40 ways to go green
This list will not tell you to recycle your bottles, since it’s not the 1980s any more. It will show you how to take the next step
Keep bees: your flowers will bloom more profusely, your fruit trees will crop more heavily and each autumn you’ll have delicious honey to share with friends. Illustration: Dearbhla Kelly
1. Keep Bees
The native Irish bee no longer exists in the wild. It is depending on us if it is to survive the onslaught of the varroa destructor mite. Enrol on a reputable beekeeping course and tend a hive, whether on the balcony at work, your apartment complex roof, or in a friend’s garden. Your flowers will bloom more profusely, your fruit trees will crop more heavily and each autumn you’ll have delicious honey to share with friends. See irishbeekeeping.ie.
2. Wear nettles
Clothing has been made from the stems of nettles since neolithic times. In the 17th century nettle yarn was used for sheets and tablecloths, and during the first World War the Germans spun nettle underwear when the British cut off cotton supplies. For gorgeous, natural-dyed jumpers knitted with giant Himalayan nettle, see sorazora.com. Who will set up Ireland’s first nettle knitting venture?
3. Greening St Patrick’s Day 1
Wet the shamrock with beer from an Irish artisan microbrewery (Bo Bristle, Brú Brewery, Carlow Brewing Co, Dingle Brewing Co, Eight Degrees, Five Lamps, Franciscan Well, Galway Hooker, Galway Bay Brewery, Kinnegar Brewing, Trouble Brewing, White Gypsy, etc), or whiskey from one of the new local distilleries (Alltech Distillery, Dingle Distillery, Echlinville Distillery, Slane Castle, Tullamore, Teeling), or wine from David Llewellyn’s vineyard in Lusk.
4. Buy a share in a beehive
If you won’t keep bees, at least buy a share in someone else’s hive. For €300, hive-mind.ie will establish a hive in their organic wild flower meadow near Crosshaven. You’ll get monthly updates on its progress and, when autumn comes, receive about 15kg of honey (about 30 jars) delivered to your door. Unfortunately, you’ll get nothing in subsequent years, unless you actually set up your own hive.
5. Greening St Patrick’s Day 2
Shun shiny shamrock balloons – helium is a scarce noble gas that would be prohibitively expensive except that the US Federal Helium Reserve has been ordered to sell off its stockpile held in an underground chamber in Texas. Once this has been depleted prices will soar compromising scientific use of helium in the production of semiconductors, fibre optics and for cooling super-magnets in MRI machines.
6. Neon tattoo
If you must have a tattoo consider neon ink so you’re visible at night without battery power. Unfortunately, fluorescent ink only shines under UV light and the phosphorescent ink that glows under any light is carcinogenic and may be radioactive. That said, phosphorescence is common in marine creatures, so further research should lead to safer options.
7. Don’t preheat
Preheating the oven is a relic from the era of wood-fired ovens, like cranking a car engine. Ignore recipes, including those in this magazine, that urge such superannuated behaviour. Unless you’re making bread, soufflés, meringues or pastry there’s no need – it’s a vestigial reaction from a less evolved age. So there, Domini . . .
8. Burn Irish wood not Saudi oil
No matter how cheap oil gets, it can’t match the savings you make by heating your house with native Irish logs. Forestry in Ireland has doubled since 1981 to 800,000 hectares and there are vast supplies of sustainable, seasoned, carbon-neutral firewood in every county as farm-foresters thin their plantations.
Heating your house with timber diverts money from shady oil sheiks and funnels it to your local community. It improves the forest’s health and the ecological diversity of your locality. Make sure to first buy an efficient wood stove or a solid fuel boiler, such as those at econboilers.com.
9. Avoid contact lenses
Go back to your glasses to avoid the sin of disposable petroleum-based lenses and their plastic blister-packs, not to mention the bottles of cleaning solutions and lens cases. Better still, discard glasses and contact lenses and just walk up close to things to make out what they are.
10. Give way to cars
No matter how much it sticks in your craw, cyclists and pedestrians should surrender their right-of-way to ensure a vehicle never needs to brake because of you. Stopping and starting does your heart and lungs good, while the planet suffers every time a vehicles wastes energy braking.
11. Travel by cargo vessel
While travelling by sea is more ecological than flying, a cruise liner is really a pointless and decadent waste of precious oil reserves. Travelling as a passenger on a cargo ship on the other hand, is almost carbon neutral. You become an incidental addition to the transportation of a load of necessary cargo. Be warned, though, it’s as expensive as first-class aircraft travel and takes far, far longer – weeks or even months. But you get to dine with the captain and become intimate with the exclusive group of passengers who are as odd as you. Check out flightlesstravel.com/plan/cargo-ships.
12. Dig up half your lawn
The benefits of playing with a dog or child on a lawn may be worth the ecological costs of mowing, fertilising and irrigating some of it, but most lawns could easily be cut in two, with half ploughed up into a vegetable allotment.
13. Share your garden
From a moral perspective the soil in your garden may not actually belong to you. If you’re not producing food from it, share it with someone who will. You’ll get a portion of the crop and save yourself the hassle of ever having to mow a lawn again. Suburban sharecropping is the future. The first steps in this direction are at landshare.ie.
14. Buy a slow cooker
You get tastier casseroles that are easier to prepare and use only a tiny fraction of the energy guzzled by an oven. What’s more the cheapest cuts of meat are the most suitable, becoming tender and moist during the long, slow cooking process which you can time to have ready when you come in the door. Better still, raid your parents’ or grandparents’ kitchen for their long-unused pressure cooker. Does the job brilliantly.
15. Use a watermill
Streams, rivers, gullies and lakes abound thanks to our almost ceaseless rain; it’s why Ireland has the largest number of pre-10th century watermill sites in the world. We have the potential to generate 230GWh (gigawatt hours) per year from small home hydro schemes and if you’re lucky enough to have a suitable water source nearby, you’d be mad not to tap into it. Cóilín O’Toole established microhydro.ie in 2008 to develop small scale hydroelectricity schemes, having worked in aquaculture and the restoration of old watermills. He’ll provide a free map survey and estimation if you send him your co-ordinates.
16. Never again buy kindling
The overpriced sticks you buy in garage forecourts aren’t necessarily unecological, they’re just pointless. There’s free kindling available in every hedgerow. Trimming, shaping and even coppicing these natural wildlife corridors helps to strengthen and replenish them. It’s as much fun as blackberry picking, but possible all year round. It’s a chance to linger amidst the wild hazel, dog roses, alder and woodbine that we are fortunate enough to still have lining our roads.
17. Use green grants
Save the planet and your pocket by taking advantage of the Government’s green grants administered by the SEAI: €5,000 off the cost of an electric car – Renault, Nissan, BMW, VW and Mitsubishi all have eligible models. In addition, the ESB will install a connection point at your home, which saves up to €1,000. There are also grants of €800 towards the cost of solar heating and up to €3,600 to pay for external wall insulation. See seai.ie/Grants
18. Make soap
That slow cooker you have can be used to make great soap. The normal six weeks it takes to cure soap can be reduced to a matter of hours. Just mix olive oil, coconut oil, lye (sodium hydroxide) and water in with a few drops of essential oil and heat. Note, lye is caustic, so it’s best not to use the same pot for cooking.
19. Use rainwater to flush the toilet
Buy two 1,000-litre IBC tanks (translucent plastic liquid storage tanks in galvanised tubular cages) on Donedeal.ie or Buyandsell.ie for €60 each. Stack them on blocks outside and run a pipe into the most frequently used downstairs loo.
20. Be vegetarian occasionally
Choosing a vegetarian meal just one night a week will help to save the 2,500 gallons of water needed to produce one pound of beef in many parts of the world. While Irish beef is comparatively ecological, a hamburger made from cattle raised on rainforest land can cause the destruction of 55sq ft of forest.
21. Mindful meat eating
Know that by eating beef you are partaking in an activity that will kill the planet if everyone exerts their right to do so. If you must eat it, do so in some partially sustainable manner. Grass-fed Irish beef is some of the least ecologically demanding. Select indigenous rare breeds to ensure they don’t go extinct such as Kerry Blue or Dexters from Ireland, Galloways or Ayrshires from Britain.
22. Demand a feed-in tariff
The price at which Electric Ireland bought back surplus electricity from solar photovoltaic or other micro-generators was always ridiculously low. We had one of the worst feed-in tariffs in the EU until last December, when Electric Ireland scrapped it entirely. They now just take the energy for free. That’s an outrage. It’s not in their interests to give the power of energy generation to ordinary people and so without government pressure they won’t change their policy. Make some noise: demand reasonable feed-in tariffs.
23. Take the stairs
Avoid the lift unless there are many flights and you can ensure the lift will be full, in which case the food and water you’d need to consume to replenish the calories expended in climbing the stairs may outweigh any benefits. Taking the lift down requires minimal energy, so you can do what you like.
24. Take the lift
If it’s a choice between the escalator and an elevator, the elevator wins on an upward trip, unless it’s one of these super-efficient escalators that goes into sleep mode when there’s no one around, and knows how to vary energy output depending on the number of people on it. On the way down, the escalator is better, as your weight helps to push it down, lessening the strain on the motor.
25. Avoid take-out cups
Linnalla cafe in New Quay in the Burren encourages customers to drink their coffee in a mug if they have the time, rather than taking a paper cup. In theory paper cups are recyclable, but their waxy coating and wet, stained insides make them unlikely to find a noble second life. A ceramic mug takes considerable energy to fire and transport, but it’ll last. Ideally, buy one from a local potter and carry it with you, carefully.
26. Avoid take-out anything
The planet shouldn’t suffer just because you want to sprawl on the sofa eating poppadoms. Either find the time to eat in the restaurant or bring your own Tupperware.
Paper or plastic containers are invariably made from, or coated with, non-renewable petroleum derivatives.
27. Use an electric shaver
An electric shaver is more efficient than heating water each day and wasting disposable razors or blades, even taking into consideration the energy consumption of making the device.
That said, it would take more than 350 years of shaving with a disposable instead of an electric to account for the annual greenhouse gas emissions of a single cow. So don’t fret. The only real sin is shaving in the shower – with either a blade or electric. From an energy consumption perspective that is heinous.
28. Shorten your shower
The Waterpebble (waterpebble.com) sits by your drain monitoring the amount of water flowing in. A green light turns to orange when it decides you’re halfway through and turns red when it decrees you must turn off the water. In a house full of adolescents, it might be necessary to add a feature that would transmit a gentle electric current through the water at this point.
29. Shower with someone
If you can’t be convinced to shorten your shower, at least allow someone to share those 50 to 150 litres of heated water with you. Create your own steam, but, be careful it doesn’t lead to procreation, the cardinal eco sin.
30. Stop burning turf
Ireland is rightly famous for its bogs with an estimated 16 per cent of our land under peat. It nurtures a unique array of plants and animals, and locks away carbon and prevents flooding by absorbing water, then purifying it before it reaches our reservoirs. The decimation we’ve afflicted upon our peatlands since mechanisation is shameful: there is no acceptable excuse for continuing to cut turf.
31. Travel conscientiously
Holidays are a green minefield. It takes research and commitment to maintain one’s eco-ethics. The best advice is to do as you would at home: avoid plastic water bottles, eat local and be extra vigilant engaging in any activity involving fragile ecologies or wild animals. Catherine Mack, former ethical travel columnist for this newspaper, has great advice at ethicaltraveller.co.uk.
32. Tackle vampires
We all know that electronic devices turn into vampires at night, sucking up energy. Nevertheless it’s hard to bother unplugging every device; it’s easier to invest in smart sockets or power strips which cut off the current for you, such as the Belkin Conserve range, belkin.com.
33. Knit your own clothes
There are knitting classes all over the country, including at The Constant Knitter Shop on Francis Street, Dublin (theconstantknitter.ie). If this seems too retro and rustic, learn to sew your own silk lingerie or negligees at Roisín Cross Silks in Dún Laoghaire. See silks.ie.
34. Grow your own wedding flowers
A wedding will invariably take a toll on the planet, but there’s no need to support the utterly unsustainable commercial flower industry. We’ve an ideal climate for flower growing, especially if you’ve access to a polytunnel.
Sow now for summer bouquets, buttonholes and corsages of hydrangea, carnation, gladiolus, amaranthus, montbretia, delphinium and freesia.
35. Support Seedsavers
According to the US Center for Biodiversity and Conservation 96 per cent of the commercial vegetable varieties available in 1903 are now extinct.
Our food security hangs in a perilous balance. We’re allowing the extinction of the very species that may contain the adaptive characteristics necessary to survive climate change. Get a range of heirloom apples, brassicas, kales, cress and gooseberries. If you’ve no room to plant, you can sponsor Seedsavers to plant heritage fruit trees for you. See Irishseedsavers.ie.
36. Trash the television
While most modern devices use less energy than their predecessors did, televisions are the exception. They have grown larger and brighter and they consume ever greater amounts of power – not to mention the ancillary DVD player, TV recorder and Xbox 360.
Recycle the television and read a book instead preferably a library book, an eBook or a second-hand one. Granted, the cold-turkey stage is tough, but in time it’ll transform your life.
37. Eat out
A hundred people eating in a shared space use less energy and produces less waste than 100 different ovens and washing machines working separately: a lesson we can learn from convent refectories, army mess hall and Soviet worker canteens. It might also help alleviate the emptiness of life without television.
38. Visit Sonairte
Seeing the fruit and vegetables in the organic walled garden at Ireland’s Centre for Sustainable Development is inspirational. They are thriving, without a trace of pest or disease damage.
You can taste the harvest in the Sunflower cafe and do a workshop in gardening, green building or basket-making, etc. The shop is heaving with fairtrade, organic, solar-powered, biodynamic and green produce. See sonairte.ie.
39. Install solar electricity
While all the media attention is on large-scale wind turbines, the companies that were selling small domestic ones have all moved to solar photovoltaic panels, not because they are more efficient (they’re not), but they are far cheaper now that China is producing panels in such volume. Solar photovoltaic is maintenance-free, silent, requires no planning and 2kw systems can be bought for as little as €2,400 plus Vat. See constructionpv.ie.
40. Have a green funeral
The committed ecologist must take into account their environmental impact beyond the grave. Cremations, depending on their efficiency can use 35 kilowatt hours of electricity, and they emit shameful levels of carbon and dioxins, not to mention the mercury from tooth fillings, over a tonne of which is emitted by British crematoria each year.
The ultimate green funeral is a meadow burial in a wicker coffin or shroud at Ireland’s only natural burial ground in Wexford: greengraveyard.com.