Caroline Roy's Blog

Hong Kong
I am a recycled travel writer/advertising executive and a long term yoga practitioner. Having to raise two children in Hong Kong has made me an even more passionate green householder. I began to deepen my daily inquiry about sustainable living in 2006, when I was looking for a family home in Germany. I built an eco house in an alpine ecological farming community, where we spend time every year and learn more every time. I feel that it is more important than ever to educate ourselves about our environment. It is a great joy to share ideas, observations and solutions.

Observe, Observe, Observe…

trendsetting or mindsetting?
May 20, 2013

I happened to overhear a conversation in a home ware store, in which the sales staff called eco furniture a trend. It made me think. Technically there is nothing wrong with that remark. Products that have been made from reclaimed materials are becoming more mainstream by the day. And yet, I found the notion of trend unsatisfactory when it comes to cleaning up our lives.
Trends are informed by external sources: what is fashionable? what does everybody else do? what is expected of me? I would like to think that buying furniture, food or anything else with a conscience is a result of the understanding that we need to consume with great care. See the difference as trendsetting on the one hand, mind-setting on the other hand.
I am making this point because living within our ecological means is more complicated than living within our financial means. It is harder to measure. True, there is a lot of information out there on how to calculate your eco-footprint when you drive from Paris to Berlin, eat a steak or use disposable nappies for 2 years on 3 kids. But often, unexpected inconvenient facts lurk behind our favorite things. You step out of your shortened shower in the morning feeling virtuous, just to find that it costs 140 litres (yes! no typo!) of water to produce the one cup of coffee that you have afterwards. Your shower was about 45 litres. You can already see in this example, that information alone does not answer the most important question: how shall, how can I live and function acknowledging these facts? And what can I do about it? Unless you live off the grid, environmental truths about our daily living will only be the beginning of the internal quest, that journey that leads to change. Information about pollution, waste and destruction of our planet has been around for decades. But it has not led to the dramatic change in behavior that reason would suggest. On the contrary: consumer waste and atmospheric pollution have gone up steadily. We would need more than 5 earths if everyone consumed as much as an average American – Europeans ‘only’ using half, which still is almost 3 times too much. I do not even want to think about how this applies to Hong Kongers…
It is a long path for information to travel to our hands, which is where those consumption patterns manifest every day from morning to night: turning the tap on, using toothpaste, shampoo, cosmetics, cotton towels, phones, computers, coffee, food, busses, cars and offices, shipping goods, buying food, dressing our families in clothes, swimwear, sportsgear… you may want to create your own chain of daily use. Where is the missing link between what we know and what we do.
In the workshops I used to give as a coach in London, I often asked participants to notice their shoulders and chest. The moment I mentioned shoulders, people invariably began to lift their chests, drew their shoulders back and assumed an open posture. I did not tell them to do so. I just asked them to notice their shoulders.
So, what happened? Noticing what the shoulders are doing initiated a correction. The self correcting effect of awareness never fails. You can observe it in every context. That is why continuous observation, self study and awareness are such powerful tools in creating changes.
It sounds ironic, but in a dense civilized environment, money can be an effective awareness tool as well. At present, we are rarely charged for the actual cost of a transaction, including the costs for the environment caused by production and discharge or goods or services. We are charged only for the product. If the cost of waste that is implied in its production would be added to the consumer price of stuff we buy, the table made of reclaimed material would not be a trend, but a no-brainer. It would cost a third of the price of a table made of virgin materials.  But since the consumer world does not yet apply ‘environmentally correct charging patterns’ (making that up was fun!), we need our observation and reflection to turn facts  into meaningful change.
So from opening your eyes in the morning till closing them at night again, take a mental note of what you use, consume, throw away. No need to judge, just look. Take notes, stay interested,  and after a week, ask: has anything changed? What? Just observe.
Connecting with our inner gauge is a great way to reset our minds to a consumption pattern that works for us, personally. Once we shift from trendsetting to mind-setting, information can become a vehicle in creating meaningful change.

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