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Hello dear readers, my name is Anna and I am a team member of Invite Japan/Nazobako. Recently our company is trying to integrate the SDG (Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations) into your services and products. Since we are an international team, our CEO, Yamada-san, gave all of us a homework to research what our respective home countries or cities are doing to support the SDG.

I started researching, and while I still intend to “hand in” my homework, early on after I was inspired to think: What can I myself do in the situation I am living in? So this is what I would like to write about first – I would like to take you along with me figuring out a few changes of habit, a few little things here and there, which I can do in my everyday life to help the SDG along on tiny step at a time and invite you to do the occasional tiny step in the framework of your possibilities as well.

My Carbon Footprint

First of all I want to figure out my carbon footprint, of course it is just one of many measurements and not the answer to everything, but for now I want numbers so I can compare my tomorrows self to myself of today.

So I tried a carbon footprint calculator, which was very US-centric, but at least I have a number now. I live in a two person household, in a very tiny flat in an apartment building, we don’t own a car, we use LED light bulbs, and we recycle. I commute to school by train and work from home. To my knowledge we don’t have a particularly eco friendly energy provider. And of course, because of the pandemic we have not travelled in more than one year.

According to the site my annual footprint is 12.58 tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is the equivalent of 180 trees (or a monthly donation of USD 13…). I’ll take that with a grain of salt, but at least I have a number to work with.

Plant Trees While Browsing the Web?

So, 180 trees… I have used the Ecosia webbrowser before, it promises to use its profits to plant trees all around the world. I was never 100% sure about their legitimacy, but a quick research and a check on it appears quite legit. So, can I use it to get “my” 180 trees planted? 

I will take their numbers with a grain of salt as well, of course, and I certainly don’t believe that this will bring me absolution, but I am going to use the Ecosia browser on my work pc and challenge myself to crack the 180 trees within the next year.

Impact of Products?

I wonder if there is a source on the internet that lists the environmental (and maybe even social) impact of individual products, so I can check if supplementing A for B is not in fact a bad deal.

For example, I have recently started to mainly drink almond milk instead of cow’s milk, mainly because I don’t use milk often and the shelf life of plant milks is so much longer. When I bought cow’s milk it spoiled before I could finish the container many times. With almond milk I was often surprised that it still was fine to drink after, let me guess, three weeks or so. On the other hand I heard bad things about the production of almond milk, while I also know that industrial dairy production is in many cases very cruel. So can I know which product is less bad?

As another example, I have a very high caffeine intake every day, and since I am not a huge coffee drinker I get my caffeine fix with energy drinks. On a normal day I would drink 2 – 3 cans, so that is about 15 aluminum cans per week (I recycle them, but still) with questionable content. I recently started to ditch the energy drinks and replace them with tea and (some) coffee. And of course I’d like to imagine happy, independent tea and  farmers who work hard and get a fair price for a high quality product, but if you (like me) can’t afford premium products for your everyday needs, the conditions of industrial coffee and tea production can lead down a very, very sinister rabbit hole. So, am I really doing the less bad thing here? For my body probably, but is it better for the world?

So, I did some digging here. As always, I did not examine the sources, the purpose is just to find suggestions for myself to contribute a little more to sustainability.

Comparisons between dairy and plant milks are easy to find, even detailed comparisons between plant based milks. While browsing the net I found out that apparently almond milk is much better for the environment than cow milk, but it uses a significant amount of water and can contribute to draughts. According to the article I read, oat milk is the most environmentally friendly of all milks. So next time I need milk, I’ll give oat milk a try, it might even be cheaper than almond milk.

It does not come as a surprise that coffee production has a huge negative impact, but what about tea, and how do both compare to sugary and artificially colored energy drinks in aluminium cans?

Even before looking into the comparison with energy drinks the tea and coffee question got surprisingly intricate. If you take milk with your coffee or tea is, no surprise, the biggest factor. The next point I have honestly never considered before: Don’t boil excessive water, only as much as you need. Certainly, loose tea is much better than teabags, and if I could ditch the coffee filters and use a French press instead, that would also be better. At least in production it seems that coffee and tea are at about the same level with regards to the environment. So a few small changes here and there can sum up. 

And now back to the big question: Will mother Earth be happy about me moving away from energy drinks? 

Surprisingly, aluminium cans are on the “better” end of the scale when it comes to environmentally friendly drink containers (assuming they will be recycled, of course). That came as a surprise. I could not find any information about the environmental impact of the actual production of energy drinks, and I must admit, the appeal to nature fallacy is tempting. So I believe that getting my caffeine fix mainly from tea and the occasional coffee is better than getting it from energy drinks, but as a matter of fact, I really don’t know. I believe that at this point in my life I am lacking the scientific literacy to find out the truth by myself.

Another surprising fact I stumbled upon during my research is that apparently chocolate production is even worse than beef, which I thought was the biggest environmental culprit you could find in the supermarket. I’m sorry, I can definitely not forgo chocolate in my life, but from now on, whenever my wallet allows me to, I will pick ecologically and socially friendly sourced chocolate in the supermarket.

Carrying the Weight of the World?

I am just an individual in a first world country, so the impact I have to help with the achievement of the SDG goals by 2030 is minimal. I can make minimal, more ecological and ethical choices in my everyday life, I can write blog posts like this, and most importantly, I can vote with my wallet. In the end, it is down to big corporations and even social structures to make the big changes in the world, so if we all buy a little more from the good people and a little less from the bad, we can communicate what we want – that we want a good life on planet earth for everybody.

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