The General Principals of Sustainable Living
1: Use less fuel, and what you do use get from sustainable, ethical sources. That usually means local and renewable, and low carbon.
This may mean a huge number of things: using solar power to heat your hot water or a wind turbine to generate electricity, signing up to a green tarif with your electricity provider, running your car on bio-diesel, trying to drive as fuel-efficiently as possible, insulating your home so it takes less energy to heat it and keep it warm, drying your clothes outdoors instead of in a dryer, cycling to work, using less water, turning lights off, buying local food, using eco bulbs etc etc etc. Almost everything we do uses fuel of some sort.
This also means considering fuel use when it’s on your behalf as well as by you. For example, is your hotel washing towels unnecessarily? Is your café serving you asparagus air-freighted from Peru? Could you do this journey by train instead of plane? This leads us neatly to the second principle:
2: Ask yourself: what vote am I casting with my wallet?
Sustainable living is a series of choices. When it comes to buying stuff it’s a good idea to make sure you’ve asked yourself these questions: Do I need it? Could I make it myself (and would this make me happier than buying it)? Could I mend my old one (or have it mended)? Could I do a swap with someone? Could I get it second hand?
Sometimes the answer to all of these questions is "no", and you still need to go out and buy things, which means you have a chance to use your consumer voice. Happily, because eco retail is a fast-growing thing at the moment, there will almost always be a green option whenever you spend or invest money (this includes banking too). If you support a business with your money you are enabling them to continue practicing as they choose to. Is their practice something you want to support? Are you enabling irresponsible businesses to continue to pollute the environment or harm people or animals, or are you backing positive business practices which contribute to the health and happiness of the world and its inhabitants?
3: Imagine that the world is just one small village.
On this scale sustainable living makes perfect sense: if there’s just one water supply then you have no option but to keep it clean and free from harmful substances. It’s the same with how you deal with waste: if you dispose of it irresponsibly you’ll introduce dirt and disease into your home. And with air pollutants. And global warming. When you see your food growing in the field behind your house it feels more relevant what pesticides it’s covered in, and how many growth hormones and antibiotics your cows have been injected with. When food production is a business, the decisions made are not always made in the same way as when a person grows food to eat himself. Our capacity for distancing ourselves from these issues enables unsustainable practices to continue, so in order to live sustainably the first thing we need to do is to reconnect to a world-is-a-village way of thinking, and engage a little closer with what impact our choices have.
There are loads of ways to tread lighter on the earth, though often you'll have to make choices and compromises (for example between local veg grown using pesticides and organic veg from further afield), and few of us have the time to commit to a zero-carbon lifestyle. The suggestions below aim to help you find a happy place on the sliding scale of sustainability.
As well as our suggestions, a whole host of useful info can be found on the fantastic Low Carbon South Oxford website.
Fuel for heating/lighting/cooking/electric devices
- Local companies which can help you generate your own sustainable electricity include Wind and Sun and Oxford Renewables
- Local / sustainable wood for burning can be found through the Oxfordshire Community Woodfuel Programme site, and Wytham, Blenheim, and Bagley woods are good for buying coppiced wood.
- To find a green electricity supply, try Low Carbon South Oxford's handy guide or this fantastically rigorous advice from Which?. You should also check out Hertfordshire-based company Green Energy.
- Osney Lock Hydro is a really exciting community-led and -funded project to generate green energy and a sustainable income for the local community, using a an Archimedean screw to harness the power of the river.
- Have you seen this clever way of lighting indoor spaces using only a plastic bottle to channel sunlight?
- A really good way to save on heating costs is to wear a wool jumper, as real wool is an incredibly efficient insulator. For advice on where to get local wool and places to learn to knit, see the hobby section below! Or for where to buy clothes made from british wool, check out the lovely woolsack.org
Fuel for travel, and car alternatives
- The most obvious place to start, as we're in Oxford, is with bikes. They are a really efficient and incredibly sustainable mode of transport within the city, and a great form of low-impact exercise to boot. If you want to buy a bike then our bike pages are a great place to find second hand ones, or our handy guide to bike shops can help you find a new one. The fantastic Broken Spoke Bike Co-op offers help, advice, tools and workshops if your bike needs fixing up.
- For moving goods and people around the city you should consider Oxon Carts, who have a fleet of brilliant cycle rickshaws. Suitable not only for business deliveries but also for wedding guests!
- Public transport is also a great idea, and Oxford Bus Company has quite an impressive eco record, as 36% of its buses are electric-hybrids, and solar panels on the company's office roof supplies them with all their electricity.
- One way to make your car a little more eco is to use biodiesel. Golden Fuels is a brilliant local company which both supplies biodiesel and also runs workshops in how to make it yourself.
- Another way is to learn to hypermile (drive in a way that uses less fuel). This website tells you all about the techniques and benefits of hypermiling.
- Sustrans is a great organisation supporting sustainable travel in the UK.
- With a bit of forward planning you can make use of one of the UK's many liftshare websites too, whether as a driver or a passenger. There's even an Oxfordshire specific one: oxfordshire.liftshare.com
Right now is a really exciting time for sustainable food in Oxford - there's so much going on! Most notable is that Good Food Oxford has created a charter and are building a network of brilliant local food producers who are all enthusiastic about building a vibrant, healthy and sustainable food system in Oxford.
- Oxford is blessed with an abundance of farmers' markets; wherever you live in the city there'll almost certainly be one nearby. Click here for a list. They are great places to buy things like veg, fruit, bread and meat.
- Cultivate Oxford runs a wonderful Veg Van - a mobile shop to be found in various places around the city on different days - which sells local and organic veg, fruit, eggs, bread, and other nice things. Much of the veg they grow themselves, and it's all brilliant quality.
- You might also fancy having a veg box delivered, for an exciting weekly parcel of seasonal, local, organic produce. Local foody website, OxNosh offers a handy guide to local vegbox schemes.
- Scientists generally agree that the best thing anyone can change about their diet, to have the greatest positive impact on the environment, is to eat less meat and dairy. (For glamourous vegetarian recipes to persuade even the most veggie-skeptic (as well as some lovely meat recipes) I recommend Yotam Ottolenghi's site.)
- That doesn't mean cutting meat out entirely, though, and if you're only buying meat a couple of times a week it makes sense to buy really good quality, local, perhaps organic, ethically reared produce. I recommend W.H. Alder at 224 Cowley Road. There is also an organic butcher in the Covered Market. Or you can order direct from farms such as Willowbrook.
- You can help the planet and save money by getting your dried goods and washing liquids from our local refil station - SESI. They visit many farmers markets, and you can also go and visit their food depot on Pony Road.
Growing some of the food you eat yourself is a brilliant way to eat sustainably, and it can be a very rewarding experience too.
- If you don't have a garden but you do have some spare time, then you might enjoy taking on an allotment. Oxford City Council's website has a list of allotment sites in the city. It's a lot of hard work to cultivate a whole plot, but it gives you enough space to grow enough veg and fruit to feed a family, and then some. Alternatively you could go for a half plot, or find a bunch of friends to share it with.
- If you're not sure you're ready for that kind of commitment then a brilliant option is to get involved with a community garden, such as OxGrow, where you can put in as much or as little time as you have available, and receive fruit and veg in return, as well as meeting lots of lovely like-minded people.
- The Real Seed Catalogue is a wonderful firm from whom you can buy heritage and heirloom, open-pollinated vegetable seeds. The don't stock genetically modified or F1 hybrid varieties, and they really encourage you to save your own seed, which means you don't need to buy more every year. They've chosen the best varieties for flavour and hardiness, and the veg I've grown from their seed has been really excellent.
- If you want to learn about permaculture (a sustainable way of engaging with nature when growing food) then look no further than the Oxford Permaculture website.
- You can often get timber out of skips, along with lots of other things you can reuse in the garden. Fancy making a herb garden in an old bath tub? A compost bin out of pallets? The possibilities are endless!
- Growing your own food needn't cost much at all. Take cuttings from friends' plants, share spare seeds with fellow growers, plant the sprouty potatoes and garlic from the back of the fridge, collect rainwater for watering, make your own compost. What more do you need?
Oxford has a growing number of places you can eat wonderful food which has been grown, processed and cooked with sustainability in mind.
- Hogacre Community Cafe is a vegetarian eco-cafe where you can enjoy the fruits of the Oxgrow community garden (which you can gaze at through the window while you enjoy your food!)
- Art café on Bonn Square offers local and organic food, as well as regular art exhibitions.
- Alpha bar is a sandwich and salad bar in the Covered Market which aims to source local, seasonal and organic produce.
- The Magic Café on Magdalen Road is a veggie/vegan haven with generous portions, low prices, and occasional live music.
- Organic Deli Café is a wholefoods store and cafe on Friar's Entry which serves a range of artisan vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, dairy free and/or organic fare, made from locally sourced ingredients.
- Restore Garden Café is an oasis of calm on the Cowley Road. The cafe and little garden are staffed by members of a recovery group set up by the mental health charity Restore. The food is local, seasonal and organic where possible.
- Turl Street Kitchen is a hipster-hub serving great local food and drinks by independent makers. Great atmosphere and posh food, with a really strong sustainable vision.
- Vaults and Garden Cafe is a 'socially positive café hub promoting ecological sustainability'. It's a beautiful place to eat too, tucked in underneath the University Church on the High.
Buying and Swapping Stuff
When it comes to non-perishables, there's often an alternative to buying them new.
- First port of call, of course, is the Daily Info sales and wanted columns!
- Orinoco Scrapstore in Headington sells incredibly cheap art, craft and DIY supplies, and offers free household paint, which has (in true womble style) all been rescued from being thrown away. You never know what you might find.
- Swapping and Swishing can be a great way to find new-to-you clothes, as can jumble sales, charity shops and vintage kilo-sales. You can search the Daily Info events for what's happening near you.
- Our handy guide has all the charity and vintage shops you could ever need.
- Shoe menders and alteration services are great ways to rescue loved clothing. There are loads to choose from, but I recommend Vic at 116 Cowley Road for mends and changes to clothes, and any one of the many branches of Timpsons will sort out your shoes quick-smart.
- The Oxford branch of Freegle is a brilliant resource too. It's a platform for giving and receiving things for free, and the Oxford one has loads of great stuff on it.
After food, fuel and clothing, another big expenditure can be on things you do in your spare time. (And once your sustainable thinking leads you to lose patience with television's commercial clamouring, you may find you have a bit more time on your hands.) Here are a few ideas to make your leisure time more eco:
- If you fancing brewing your own beer, wine or cider and want some support and advice, then you can find @OxfordBrewers on Twitter to see when their next meeting will be. They welcome professionals and amateurs alike.
- See the 'Growing Food' section for useful gardening info.
- Sewing is again growing in popularity, and has the added bonus that you might end up with something you want to wear! New fabric can be very expensive, and it's hard to source local, organic, naturally dyed cloth, so my top tip is to head to the charity shops and buy things you can take apart or alter. I found it an excellent way to find fabric for patchworking and bunting etc too. Reusing cloth helps to save on the pesticides used to grow cotton, the huge amount of water and noxious chemicals used in the dying process, and the fuel used to transport it.
- Knitting, too, is something loads of people are doing now. Thankfully, sourcing local, ethical, naturally dyed wool is pretty easy in Oxford. Darn It And Stitch on Blue Boar Street has lots of lovely stuff, including wool from Oxford Kitchen Yarns, a tiny natural dyeing business. Also fab for UK wool is The Fibreworks on Cowley Road. Both places also run workshops in, variously, knitting, sewing, crochet, spinning, and other textile crafts. Members of the Oxfordshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers supply Oxford Yarn Store on North Parade with local, unique, handspun yarns.
- If you're into making things out of wood, then it's worth making a trip to Oxford Wood Recycling in Abingdon. They've got a huge selection of quality reclaimed timber on offer.
Eco Cleaning Services
There are a couple of local companies which offer a green cleaning service for homes and offices. They are:
- Hem Green Cleaning, based in Abingdon
- ESL Ecocleen Services, which is a nationwide company with headquarters in Oxfordshire
And for the likes of us who must do their own cleaning, you can get your environmentally-friendly cleaning product refills from SESI.
Things for Babies and Children
- Using cloth nappies saves an enormous amount of rubbish from going into landfill, and many of the parents I know have found them to be really good too. Our Baby Base page has loads of info about where to get them and laundry services etc.
- Oxford NCT often runs nearly new sales of clothes and toys for little ones.
- This is a lovely article, listing the Five Best Toys of All Time.
Ethex is a brilliant local company set up to help people invest their money in companies they believe in, rather than leaving it up to their bank to choose where their savings are invested. You might also want to explore peer-to-peer lending through a company like Zopa.
- Low Carbon South Oxford are 'a community group designed to help South Oxford residents, groups and organisations work together to reduce their carbon footprint, to raise awareness of environmental issues, and move towards more environmentally sustainable ways of living and working'.
- Low carbon Barton is a similar one, but in Barton!
- Oxford company Climatecare runs carbon offset schemes for businesses and other cool stuff.
- CAG Oxfordshire is a network of over 50 community action groups in the county, at the forefront of community-led climate change action, tackling things like waste, transport, food, energy and biodiversity.
- The Low Carbon Hub is a social enterprise that works to lower carbon emissions across Oxfordshire by helping businesses, the public sector and communities to develop renewable energy projects and reduce energy demand.
- COIN is a ‘think and do’ tank focused on connecting people to climate change, and acting as a bridge between research and practitioners.
- The first book which inspired me to think more about where my food was coming from, and which still makes me very happy whenever I pick it up again, is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's first River Cottage Cook Book. His empire is now, of course, enormous, and they have a lovely website: www.rivercottage.net.
- Leo Hickman's account of learning to live sustainably, A Life Stripped Bare, is a very engaging read.
- Not on the Label: What Really Goes Into the Food on Your Plate by Felicity Lawrence is a good way to inform (and scare) yourself about modern food production.
- The Good Shopping Guide is a brilliant handbook which gives different companies and products eco scores. It is now also a website: www.thegoodshoppingguide.com
- Ethical Consumer magazine is also now online: www.ethicalconsumer.org
- And so is the lovely Positive News, which is the best inspiration I know for living well.
We hope you find these links and ideas useful, and if you think anything's missing then please let us know. Good luck with your green journey!