-efficient model, and wash at 30C. I dry my clothes on a clothesline and never owned a tumble dryer in my life.

With the winter months comes the need for heating. It usually would start each year around some day in October (depending on where you live of course). I push the time I heat my home as far back as possible. A sweater works wonders. I make sure to air rooms sufficiently, several times per day for a few moments, and not in a way that wastes heat from rooms. If I leave home, I turn off the heating. I also turn it off overnight, I live in a well-insulated house that allows me to do this. I sealed all my windows and doors to avoid cold air leaking in. My heaters are not hidden by furniture or fabric, they are free to do what they have to do without any restrictions.

Let us go into detail. What about a green bathroom and personal hygiene?

Most of the time, I take quick showers, and yes, it is hard in winter. I replaced all towels with certified organic cotton towels. I only replaced them when they needed to be replaced, and not just because it sounds good. They are made from organic cotton, and they are officially labelled as socially and ecologically sustainably produced.

The odd truth is that natural cosmetic is not necessarily vegan. Vegan cosmetic is not always natural nor produced cruelty-free. I always check the labels. When you start researching, you realize that there is so much to learn and to know. You know best what is important to you. I pay attention to whether companies use certified organic ingredients and produce cruelty-free.

I use recycled toilet paper and no cotton buds. Remember that photo of the seahorse clinging to that cotton bud? I started using menstrual cups. I’m not a fan yet.

My moisturizer, face mask, body lotion, deodorant, shampoo bar, and soap bar, are all certified organic and not tested on animals. No need to buy plastic shampoo and shower gel in plastic bottles.

I contacted the globally known company who produces the moisturizer and face mask I use. I thought it would be great to visit the farm from where they source some of their ingredients. The farm is in South Africa. I visit the region once a year. Last year, I visited a Rooibos tea farm, to see where the tea grows. The answer of the company was NO. Ever since I have a weird feeling about them. How arrogant. Do they have something to hide? I have been buying from them for almost two decades. Their behaviour has tarnished my belief in them, their arrogance has taken away some of my love I felt for their products. Every single day, in the morning and at night when I apply their products, I remember how rude they behaved. They created a lot of negative vibes.

I replaced toothpaste with teeth cleaning tablets that come in plastic-free packaging. I hope these are medically reliable. I replaced the face cleansing milk with an organic soap bar. I sometimes use Argan oil that comes in a glass bottle. The face cloths I use are small-sized hand towels and get into the washing after usage. I’m a fan of Argan Oil ever since I visited a Cooperative between Essaouira and Sidikouaki in Morocco. Read about this adventure here.

I use certified organic nail polish. It is 14 free, cruelty-free and vegan, packaged in recycled material. It took so long to find this one. A personal-care company bought the brand I liked. A multinational food and drink processing conglomerate corporation holds stakes in that personal-care company. So, it is not a product I’d want to use any longer. Read about these situations, it happens with many green organic brands, and form your own opinion.

My bathroom gets cleaned with vinegar, which comes in a glass bottle (of concern is that it has a plastic lid though). I was suspicious at first. By now, I am a fan, and I wonder why so many chemical and harmful cleaning products flooded the market when they are certainly not needed to keep things clean.

The hardest product to find to this day is biodegradable certified organic sunscreen. Not only is the question of the right sun factor protection rattling me come summer. I look for sun protection that is organic and comes without nanoparticles. I do not want to use chemical sun protection that will harm my health and the environment. There are certified organic versions, but the level of protection is questionable. Years ago, I read that some National Parks won’t let tourists in when they use conventional sunscreen. They expect visitors to bring and use biodegradable products. That made me think of why I would use conventional stuff still? Complicated, and to date I am still searching for the one.

Let us look at it more closely. What about a green kitchen and what about food?

This needed lots of testing. Same here as in the bathroom. I find out that I get results when I clean with vinegar and certified organic dishwashing lotion. One would easily win a 'who has the cleanest house' competition. In case you are into this type of entertainment.

I drink tap water and won't buy plastic water bottles. There is not a single straw in my household. If somebody's health asks them to use a straw, it is a different story. I replaced all conventional synthetic/plastic sponges with natural alternatives. I haven't eaten meat or fish, nothing that has got a parent, in over two decades. I can’t stand the taste and smell of fast food and won't buy it. I won't even go to a fast food outlet to use the loo (it is only fair on them, why use the loos without consuming anything). Let's say I want to eat Pizza. Why would I order fast food to my place? I would sit down at a restaurant or cook it at home.

In summer, I buy ice cream in a waffle. It is the little things, remember. I won't need a plastic bowl nor a plastic spoon. I had many discussions with ice-cream parlours. Why would they still sell ice cream in plastic containers? It is down to us consumers to not order these anymore. Another thing I found out along the way. We all know these ice cream parlours that showcase wares in the form of colourful mountains. A mountain of ice cream is an indicator of quality. Mountains contain artificial colours and flavours, preservatives, and emulsifiers. Without additives, no one can form ice cream into a mountain.

It happens that I forget to carry the refillable water bottle. When outside, I avoid buying bottled water. I often feel outright silly and get a bit angry. I put so much thought into the best way to buy water, while some politicians ignore climate change. I dream of more options. San Francisco Airport plans to become a 'zero waste airport' by 2021. From 20th August 2020, all businesses have to stop selling plastic water bottles. Tourists can buy water in reusable or compostable materials. It shows that change is possible. Where there is a will, there is a way.

What about shopping green – Clothes

Over previous years I started to buy less and fewer clothes and shoes. At the beginning of 2019, I stopped buying fast-fashion. I unfollowed all fast-fashion chains on social media. Being one who in the past treated shopping like a hobby, I decided to stop. When I travel, I love to buy from local independent shops who design their clothes. Every time I walk past one of the fast-fashion chains, I see how much 'landfill' there is on the clothes rails. I read under what conditions people produce clothes. I see under what conditions people sell these clothes. That puts me off buying more. Today, I can say that I bought one pair of boots and one denim, but apart from that, I still haven’t bought any fashion at all. Nothing at all. It is complicated, I love fashion, but I do not want to buy stuff that brings harm to others or the environment.

There is this desire to be admired. The idea is that if one follows the example of celebrity's styles one will just be that. People should rethink their ideals. Check their attitudes and ask themselves why they feel this necessary. It is a seemingly never-ending circle. A trend appears, people want this to feel better, and buy the piece. A trend appears, people want this to feel better, and buy the piece. A trend appears, people want this to feel better, and buy the piece. It is a seemingly never-ending circle. Once and for all we should scrap the word retail therapy from our vocabulary, or better, from how we see the world. It is a rather odd word anyway. Think of the people who need therapy to get help with mental health problems. No one deserves to be made fun of - Buy a new jumper and that will fix you. Retail therapy? No, thank you. Please read this: The Fashion Revolution - Support Local Designers

Everyone says it is worth spending more on purchases that are going to last longer. Better than buying cheaper products that fall apart. In return for the fair price I pay, I expect ethical fashion brands (in theory) to provide quality. I bought a fair-priced denim from a sustainable fashion brand. After only a few washes, it started to look more and more unwearable. Eight years ago, I bought a cheap fast-fashion denim, and it looks as good as new. Things take time, so I am going to give the sustainable fashion brand another try in the future. I am aware that my thriftiness (or aim to get a good deal) has to be paid for by somebody. I look for quality and remember that the makers are only human too, errors can happen.

Fashion makers/marketers/sellers are great at greenwashing. They sell us their goods as organic, ethical, responsibly made when it is not true. We as customers are buying their lies. Often one hasn’t got the time or is simply too lazy to check where goods are made and how. It is tiring to demand transparency when I go shopping. In an ideal happy world, shop assistants would welcome me with open arms and engage in a long and warm chat about who and where a piece of garment was made. To be honest, it doesn’t happen. It is always awkward trying to engage shop assistants in that type of talk. A lot needs to change.

Every time we customers are about to buy a new item of clothes; we should be aware that this ends up in landfill in one form or other. Before I buy, I think about what I am going to do with the piece when I cannot wear it any longer. Can it be upcycled? The more I think about this, the less I want to buy new stuff. I think (again) about the quality and for how long I'll use something before buying a new piece. There is certainly no impulse buying for me anymore. Come winter, come summer, I inspect my wardrobe to see what I have. Sometimes we can forget what can be combined how to give outfits a new spin. I try to figure out whether the item I want to buy can be part of different outfits. I check whether it goes with (for example) handbags, bags, shoes, I already own.

To not harm worker's health, my health, and the environment with toxic chemicals, I stay away from clothing that is dry clean only. EPA has classified tetrachloroethylene as likely to be carcinogenic to humans.

What about shopping green - Groceries?

I carry several cotton bags and do not use plastic carrier bags. I do not buy stuff at online retailers and support independent shops. One reason is to not support an unjust system. I am also avoiding producing unnecessary packaging that comes with online purchases. Now with Covid-19, I order fresh fruit and vegetables from a farm shop to be delivered to my doorstep and I buy all other certified organic food staples online, also to be delivered at home. I buy and can these days order everything at shops which sell certified organic wares. Conveniently, there are those shops available in Melbourne as well as in Berlin. It makes life simple for me. What would I do if I lived in a town without these? I don't know.

What lands in my shopping trolley? Certified organic fruit and vegetables. Fairtrade products, as in coffee and chocolate, and bananas. I bring a cotton bread bag when I buy fresh bread, and I don’t buy plastic-wrapped things. As I said in the beginning, it is difficult. I often leave shops without products from my shopping list. Another example is the almond milk-(substitute). It needs a high amount of water to produce. Cow’s milk needs even more water per litre. I stick to oat milk (-substitute), which is a good green option. A year ago, I started to buy all ground espresso from a local speciality coffee shop.

You know one can buy these reusable vegetable mesh bags at most grocery stores these days. I could not believe my eyes when I saw that some contain polyester. Why oh why, where is the point in that? Same goes for these tiny soap bags to use in the shower (some I saw were also made with polyester). Best to always check the labels.

I'm not that keen on processed food. Albeit, this is not entirely true. I would buy bread and jam. Yet, I often make homemade ones, and even my own bread. Over the years, and with a bit of planning, I am at a point where I only buy what I need. There is no food wastage at my house. It is possible. 

The Touristin  Travelling the world Dorothee Lefering

Is an environmentally friendly life possible? What is the best way to communicate with someone who doesn't believe that we all need to change things?

Me aiming to live a green life sounds complicated, and it often (sometimes) is difficult. The fact alone that many goods aren’t available to buy without packaging makes me buy less stuff. That is irritating but a positive at the same time. Over the years it became a habit to research companies and products and to check labels. It feels good to know that I am a conscious consumer. Zero waste is hard to achieve, but that fact won’t hold me back from doing anything. The more we talk about this the better. I’m not a fan of moral finger-pointing. I know that people get very defensive towards somebody who is into a green lifestyle. They feel caught red-handed when they aren’t. It is exhausting. We are not in a competition about who lives the greenest life. I wish we could be all more relaxed and listen to each other. Together we can further improve and change our minds and behaviours. I know of so many things I could do better. Hope dies last.

I’m searching for good ways to communicate with someone who doesn't believe that we need to change. The best way to get through to people is by delivering details and facts. It must be inclusive. There is no reason to belittle others or shy them away by putting lots of pressure on them. Do ask "Have you heard of the zero-waste movement?" instead of demand “You have to go zero waste.”

We all live in this world together. What people do in the country or town XY will affect people who live in the country or town ZW or vice versa. I know I have to change so much more. One can only do so much at a time. Every little step helps. And with every step I take, I start to think of what I can change in the future. It is a process. I feel that I am on the way into the right direction. Never stop exploring. Live green at home and elsewhere. Earth Day is every day. 

What to read about Climate Change?

The Year You Finally Read a Book About Climate Change.

Top 15 Books on Climate Change and Sustainability.

From Berlin with love