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It’s hard to be green -Why environmentalism needs to be the default option, and how to do it

The following outlines how complexity can hinder good environmental actions, and how you as an environmental planner or product manufacturer can overcome it. And yes, I am going somewhere with the coffee story.

 

Hi, my name is Mona and I’m a coffee addict.

Seeing as it’s one of my only vises in life, I don’t really mind it. But it does mean that I am not a functional human being without my morning Joe, and that is what prompted today’s post.

 

I’m currently staying with some friends who are very techy. Their house is filled with robots, drones, and really cool gadgets. As well, their coffee maker is really advanced, you know the kind that has an inbuilt alarm so it can have the coffee ready for you before you’re out of bed. It also has an inbuilt grinder so you can get fresh coffee. Amazing, right? Wrong!

The darn thing never works, and in its effort to be as simple as possible, it only has one on/off button and a nob that also works like a button. This morning I spend 15 minutes trying to get it to grind the beans. 15! I’m not gonna brand shame so I won’t tell you the name of the coffee machine.

There were just too few buttons and no matter what I pushed, or in which order, it didn’t work. In the end, I gave up. I sat defeated and ate my breakfast with a glass of water.

 

 

Why am I telling you this?

 

Because a coffee maker that’s too complicated to operate is a spot-on example of how our world is way more complicated than it needs to be.

And the same goes for acting environmentally friendly.

If you live in a westernized country or the metropolises of high-tech South East Asia, you probably have some sort of waste management and recycling scheme.

Those schemes have rules, and those rules are often really complicated and with a large set of exceptions. This is because of technical requirements from the waste treatment facilities. It makes recycling confusing for us mortals who just want to know how to sort our waste in the right way.

 

Likewise, if your gonna purchase a new car, and you want to get one that is environmentally friendly, what do you get? One with good mileage? An electric? A used car? Which is better? The answer is the same, ‘Well it depends…’

But we don’t want to dig into why there are so many differences in regards to buying an environmentally friendly car, we just want the answer: What is the best car I can buy if I care about the environment?

 

Acting environmentally friendly can be hard and complicated because our world is unnecessarily complicated.

If you promoting a greener behavior, or selling a green product, it is your job to make it as easy as possible for your audience/consumer, to do the right thing.

 

How to make it easy

 

Seeing as I still haven’t had coffee yet, I’ll give you the bare minimum.

Test it! Then test it. And then test it again.

If you’re asking someone to act in a different way, you need to test if what you are asking them is sufficiently easy and understandable. Test your message or product over and over until you have made it as approachable as possible.

 

I call this the Grandma Test.

Green Design How To

Edit (06.08.18): I was actually meeting my grandma after writing this, so I took the opportunity to put a face to the concept. Here she is.

If I can explain something in a way that even my stubborn, 82-year-old grandma gets it, then I’m on to something.

My formal education is Technological Socio-Economical Planner.

 

That fails the grandma test massively. Therefore I and most of my old uni buddies boil it down to the essence: Environmental Planner. Or as grandma says, ‘Something with environment.’

 

This is where the discussion of dumbing down usually comes up. I will say this until I am in my grave:

It’s not about dumbing down, it’s about removing unnecessary complexity.

I’m not a stupid person, nor am I a tech illiterate, but I’ll remind you that I battled the coffee maker for 15 minutes, and lost!

That’s what happens when things get too fancy.

 

Maybe when I have had my coffee, I’ll write the post about why humans always make things more complicated and what it means for our environment, and society as a whole.

 

For now, I highly advise you that whatever change you want to make in the world, you make sure that your actions are easy to follow and that you keep your instructions clear.

And on that note, I’m gonna dig out the old school Italian espresso maker, because that never fails me.

Want more caffeinated advice on pro-environmental behavior? Add me on LinkedIn or go to Somethinggreen.org to get your dose.

Biodegradable glitter vol. 2 – For the sparkly environmentalist in you

I tested biodegradable glitter vs. conventional glitter. This is my verdict.

Biodegradable glitter: Photographer Nadya Lev, makeup Risa Robins Moloney, model Tilde Ann Thurium

 

Boy, that was some party! I’m just waking up from it. I won’t bore you with the details about the six fire spinners, the aerial art, the Cow Girl Burlesque act, or the glitter ass slap, cause I’m sure you don’t care about any of that.

 

Instead, let’s dive right into the very scientific test of biodegradable glitter (Read about the test setup here).

 

Decomposing in tap water

I never got around to test this. Mainly because I was home very late and was very tired. Woops. So yeah, I still have to do that. I guess there will be a third post about glitter.

 

On your body

Short recap first. If you have ever been in contact with glitter, you know that cleanup sucks big time. You cannot get that sparkly herpes off you.

If you’ve ever done burlesque, a glitter party, pride, or just a badass new year, you know perfectly well that you will find glitter everywhere on your body.

You will find glitter places you don’t want to admit you’ve found glitter. It’s tyranny and always has been …Until now [Warning profanities might occur].

 

So yeah, this is what happens at 3 am in my house.

Oh my fucking god!

It came off! It just came off! I washed my face with tap water when I came home, and my sparkly face just melted away!!!

I have NEVER in my life tried anything like it. Whatever glitter that was still left the next morning, disappeared when I took a shower. This is a picture of a very tired me, before and after dealing with glitter, at 3 am.

 

In terms of body clean up, biodegradable glitter is APPROVED!

 

The cleanup

Well, I for one can hardly get my hands down. My floor is clean. No glitter! Well, almost no glitter.

On any given day you will most likely find sparkly bits in my apartment. I think there’s a stockpile from the years and years of glitter related events. I got some glitter on my boots, but it rubbed off pretty easily.

 

Conclusion

When tested against conventional glitter, biodegradable glitter kicks ass! It’s good for the environment and it’s easier to clean up. Win-win!

 

However, there are a few things which worry me

There is still something I want to address regarding the bio-glitter.

The founders of bio-glitter told me this about the shine of it:

 

 

 

The shiny part of the glitter comes from a thin layer of aluminum which is in itself not biodegradable, but because of the small amount it is, according to European regulations, degradable.

I’m all down for European standards, but this part still bothers me. A thin layer of aluminum is still aluminum. It might not harm you, or larger animals, but it will still be consumed by smaller animals.

These animals will then again be consumed by larger animals, transporting the potentially accumulated aluminum to the larger animals, which will then again be consumed by even larger animals, adding even more aluminum via the food chain.

 

This is called bioaccumulation.

 

It is still unclear if the bioaccumulation of aluminum is harmful to animals or humans. This article suggests that accumulation of aluminum is related to a number of disease states, particularly those relating to oxidative stress.

 

What to do – High, medium, or low impact

The major issue with conventional glitter is still the microplastic pollution it generates.

As with all things you purchase, make sure that small pieces don’t fall off it, and buy good quality.  Here are a few steps you can take to end plastic pollution.

 

Low impact: Switch to biodegradable glitter. I do not say to toss out all your existing glitter, but use it with care. When you remove glitter nail polish, make sure not to flush excess glitter down the drain, but instead throw it in the trash.

Medium impact: Donate money to one of the organizations working towards banning microplastic, or spread the word on social media

High impact: Get involved in the political organizations that work to ban microbeads and raise awareness of microfibers.

 

Ps: If you love glitter nail polish, like I do, remember you can make your own with biodegradable glitter. Buy some eco glitter, and clear nail polish, and mix. Voila! Ready for the next party!

Making sustainability the default option – CO2, chopsticks …And organ donors 

I love fun facts. Recently, I came across one of those fun fact articles about how we are destroying the planet, with our overconsumptions of weird products. One of the facts where:

‘About 3.8 million trees are cut down to produce 57 billion disposable pairs of chopsticks every year,’

That’s a lot of chopsticks

Many of them are going towards restaurants in Asia. According to the article 77% of them are produced for Japan alone. But it still made me think about my own relationship with disposable chopsticks.

The number kept ringing in my head; 3.8 million trees. Just think of all that carbon dioxide they could be absorbing.

It turns out that one tree can absorb about 21,8 kg of CO2 per year. That translates to roughly 8.300 ton per year in chopsticks alone! And this is not counting the paper wrapping, water used for manufacture, or transportation.

It disturbed me, because every time I order sushi, I get extra chopstick -even when I make a note on my order that I don’t need them. I have my own special chopsticks that I really like using, so the disposable chopstick end up in a drawer and gets used for crafts at some point – or end up in the bin. This is a picture of a craft project I used it for.

The Tiny Tempel. A tiny art project created, and burned, for Balsa Man Denmark 2014

The Tiny Tempel. A tiny art project created, and burned, for Balsa Man Denmark 2014

I doubt that I am the only person with nice chopsticks at home, who would prefer to not have the disposable ones added to their order.

But growing trees is good for the environment, right?

Some have pointed out, that the trees used for chopsticks are actually good for the environment, as they assure that land area is reserved for trees, and not concrete og buildings. And yes, this is true, but it’s not the whole story.

When planting “chopstick fields”, farmers/companies plant monoculture crops. This means they only plant one species of trees or crops. Like palm oil plantations only have palm trees. This has negative effects on the environment as they cause soil erosion, and a loss in biodiversity.

By removing forest areas to make way for monoculture, you have already released more carbon dioxide, than you will absorb with monoculture chopstick fields. So how do we solve the problem of too many chopsticks?

Instead of thinking of way to recycle them, or using them as a downgraded end product, like my craft ideas, we might as well grab the problem at the root, before you, and I, get them added to our order.

Learning from other fields – A lesson from organ donations

One smart solution could be, that you had to add chopstick to and order, for a small amount of money. So you would have to actively add chopsticks to your order. By having ‘No chopsticks’ as the default method, you enter the field of POLR, Path Of Least Resistance.

The term comes from the field of psychology and behavioral change – it’s used often in the popular ‘Nudging’ campaigns, where a certain action is wanted. A great example of POLR is the Austrian organ donor program.

In short, instead of campaigning to get people to opt in and actively sign op for organ donation, the Austrian government changed the regulations and made every citizen an organ donor by default. You could of course opt out. And plenty of easy opt out solutions where presented to the public. And the result?

In Austria, about 99% of the population are organ donors. 99%. In comparison, Germany has 12%. Is this because Germans are egocentric people who want to keep their organs inside their corps? No, it’s all to do with the system, and the amount of hard, and easy choices you have to make.

Imbed smarter systems and make sustainability the default option.

Imbed smarter systems and make sustainability the default option.

Making organ donation the default option, takes away the resistance that keep people from signing op as an organ donor.

you think to yourself: ‘It’s a hassle, and I might even have to choose which organs to donate, and witch not to. I would maybe have to discuss it with your next of kind.

…Wow, that’s not a nice conversation. Honey, if I die, would you like to keep any of my body part? Better wait. Better sign up some other day. Take some time to think about it to make sure we make the right decision’. And then we never sign up.

‘Av! Stop thinking so much!’

Sincerely, your lazy brain 

Decisions are hard. They eat up energy. And we make decisions everyday, all day. Hence, the choice of sustainability should be default, and not something that requires too much energy from us. And it certainly shouldn’t require a lot of extra time, money, and discomfort.

So, back to the chopsticks. Using the above knowledge lets implement a system, where you would have to actively add chopsticks to your order. This would:

a) save environmental costs,

b) save money for the restaurant owners, seeing as they would need to buy less chopsticks, and

c) allow me to use my nice chopsticks without throwing the disposable ones in the trash.

 

I actually wrote to a big Danish take-out company, Just-Eat, and asked them if this was possible. I got a great answer from them. I’ll share it in a follow up post.

But right now, I’m gonna eat some sushi with my nice chopsticks.

 

Ps. Help generate some chopstick data!

What’s you chopstick status? Fill out this super short google form, or tell me in the comment, what you do with your excess chopsticks. Then we have more data for the follow up post.

Credit:

I lot of people helped motivate and inspire me to write this. I am very grateful! A special thanks to Courtney King for motivations and support.

LEGO is changing the plastic industry! Here’s why Everything is Awesome.

I’m back! After 4’ish years of not blogging, I’m ready with a new load of subjects, articles, and explanations about sustainability and environmental behaviour. It seems fitting that I should write one of the first posts about something I’ve loved and cherished since childhood: LEGO.

LEGO recently announced it’s investment of 1 billion DKK (150mio $US) dedicated to research, development and implementation of new, sustainable, raw materials to manufacture LEGO® elements as well as packaging materials.

This is great news for the toy and general plastic industry! And for me!

Here’s a short explanation of why everything is awesome:

  • We consume an enormous amount of plastic – and it’s polluting our environment and our food supply. Our oceans alone have an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic floating around in them. We even have “Islands” made entirely out of floating plastic. The plastic pollution in the oceans is very likely to end up in our food chain. Producing alternative plastic products that, when discarded, are biological degradable, is a must in regards to combatting further plastic pollution.
  • Current plastics are recyclable, but are always downcycled. Even if you returned all your old bricks to a LEGO factory, they would have to be color sorted in order to not end up as a greyish goo. I love Space LEGO, but I don’t want only grey bricks.
  • LEGO bricks are produced in a quantity of between 20 and 45 billion bricks pr. Year. In the overall scheme of plastic toys hitting the marked each year, isn’t’ a lot. However, the LEGO brand is a worldwide known and trusted brand, and currently more powerful than Ferrari. They are copied.
    Going on the marked with a plastic-like material that is made from plants, gives them first-mover status and will increased the demand for more toys made from biodegradable material. This will of course spill into other industries pushing the marked away from non-renewable based plastic

See, I told you it would be short.

This first-mover decision from LEGO will have other companies turning green of envy. Not only is LEGO creating better and smarter trash (and I’ll come back to why that matters in a later post), LEGO is creating a full circle product.

As a consumer with a box of bricks in your hand, you know you are buying;

1) A product that, when discarded is more environmentally friendly than that of the competitors,
2) A product that will last for generations, without the need for maintenance or upgrades, and
3) Will always deliver a fun and creative expressions.

 

Oh, but I’m an adult, I don’t care about sustainable toys

Well you should. Besides from the obvious environmental, economic and health benefits of NOT pollution our food supply, LEGO offers a great many advantages for adults as well. In my workday a coworker and I set a timer for 15 minutes, break out a small box of LEGO and start building. Why? Because it’s simply impossible to feel stressed while building LEGOs. And don’t take my word for it. The Serious Play initiative has got the world of finance talking.

To sum up, I’ve been a happy customer of the company ever since I stepped on my first brick, and I’ll likely continue to do so, until my old arthritis plagued fingers can no longer separate the 4×2 from the 8×2.

As this old add delightfully sums up: What it is, is beautiful.

Its beautifull

LEGO add from 1981

Endnote;

If you want to know more about plastic pollution in the oceans, or want to help reduce it, go to Plasticchange.org.