Like everyone else’s, my carbon footprint reduced this year dramatically by flying much less. This reduction had started already in January, when I returned from visiting my family crossing France by train, and by supplying our household with only renewable energy.
But not everything is carbon: the lockdown made room for a number of projects that helped transition closer to my ‘personal’ SDG targets (or Good Life Goals).
Believe it or not, the East of England is pretty dry and hosepipe bans aren't unknown. Continuing with the house refurb, the next project was a dry garden—a garden with drought-resistant plants. This is less sophisticated than it sounds, and you can find a list of such beautiful plants at the University of Cambridge Botanic Garden website. The idea was as much about saving water as it was about laziness; having to remember watering plants to keep them alive sounded like too much effort. To make the process a bit more sustainable and cheaper (and to find the diversity of pollinator-friendly, plant sizes and colourful blooms I sought), I bought the seeds instead of plants, and reused plant pots that are freely available at a recycling corner in my local garden centre. It’s a joy to see the seedlings grow.
But not everything is carbon or water.
Although the amount of our refuse is ridiculously small, the volume of items we bin for recycling remains large. I’m also not entirely sure that all the items, particularly plastics and tetrapaks, are recycled for good. Given limitations to go shopping, and my fixation for online shopping and deliveries, I started to buy at a local shop that sells without packaging (‘bring your own jars’), which during lockdown turned to ‘no-plastic deliveries’ (all in paper). The small price premium is nothing in the grand scheme of things, and the products are delicious. We were already receiving milk and dairy in returnable glass from the milk man, as well as a weekly box of veggies and fruit from another company that supplies local and organic. This is not just about reducing packaging, but also about being practical—it’s really handy to have all the main foodstuffs delivered. The food box company is fantastic, too. At the start of the lockdown, they were overwhelmed with new people wanting to sign up and decided to reshape their business temporarily, to increase their volume and target those most vulnerable (I helped them a bit with logistics, as being stuck at the email all day made it easy to contribute). They are also into local sustainable food initiatives and food banks (like this and this). After the shocking news that some in a rich country like this have no good food on the table, I’m now considering to volunteer with these too.
But not everything is carbon, water or waste.
We also supported local shops more than ever—thanks to working from home we were able to shop during opening hours. This included my three favourite artisan bakeries (cannot decide among their respective specialities!), which sell largely organic too; the local fishmonger (with so much more than just the cod and salmon overpacked in plastic found at supermarkets) and the local butcher (I believe that a bit of good quality meat occasionally can still be sustainable, if only everyone reduced its consumption…).
Besides supporting the local community, reducing water, carbon and waste, we also did quite some upcycling of furniture (beautiful solid wood items that needed a bit of sanding and varnishing). I appreciate DIY is not for everyone, and we also opted to buy second-hand wardrobes instead of new ones (the availability of mint second hand items is overwhelming, to buy and for free). There was another project of a veggie and herb garden too, which involved no pesticides but a family of ladybirds, two rainwater collecting butts, solar powered drip irrigation and daily care. No garden? No problem: lettuce and others grow in pots very happily and successfully too. Our tomato harvest will be remarkable, but at such small scale I’m not sure that can be called sustainable food provision.
Reluctantly, we also bought a car (my first one since dropping the previous one seven years ago). Not living car-free anymore could perhaps revert many other efforts to reduce environmental impact (see the evidence). However, with the possibility of car-sharing with friends severely restricted, and after having seen every corner in the surroundings where the bike takes you, we were missing the hills and the sea dearly. We looked hard and found a very low emissions, high mile-per-gallon second-hand vehicle that felt like a good compromise.
Looking outward to the wider community, I also wrote an editorial calling the sustainability research community to heed potential roll back in environmental regulation and policies across countries worldwide, and to focus on transitioning from the pandemic to more sustainable systems. I'm also helping out with a successful initiative of academics for an ecological economy post-COVID19, in my home country.
Head image: a native ladybird species that's helping keep aphids in the garden in check while avoiding harmful pesticides.