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

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 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.

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 challenging to do better. I made up my mind, it feels easier to change. How do I live green in everyday life and elsewhere? Please read on. I'm 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. 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. I picture the lions I saw in the Kalahari. 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? 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 sustainably 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 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.

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 eat at independent restaurants and not at fast-food chain restaurants or cafés. I’m not into that type of food at all. 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.

Generally, what about a green life at home?

It is all these little things combined. I live in an apartment. 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. The water- and energy consumption is lower when one uses the eco button. I dry my clothes on a clothesline and never owned a tumble dryer in my life.

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

Most of the time, I take quick showers (hard in winter). 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, conditioner and soap bar, are all certified organic and not tested on animals. No need to buy 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. 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 face cleansing milk with 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 also use a face cleansing soap bar.

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).

The hardest product to find to this day is biodegradable certified organic sunscreen. 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?

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

This needed lots of testing. 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. 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 and groceries?

Over previous years I started to buy less and fewer clothes and shoes. Last year I stopped buying fast-fashion. I unfollowed 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.

I carry several cotton bags and don’t use plastic carrier bags. I don’t buy stuff at online retailers and support independent shops. One reason is to not support an unjust system. I'm also avoiding producing unnecessary packaging that comes with online purchases.

I buy groceries at organic 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. If, for example, tofu comes wrapped in plastic, I won’t buy it. It is too much rubbish. It is difficult. It is a ruthless approach. 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 quite green option.

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. 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.

The Touristin  Travelling the world Dorothee Lefering

Is an environmentally sustainable 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 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. Never stop exploring. Live green at home and elsewhere.

From Berlin with love