I’ve never been happier to flip my calendar over to a new month as I was on 1st February. It seems like January has been a total slog for absolutely everyone and in all honesty, watching the evenings and mornings gradually get lighter has been the most exciting part of the last few weeks for me. But on a more positive note, I’ve been really enjoying the challenge of making some real sustainable changes in my life and this is what I’m going to be chatting about today!
January sustainability round up
If this is your first time here (hey!), catch up on my sustainability goals for January before reading on.
Food: take part in Veganuary
I did it! Unlike the unmitigated disaster of 2017, I stuck to a whole month on a vegan diet and I’m pretty damn proud. As a vegetarian of two years, I went into the challenge feeling pretty confident but it was definitely tougher than I imagined in a few different ways.
In my day to day life as a veggie, I rarely buy animal products alone and the vast majority of meals I cook are vegan so in that sense, I barely noticed a change. However, when it came to eating on the go or snacking, I’ll admit to feeling frustrated at times. On one occasion, I did find myself gazing longingly at baguettes stuffed with cheese as I grudgingly picked up a classic hummus and salad filled sandwich. But as I’m physically able to prepare my own meals, I’m already trying to cut down on plastic-wrapped sandwiches and ready meals so going vegan really did push me to be more organised and make some tasty lunches.
On those days where I didn’t have my shit together, I’m lucky that the last two years has seen a massive increase in vegan (and vegetarian) food in restaurants and supermarkets so I was always able to find something to eat. This month in particular, I’ve loved the M&S Plant Kitchen range and it seems like everyone else feels the same because my favourite dish – Roast Aubergine with Grains – has been sold out every time I’ve ventured into the store across the road from my office. Restaurant wise, my winners for the month have to be the Baltic Market (pictured above) and Zizzi’s four ‘cheese’ pizza and vegan cheesecake: both were so delicious that I’d order them over the real deal any day.
I wasn’t perfect throughout January: with three accidental slip ups and one major willpower fail (cookie dough with ice cream, I know…), it’s definitely made me realise how thoughtful people with different dietary requirements need to be on a daily basis. But I’m pretty proud at how I clung to my willpower when there was a selection box sat in my desk drawer just crying out to be eaten. And yes, it’s been demolished now that February has begun.
So, you may have guessed from this post that I won’t be staying a full time vegan for now. However, I’ve massively reduced my dairy consumption over the last year and will continue to do so but a greater priority for me is cooking more for myself and buying less ready made meals. I think many of us feel that it’s a constant battle to be more ethical but what I’m learning is that things are never purely good or bad. You could be 100% vegan and buying tons of plastic-wrapped food without recycling, or an occasional meat eater who shops purely at local organic farms where the carbon footprint is minimal. In fact, another of my challenges this year may reflect this thinking – stay tuned to find out more!
Travel: offset my carbon emissions
My second pledge for the month was to offset the carbon emissions from my flights in the Philippines. I’ve learned a lot through my research this month: for example, did you know that planting trees isn’t necessarily a good way to carbon offset? Ethical Consumer advises that these schemes attracted criticism because they’re more temporary stores of carbon than long term solutions. Once a tree has reached its maximum size, it stopps absorbing CO2 and sit there – if they’re ever cut down again, the CO2 is released
So instead of my romantic idea that I’d contribute to a beautiful forest somewhere, I decided to invest my money in a renewable energy offset scheme, more specifically wind power. From my research, this is one of the better ways to offset as it addresses one of the largest causes of climate change – the use of fossil fuels. There’s so much information out there that choosing a particular project is hard but with this blog post looming, I eventually chose a wind power scheme on the United Nations’ carbon offset platform.
If you’re considering choosing a carbon offset programme for yourself, look into other factors surrounding it before you go ahead and invest. The UN platform mentioned above and Gold Standard website list a number of factors that their projects influence, including the benefits for local jobs and construction of facilities like schools and clean water in those areas.
While I’ve offset CO2 from my travel to the Philippines only, I’m aware that my day to day impact is so much greater than this. So, I’m going to continue looking into the best ways to offset my carbon footprint from energy, travel and food and potentially add a regular donation into my monthly outgoings. I’ll keep you updated!
My sustainable goals for February 2019
So now, it’s onto the month ahead! It’s a short month and also a funny one for me because I’m away for just over two weeks out of four. Yes, my Philippines trip is finally here and it feels very surreal that I’ll actually be visiting one of my dream destinations in under a week’s time! So this month’s resolutions in my #24changesforgood challenge are all based around making my travels more sustainable.
Travel: avoid plastic bags and water bottles
When I think back to backpacking Asia a few years ago, it makes me sick to think just how many plastic water bottles I got through. Despite always buying the largest size possible and decanting, I couldn’t deal with the thought of having to do the same again. So I’ll be taking my resusable tote bags with me and I’ve finally ordered a travel water bottle! After reading a ton of reviews because I’m pretty nervous about getting ill, I’ve chosen a WaterWell model that claims to kill 99% of parasites and bacteria in water.
I’m really hoping to use this water bottle (filled from the tap) instead of bottled water throughout my whole trip but obviously, sometimes you just can’t avoid picking up a bottle. In next month’s update, I’ll give you the full run down of how I found it.
Travel: participate in more eco-friendly tours
Along similar lines, I really want to put my money into where it can do the most good during my travels. One of my dreams is to see a whale shark during the trip but after hearing some awful things about the treatment of animals in Oslob, we decided to swerve it in favour of Donsol.
Apparently, this area takes a much more sustainable approach to interacting with the whale sharks: sightings aren’t guaranteed because the creatures aren’t fed to keep them in the area and you aren’t allowed to get too close. I’d love to observe these gentle giants but who knows what will happen on the day!
As well as an eco-friendly whale shark tour, I’d really like to invest in tour companies that benefit local people and businesses without being exploitative. Once I’m home, I’ll be compiling a list of all the companies I used in various areas and my thoughts on them all so if you’re interested in that type of thing, I’ll post the link here when it goes live.
So, those are my two resolutions for the month of February! As I said earlier, it’s a bit disjointed because I’m away for so much of February but I’m hoping that even while I’m travelling, I can still create some new habits to carry along with me on all my future trips.
If you’ve got any more tips for sustainable travel in the Philippines (or South East Asia generally), let me know!
P.S. Find out how I got on in my March 2019 sustainability update.