I’ve been MIA here at Ecowannabe because I’ve been trying to get organised to move house next week – I always forget how big of an operation moving is! Things are all being sorted, culled, packed, archived etc.. I realised how much stuff I’ve accumulated which is almost completely unnecessary.

But as an aside, in my moving, I’ve come across the company Free Solar, and want to urge all Queensland homeowners that may be reading this to go out and take advantage of the company’s offer to install solar power, for free, up until the end of April. No gimmick!

Here in Queensland, we have an abundance of sunshine – most of our days are crystal clear blue skies and scorching Aussie sun, and our government has implemented an $8000 rebate towards the cost of installation of solar panels. Free Solar are offering installation of solar panels to any house for this price only, meaning you effectively get free solar power installation!

The company is swamped with work, however, and are ending this offer on the 20th of April 2009. Just a few weeks away! They say it will be at least nine monthe before they can complete their current backlog of orders, by which time the rebate will have ended. So anyone reading this from Queensland, hurry up and place an order! I will be 🙂

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As I’m currently immersed in the realm of buying a house, my world has been revolving around banks, banking and more banking recently! It occurred to me during this process that who we choose to do our banking with is possibly one of the biggest decisions we can make in regards to our attempts at sustainable-living. Considering that who we bank with is essentially who we are lending our money to, what is the point of living sustainably if our money is being used to invest in businesses with unsustainable practices that harm rather than nurture our planet?

I started to think, how is it that people choose who they bank with? Is their decision based on cost and fee-structures? Is it based on who they have always banked with and their current comfort levels with the services they’re used to? Is it based on who their parents banked with and tradition? Or is it, as was the case with myself, based on which bank came to their primary school when they were six years old and opened an account for them with the aim of teaching them about the importance of saving early (or getting them early, as I like to think!)? What can we, as conscious green consumers, do to ensure our money is being invested in environmentally and socially friendly corporations and institutions?

As I’ve been thinking of buying a house for the last few years, I did extensive research on mortgages and the banks that financed them and discovered in the process some environmentally and socially friendly banking institutions that I had previously been unaware of:

  1. MECU is a fantastic Melbourne-based credit union that takes an environmental and social approach to their sustainable practices. MECU is a signatory to the United Nations Environment Program Finance Initiative and has a Sustainability Covenant with the Environmental Protection Agency of Victoria. MECU does not invest in institutions or corporations that harm the environment or are not socially ethical. The bank recycles everything, and even ensures that the plastic ATM cards its customers use are made from recycled plastic! They have a variety of green products that offer eco-incentives, such as reduced interest rates on car loans for effecient cars and payment pauses on home loans if homes are having eco-friendly installments such as water tanks or solar panels added.
  2. Bendigo Bank is another Victoria-based bank that has traditionally been focused on supporting local communities. They are moving towards sustainability and have offset their vehicle carbon emmisions, reduced their energy use and built one of Australia’s only 5-star energy rated office buildings. Bendigo Bank offers green loan products for consumers and businesses and has begun the Generation Green iniative aimed at educating their customers on more eco-friendly ways of living. You can also purchased carbon offsets through this scheme.
  3. HSBC is a large international banking group that operates in over 85 countries around the world. HSBC has established a Climate Partnership with Climate Group, Earthwatch, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the WWF aimed at addressing environmental issues through widespread, worldwide education and research initiatives.  I was unable to find information on the companies invested in by HSBC unfortunately, so am a bit wary on HSBC, however donating $100 million dollars to these organisations in the Climate Partnership has to be a step in the right direction.
  4. I was surprised to find out that Westpac, a large Australian bank, was also considered a relatively green bank. Westpac has reduced their emissions by 45% in recent years and adheres to the Equator Principles in manging environmental and social risk in project finance. Westpac is ranked number one in the worldwide corporate banking sustainable ranking scheme and offers all its clients discounts on environmentally friendly services. The Sydney Morning Herald, however, is wary of corporate greenwash by Westpac which can be read about in this article.

Personally, I changed all my banking over to MECU. I found the credit union to be friendly, approachable, very well run in relation to their product services. I’ve been very impressed with their commitment to environmental and ethical practices and have felt like I’ve been acknowledged as a REAL PERSON by a financial institution for once, rather than just a client number. Although their fees are marginally higher than the main banks, the fact that I am not contributing to the environmental quagmire we’re currently in through my banking choices well justifies those slightly higher fees, in my opinion.

Some highlights of banking with MECU:

  • All cars financed through MECU have their carbon emissions offset, free of cost, for the life of the loan through MECU’s Conservation Landbank: my car is now carbon neutral!
  • Recycled paper and plastic used in all consumer products and cards: paperless statements are also available.
  • No marketing ever to “increase your credit limit” etc. MECU uses socially responsible banking initiatives.
  • Eco-pause available on home loans where borrowers can take a three month pause from mortgage payments to pay for the installation of grey-water systems, water tanks, solar power and solar hot water etc. This means that in the future I will be able to become completely sustainable.
  • Family repayment pauses are also available meaning if I have a child someday I can take a break from payments to stop working for up to 3 months or 6 months at part-payments.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else banks with environmentally sustainable banks, and if so, what features they offer? I think that this is one of the most important ways to help the environment and one that is often, sadly, overlooked by consumers. What are your thoughts?

We’re well into Autumn here in the southern hemisphere and the cold season is bearing down upon us. As I’m writing this, I’m in bed, trying not to cough, feeling utterly miserable because I’ve got this dreadful cold that just won’t go away! It’s day 8 of the cold today, and I’m being assured by the vast wisdom of online medical advice that most colds don’t last longer than 10 days. That’s little consolation to me right now, however, so I’ve decided to research some natural cold remedies and see if I can find some bona fide green ways to prevent and beat colds, because I don’t quite fancy taking amphetamines (cold and flu tablets, for example) or having a virus injected into me (the flu shot) to do so.

My friend Anna swears by taking Zinc, Vitamin C and Echinacea, which are three very popular natural cold remedies. Zinc apparently prevents the production of the protein in the body that the cold virus needs to reproduce. Vitamin C is supposed to shorten the duration of a cold by boosting the immune system, much like garlic, as is Echinacea, a herb that can be taken as a supplement or brewed as a tea.

My friend Tanya swears by the age-old notion of rest. At the first sign of a cold she rugs up in bed and lets the magic of sleep take effect. She guarantees that simply resting and eating lots of fruit and veg will make a cold vanish. Not to be sneezed at!

And my friend Lisa swears by lemons. Hot lemon and ginger tea brewed with honey to cure all lingering lurgys and bugs. Lemons and honey have both been shown to have anti-bacterial properties so there may be some truth in this one. Not to mention, this tea tastes delicious.

Unfortunately, western medicine doesn’t seem to agree. This post from WedMD, a leading online medical information site, disputes the claims that vitamins and herbs have any effect on battling a cold once it’s been caught, however they do concede that taking Vitamin C and Zinc supplements may be beneficial in preventing you from catching the cold in the first place. The article states that the only real way to prevent a cold is to wash your hands thoroughly and regularly, as we generally catch colds by picking the virus up on our hands and then inoculating ourselves when we touch our nose or our mouth, not by breathing in the virus as is commonly thought. Interestingly, the article does mention that over-the-counter commercial cold remedies are the best against the cold virus, which I’m considering as a plug for the pharmaceutical companies so will promptly ignore.

The last few nights I’ve been vaporising a mix of Eucalyptus and Peppermint oils while sleeping in my electronic oil burner (only 2c per 24hours to run, consumes minimal energy, less than a candle!) and I’ve found that this has helped enormously with being able to breathe while asleep. I’ve woken up with clear lungs, which has been a nice change to conjestion and mucus.

What are your thoughts? Anyone have a tried and true natural cold remedy? I’d love to know!

I came across this article by Simple Savvy on making your own veggie stock. I think it’s a fantastic way to reuse old veggie scraps, especially if, like SS, you can’t compost where you live for whatever reason. SS advocates putting a scrap bag in the freezer and adding vegetable peels, vegetable ends, old herbs and older veggies that you wouldn’t eat as is.

I must admit, composting is something that I have done for many years now. It was actually the only ‘green’ thing I did for a while there! Although I don’t know why, because I’ve never had a garden to speak of, so mostly the compost pile just ended up a big, stinky, rotten mess! That will change however, when I move into my new house, as I plan on creating a wonderful garden that will feed and nourish me, with beautiful organic, home-grown produce. The compost will then serve to nourish the garden, as intended.

So I think I’ll start making my own veggie stock, thanks Simple Savvy! Winter’s coming, and homemade stock will go just great in steaming hot veggie soups… yum!

Earthhour

It’s just past 8.30pm Brisbane time, which means we’re officially into Earth Hour 2009. Earth Hour is an environmental movement that started in Sydney, Australia, in 2007 and has grown to become a global movement where ordinary citizens ‘vote’ for the Earth by turning off their lights for one hour between 8.30 and 9.30pm their local time. This year Earthhour.org is aiming for 1 billion people worldwide to switch off their lights and take a stand against global warming. This will be presented to the world’s leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference 2009 in Copenhagen.

This year, I’m sitting by candle and laptop-light (I know! so unromantic!) with a glass of red wine and a bad case of the flu: I shudder to think of how many trees I’ve used as tissues today! Last year, I was working a night shift, in blackness. I had to persuade my co-worker to turn off the lights, seems he couldn’t bare to be without them for even one hour, symbolism be damned. Assertiveness and blackmail won in the end! The year before that, for the very first Earth Hour, I was taking part in a corroboree, which is a traditional Aboriginal Australian spiritual dance, under the stars in the beautiful hinterland near where I live. That Earth Hour takes the cake for me, it sealed my dedication to the cause, long before I was committed elsewhere in my life.

So to who anyone who reads this, vote with your lightswitches this Saturday night, and turn off your lights between 8.30 and 9.30pm your local time. Our cumulative actions will allow the earth to breathe, a slight reprieve for one hour from our relentless energy consumption. Happy Earth Hour everyone 🙂

State Library of QLD

State Library of QLD

I’ve just spent a fantastic day listening to panels discuss various issues such ethical eating, organic food, alternative fuel futures and environmental policy at the State Libray of QLD‘s Ideas Festival 2009. You can read about the festival in my post here. Starting next week I’m going to do a series of posts inspired by what I’ve learnt today and try and translate some of the issues discussed into real strategies that the average person can incorporate in their everyday lives.

For now, though, I’ll leave you with an image that was created as part of an imagining of what Brisbane’s future could be like. I particularly like this image as it captures what I believe is wrong with the urban environment today.

The text accompanying this image reads: Who would commission large shady urban public spaces since only governments and developers usually make buildings?

An urban future I'd like to see.

I’m embarking upon this path of green living because I have a dream, one which I may not realistically be able to fulfill for quite some time, so its important that I begin the journey now. I someday dream of living a purposeful, meaningful life, where I am primarily self-sufficient for all my and my immediate family’s food, water, energy and primary needs. Secondary needs and wants would be sourced from similarly minded retailers/producers and any emissions would be offset through either the purchase of carbon credits and/or planting trees and doing bush regeneration work. My dream is that I can do this, in style, in a setting (either rural or urban, others have shown that self-sufficiency is possible in urban settings), where I don’t have to travel far to my work or to see my friends.

The first major step to this journey that I have taken is to purchase a house! As of this week, I have purchased a cheap, old dwelling in the suburbs that I can mold and shape according to my tastes, where I can ultimately install eco-friendly apparatus such as water tanks and, eventually, solar panels. This house is situated within walking distance to the major train line that takes me directly to both my work (no need to drive!) and to the city for those times I will need to escape the burbs! I can walk or ride a bike to the main streets of the area for eating out and getting supplies. There is also a fair bit of space in the backyard for me to plant fruit trees, grow vegetables and herbs and have a few chickens for those beautiful fresh eggs in the morning!

Needless to say, I’m excited. Although I’m going to be broke for a fair bit of the immediate future, it’s a sacrifice I’ m willing to make to bring me closer to fulfilling this dream. To be honest, the prospect for capital growth I make from this house in the near future also excites me, as it will probably enable me to buy a larger piece of land somewhere, surrounded by mountains, where I can create and write away from pollution and be serenaded by birdsong under the Queensland sun.

During my reverie, I’ve been researching sustainable, eco home manufacturers. I love these stylish modular homes by Prebuilt, an Australian manufacturer. Made in Victoria, waste and emissions are kept low and there is little impact on the earth at the site where the home is placed. With sustainable materials and climate-smart designs, these types of homes are what inspires me to start now. Ill leave you with some inspiration!

Starting today, the State Library of Queensland is hosting 2009’s Ideas Festival: a five-day public festival of ideas, innovation and invention.

The festival is about sharing ideas, promoting discussion and fostering discourse on a diverse range of contemporary issues. The festival covers five streams of ideas including: invention and innovation; development and design; ecology and ethics; action and advocacy; and self and society.

Having a fantastic weekend off work, I’m determined to battle my flu and make it to a few of the sessions! I’m so keen to listen and learn and support such a wonderful festival. The fact that it’s a short stroll from home makes it even more appealing to attend, no carbon emmisions to think of!

Having just got a mortgage (I know, I’m a homeowner!), I’m limited to attending the free sessions. Thankfully, they’re in abundance!

Tech fixes for climate change brings the Minister for Education and the Arts Rod Welford, physicist and business leader Ziggy Switkowski, and Professor Ian Lowe together to talk about possible futures of energy production. Sat 2.30-3.30.

Good enough to eat? – Ethical eating is a discussion with author Angela Crocombe, Fresh Organics owner Shane Heaton and fair-trade leader Cameron Neil about food thats ethical, organic and good for the earth. sat 4.30-5.30.

Transport alternatives brings together Phil Heywood, Mark Thompson, Jago Dobson and Mark Rossiter to discuss the research shaping transport futures. Sun 12.30-1.30pm.

Sustainable urban futures is a discussion among urban planning leaders about what makes an environmentally, socially, economic and culturally sustainable city.Sun 2-3pm.

I’m also looking forward to attending the Indigenous knowledge and Indigenous identity session where Indigenous leaders discuss the role of Aboriginal knowledge and culture in contemporary Australia. Sun 10-11am.

The festival is also taking donations for Greening Australia, an environmental charity that helps protect and reforest vegetation across Australia. So if you’re in Brisbane this weekend with some time to kill, get down and stimulate that brain! Should be a lot to learn 🙂

Brighter Planet's 350 Challenge

In the spirit of my continual quest to live green, eco wannabe has joined the 350 Challenge! The 350 Challenge is a network of bloggers showing their support to fight climate change.

Brighter Planet, in association with Treehugger.com, is donating 350 pounds of carbon offsets per blogger who joins the cause. This is the equivalent of turning off 100 lightbulbs for a day or for going without your car for two weeks!

The number 350 refers to the 350 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere we must aim for if we are to keep the planet relatively safe. Bil McKibben has been running an awareness campaign on the importance of this at 350.org.

Here’s hoping that that 350 pounds of carbon credits will help offset the daily emissions I create with my MacBook addiction, I shudder to even think of tallying them!

Join the cause and spread the word, the more bloggers join up the more we can help balance the blogosphere with the biosphere 🙂

To begin, I think it would be appropriate for me to outline a little about who I am and what led me to begin down this path of sustainable living and, ultimately, to creating this blog.

I’m a mid-twenties young woman living, working and studying in Brisbane, Australia. I’ve grown up in a wonderfully supportive, beautifully nurturing family with a mother, father and sister I love dearly. As a child, my family moved around the country frequently for my parents’ work so I had the privilege of living in rural coastal towns, rural country pockets surrounded by mountains and forest, and amongst palm trees in tropical Far North Queensland. I learnt quite young where milk came from, that meat didn’t just arrive packaged from the supermarket, and that there are many different ways of living and existing that are equally valid and fulfilling.

The Lansdowne Valley - where I spent a large part of my childhood. Courtesy of Firene via Google Earth.

The Lansdowne Valley - where I spent some of my childhood. Courtesy of Firene via Google Earth.

Regardless of where I spent my childhood, however, my upbringing was essentially a middle-class one. A big house in the suburbs (or in the mountains, or at the beach, whichever it happened to be at the time), new and bigger cars every few years, bigger televisions, bigger houses, corporate promotions, bigger family debts and more stress. As a teenager I watched the breakdown of my parent’s marriage and began to sense that there had to be something simpler than this. An easier way of living. A way of living that didn’t create such disharmony.

When I was seventeen I moved to Brisbane to study a dual Arts and Education degree, majoring in French and Media Studies. Out on my own, without friends or family, I created new networks and began, what I call, my real education. As I studied and made new friends, I began to associate with people who shared my ideals of living simply, of living naturally. I lived in sharehouses and learnt about vegetarianism from vegans and started drinking soy milk and eating wholegrain bread. I walked everywhere and rode a pushbike. I ate organically. I used organic beauty products. I abhorred all types of corporations and delved into activism. I was arrested for protesting at 17 when I ran in front of a truck logging the last inner-city bushland. I lived idealistically. I had yet to be tainted by the cynicism of adulthood.

In 2005 I traveled to teach English in France. I was posted in an economically depressed part of the north, and was provided with accommodation in one of the bleak, in fact utterly depressing areas that was the site of the 2005 riots. I began to learn about geopolitics and discrimination. I traveled to North Africa and was astounded by the poverty and the lack of basic facilities that I took for granted in my country. I began to realise how capitalism became the dominant economic model and, for the first time, I appreciated the general freedom that it provided me. I began to understand that the hippy paradigm of “poorer people in third world countries may have less but they are generally happier” was not wholly true. I began to eat meat again, went shopping more, drove my car more, and generally indulged all the middle-class capitalist desires that had lay dormant within me.

Upon my return, I felt somewhat alienated from my old friends. I had a different perspective. The constant complaining about what I now saw as the choice of privilege had got me down. I perceived a discourse of negativity, and saw little real proactive changes being made. I then began to think that there had to be some kind of balance, a balance between rampant capitalism with no regard for the environment and extreme environmentalism, where everyday pleasures are causes of guilt. Is it not possible to have an environmentally conscious form of capitalism? After all, profit isn’t the enemy, greed is. Greed at the sake of the planet, at the sake of the health of future generations and, ultimately, at the sake of ourselves.

Therefore this blog is my attempt to achieve my dream of living sustainably. It’s about finding ways to enjoy current pleasures in an ethical and environmental way rather than simply foregoing them. It’s about being practical. About not impeding your life, but enhancing it. It’s ultimately about living greener within our current lifestyles, still stylishly, always ethically. After all, we can still have our lattes and chocolate, just make sure they’re fair trade!