When it became clear that COP26 wouldn’t really get us anywhere, I set out to write an article about simple things we all can do to tread a little lighter on our planet.
Yet as I was writing, I quickly realized that all the things I come up with are from my personal sustainability hero: my mom.
So I thought instead of scary graphics and lots of data, I’d share some childhood pictures with you, along with six sustainability lessons I learned from my mom :)
Take Care of your Wear
Long before I knew anything about the dangers of fast fashion, my mom (and her whole family) was part of a bustling clothes exchange. I’d wear what my brother had worn before me. And when I had outgrown it, it would maybe be sent to my cousin, a friend or donated somewhere.
If something tore from falling off a bike or too much enthusiasm on the playground? It was mended with a bad-ass pirate patch – making my jeans even cooler.
In other words, clothes were not seen as something disposable. You took care of them, mended them and passed them on.
While most of fashion’s environmental impact comes from growing, processing and dyeing fibres, it is not to be underestimated how much of a difference you and I can make – by how we wear and care for our clothes.
Simple things like washing less often, ditching the dryer and mending clothes rather than throwing them away can save as much CO2 as taking 75 Mio. cars off the road every year.
Lesson #1: Buy less, buy well. Take care of your clothes and pass them on to friends and family.
Don’t buy things you don’t need
But of course it wasn’t just about clothes. My mom was always suspicious of accumulating too much stuff. Things bought on a whim that no one really needed and just get thrown out later.
And given that every product has its environmental footprint – from the shoes we wear to the furniture we buy, that’s a really solid philosophy.
Or just Make Stuff Yourself
And what was even cooler: In many cases, my mom simply made stuff herself. One famous example I remember to this day: My Green Ice Cream Schultüte!
A Schultüte (literally: school pouch) is something every kid in Germany gets for the first day of primary school. It’s usually filled with pencils, erasers and a ton of candy.
I think this is my brother’s first day of school (left), but I also got one so I wouldn’t be jealous.
Yes, my mom made those herself! Mine was in the shape of an ice cream cone (made of a balloon and water-colored paper machee) – that was attached to the bottom of the bag with a rubber band so I could open and close it.
I was damn proud of that thing. And I remember it to this day.
Lesson #2: Think twice before you buy something. And whenever possible, why not make stuff yourself? Your kids will remember it for a lifetime ;)
Eat your Celery Schnitzel!
Like all children, my brother and I constantly wanted Pizza, Schnitzel, French Fries and all the stuff that’s just really not good for you.
What did we get: Tons and tons of vegetables, some of them from our own garden – and the famous Celery Schnitzel (breaded celery slices). We did eat fish and some meat – but mostly during weekends.
And we learned how to make food – which instilled a whole different appreciation for it. Here’s a picture of me baking cookies at age 2 (or something like that):
Were we always grateful for all the healthy food? Definitely not. Like every kid, I wanted French fries. But now I am. Because eating less meat and a ton of vegetables is not only proven to be so much healthier than a standard (Western) diet – it’s better for the environment, too.
Lesson #3: Eat less meat if you can, shop local, seasonal vegetables and avoid food waste.
Reduce, Reuse and Recycle
Ever since I can remember, we had a composting pile in our yard, diligently recycled our trash and even dried old bread for the next visit to the local zoo.
As a kid, it sometimes felt a bit much to me. But the more I learn about the many, many issues surrounding waste, the more I realize how right my mom has been.
It’s not just about straws in turtle noses and microplastic in our oceans. Recycling could save 6 gigatons of CO2e over the next 30 years - which is as much as 1 billion cars taken off the street.
My mom made recycling fun
She would throw us pretty bad-ass eco-birthday parties - and made them cool.
We’d make knight armor from paper waste before we played a bunch of knight games and all friends went home with snack in compostable packaging.
Who says living a sustainable lifestyle cannot be fun? It was one of the best birthday parties ever!
Lesson #4: recycle your trash, learn to avoid it – and have fun doing it!
PS: In Indonesia, there are more and more tools available that make recycling and composting easy for you – from picking up your recyclables (Waste4Change, Rekosistem) to having your own compost on the balcony.
Go outside and play
I believe spending more time in nature is the first step to become better caretakers of our planet. And my mom made sure my brother and I would turn off that TV to be outside (well, sometimes she had to turn it off for us).
So as a kid I was outside a lot. Both on holiday or just around the neighbourhood. From long biking tours to hikes in the mountains (check out my awesome backpack) to picking mushrooms in a nearby forest or climbing our big cherry tree.
What all that taught me was to get curious about nature (I majored in Biology in high school), to appreciate it and to understand that if we take care of it well enough, nature will take care of us.
(No better way to learn that than to plant one potato in our garden, keep watering it and dig up 16 potatoes a few months later :) )
Lesson #5: Get outside and teach your kids the miracles of nature
Use your Voice to Drive Change
My very first rally was in 1988, when I was only a few months old. I believe it was against nuclear power. It’s a shame there are no pictures of that. I was told I had my own little sign.
Never too early to start caring! Both my parents are avid supporters of causes they believe in. And especially my mom was quick to join rallies and demonstrations to help create the world she wanted us to grow up in.
And this kind of activism is crucial. While limiting our footprint is important, at the end of the day, there is only so much we can do by ourselves. The size of our problems require collective action. From phasing out fossil fuels to enforcing stricter environmental regulations.
And that starts by holding those in power accountable.
Lesson #6: Stand up for what you believe in, use your voice and hold the people in power accountable.
As kids, we don’t always appreciate what our parents do for us. The valuable lessons they share. We want that pizza or that shiny new plastic toy. We wanna watch TV and not brush our teeth.
But as we get older, we get to appreciate what our parents have done, the wisdom they've shared, the sacrifices they made.
What did you learn from your parents that you keep applying in your life up to today? Make sure to let them know today :)