Live Lagom: New Year’s Resolutions for Sustainable Living

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For many, Christmas is the epitome of excess. Sitting at my parents surrounded by the last remnants of wrapping paper, overflowing bins and untouched Christmas cake overshadowed by even more delectable boxes of chocolates, I could vouch for that. In contrast, January marks a month of frugality and dieting as we struggle to cling onto the last few pounds in our bank accounts whilst shedding the extra pounds round our middles. Somewhere in-between this though, we can find ‘Lagom är bäst’ – my motto for 2016 and the title of a new project lead by Ikea and Hubbub.

Lagom är bäst’ is Swedish for ‘the right amount is best’, or ‘just enough’. It’s the focus of a large new project I’m participating in – a collaboration between Ikea, the charity Hubbub, and the University of Southampton, to help everyday households live more sustainably. I’m so excited that I can finally talk about it as I was first approached to take part back in the autumn. I’ve since attended a workshop at Ikea and had a home visit by Ikea and Hubbub workers. I have a feeling I might be the smallest household in the project with my studio flat, but across the UK around 150 households are taking part over the next few months.

What does the project involve?

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If everyone lived as we do in the UK currently we’d need the resources of three planets to support us. We all have a responsibility to cut down on our environmental impact and a huge amount of time and resources are being put into research and policy to help us do this. Yes, business and industry are major perpetrators but this doesn’t take the onus off individuals – together we can make a difference.

Live LAGOM is part experiment, part awareness-building project. The participants (who were selected via an application process through the IKEA Family network or based on current involvement with similar projects) were each given up to £500 to spend on IKEA products, specifically selected to encourage and enable sustainable living at home. Available items included LED light fittings, storage for recycling, water saving taps and heat-saving curtain liners. We had to complete an initial questionnaire about our habits and awareness and will be asked to report our progress throughout the project running until summer 2016.

I was invited to a morning workshop at my local Southampton store with six other participants where we learnt about the project and got to see some of the products IKEA have developed to help sustainable living. I was really impressed with IKEA’s dedication and the knowledge of staff as they gave us a tour of the store, learning as much about their sustainable operations as they products they sold.

All three of the project leaders are directly involved in the sustainability agenda. Even Ikea, whom I’ve long had concerns about for flogging cheap stuff to consumers who have no qualms about chucking it out when they move house or fancy a change of décor, are pioneering both sustainable living and more sustainable production. For example, Ikea are a founding member of the Better Cotton Initiative, becoming the first major retailer to use 100% cotton from more sustainable sources in 2015. In addition, the IKEA Group produced renewable energy equivalent to 53% of the total energy consumption in its operations, and is on track for 100% by 2020.

HUBBUB is a new charity with a fresh approach to environmental stewardship. I’m totally on board with their ethos of focusing on the positives of making environmentally friendly choices – having fun and saving money – rather than doom and gloom lecturing. This year they ran upcycling workshops for clothing with many more activities in store for 2016. Finally, the University of Surrey have made sustainable living and sustainable development a focus of their research and engagement efforts with the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group and brand new international Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity. I’ll be very interested to see what they do with the data from the Live LAGAOM project.

My New Year’s Resolutions

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So that’s an introduction to the project. I had my IKEA shopping trip in December. It felt odd chucking things in a trolley for free; I couldn’t bring myself to spend my whole £500! It went a long way, even by spending nearly half of it on a massive rug to keep my feet warm. I will collect my shopping this week and will prepare future blog updates around my progress on the resolutions listed below. In general, I think I do alright with my sustainability efforts – I don’t have a tumble drier, I’m careful with water, I recycle, and I love buying second-hand goods. That said, there’s plenty of room for improvement so my resolutions for 2016 are:

1. Zero food waste. I don’t waste much food but I do waste some – the slimy lettuce, stale bread, over abundance of cooked rice, etc. Living alone it’s fairly easy to keep track of but I have a habit of buying a weeks’ worth of veg forgetting that I’m away for a long weekend so my aim for 2016 is to be scrupulously careful with food. I have some great new containers from IKEA to help. They’re glass (so no worries about leaching plastic) but with a secure plastic lid. I love them! One thing that really upsets me is the fact that living in a flat I have nowhere to put my compost waste. There’s not much I can do about this but I do plan to ask the freeholder if they’d consider a composting area outside. I also want to forage for my own food more and have lined up a course I want to take to learn more about it.

2. Stop wasting heat. I have drafty windows with little if no insulation. Being in a top floor flat only one of my four windows has curtains (two are skylights) and even those are incredibly thin. I got new curtains, blackout liners and blinds from IKEA so expect a post on my efforts at fitting those!

3. Achieve 100% recycling. I have good recycling – Southampton City Council take plastic, tins, paper and glass and I’m mostly good with it but occasionally you just can’t be bothered to wash a jar, right? I’m sure I’m not alone with this? I could do more basically – very little needs to go in my bin.

4. Save water. Again, I do think about water consumption but there is more I can do. I’ve started to be innovative already, like filling up my hot water bottle with water used to steam vegetables (beware of spillage) but I can save even more by taking fewer baths and shorter showers, and using the washing up bowl acquired at IKEA rather than filling up the sink.

Some of my IKEA products will help me live more sustainably without changing my habits. I already turn lights off when I’m not in a room, but my new LED light bulbs will save me up to 80% of energy I’m currently using. Similarly, an electric timer attached to the plug will end the need to keep phones charging all night.

Watch this space for future blog updates!

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Shopping at Whole Foods Market the Way Nature Intended

Whilst in Cheltenham for a weekend break, my friend spotted Whole Foods Market amidst a crowded retail park on the edge of town. Having previously visited one of their stores in New York she raved that they were a super exciting place to shop so we decided to call in for a look (and for lunch). I didn’t know what to expect from Whole Foods but suffice to say, once inside I was like a kid in a candy shop. It’s like Whole Foods has curated all of my favourite things and put them under one roof – loose teas available by the weight, organic beauty products, amazing cakes, refillable wine and grains and cereals lined up like pick-and-mix. Whole Foods provides a more sustainable and ethical way to do your weekly shop and I love it.

I did some research once I got home and the business started in the US and now has a growing number of stores across the UK. Currently mainly situated in London, I really hope that they expand here, and quickly (Hampshire/Sussex would be great thanks!). I really, really hate packaging. I can see why supermarkets feel the need for it but we could all be buying many of our basics in the old fashioned way – in loose form, by weight, in refillable containers. The Whole Foods Market I went to was definitely smaller than your average supermarket but it still had all of the staples. What it didn’t have were the abundance of convenience foods and copious freezers full of ready meals that fill the shelves of all of our other supermarkets, because really, they are the things we can certainly live without. Just picture your local supermarket’s collection of toilet roll – do we really need all that choice? No.

Whole Foods also had a selection of ready-to-eat hot and cold foods – pizza, a salad bar, curry. You could take the food away or sit in their cafe area where they also sell hot drinks and cake. I could keep prattling on but the pictures say it better than I can. Happy days.

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Blog Update: Ethical consumption, organic living, sustainability, fashion & me!

My blog started nearly three years now, and since then it feels like everyone has a blog. I’ve kept a diary on and off since I was nine, so I guess it’s just an extension of that, except if I published my actual diary my stats would probably go through the roof (not that I’m saying I lead a particularly exciting life). Moving on . . .

My blog has evolved since first inception but not massively (I’m still totally indebted to Mike and Mic for helping me set it up, thank you boys!). It started as purely an ethical fashion site but I have since posted on various sustainability issues. Still though, I feel a bit limited in what I feel I can talk about despite the fact that in some ways I’ve become more interested in the ethical part rather than the fashion part of ethical fashion. Many of the blogs I really enjoy reading include interiors, foodie posts and organic living.

So am I going to stop blogging about ethical fashion? (whatever ethical/eco/sustainable fashion may be) No. But I am changing tack. I’m in the very, very early stages of developing a new website, and this will be a website not a blog. It will cover all kinds of ethical consumption topics, but in a way relevant to the average shopper (there, I said it, I have to do it now). This is some time off though and I don’t want to give much away to be honest, why spoil the surprise! This blog (back to the one you’re reading) will therefore be more about me, my life and anything to do with ethical and sustainable living that takes my fancy. Me is my PhD, my newly purchased flat, yoga, health and fitness, fashion and textiles, food and second-hand/old stuff. I’ll still be an ethical fashion chic, that’s part of the package, but I also have the platforms of the Oxfam fashion blog and Ms Wandas Wardrobe to talk about that, both of which I’m a regular contributor to.

Ethical/sustainable living is in essence what I will be writing about, so just like it is now, but with pictures of cake amongst the clothes. It’s quite new to me too, this ethical/sustainable living stuff, so I want to do a bit of exploring. I’m the ultimate supermarket convenience shopper and it’s only recently that I’ve grasped much context of what fruit and veg even cost, I’d just chuck it in the trolley. It’s difficult when you live in a tiny flat with no garden and money is greatly limited but I want to start thinking more about where my food is coming from, and rely less on chemical cleaners and plastics. I picked up this organic living book in Oxfam which I’m using as a starting point. It tells you how to make organic beauty products, natural cleaners, how to grow fruit and veg and erm, keep a cow. I’m not giving up my make-up though, oh no.

OrganicBook

Anyone got any tips? (on organic living, not keeping a cow)

Cake!

Cake!

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