Stepping into the vegetable patch

The month of January is increasingly becoming known as #Veganuary. That means to shift your diet for a whole month and only eat vegan food, cutting out all food that comes from animals, including diary and eggs. That can be a big ask of many and I wanted to try something less onerous in the spirit of my motto that no one can do everything, and we can all do something – I decided to go vegetarian for all of January. Here is what I discovered.

veggie dish

New flavours and colours

I have for a longer period of time been what some like to call a flexitarian, meaning I have been cutting down on my meat intake, doing Meat-Free-Monday and so on. I also introduced this with my children, which at first was met by some resistance, but now is just part of what we do for dinner at mum’s. To go fully vegetarian didn’t seem like a massive step and I was excited about trying it. So, New Year’s Day – vegetarian food it was!

Cooking and eating vegetarian for the whole of January has opened my eyes to lots of new food. Being a vegetarian is not just about eating salads or meat “substitutes”, though I must say I really do like vegetarian sausages and prefer them to the pork original, it is so much more. In fact, I would say that the meat substitutes (perhaps apart from the veggie sausages!) are the low-down in vegetarian food for me, I much rather have the dishes that are created as fully vegetarian not aiming to imitate “normal” food. For example, how does chickpea and roasted parsnip curry, halloumi stroganoff, butternut squash and sage risotto, roasted cauliflower with parmesan, roasted hazelnuts and sunflower seeds, sound?! I could make this list much longer – but that would make me really hungry! Find some good websites, you can search for ‘vegetarian food’ in your browser, I personally like bbcgoodfood and a couple of Swedish ones. You will discover lots of flavours and colours with your vegetarian food!

Health

Eating vegetarian can make it so much easier to get your five-a-day. I am certainly finding it a much healthier choice. There are numerous articles and studies pointing to the benefits of more fruit and veg in your food and more importantly for me – I can feel the difference. Bloated tummy – bye, bye! And a vegetarian diet makes me feel sufficiently full, not overly so as I find that meat can do to you. Speaking of my tummy… be aware that a vegetarian diet may have lots more fibre in it than what your body is used to, in particular you might want to be careful with the cauliflower, broccoli and a few others, at least in the beginning. Fibre gets your tummy going! That’s all I am going to say.

Going vegetarian for January had a positive spin in making me think what else I chomp on and as a result I am currently testing what it is like to ditch refined sugar for a month.

To a low carbon future

Very often being “sustainable”, as in considering your environmental, social and financial impacts in all that you do, have clear win-win’s as the environmental, social and financial benefits go hand in hand. Often in the short run and sometimes, we have to consider the bigger picture and think more long term to see all the benefits. But take eating vegetarian for example. I have discovered that buying vegetables, whether fresh or tinned, for my vegetarian dishes is cheaper than meat, as just discussed it is better for you – and you reduce your carbon footprint. So the planet benefits too. In fact, there was a study not long ago, which highlighted that veganism (completely removing all food from animals, including eggs and diary) is the single best way for an individual to reduce her environmental impact on earth. It can reduce your carbon footprint from food by up to 73%. That’s a lot. This is because of farming and agricultural impacts on our planet to make the food that we eat. And it is not just reducing carbon emissions it is also about reducing global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. Avoiding animal products is far better than trying to buy sustainable produce according to this study and, so the researchers say, it even has a bigger impact than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car. Wow. You can read about it here.

Now it is February and I am still going strong on my vegetarian diet. I am not sure that I will never ever eat meat again, but my preferences have shifted, and I do think that a future where we will eat no meat at all could be quite possible. And my tummy? Yes, it has calmed down.

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Growing with a network

1,000+ members. 10 MeetUps. 27 inspiring speakers. SDGs Network MeetUp in London.

sdg personal_ck

When joining the Sustainable Development Goals Network (or SDGs Network for short) in October 2016, I knew that I was moving on from my corporate role as Head of Sustainability for an international renewable energy developer. I was however unsure of what my next steps would be. Joining the SDGs Network seemed like a good place to meet likeminded people and widen my network of contacts. Perhaps it would help me to figure out what to do next.

The months past and truth be told, I hadn’t been able to join a single event yet. It was just a case of bad timing. And then, there was a message from the MeetUp platform; the organiser of the Sustainable Development Goals Network was stepping down and would any member like to pick it up, or the network would cease to be.

Oh. That would be a shame. Especially as I hadn’t participated yet…  A thought started taking root… What if I took over as the organiser? Could I run this network? What would it be like? What could we do? Would anyone join? Questions were mounting, and I did not have any answers to most of them. Well, there was only one way to find out; click the button in that message and accept to become the new organiser! Why not?!

I guess there are many ways a new project, a new idea or a new process can start. It can be through thorough planning over a long period of time or like in this case, more of an impulse, a gut feeling that I might be on to something good. This in combination with a desire to do something, to create, to act and not just mull it over to perhaps identify several reasons of “no, I can’t because…” – instead embracing the opportunity with a “yes, and..!”.

That was at the end of March 2017. Now, almost two years later, the SDGs Network has more than tripled in numbers and we have reached the landmark of 1,000 members! We have held ten successful MeetUps and heard from 27 inspiring speakers with one common goal: wanting to make our planet a better place for all and contributing to at least one of the Sustainable Development Goals in one way or another. I have also engaged with two women who are co-organising the events with me, which is very useful and being a team helps to keep the events inspiring and at a high standard. We have learnt of food waste, rowing across the Atlantic as a means of raising awareness of plastic pollution, women entrepreneurship, London as a National Park, city farms and gardens, how to use gaming and tech for sustainability and so much more. Importantly we provide a space for likeminded people to meet each other, a tribe to seek strength from, where our attendants (and us too!) can find inspiration and carry on with the important work of changing the world to a better place.

So, what is the moral of this story? Well, to grab an opportunity if it feels right for you. To be courageous and do what you are passionate about and last but probably most important in my view; to try things out. If it doesn’t work, you will still learn something new. About yourself and what makes you tick. You can always try again and do it differently. This is action learning in first person, i.e. working on a problem or an issue that concerns you, taking action and learning from it. In my case the question started with what shall I do next and changed over time to now being what more can be done with the SDGs Network, in terms of achieving the Global Goals here in London? How do we create community action and what might this look like?

At our most recent SDGs Network MeetUp in November last year we asked our participants for some feedback. An amazing 60% of respondents said they were interested in joining a group to discuss how we as a community can take a step further and create action towards achieving the SDGs in London together. So, while the SDGs Network MeetUps will continue in its current format, with inspiring speakers and networking opportunities, we will also be a group of people setting out on an action learning adventure together. The SDGs Network has grown, and I have grown with it, excited about engaging with the community in a new way. My gut feeling tells me this is right and I am very curious to test this new action out, what will happen next?

 

If you would like to join the SDG Network MeetUp and be part of the network and tribe, please register on the MeetUp platform or get in touch with me: https://www.meetup.com/SustainableDevelopmentCommunity/

If you have a tribe building experience to share, I would love to hear from you! Please do get in touch: carolina.karlstrom@jadeadvisory.com

What lies beyond the tribe?

meetup discussions

I have been to yet another sustainability event. If you, like me, are a sustainability professional or is interested in joining the sector and may therefore have attended a few of these, you probably know what I am talking about. An event where we discuss purpose, collaboration, innovation, circularity and even the need for a new paradigm. There were lots of fantastic people at this event, doing amazing things at the forefront of sustainability; CEOs, co-founders and innovators of cool start-ups. Have you noticed something about these events though? They are all pretty much the same.

A place where we preach to the converted and where we hear the leaders share what they do, a new study perhaps which does not necessarily reveal something startlingly different but actually more of the same old stuff. I say “we” because I take part in these events too.

So, what to do about it?

Firstly, I want to say that despite my criticism, I see a space for these gatherings. I truly believe there is a need in all of us to find and be with our tribe – in this case other sustainability professionals and people who care about the current and future state of our planet. These places can be cocoons of comfort and support, where you will find that you are not alone in your challenges. You may also get inspiration and ideas from your tribe as well as an opportunity to share experiences. I believe it strengthens us as humans in the roles we have as agents of change. Because initiating change is hard, wherever you do it.

I saw this very clearly when being part of the organisation and facilitation team for the inaugural She is Still Sustainable, an event for mid-career women working in or aspiring to work in sustainability. This was what we all wanted – a supportive network. I also see it in the Sustainable Development Goals Network MeetUps that I organise with two other inspirational women on a regular basis – in fact the connection with others is one of the big things with the MeetUp. The connection, because you never know who will be at a MeetUp and the connection is the first step to the creation of a community, a tribe.

Connecting with people is one thing, to create a community and build a tribe requires more. And then yet again more to move into action. How do we do this? Often, I hear how different networks state that they are not about talking, they want to act. This is easier said than done.

Now at this stage in this blog, I am sorry to disappoint you if you were hoping to find the answer to of what lies beyond the tribe. Because I can’t share this with you. Instead I will ask you on a journey along what might be a short or a long path towards creating a network and to create real change.

I am sure some of you may have been through this before and perhaps you are part of a community which successfully moved into action and change for a better now and a better future. I am truly in awe. What I intend to do is to create a series of blogs on how I took on the organisation of the SDGs Network MeetUp, hopefully providing some tips and ideas along the way to how you could do something similar in the community where you live or work. Then I will follow up with an experiment… Recently I held a discussion with my co-organisers on what more can be done with the SDGs network, in terms of achieving the Global Goals here in London. How do we create community action and what might this look like?

I don’t know where this will lead or what will happen. I don’t even know what to do next! But I am very excited about finding out. I hope you will come along on the journey and if you have stories to share about your own community action, please do share them. I would love to listen and learn. Because that is what tribe fellows do.

 

If you would like to join the SDG Network MeetUp and be part of the network and tribe, please register on the MeetUp platform or get in touch with me: https://www.meetup.com/SustainableDevelopmentCommunity/

If you have a tribe building experience to share, I would love to hear from you! Please do get in touch: carolina.karlstrom@jadeadvisory.com

This blog is recycled 🙂 and is also available on my LinkedIn profile. Feel free to follow me to see what more I am up to: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carolinakarlstrom/ 

Why I don’t use a re-usable coffee cup

coffee.jpeg

To me, sustainable living is also about slow living.

Yesterday I had a coffee with a new acquaintance at The RSA (The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) where I am a Fellow. My new contact is Italian and she told me that when a big brand chain of coffee shops recently opened in Italy, they missed the opportunity to avoid single use take-away coffee cups. And what a massive, missed opportunity! The coffee culture in Italy may not always involve a long sitting down and chatting over your cappuccino, but even if in a rush the espresso is had swiftly and elegantly from a porcelain cup. Introducing the single-use take-away cup is in my view very inconvenient. It takes a second to form a bad habit and much longer to change it for a good one.

As many as 2.5 billion paper coffee cups are thrown away in the UK each year – and just one in 400 cups is recycled as it is difficult to separate their plastic coating and cardboard to recycle the card.

This morning I responded to a survey that a group of MSc students at Cambridge University are undertaking. The survey was about re-usable coffee cups and whether people were using these or not and if not, why not? This is why I have now committed to a vow – to actually not buy a re-usable coffee cup.

Hang on a minute, am I not contradicting myself here? Well, no, because to me sustainable living is also about slowing down. Some call it slow living. I, we, rush trough life, things need to happen, fast, quickly; bam, bam, bam. And I must admit that I am quite impatient, I like to get things done. Now rather than later. Which is why I think it is important to stop for a minute, to slow down and when I want that coffee I will take my time to sit down and not have a take-away – am I really in such a rush that I need to have coffee on the go? No is the answer for me. And if the coffee shop for some reason don’t have porcelain cups – then sorry, they will not get my custom.

Perhaps try it you too? Slow down, sit down and really smell that coffee!

 

 

My short lived life as an activist

RE2

I started blogging as lowcarbonwoman because ultimately I want a beautiful planet for my children. I also want to show, that even if I am not perfect, I can – and therefore you can – have an impact and make a difference.

I don’t know what ripples I might be creating, what actions I might inspire to. If any. Like Rebecca Solnit says in her book Hope in the dark: “Writing is lonely, it’s an intimate talk with the dead, with the unborn, with the absent, with strangers, with the readers who may never come to be and who even if they read you will do so weeks, years, decades later.”

This is a story of the opposite of writing and my short lived experience as an activist.

In my imperfect low carbon life, I try things. I have tried plastic-free July, no-new-clothes-for-a-year,  reducing my environmental footprint through walking and cycling more, reducing my intake of meat, trying to influence via blogs and so on. With all my actions I learn something new and I can adjust my behaviour to that learning. It also enables me to speak with others about a low carbon life with some actual knowledge. Sometimes I still do things in a business-like-usual way, which is why I call it an imperfect low carbon life. But I keep trying.

Today, I tried being an activist. A jump into the unknown and far away from the solitude of the writer.

I have never participated in a demonstration before. In my actions to do something about climate change I have signed various petitions online; I am a comfortable, homebased so called click-tivist. And there is nothing wrong with this, absolutely not. I just have never been out there, on the streets, with a placard, shouting for a better world. Until today.

As always when I try something new, I was curious as to how I would feel and what I would learn.

This November Saturday was grey with a featureless, dull sky. I made my way into London on the train with a nervous flutter in my tummy, I was going to join the Extinction Rebellion gathering and their march for climate justice on the streets of London. Extinction Rebellion aims to drive radical change through non-violent civil disobedience in order to minimize species extinction and avert climate breakdown. A cause close to my heart.

Yet, with people all around me cheering and applauding the achievements of the movement – which was 130 arrests since the rebellion started, I felt uneasy. I wanted to stay and make a statement, to show my discontent with non-action by the Government and I wanted to leave and walk away. And my feet were so cold!

Cold feet or not, I realised that I was not like everyone else there – I was not prepared to be arrested and perhaps even go to jail. The reading out of phone numbers to call and what to do if you were arrested, felt unreal and very unsettling. This huge group of people feeling despair and frustration of how little is being done to avoid the worst of climate change and with a conviction that the more of us that get arrested the better – they were not my tribe.

I tried, I stayed, I sang, I clapped and as the walk from Parliament Square started, I joined… but only for a short while. When the hundreds of people stopped and sat down outside 10 Downing Street, I stayed on the outskirts. And then I walked away wondering if leaving the protests makes me a climate change denier?

It’s an interesting question. I know the science and I have never questioned it, I don’t even think the discussion of right and wrong is the correct one to have. It is a fact. Our climate is changing and, very terrifyingly, faster than expected. Human behaviour is the cause of this change. It can also be the solution but we all have to act. I respect those who take action as part of the Extinction Rebellion. And I believe that my rebel act is elsewhere. Not on the streets. Not with a placard, waiting to be arrested.

So, what did I learn?

First when I walked away, I felt ashamed. Ashamed for being unwilling to potentially end up in jail for the sake of my children. Now I feel differently. I don’t think activism is for everyone and I learned that it is not for me, at least not right now. That doesn’t make my conviction to act on climate any smaller or worse than anyone else’s. I can speak from experience and I can take that with me when talking to others whether in one-on-one conversations or when I do public engagement and presentations. There are many ways in which we can do change and I believe these are all needed. I am proud of what I did. A step into the unknown is the best way to learn and to know what it is really like – for you.

Make this the turning point

red and green tree leaves on a sunny day
Photo by le vy on Pexels.com

The heatwave of summer 2018 was, with a few other years (notably the majority of them in the 21st century) the hottest summer on record in the UK since records began in 1910. And it was the hottest ever in England. The heatwave has not been contained to the UK but have covered all of Northern Europe. Did you know that this heat wave was made twice as likely due to climate change? A climate change of which human behaviour is the root cause.

Human behaviour can also be the solution.

If we change our behaviours.

We have known about climate change for a long time. And we have even been very close to doing something about it. But we didn’t. The article “Losing Earth: The decade we almost stopped climate change” from The New York Times Magazine is admittedly a long read but it is so worth it. Those older than me who have been there, done that and bought the t-shirt, will nod and say “Yes, already thirty years ago we said act now before it is too late“. And we are saying the same thing now.

So, what is different?

Well, we for sure have the technology to make the transition to a low carbon world possible. And we are also seeing, feeling and experiencing the effects of climate change. The proof is available and tangible. It is happening everywhere across the globe and it is affecting everyone. Do we also have the willpower?

IKEA made an experiment recently, where they turned up the heat in one of their stores 4 degrees Celsius. Just 4 degrees. Not that much, right? It was very uncomfortable for their visitors on that day, a customer compared it to being in a sauna. Without action on climate change, the world’s average surface temperature is likely to surpass 3 degrees centigrade this century. This is just the average and the poorest and most vulnerable people are being affected the most. As always.

A new report says that by 2030 we will pass the point by which we can keep global average temperature rise to well below 2C. 2030 is only 12 years away. It is not in the distant future. 2030 is also the year by when the world has set the ambitious target of bringing a prosperous world to all with the Sustainable Development Goals. We have a lot to do! The same report notes that through a global shift to sustainable development we can actually save trillions of dollars, create millions of jobs – and hear this, save lives. Now how much is that worth?

Let this be the turning point. The year when you and I and the whole world had enough. Enough of excuses and conscious decisions which actually, hand on heart we know will contribute to climate change. Climate change which will give more heatwaves causing droughts, super storms and heavy down pours causing severe flooding, rising sea levels, continuing depletion of species and so on.

You and I can do something today. We can change our behaviours.

We can eat less meat and more locally grown and in season vegetables. We can switch to renewable energy to heat our homes and give us light in the dark winter months. We can walk more, cycle more (and meet lots of lovely neighbours in the area where we live), take the train and use online video to communicate with others instead of taking that flight. We can stop using single use plastics and other single use items which also creates havoc to life in our seas. Does it feel too much? That’s ok too. What change can you do today? And if you think all of this sounds easy, share your tips and ideas with others on how they can make the transition. There is no need for finger pointing. There is a need for collaboration, coming together and helping each other. If we start now in this instant, we can make this the turning point and change, believe me, will get easier once you have started.

I am borrowing the words of Drew Dellinger…

It’s 3:23 in the morning
and I’m awake
because my great great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
my great great grandchildren
ask me in dreams
what did you do while the Planet was plundered?
what did you do when the Earth was unravelling?

surely you did something
when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

did you fill the streets with protest
when democracy was stolen?

what did you do
once
you
knew?

 

The morning path

The hill road wet with rain

In the sun would not gleam

Like a winding stream

If we trod it not again

Edward Thomas (1916, Roads)

morning2The sun had just been up for an hour or so and its rays through the leafy crowns of chestnut and beech danced in the early morning. The soft golden light giving a magical feeling to the start of my walk. The morning air fresh and cool to the touch, a few birds still chirping even though it is now September, the first month of autumn. Silence, stillness, alone and not lonely. I stopped and took a few deep breaths, savoring the fresh air, feeling a calmness settle throughout my body – just the path and I. And all the little creepy crawlers, insects and spiders, beetles and bugs, which live in the undergrowth of the forest floor.

At a conference last week I listened to an inspiring presentation about how a hotel had ‘greened’ their outfit; getting rid of plastic bottles, choosing their suppliers with care, and so on. They also had a nature trail next door and the question came up how this was part of being a “green” business. To me this obvious. A walk in nature, away from potentially busy lives, stressful environments, electronic devices, noisy and polluting traffic, brings stillness and calm. It is an opportunity to slow down and reflect. To connect with yourself and what really matters. It is an opportunity to live one of the most successful meditation apps in real life. No filters.

I don’t need scientific reports or proof about the positive impact of a walk in nature on human health and wellbeing. I know. In the way that you just know when you have experienced it yourself.

morning3And isn’t that part of being “green”? Of trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle? Yes I would argue that it is. If we don’t know what it looks like when the sun catches the thin sliver of a spiders web, making it glitter and gleam like the most valuable of diamonds, how can we appreciate the fragile and small things in life? If we haven’t experienced a forest, a lake, a mountain, how do we connect with it and appreciate it? And don’t we need to connect with it, appreciate it and feel grateful for being part of nature to wanting to change how we live our lives more sustainably or, if you wish, more “green”? To value nature and to protect our planet, I think people also need to experience it, feel one with it. And when you do, at least I feel that I want to make a difference so that my children and future generations will also have the opportunity to breath the fresh morning air, to marvel at the beauty of the spiders web in the early morning sun. Don’t you want that too?

morning4Towards the end of my morning walk, the light and the air has changed. The stillness is interrupted by dog walkers and weekend morning strollers. The day belongs to us all now and I can no longer call it my own. If i ever could. Because it belongs to the insects, the spiders, the birds and the deer and the plants, and many thousands of other inhabitants in the forest, on the fields and the chalk downs. The visible and invisible creatures of the more than human world that I met on my walk. I am just a grateful visitor, thankful for having been allowed in the magical kingdom to share the the wonders for a minuscule part in the life of Gaia, our planet.