Going Green in Haarlem: Happy Earth Day!

Today, more than a billion people around the world will show their support for environmental protection, and ultimately, saving our planet (you might have noticed, it’s in need of a bit of TLC), on this International Earth Day. World leaders are also gathering in New York today for the signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement, a commitment by every nation on Earth to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to keep warming well below 2-degrees Celsius.

This seems like the perfect opportunity to take a peek into sustainability, and ask the question, just how green is this place we expats call home? And – more importantly – what can we do in our every-day lives to make it that little bit greener? We all want to ensure our beautiful Haarlem remains beautiful (and above sea level) for all the future generations to come, toch?

One of the more interesting solutions offered by the UN is to hug a tree. I joke not:

However, I propose the following: hug a tree, if you wish, after you finish reading this article. I’ve stolen some slightly more practical tips from the UN that we can all begin acting on today.

But first, the world in crisis
Yes, Crisis. While large swathes of the world have been busy making themselves richer over the past decades, we seem to have lost respect for the very place that provides us with every single basic resource we need for survival. By 2050 we won’t have enough natural resources (biomass, fossil fuels, ores, minerals and water) to sustain the world’s population (read: NOT ENOUGH WATER!). Not to mention the 500,000 people expected to die per year due to diet changes as a direct result of climate change.

But we have the power to change things. We are all mini superheroes in disguise, capable of saving our planet, if we act together, and act now. We cannot sit back and rely on world leaders in New York alone to do the job. Each and every one of us has to take responsibility on some level. Watch the persuasive documentary ‘The True Cost’ and I guarantee you’ll think twice about shopping in Fast-Fashion legends like H&M and Primark in the future (for at least a week…).

Netherlands leading the way in sustainable business
To carry out our superhero duties, we’re in a great place. The Netherlands has long been hailed as a pioneer in sustainable business. Netherlands-based global brands, such as Philips, Unilever, AkzoNobel, to name a few, have consistently been rated among the leaders on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index. Public awareness of ‘duurzaamheid’ in this country is high, with sustainability issues even integrated into the school curriculum.

Haarlem, you’ll be pleased to know, is spearheading the green movement. Last year, the city announced its intentions to become completely carbon neutral by 2030. This means balancing the amount of carbon released with the amount offset, largely through ensuring the city runs on green energy. Energy-efficient public lighting, encouraging home owners (via loans) to install solar panels and better insulate (or isolate as the Dutch love to say) our homes, and a host of other green initiatives aim to make this ambitious goal happen.

Greening our own lives, in simple steps!
Here are some simple actions you can take to help this initiative along (no trees):

  • Save electricity by plugging appliances into a power strip and turning them off completely when not in use, including your computer.
  • Air dry. Let your hair and clothes dry naturally instead of running a machine. If you do wash your clothes, make sure the load is full.
  • Take short showers. Bathtubs require gallons more water than a 5-10 minute shower.
  • Eat less meat, poultry, and fish. According to the Economist, a widespread switch to vegetarianism could curb emissions by nearly two thirds and veganism by 70%!
  • Recycle all your paper, plastic & glass to ease the pressure on landfills. Fill in your postcode on this website and you can find out exactly where your nearest recycling point is.
  • Buy minimally packaged goods, and re-re-re-use your plastic bags.
  • Avoid pre-heating the oven. Unless you need a precise baking temperature, start heating your food right when you turn on the oven.
  • Replace old appliances with energy efficient models and light bulbs
  • Get a rug. Carpets and rugs keep your house warm and your thermostat low.
  • Don’t rinse. If you use a dishwasher, stop rinsing your plates before you run the machine.
  • Check out the clothing store Brand Mission in Haarlem to buy your sustainable, biological and ethically produced clothes.
  • Shop vintage. Brand-new isn’t necessarily best. See what you can repurpose from second-hand shops.
  • Maintain your car. A well-tuned car will emit fewer toxic fumes.
  • Donate what you don’t use. Local charities will give your gently used clothes, books and furniture a new life.

We all have a duty to take responsibility for this amazing planet that hosts us. Let’s take a moment today to be thankful for the awesome world in which we live, and then start taking better care of it. Not tomorrow, but today. How about now 🙂

Sarah Fencott