Portmanteau Commentary: My Habbit is Not a Hobbit – How to Calculate Your Carbon Footprint


Shopping locally, by Kayleigh Bluck
I have to honestly admit that I don’t really THINK about sustainability in my everyday life. I even recycle without thinking because it is such a natural process to me. You don’t consciously think about why you drink tea from a cup and not from a bowl or why you pee into the toilet and not into the basin.
I think you’re only truly sustainable when it’s a part of your way of life, just like a diet is pointless unless you actually change your lifestyle and habits. In keeping with this, I came across a test with a perfectly relevant name: “My Habbit“. You can check out your own carbon footprint and you might be surprised at how easy it is to change really small habits.

Whilst taking the test it visualises your carbon footprint in the form of a strange and creepy semi-alien computer-generated human body. Proportionally distorting a human’s body parts in order to visualise your disproportionate use, you work your way through the different stages of sustainability. For instance, if you use a lot of electricity, you head starts to look more and more like a skeleton. The more meat you eat, the fatter your belly gets. Electricity and gas expands your hands, travel expands your feet until it looks like an almost bursting balloon. Mine looked pretty normal at the end, but it still had suggestions for me to better myself. But how did I even come across this test?
“So, a guy came into the office today to borrow some of our paper, which was recycled and said ‘So are you trying to save the world or summin?’ (sic) to which I wanted to start replying but by the time I said ‘Um..’ he said ‘Then stop driving!’ I obviously replied ‘I don’t drive’ and he said ‘Oh’ and walked off. What’s the dude hassling me for?”
This is a snippet of a conversation I had during dinner today, where it transpired that me being a vegetarian and not having a car actually makes me “pretty green” according to a test my partner had taken during the workshop he held at the “Sustainable Futures” exhibition at the Design Museum. I was immediately intrigued. This may have been mainly due to the fact that I was fairly certain I was going to come out of the other end of the tunnel with a result to be proud of (aka something to show off about).

Shopping locally for fabric, illustrated by Naomi Law
I already knew some of the reasons that were going to be to my advantage. I work from home, which means that in average, I use the underground only once a week for meetings or events in town. I have only travelled by plane once in the past year (last November, in fact), which is highly unusual and mainly down to the fact that work has happily consumed all my time. Either way, I knew it was going to make me look good in the test. I walk to the shops, and buy most of my food and fabric (I am a fashion designer) in the local market where things are mainly locally sourced. I’m very lazy when it comes to anything that is essential to life such as sleep, eating and washing. That’s only of advantage because I own a lot of clothes, which means I very rarely have to actually wash any of them. My washing machine is extremely underused.
Furthermore, since we’re on the subject of big white goods, I don’t own a dishwasher or tumble dryer or any such machinery. I recycle everything from paper snippets to plastic to glass to fabric. I would say “tins” but I don’t really use them. As I mentioned before, most my food moves directly from the bowl of vegetables of the farmer’s table into my Longchamp shopping bag into my vegetable drawer. Another point that I knew was going to help me look good in this test was the fact that I’m a vegetarian. Apparently, that makes a difference although I’m still not quite sure why. Surely any food needs to be transported, worked on? Do feel free to enlighten me if you know.
Returning to the subject of technical items, I don’t watch TV. I have a TV set for watching a DVD every now and then, but I usually prefer to work, and the TV is of course unplugged when I don’t use it because otherwise it makes a very annoying humming noise when it’s on standby. I unplug my printers, sewing machines, hair straighteners etc when I’m not using them.
People who don’t live with me would never believe it, but I’d rather look like a couch potato wearing three jackets (I’m at home, right?) than turn on the heating unnecessarily. In fact, the heating is completely switched off until the temperature drops below 10 degrees Celsius for more than a week, which doesn’t make me very popular with my housemates.
We were given some free sustainable light bulbs when we last switched gas and electricity companies, which we use throughout the house and half of the fluorescent light bulbs we have in our office have burned out and we are too lazy to replace them.

Shopping for clothes, illustrated by Zarina Liew
This one is a big deal, but not a topic that gave me any extra credit during the test. About 80% of my wardrobe (including my shoes) is either second hand, vintage or passed on in some form or another through eBay, TK Maxx, in the form of presents from family and friends, inherited pieces, charity shops etc. This does not, however, mean that I don’t indulge my fashion sense, as a quick peek into the style section of my website will confirm.
I don’t listen to the radio, I don’t have a CD player or stereo because I have all my music on my Mac and iPhone – who knew being this non-nostalgic about music, could turn into a blessing?
We have an agreement with our landlord who sends round a gardener every two months. Officially, any carbon footprint they amass during their work is technically not mine, so I am not counting it. The grass is yellow from the few days of “heat” this lame English summer had, but I don’t really see that as my responsibility and as far as I can tell, I don’t think the gardeners ever water the grass – they simply cut it even shorter and dryer and pick up the leaves.
Some of the questions in the test were difficult. For instance, I had to look up which type of light bulbs we actually use. They cleverly adjust the optimum “habit” you could have at the end and suggest ways in which you can better yourself, even if your carbon emission is as low as one could realistically imagine.
However, there were aspects of importance that were not quite taken into consideration. A big issue, which could tip someone’s carbon print (especially among us fashionistas and fashionistos, eh?) is our shopping and consumption habits beyond mere primary necessity (food). Do you buy online? Are your purchases shipped or flown from overseas or do you make sure buy locally? Do you shop in chain supermarkets or local markets? How much stuff do you own? Do you buy from Primark or second hand? Do you buy per trend and season or do you invest in pieces that you have worn for decades? Do you tend to consume actual objects such as electric equipment, decorative items, clothing or something altogether different?

Using recycled paper, illustrated by Emma Block, using recycled paper!
There are also questions relating to your profession that are not taken into consideration at all. For instance, the test asks you whether you use a printer at home, but not whether you use a printer at work. How much paper do you use and waste, knowing you’re not paying for it? I’ll forgive them for not asking office-related questions, though, as this could get very detailed and complex. But what about mobile phones? No sign of their impact.
Having an iPhone, which I use for work, means I charge my phone up a lot more often than, say, someone who works in a shop and turns theirs off for most of the day. As anybody who owns an iPhone knows, as much as we love them – the battery of the iPhone is abysmal. It needs charging ALL the time. Surely the test should be asking about the different phones one has, the same way they asked about what type of TV I own? On the other hand, I charge my iPhone via my laptop – this means less electricity is used. You can see, the questions can be quite endless, but an essential acknowledgement of such basics would have improved the test.
Many of my friends and colleagues are writers or need to write in some form or another. When you do your writing, do you do it online or offline? That sounds like it would make no difference, but it does. Here’s a good illustrating example, which has astounded quite a lot of people when I’ve mentioned it.

Energy in the kitchen, illustrated by Gemma Randall
One of the questions in the questionnaire is how often you boil the kettle. Did you know that every time you do a search on google it uses as much electricity and power from the mighty google servers as it does to boil a full kettle? A question in the test, if I have had any say, should have been “Do you look up the tiniest question on google rather than trying to think that second longer in case you remember?” Do you maybe have a real life dictionary (oh wonder and glory), which can help you just as much? Yes, one should consider the production cost of making said book, but for the sake of the argument, let’s assume it’s a vintage book, which still holds perfectly updated descriptions of most words we know. If it doesn’t, you can STILL use Google, Wikipedia or an online dictionary. But not doing so would immediately reduce your carbon footprint more than you think…
I am a great believer in the fact that until something is accepted as normal, it has not really been overcome. Until it is, the obstacle of integration is not complete. I feel this is the way with sustainability. I grew up with it, so it was quite strange for me to see what fuss people made about being sustainable – it was new to me. Once people embrace it as part of their lives, it will be a lot easier. You hear campaigns telling you to “be aware” and “do your part” as if most of these acts weren’t perfectly logical. I disagree. Sure, some people just don’t admit to perfectly basic knowledge being obvious, and need those hints and tips, and none of us are perfect and continue to be educated. However, the obsession of making recycling something to be conscious about is not going to help. Only once it’s truly and easily integrated into our lives in a manner that is natural to participate in will sustainability really be standard practice.
(This article was published on Amelia's Magazine)