For years, I’ve been wondering what a sustainable lifestyle is and how I can go about embedding myself in one of those, or vice versa, whichever way it goes.
One way of looking at sustainable lifestyle that resonates with me is the notion of resilience. The only riddle is what that actually means.
Someone like Mark Boyle is a great inspiration, the Irish economist transformed into Moneyless Man and spent a full year without spending money or being the cause of money being spent. He gave up his Bristol life for living in a caravan he got for free on farmland at a farm where he volunteered, cycling or hitchhiking for transportation and bartering for the rest.
The German Heidemarie Schwermer gave up living with money in her mid-fifties and has, in this writing moment, lived 16 years without handling money. Whilst she allows herself to accept presents or say, a train ticket, she goes through life travelling around, bartering and volunteering her labour for board and accommodation or what else she needs in life. Schwermer didn’t begin Living without Money until after she had brought up her children, but I dare say that this highly creative woman would have managed that challenge, too.
Both Schwermer and Boyle insist that they are much happier and balanced as human beings ever since they stopped their reliance on money. Whilst these two examples are operating very much on an individual level, the association to the economist Tim Jackson isn’t far. When he was advising the UK government, he wrote a whitepaper titled “Prosperity without Growth?” Later Jackson, also a professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, Guildford, published the paper as a book on his own back, he dared removing the question mark. In “Prosperity without Growth”, Jackson shortly argues that economy is a system, that can learn much from natural systems, where it is obvious that there can be not such thing as constant growth –not to mention exponential growth. However, the societies and welfare states that we have created in the West are dependent on exactly that: Exponential growth. Basically, Jackson summarises, the politicians are voted in with a social mandate, but need growth to finance it. Businesses, by enlarge, make business by refining natural resources, without much thought of procreation. Thus having tied in the three dimensions of sustainability together in a somewhat unclosed circle, it becomes apparent that when one is finite, the system has a built in flaw. Expecting exponential growth from one without feeding the others becomes systemically problematic and this school of thought was not surprised when the financial markets crashed. Moreover, Tim Jackson argues that there is little or no correlation between growth and prosperity –and human happiness, as he explains here:
Another factor in a sustainable lifestyle is the awareness of the footprint we leave on this planet. The Norwegian author Erlend Loe in his novel “Naive. Super” lets his protagonist think that he isn’t so sure any of us is able to leave this world knowing that we were contributing factors to the world being a better place than when we entered it. But if he can know on his deathbed that he didn’t do any harm or make anything worse, then he’d be quite satisfied.
Someone who has taken this up is the American author and blogger Colin Beavan. Though I don’t believe that he has read Loe’s novel, he became concerned about the footprint that we all were leaving on the planet and very impatient with governments’ lengthy processes. Simultaneously, he felt that the sustainability agenda the sustainability agenda needed to be sexed up massively, that the saving of our planet needed a superhero, if it should stand any chance. So he took on that challenged and proclaimed himself the “No Impact Man” and set out to, within one year, to transform his young family, double career, one child, takeout dinner & coffees NYC lifestyle into one where the footprint of him and his family would be zero or positive. This was in 2007, and similar to the above, did he experience that after one year “unplugged from the electrical grid, producing no trash, travelling exclusively by foot or bike, and buying nothing except food (all of it locally grown). (..) They discovered something surprising: Living simply wasn’t just good for the environment; it made them healthier, happier and richer in ways they’d never expected.”
That was 2007, now its five years down the line and Colin is running for congress in Brooklyn for the green party.
SO, WHAT’S A GIRL TO DO!?
I’m little inclined to take a year out, give away all possessions and be a radical resilient in that way. However, I also feel that with my upbringing in the countryside of Denmark, I’m maybe not that far off, from a mindset point of view. Thus, in the impossible quest of balancing a post-financial-crash designworld London lifestyle with measures both sustainable, I’m going for the RESILINISTA NON-DOGMA MANIFESTO, with has much more to do with conditioning oneself for sustainability than saving the whole planet at once. Thinking that we do have to begin somewhere and its not very likely that we are all going to drop every perk that we have. Therefore, I:
Take responsibility for the garbage that I’m producing and
– limit my use of plastic bags to a bare minimum, which in the UK is harder that it sounds, as one is offered a plastic bag even when buying a pint of milk
– hardly ever have take-outs
– only eat meat when it would be socially inconsiderate not to
– meticulously separate my garbage
– have a compost bin
Give that an upside and expanding the conceptional value by
– have a garden, where I grow the seeds of all the food that I eat and some edible plants
Which also enables me to
– spend as much time as I can outside, which is a free, but wonderful pleasure, ie. Resilient of spending
Basically, I believe that money is a source of energy that travels through the world. It travels through business and individuals, and everyone have a chance to leave their mark on it, when and just when it passes through one’s own life in its course through the system. That means, rather than refuse to handle money par tout, to really think of what kinds of businesses, individuals, systems and morals are supported via the choices one makes, for me, that means:
– am a member of The People’s Supermarket and volunteer there
– do most of my foodshopping at the local farmer’s market or at The People’s Supermarket
– my bank is the co-operative bank, which has all clients as shareholders, how much they really live by it, I don’t know. But again, one of the objectives is not to support the big banks, who favourite product is toxic assets and pay out massive bonuses to reward aggressive and unsustainable behaviour
– spend my professional life bringing design thinking to overlooked communities and being a part of the change that’s happening around making change work or others than the usual suspects like myself
– go out of my way to buy ecologically, local and ethically produced products of all sorts
– as good as never buy anything from big chain stores, as all systems need diversity, so does the market place. That means that I’m not against big business per se, but others support them just fine, so I don’t do so voluntary (also because it’s a really mind numbing experience)
– let other people stay in my apartment when I’m away
– buy clothes secondhand or from small designers,
– ensure that I’m happy with everything that I own, so that everything has an aesthetical value, story or reason and is contributing with meaningfulness
– London is an expensive city, but before complaining about the pricetag attached to many things, it’s a good idea to utilise the offers that are free or cost very little. There are many and luckily there is an almost inverse proportionality between charges and how interesting it is.
..and a part of that is also simply consuming less, this is where we could learn a lot from our not so distant ancestors, if you are so lucky to have some with a wiff of preindustrial life. This is what is also called hand-me-downs etc. I believe there is enough of that on this blog, so I’ll just summarise for the sake of this list, I
– repurpose and reuse as many of my out of date products as possible
– extend the lifecycles of all my clothes by mending and altering
– whatever I cant use any more, clothes or other material goods, put it up on netcycler, justfortheloveofit, tauschring or give it to charity
Then there are the resource management, which again has a lot to do with taking personal responsibility for the common resources whilst they are in your hands rather than changing the world, but more importantly, rather than simply having a reductionist attitude to resources, so what I do is
– collect the water from my shower to run hot and use it to water my garden
– bake my own bread
– make packlunches
– in general cook often, these latter two are also link ups to Jamie Oliver’s point around teaching children to cook and saying that “if you can cook just 10 dishes, you are a lot more resilient from recession, because you will know how to vary them, how to take matters into own hands, etc”
Also considering the maintenance of the things that I own, which for clothes means
– handwash woollen and silk garments, reducing the drycleaning to a minimum
– airing clothes that only need an odour freshener rather than washing every time. This has the extra benefit of the garments lasting longer
And for transportation, that is probably my weakest point, but
– choose cycling as the mode of my daily transportation
– travel by train rather than plane whenever possible
However satisfying it is to try to makes sense with everything that I’m doing anyway, a sound booster of mindfulness, letting go and strengthening focus is to be found in the regular practice of yoga –no, not the quiet kind, but jivamukti, which bares a reminiscence of acrobatics, gymnastics, but has the yogic extreme attention to detail. Very smoothening!
Though these initiatives aren’t saving the world or fundamentalist by any measure, it is still a higher maintenance lifestyle than many lead. But I’ll remember Treehugger‘s ..lost eco-art of cutting yourself some slack and emphasise that its worth it every step of the way with Mark Boyle’ words on why investing thus in one’s lifestyle makes sense
“It is a time consuming lifestyle, but I’d rather have it consumed this way than in front of a reality tv show in the room we call living”
– Moneyless Man on Freeconomist;
– Mark Boyle,
– Mark shows around in his Moneyless life,
– Moneyless Man at TEDxO’Porto,
– the book can be bought on amazon here,
– I listened to it from audible,
– Mark has also blogged at The Guardian,
– guest blogging on the Transition Network
– and the Huffington Post has written about the what they call Living the slow Life
– and Mark founded the webplatform Just for the Love of it
– University of Surrey
– Tim Jackson
– Tim’s presentation on Motivating Sustainable Consumption
– The Guardian’s review on Prosperity without Growth
– Make Wealth History’s review of Prosperity without Growth
– Tim Jackson’s talk “Reality Check” at TEDGlobal 2010