WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY?
Romain had to answer this question in 2009 during the oral examination for the admission to a MBA program at a university in Berlin. At that time, the word sustainability was not much in use and not so much related to environmental discussions.
A simple answer -that would have let me shine in front of the jury for sure! - is the following (true) story: in the XIIIth century, the population increase in Western Europe led to a massive forest clearance in order to create arable land for food. On the other hand, the growing demand for timber and firewood for the larger community had to be covered. As the forests could not regenerate properly any longer, woodstock became scarce. In order to ensure a regulated supply, farmers had to learn how to manage a forest, to harvest in a certain periodically recurring rhythm, to let it grow gain. Since the XIVth century, Western Europeans learned to manage wood resources cautiously and efficiently.
Sustainability has thus not only environmental aspects, but also economic and social ones. What Romain and Martin believe, is that everyone of us should apply this concept at his own scale, rather than blaming politicians for inactions, or the whole world for greed and an imminent apocalypse. We are not giving any lessons here, we consider ourselves are environmental sinners in view of our carbon footprint.
Most of the following hints concern simple actions in our daily life. We also believe that sharing our experiences with you is worth doing. We inspire you, you inspire us and can share your experience. Here are our hints - and to follow our example with forests, let's start with trees:
MAKE YOUR INTERNET SEARCH ENGINE ECOLOGICAL
Nothing simpler to plant trees: this start-up from Berlin has created a search engine as alternative to Google. You install it (for free), that's it. From then, nothing else to do. Web searches automatically go via Ecosia. Since we have been using it in 2016, we have not noticed any difference. Except one: 80% of the profits through advertisement are donated to the "Plant a billion trees" program, so we can track the number of trees that we contributed to plant: almost 400 in one year.
We are both strong believers of a liberal & globalized economy. And we don't want to renounce to the pleasure of eating a banana from Costa Rica in the winter, or buying the latest gadget produced in China. Nevertheless, we are conscious that our purchasing decisions might have negative environmental ,economic and social effects with a real impact on the quality of life where we live. We support the existence of a variety of local owner-managed companies, because we believe they need to survive besides the international groups - we want that the inner cities remain attractive. Albi in the south of France has been used as symptom of the death of inner cities where local shops have no chance to survive against commercial centers in the peripheries. We don't want that to happen where we live.
REDUCE YOUR ENERGY BILL
In September 2016, the Swiss population has adopted an ambitious program that not only aims at reducing CO2 emissions to the levels agreed at the Climate summit COP21 in Paris, but also at improving the energetic efficiency, so that the country can have a sustainable coverage of its energy needs - without the use of nuclear power. This program could have been strengthened in 2021, but the CO2 initiative has been rejected. And as of 2022, nuclear power seems to become again popular. Anyway.
Being attentive at buying energy efficient products, reminding our neighbors that they shouldn't keep the light in the cellar on at night (on this one Romain could really feel the "ecologist activist" etiquette sticked on his face). We even considered installing solar panels at our roof top, but we opted for an investment of 5m2 of solar panels on the Friedenberg school roof top from November 2017 as part of an ambitious program of the ERZ & Stadt Zurich.
REDUCE YOUR FOSSIL FUEL CONSUMPTION
Romain has been earning his salary for over 15 years on working on machines that either consume fossil fuels or support their extraction, processing, storage or transport.
And at each stage produce inevitably greenhouse gases and pollute the environment. The end products are not only electricity, heat and gasoline, but also everyday plastic and clothes.
We believe in a future which is less dependent on fossil fuels and any project which goes into this direction makes sense to be investigated. We avoid buying or using plastic bags as far as it is possible. We renounced to buy a new car (even electric) - since 2019 it has had a low negative impact on our mobility needs and a big positive impact on our finances. We have found nearby one shop selling their products with less or no plastic, but we still haven't changed our bad habits here..
IMPROVE YOUR CARBON FOOTPRINT
Like many of you, we love travelling. But what does this mean for our own carbon footprint? Alone our flight to Hawai'i in 2016 and back produced CO2 emissions amounting to 4.5 tons. That is more than half of the current annual budget of a European citizen, and twice as much as our goal in relation to a “low-carbon society”. A dilemma...
This problem cannot be resolved. But with the right awareness, good planning and the willingness to take responsibility, there’s a lot we can do with regard to our own emissions. Tips on conscientious travel can be found, for example, at fairunterwegs.org. We offset meanwhile all our flights via myclimate.org, a nonprofit climate protection organisation spun off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich in 2002 based in Switzerland to enable climate protection with economic mechanisms such as carbon offsetting.
PLANT TREES OR LET THEM PLANT FOR YOU
Romain's birthday wish in 2017 was to plant a lot of trees thanks to the iplantatree.org association. This German association has planted more than 230.000 trees in Germany in the past 10 years and selects specific areas suitable for reforestation. So far 387 trees have been planted in Romain's name, most of them in Berlin Mittelheide and Yucatan, Mexico.
You can also register at www.plant-for-the-planet.org and start to grow your forest there.
RECYCLE AS MUCH AS YOU CAN
Switzerland has a very fair waste disposal system. The more waste you produce, the more you pay - in terms of special rubbish bags only allowed in the rubbish containers. Recycling is therefore popular as you can thus reduce the amount of normal rubbish. Some supermarkets started in 2016 to collect packaging from milk & juice cartons, detergent dispensers, plastic bottles. Aldi Suisse is for instance also in charge of the transport of these items to a recycling facility in Frauenfeld. It is estimated that the impact on the environment is reduced by about one third as through the usual incineration, and Aldi Suisse pays a substantial amount to have this better image.
Look at your investments. Not only at your shares on the stock exchange, but also at your pension funds, the way your banks use the money you place there. Desinvestment is a word that gained popularity in 2015 in regards to the massive implication of international banks into large oil & gas exploration projects, drillings for new oil fields, transport pipelines like the Dakota pipeline (which created an international protest action in 2016 with the "Standing Rock" movement). Disinvestment is a concerted economic boycott to pressure banks to remove their assets in the fossil energy industry. And most people ignore that they can actively do something:
- you can change the nature of its funds. In 2022 Romain finally changed the bank institute to Alternative Bank which focuses only on investments in environmentally "clean" businesses, and his investments are with ETFs related to the companies best rated with the ESG (Environmental , Social and Governance) criteria. This criteria is worldwide established in the financial sector.
- you might contact your pension funds institute to lear more about the nature of the investments (or let do others do it for you on ww.renten-ohne-risiko.ch)
INVEST IN SOLAR ENERGY
Solar panels can be installed on the balcony, on the roof top, and you don't need any government subsidiary anymore to ensure a fast return on investment (typically within eight years). Most people still have an old-fashioned image of this technology, not realizing how dramatic PV prices collapsed in the past 10 years.
As we rent our apartment in a house, we would have to share the electricity produced by solar panels with our neighbors. We rather opted for an investment of 5m2 of solar panels on the Friesenberg school roof top from November 2017.
BUY MORE BIO
Truly speaking, we have long never paid much attention to organic products, that we thought would be reserved to a portion of a well-thinking social class of green pseudo-activists.. Perhaps we turned into that category meanwhile - we see it differently. First, organic products are everywhere and not necessarily more expensive then other products. Then, we realized during a tour at our local water treatment station (in September 2017) that many of our cosmetic products leave micro-plastic in the water that cannot be not removed by such stations. This is tragic but no affordable technology allows it today. So we decided to buy our cosmetic products (shower gel, shampoo) and also detergents, from Alverde, Everdrop, Better for Less and other brands that meet natural ingredients, low packaging waste and no micro plastic.