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Less is more

August 3, 2009

This past couple of weeks I’ve read some things that have got me thinking about my habits as a consumer, a topic which is brought to the forefront of my mind frequently enough, but which then easily sinks into the background, usually without any modification of habits or behaviour on my part.

The first was a couple of articles about The Manchester report. Back in mid-May the Guardian newspaper and the Manchester International Festival put out a call for suggestions on how to tackle climate change. They then put together an expert panel who reviewed the ideas and put together a list of the top 10 to be put forward to the policy makers.

The top 10, as well as 10 runners up are listed in this article. It’s really interesting reading. The suggestions, as you might expect, focus on technological solutions, but it was one of the other suggestions that really caught my attention:

One of the most quietly inspiring presentations came from Rosemary Randall, a Cambridge psychotherapist who had been puzzled by the ability of people at the same time to acknowledge the threat of climate change and in no way change their high carbon lifestyle. Randall designed a series of “carbon conversations” in which she encourages people to explore their attitude to consumption, identity and status. People who have been on her course of six meetings typically reduce their emissions by a tonne immediately and then plan to cut in half within two to five years. Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation offered an even simpler prescription: consume less. It might even make us happier too.

The other was something I read in the latest issue of Dumbo Feather, in their interview with David Trubridge, a man whose attitude towards his craft and his business is really impressive, and who is particularly concerned with what it really means to live an environmentally responsible life:

We’ve got this insane addiction to growth which is impossible. People talk about ‘sustainable growth’, well hello, it just can’t happen, it can’t go on forever. It’s like we’re in this situation where the whole consumer thing is a pyramid scheme. For sure, it’s creating more wealth at the top of the pyramid, the nearer you get the more obscene the wealth, but like all pyramid schemes, it can’t go on forever …We’re now seeing the limits of that and it requires a very uncomfortable change and shift in our values and morals. I’m finding it as hard as the next person, I still do most of the things I do, knowing that I can’t actually go on doing that.

Takeaway Coffee Cups

Ditto. I still do most of the things I do, knowing I can’t go on doing that, knowing that probably the most important thing I can do, that everyone can do, is reduce how much we consume. It’s not an easy thing to think about. I like to think that, on a scale of greenie to suburban-4WD, I’m much closer to greenie. I turn appliances and lights off when they’re not in use and I catch public transport most of the time. But so much of what I consume is done without thought. Some, the basics, are necessary. Others are not. Too many occur as the result of habitual compulsion.

The question, I think, is how do we properly engage with what our consumption means, not just to the environment, but to our own lives, our homes. I love the idea of carbon conversations, and if something like that was run here, I’d certainly attend. But it’s not enough to say that, and then go back to normal. I can’t wait for someone else to lead the way, be it the government (Hello? Mr Rudd? Are you there?), or anyone else. I have to get on with it, just like everyone else, because immediate action is necessary.

So I’m doing it. I’ve started making some changes, and I’m going to write about them as I go. Already I realise that I’m not actually talking about things that, once changed, will reduce my comfort or happiness. Yes, they require some initial thought and changes to habit, but odds are, long-term, they will actually improve the quality of my life.

The first thing I’ve made a little adjustment to is one of my daily habits. Every weekday I get a large flat-white, a heavenly Campos coffee, which is drunk on the train on my way into work. Every time, without fail, as I get off the train, and the (unrecyclable) cup goes in the bin, I feel a twinge of guilt.

No more! Happily, a couple of weeks ago Meet Me At Mikes twittered about her new KeepCup. It’s an attractive(!) reusable cup that can be recycled at the end of its life. I ordered one pretty much straight away. It turned up on my doorstep a few days later, and I danced a little jig as I opened the box.


It’s my new daily companion and I love it. It’s estimated lifespan is 4 years and I have 5 takeaway coffees a week, so… that’s approximately 260 cups a year. If I use this KeepCup for 4 years then I will have saved 1040 takeaway cups from going into landfill! That’s huge!

So, the challenge now is to keep making little changes. But this has been a really good way to get some positive momentum going. I just have to keep it up.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. August 3, 2009 12:20 pm

    That’s awesome. Tell me, was your barista fine with using the KeepCup? I would be nervous to ask, but when I think about it, the people at my local cafe are lovely, and would likely be fine with it. I think I’ll give it a go!

    • maybenextweek permalink*
      August 3, 2009 12:48 pm

      Hey Yas,

      I’m so excited you’re getting one!

      It’s funny you ask about the barista. The first time I took it in I was really worried that they might refuse to use it or something, (which is stupid, because they’re really nice). I was especially nervous because I get the same coffee every day, so the barista usually starts making it as soon as I walk in the door, before I’ve even paid, and I was worried I’d have to yell out to wait til I’d given him my cup! Luckily there was a queue, and when I got to the front I just handed it over with a smile, and they didn’t even comment, they just made my coffee as usual. It’s so weird that I was running all these scenarios through my head though. But really, it’s no different to refusing a plastic bag, and using your own.

  2. August 3, 2009 3:19 pm

    that’s really cool. i love heavy, flat white coffee cups.
    i’ve made some large and small changes in our family
    over the last few years but have been stagnent in the last
    year, not making any new changes. not sure…. must think

    • maybenextweek permalink*
      August 6, 2009 7:49 pm

      Hey Maggie, I think it must be hard to keep constantly making changes – there are plateaus as well, like with most things, as what were changes turn into (good) habits. I think it must be much harder when you’re making changes that impact the lives and habits of other people, especially kids, who (from what I know), tend to thrive on routine and familiarity.

  3. August 3, 2009 7:49 pm

    Go you for making a small but very important positive environmental change!!

    I really have to get myself a Keep Cup – I was kind of waiting for them to bring out an extra jumbo sized cup as I love (and need) lots of caffeine…

    • maybenextweek permalink*
      August 6, 2009 7:47 pm

      Hi Tracey, Yip, I saw on the KeepCup site they’re planning a large (which is really a jumbo – the one I got is a normal large). I’m really loving mine. My local barista likes it cause it’s the same size/dimensions as the takeaway cups, so it fits under the machine. And another customer asked for the details, which just adds to the good-feelingness of the whole thing!

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