How to Change the World, Week 4

Happiness and sustainable deeds diary, 29th – 4th Feb.

This is the fourth week of my happiness and sustainable deed diary where I aim to write down one thing that makes me happy and one sustainable deed, however small, that I have performed each day for a month. This week I have been thinking about the role nature plays in bringing happiness to life. I was reminded of this poem:

I part the thrusting branches

and come in beneath

the blessed and the blessed trees.

Though I am silent

there is singing around me.

Though I am dark

there is vision around me.

Though I am heavy

there is flight around me.

Wendell Berry.

Monday 29th January

Happy For: Today I found it hard to find something that made me happy but seeing a whole length of clear water ahead of me at the swimming pool made me feel very grateful. Sustainable Deed: Buying loose vegetables.

Tuesday 30th January

Happy For: Productive and fun group work and the feeling of a shared success. The image of pink clouds floating above Uppsala. Sustainable Deed: Cycling to school.

Wednesday 31st January

Happy For: The first sunny day in a long time, escaping class and finding animal footprints in the snow.  Seeing a set of freshly developed photos and remembering events from the past few months. Sustainable Deed: Attending the first meeting for the proposed Test Site for Practical Sustainability in Otaniemi Campus.

Thursday 1st February

Happy For: New friends and the sense of belonging that comes from spending time together. Sustainable Deed: Learning how to fix the breaks on my bike at Unicornshki, Helsinki’s Female and Gender Variant Bike Group.

Friday 2nd February

Happy For: Swimming, the movement in my legs and arms. Being looked after by Benjamin and Maria when I didn’t feel well. Sustainable Deed: Mending a ripped skirt and Maria’s cloth bag.

Saturday 3rd February

Happy For: Talking to my family and getting to see my grandparents faces on video. Sustainable Deed: Using hand-me-down winter boots.

Sunday 4th February

Happy For: Talking to Vanessa and being transported to Montpellier for half an hour while walking along the frozen coast of Helsinki. Sustainable Deed: Limiting the amount of water I use to do the washing up and clean the kitchen.

Helsinki Climathon 2017

In the Autumn I participated in Helsinki’s first ‘Climathon’, a 24 hour global competition dedicated to addressing the pressing challenges of climate change. We began the event at 10am on Thursday morning with a presentation of the challenge brief; ‘To find solutions for reusing building components for the circular economy in the Helsinki metropolitan area’. In the following twenty four hours we were guided through the issue of construction waste by industry experts including representatives from Delete and HSY, listened to several inspirational lectures on communication techniques, participated in a 3am Yoga session and most importantly got down to the hard task of trying to solve the problem of reusing building components.

Construction waste is not my area of expertise and I was lucky enough to have Yishu Niu, a lifecycle analyst and construction expert, Kaarle Rasi, a business consultant and cascading wood specialist and Mo Bakr an engineer with experience in the circular economy on my team. Together we worked through the night to come up with a solution; ‘Timberahna; creating a new market for certified reused wood’.

Currently annual C&D wood waste in Finland is 0.6 Mtons, which makes it the most common type of C&D waste material. Timberahna addressed this issue specifically by creating a streamlined deconstruction, sorting, labeling and certification system which allowed quality load bearing wooden beams to be redistributed to wood suppliers with trust and convenience. In the long-run, by implementing our solution we expect to reduce wood waste by 60%.

We pitched our idea to industry experts on Friday morning and we were lucky enough to be chosen as the winning idea.

climathon poster


How to Change the World, Week 3

Happiness and sustainable deeds diary, 22nd – 28th Jan.

This is the third week of my happiness and sustainable deed diary where I aim to write down one thing that makes me happy and one sustainable deed, however small, that I have performed each day for a month. This week in class we discussed what makes a change maker. On a fundamental level being able to make change requires that your basic needs are fulfilled. I believe with that privilege comes the responsibility to effect positive change in what ever way we can. Tim Jackson talks about change in ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ as something that can be

“…expressed through the way we live, the things we buy, how we travel, where we invest our money, how we spend our leisure time. It can be achieved through our work. It can be influenced by the way we vote and the democratic pressure we exercise on our leaders. It can be expressed through grass-roots activism and community engagement. The pursuit of an individual frugality, a voluntary simplicity, is considerable.”

While governments and businesses can change situations, I believe the only person we can truly change is ourselves and by doing so we may also inspire others. Dorothy Day said “the greatest challenge of today is how to bring about a revolution of the heart – a revolution which has to start with each one of us”.

Week 3:

Monday 22th January

Happy For: Finding the courage to speak from my heart. Sustainable Deed: Eating leftovers.

Tuesday 23th January

Happy For: An interesting discussion with classmates, realising what peer teaching was all about. Sustainable Deed: Taking a bread ‘heel’ instead of cutting a fresh slice in the school canteen.

Wednesday 24th January

Happy For: Feeling inspired after watching nature documentaries at the Nordic Culture Centre. In one film I liked how a man who creates mountain bike trails in Denmark explained that his aim is ‘not to change nature, but to enhance what is already there’. Sustainable Deed: Picking up street rubbish (and recycling it!)

Thursday 25th January

Happy For: Hearing a songbird for the first time this year. Sustainable Deed: Making sure I only boil as much water as I need.

Friday 26th January

Happy For: Being able to cycle again now the snow has melted and trying new Finnish dishes with Maria (Karjalanpiirakka with egg butter). Sustainable Deed: Using a handkerchief rather than tissues to deal with my cold.

Saturday 27th January

Happy For: Lazy mornings, eating breakfast on Maria’s rug and discussing the value of sitting on the floor. Sustainable Deed: Reusing old packaging to transport my lunch.

Sunday 28th January

Happy For: Seeing Aino, our 3 year old friend in Quaker Meeting and having the opportunity to share her sense of excitement at the simplest things. Sustainable Deed: Turning down the temperature of the fridge. 

How to Change the World, Week 2

Happiness and sustainable deeds diary, 15th – 21st Jan.

This is the second week of my happiness and sustainable deed diary where I aim to write down one thing that makes me happy and one sustainable deed, however small, that I have performed each day for a month. This week I started to think more deeply about the nature of ‘sustainable deeds’. Often when we improve our behaviour in one aspect of life, we perform less well in another. This paradox is known as a rebound effect. Direct rebound effects occur when increased efficiency lead to more extensive use of a product – for example, when a more efficient shower system leads to people taking longer showers due to the reduction in water expenses. While, indirect rebound effects occur when consumption shifts from one category to another – for example, when savings from giving up a car are spent on more air travel.

I can recognise an indirect rebound pattern in my day to day life too. For example, the confidence I had in the few sustainable decisions I made prior to this exercise, such as cycling to University, sorting my recycling and being a vegetarian, gave me licence to relax my behaviour in other areas of life. So far in the diary I have tried to perform a different sustainable task each day which has forced me to think outside my usual comfort zone.

If you are interested in making small sustainable changes to your life too, check out the UN’s “Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World” for lots of small and mighty ideas.

Week 2:

Monday 15th January

Happy For: Finally managing to focus for an hour of productive work after a day of feeling frustrated and tired. Sustainable Deed: Unplugging my electrical items before leaving the house.

Tuesday 16th January

Happy For: The sun shine, feeling the coldest temperature I have so far experienced (minus 7!) and watching the sunset at 5pm. Sustainable Deed: Buyíng a couple of old handkerchiefs from the charity shop to use instead of disposable napkins at lunch time.

Wednesday 17th January

Happy For: Seeing a greyhound dressed in hat, coat and boots on my way to school. Sustainable Deed: Walking to school -not letting the snow defeat me!

Thursday 18th January

Happy For: Walking through fresh, untouched snow and the satisfaction of seeing my imprint on the land. Sustainable Deed: Using a menstrual cup.

Friday 19th January

Happy For: Dressing up and seeing friends. Feeling the happy, hazy edge after 3 glasses of wine. Sustainable Deed: Remembering to use scrap paper for my rough work.

Saturday 20th January

Happy For: Good company and dancing in a forest blanketed in snow. Sustainable Deed: Choosing to go for a walk over a consumption based activity.

Sunday 21th January

Happy For: The feeling of awe instilled from time spent in the Temppeliaukio Church and being able to share that with another person. Sustainable Deed: Making use of borrowed clothes.

How to Change the World, Week 1

Happiness and sustainable deeds diary, 8th – 14th Jan.

For one of my new courses, ambitiously titled ‘How to Change the World’, we have been tasked with writing down one thing that makes us happy and one sustainable deed -however small- that we have performed each day for a month. The object of the task is to reflect on what we know about the pursuit of happiness and how this relates to sustainable behaviour. While human well being (and ultimately happiness) is dependant on the health of our ecosystems, pursuit of well being in the short term often negatively affects our environment. Through this process we will explore on small scale, how agency and personal values influence one’s ability to make change happen and what is needed to make it stick.

I really enjoyed reflecting on what made me happy this week which was mostly Maria, my flat mate and being outside. Finding a different sustainable deed to perform each day proved to be a little harder but next week I hope to go a little deeper into this.

Week 1:

Monday 8th January

Happy For: Taking a swim and sauna with Maria and catching up on some weeks apart. Sustainable Deed: Letting my hair dry naturally.

Tuesday 9th January

Happy For: Unexpectedly meeting a neighbour on my daily commute and getting to know him as we cycled in the same direction. Sustainable Deed: Cycling in minus 3.

Wednesday 10th January

Happy For: Getting hugs from my classmates after the winter holiday.  Sustainable Deed: Choosing organic food where possible.

Thursday 11th January

Happy For: The feeling of achievement after understanding everything in my Swedish class and then the site of the frozen sea on my way home. Sustainable Deed: Changing my writing style to save paper.

Friday 12th January

Happy For: Seeing a red squirrel as I left my apartment building and watching as it danced through the bike shed. Sustainable Deed: Choosing the shortest and coolest wash cycle.

Saturday 13th January

Happy For: Taking a walk with Maria along the frozen coast and seeing patterns of ice in the sand. Sustainable Deed: Separating candle wax from the outer layer of tin for recycling.

Sunday 14th January

Happy For: The sun shining on my way to meeting and then coffee and pullat with the Quaker community. Sustainable Deed: Trying a new water saving washing up technique.

I would encourage anyone to try this and if you have any suggestions for small sustainable deeds please share!

Time to eat humble pie

How much do we actually know about the world?

When we talk about the state of the world, the term ‘development’ comes up a lot; sustainability development, development economics, developing countries and developed countries. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, development means ‘growth’; the process in which someone or something grows or changes and becomes more advanced.

The term ‘developed countries’ implies we have nothing more to advance on and forgets the fact that the economic and human well being of many countries categorised as ‘developed’ has regressed considerably in the last five years. Portugal and Ireland have a significantly lower life expectancy than traditionally considered ‘developing countries’ such as Vietnam and Uruguay for example (gapminder).

Hans Rosling, professor of International Health at Karolinska Institute and co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation illustrated in his 2003 TED TalkThe Best Stats You’ve Ever Seen, that using terms such as ‘developing’ and ‘developed’ to define countries has been obsolete since the late 90s.

‘Most countries and most people now live in the middle of the new socioeconomic continuum, in middle-income countries like Brazil, Mexico, China, Turkey and Indonesia. Half of the world’s economy — and most of the economic growth — now lies in these middle income countries, outside the old West, Western Europe and North America.’ (Hans Rosling, 2013)

Rosling’s research shows that we know statistically less about the world than Chimpanzees – our perceptions are less accurate than chance – which implies that “the problem is not ignorance but preconceived ideas”. The world keeps changing, yet our education and media systems have perpetuated the idea of ‘we’ and ‘them’.

Last week Florencia Quesada Avendano delivered a lecture on the inequality, urban segregation, violence and insecurity that threatens daily life in Latin America’s  ‘mega cities’. It was hard to hear about the adversities people face in a continent I know relatively little about without thinking what can ‘we’ do to help ‘them’. But are we really the right people for the job? The graph below illustrates how countries that have received less development aid tend to have higher economic growth than those who received more.


While the concept of helping fellow economies may be well intended, it is essential that we critically evaluate our motives and perceived outcomes. The idea that the ‘west’ can sweep in and save countries without close cooperation with local actors, is outmoded, condescending and as the evidence suggests, most likely impossible.

Be humble, always.

Business as UNusual

In this month alone, the world has experienced hurricanes that have ravaged the Caribbean coast, earthquakes flattening entire towns in Mexico and floods causing devastation in Florida, Texas, India, Bangladesh and Nepal (to name a few). According to NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration), since 1980, the US has experienced five and a half “weather and climate disasters” per year, each costing $1 billion or more.

Climate change is not a new phenomenon, yet rather than being a catalyst for action humanity has systematically ignored the signs. Paul Polman (CEO of Unilever) recently stated “we are more focused on the next quarter than the next generation”. The actions of President Donald Trump and his recent withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord illustrate this worldview and a mentality more interested in short-term gains than in the wellbeing of the planet.

Climate change had been described as a problem that is both too near our consumption driven lifestyles and too far from our everyday experience for us to take seriously. Leading activist, George Marshall describes climate change as “a perfect and undetectable crime everyone contributes to but for which no one has a motive”. When confronted with the awful reality of rising sea levels, desertification and mass migration we tend to look away rather than take action.

Yet climate change also offers a massive opportunity for innovation and positive advancements. Environmental instability calls for an overhaul of ‘business as usual’. We have to dramatically rethink our consumption-driven business models and carbon hungry industries. This gives us the occasion to change our priorities and advance policies that better serve people and the planet. Access to renewable energy promises independence for developing nations, a fresh perspective on service design and a shift towards a sharing economy that promotes community and social engagement. While carbon tax offers a way of holding big business accountable for resource usage. Equality, sustainability and social responsibility are not just essential for lowering emissions; they are also good for business.

However, as Naomi Klein writes in her book This Changes Everything ‘before any of these changes can happen- before we can believe that climate change can change us –we first have to stop looking away.’ The uncomfortable reality of climate change is upon us and now is the time to take action.