Monday, 27 September 2010

Keeping Warm ASAP style

Just when I was about to pop into Wibbling Wools and order a new hat, old Baglady of Northern Ireland pops up and asks how I'm getting on with my ASAP pledge!

Well... there's nothing like one's conscience ringing you on the mobile when you're about to indulge in a new piece of winter headgear as a result of the old one being accidentally ruined in the washing machine.  As I stood chatting to Baglady on my phone, I held the old hat in my other hand.  Bought from here just a year ago, it was now so small it could only fit a child.  But it was the only woolly hat that has suited me (ever), hence, I was on a mission to get it replaced ASAP before the autumn sets in. Now that's really organised in my book!

But my idea of ASAP was not what Baglady had in mind.  And buying things as quickly as possible was not the pledge that I'd made back in the summer when she launched her ASAP pledges at Baglady Productions.

No!  Those pledges were about living As SUSTAINABLY As Possible.  And  being conscious of the waste stream that results from manufacturing and the energy used in production and transportation, my pledge then had been to think carefully about everything I bought and whether I actually needed it...i.e. no longer buying anything that I didn't really need, so that the world's resources and our money didn't go to waste.

So, nothing like being caught out eh...on the brink of entering one of my favourite Bury St Edmunds shops to splash some cash on something new.  It was just like having my husband turn up at my heel, just as I'm pulling out a credit card.

But at least one thing's for sure, I really did need that scrumptious purple hat especially as the weather was about to get blimmin' chilly!  So, I hadn't failed my pledge. And the hat was hand-knitted by someone down the road, with wool that could be repurposed elsewhere and probably just a teabag or two from a knitter's break, which hopefully would have gone into the compost!

Of course don't get me wrong.  Baglady isn't some old nag from across the water, who wags her finger at me to make sure that I'm keeping up with the "Greens".

Instead her style is more like a gentle doyenne, often oddly dressed in a sea of carrier bags, preaching not, but kindly offering wisdom and encouragement for anyone who wants to take up more sustainable habits.

I might not have been entirely successful with my original pledge - measured by recently palming off a couple of hardly-worn summer purchases to a couple of good friends.  However, having watched the No Impact Man movie recently I seem to have found my groove again and am up for seeing how far I can go with Baglady's ASAP pledge system.

So, I've decided to  have a good think about real differences I can make in our little average household and put into practice some ideas that have been buzzing around my head for a wee while.

It shouldn't be hard, especially as there's one particular issue that  immediately comes to mind, which is the blimmin' temperature on the homefront.  It's only September but it's so chilly indoors that my ears are colder than a penguin's bottom.

But before I automatically crank up the thermostat I know there are certain options to explore to help conserve energy this autumn, like cavity wall insulation for instance.

Exciting isn't it.  Let me repeat it again.... cavity wall insulation!  Hmmm, it's as interesting as watching paint dry.

Of course neither my husband or I know whether we've got it.  And despite it now sounding like an emergency dental treatment, I've never felt the urgency to find out, even though I know you can get grants for it.

So, I'll leave you now while I make a few calls to investigate.

I'd better put my woolly hat on though....I know I'm staying indoors but still, I may be some time!

More information about the ASAP pledge system can be found at

Monday, 13 September 2010

No Impact Man and other thoughts

Goodness know how I ended up hosting a Q&A session at the local screening of No Impact Man last week, but it certainly felt like a surreal milestone in what has become a very peculiar period of my life.

Although presented as The Rubbish Diet blogger and billed as a local "expert", for those who don't know, behind the social-media garb I am simply an ordinary housewife still struggling to equate how my family, with its "old world values",  fits into this "new world" of peak oil and its need for carbon reduction, ethical consumption and simpler living.   As a result, I know some of my friends regard me as a nutter, yet others openly share the same issues or at least an intrigue in the subject matter.   And for that I am very much relieved and thankful they were in the audience last week.

For anyone who hasn't seen No Impact Man, in summary, it's a movie about Colin Beavan and his experiment to engage his family in a twelve-month challenge to reduce their impact on the environment, by finding ways to live more sustainably. They don't venture off into the wilds to live in a yurt and raise sheep, but function from a high rise apartment block in New York, commiting themselves to a year of buying nothing except food, switching to local produce, producing zero waste, getting involved with the local community and finally switching off the electricity.

Now that's what I call an extreme lifestyle makeover.

Like other eco-bloggers with extreme sounding projects, Colin Beavan has been highly criticised by many individuals, including some environmental writers who felt that his high profile project went too far in the drive for sustainability, as well as those critics who believed he was meddling with the "American Way" and its diet of consumer growth.  One of the ironies of this project is indeed that his wife, Michelle, was a writer for US publication Business Week, which promotes the latest trends in the technology and innovation that help drive the American Way, a point made on-film by one of Beavan's friends.  Naturally others have criticised that the sole purpose of the project was simply that Beavan, already an established author, could secure a contract to write another book.

Well, he probably has pushed sustainability further than most families would accept.  And yes, his writing really could meddle with the American Way, threatening the happiness of capitalists, but only if everyone did it of course (see first point).  And it is true, Colin Beavan did plan to write a book based on his experience.

However, whether you're eco or not, or indeed someone with a grudge that he got a book-deal (and a movie), I wouldn't let any of that get in the way of watching the film and drawing your own conclusions.   It is really worth it to debate ways in which you can downsize aspects of No Impact Man to apply to your own lifestyle far away from New York, especially in an age where other practicalities may drive change as opposed to eco flag-flying.  Take the impact on their health for instance.  By simply changing their diet and cycling more, the family admitted to being much healthier and fitter. 

But if you are a green crusader, please don't get absorbed by a pile of guilt should you feel that you haven't done enough by comparision.  And don't get uptight in thinking their extreme action may get in the way of the more mainstream green message.   Only the few can manage extremism for whatever reasons those may be, and since finishing the No Impact experiment, Colin Beavan and his family, having learned much more about themselves, have ditched the stuff that was too inconvenient but kept the sustainable habits that made a positive difference to their busy city lives.

When I first discovered the No Impact Man blog, in 2008, my own thoughts were that the project was too extreme for my tastes and even now, the extent to which they unplugged from the grid for six months I simply regard as an unecessary step.  However, I acknowledge that they ventured out more and took up new activities which they would never have done if they still had the comforts of electricity at home.  It shows how in some cases you have to experience "giving up" to enjoy the benefits of "taking up".  Even so, that said, I can't quite see any benefits in giving up loo roll, no matter what the argument Colin.  Take up recycled toilet paper maybe, but not ditch it all together.

I see Colin Beavan as a "nouveau vert", one of the many people along with My Zero Waste and Fake Plastic Fish who are beginning to actualise their own motivations for modern eco action and openly share their experiences online using the platform that social media gives them - or rather, "us", if I should include my own musings at The Rubbish Diet.  Often the "nouveau vert" set themselves challenges and goals that can be openly discussed.  They rarely proclaim this is how things should be done, but share their experience in a "By heck, I did it" kind of fashion or a "Well, that didn't quite work did it" type of approach, coupled with knowledge sharing about what does work and why change is important to them.

Aside from the No Impact Man movie and back to the UK, I think Dave Hampton, The Carbon Coach, sums up well the subject of eco-change and the impact it brings.  He recognises that change can only come from within and that "happiness increase" and "damage habit reduction" go together.  He says it may look slow acting, but change can be joyfully contagious and exponential.

But when faced with guilt that you are not doing enough, or indeed that society isn't doing enough, what then?  This can lead to frustration in you and in others and  this is a real issue that affects many people.  It's all about the discrepancy between the practicalities in becoming more sustainable, the guilt for not doing more and the wish to expand beyond an individual's boundaries. In a Facebook update the other week, Dave Hampton seemed to crack it.  And these are his words of wisdom...the same words that I shared with the audience of No Impact Man last week.

"Please ONLY reduce your personal footprint to the extent it makes you and yours authentically HAPPIER!!! Then STOP doing so!
Celebrate and enjoy. 
Pause and witness - all around you - the scenery going a slightly brighter shade of green - with you.
Repeat as necessary for your ongoing happiness."

So now that I've shared that with you,  in the hope it lifts any feelings of eco-guilt,  I'd better get back to the more important task in hand, which today happens to be washing up and mopping the floors...using my reusuable cloths, chemical-free mop and refillable washing up liquid of course.  

You see, you don't need to be an eco-expert to change the world, just a mop and a dishcloth will do at times, in which case I'd better go and find my housewife's apron.


Colin Beavan's blog No Impact Man can be found at   More information about the movie can be found at