Friday 28 October 2011

a green garden fling

Australian Ethical hasn't just given my super a place to grow, it's also influenced my garden to grow.  Included in their information packet were these adorable seed-sticks - I received a pack each of tomatoes, chillies and rocket.

Last year on whim I planted the chillies and within weeks I had a full plant and my cooking was 'spiced up' for months.  The plant went dormant over winter but as Spring sprung this September I saw new green shoots and thought to myself, "I'm really a farmer now!"

Bolstered by the success (and return) of the chillies I decided to step it up this year and planted tomatoes.

Once again I've been pleasantly surprised with how easy it has been to grow these plants from seed - have a look at the progression of my tomato plants over the past couple months:

Freshly planted seed sticks

4 weeks after planting

I transferred the seedlings at 4 weeks to larger containers.
We picked up these white buckets from the Manly Coop
(upcyled pots!) and I cut drainage holes into the bases.

The transfer is complete!  I also picked up basil and mint
(already started) from the garden centre, so I have two
tomato plants, a pot of mint, basil, and a combo pot of
basil and chillies. Yum!
At 7 weeks - those wooden stakes were claimed
from the neighbourhood cleanup (yes, I've been
rummaging through rubbish again, I love
creative re-use!). The basil, mint and chillies are
also thriving.

After only 7 weeks the plants are nearly a foot tall!  The plants are incredibly fragrant and the scent takes me back to childhood summers when we'd receive freshly picked tomatoes from family friends. I'll keep you posted on how the tomatoes taste later this summer, but based on the progress so far I'm feeling optimistic.

I was surprised at how much growing I can accommodate with a small amount of space.  As an apartment dweller it's easy to think that I can't have a garden, but even in a small patch of sun these plants can thrive.  Around my apartment block (we're a small-but-friendly block of four units) there are pots of herbs, tomatoes, strawberries and a lemon tree - we even have a rosemary bush growing in the front garden. I'm so happy to have neighbours who also partake in the joys of home gardening.

I don't think I'll give up my order with Lettuce Deliver just yet, but it's great to think I'll be able to supplement my produce purchases with home grown goodies.  My perceptions have definitely changed regarding growing my own food and I'm already planning what I have room for next Spring. Maybe some rocket? Or carrots? 

Have you succeeded in growing fruits, veggies and herbs in a small space? I'd love to hear what you've done!

Thursday 20 October 2011

a green super fling

I don't know about you, but nothing puts me to sleep quicker than talking about financial matters.  Don't get me wrong, I love money (and wish I had more of it) but topics such as mortgages, exchange rates, interest rates and the Dow make me start to yaaaawwwwwnnnnn. . . 

I have no idea how I ever finished my business degree.

Topping off my list of dull financial topics would have to be superannuation.  I know it's incredibly important but I'm also happy not to have to think about it too much.  In fact, I ignore it so much so that it took me over three years since learning about ethical super funds to finally transfer over to one. I'm happy to report that I am now a proud member of Australian Ethical Super.

Ethical super funds are run similar to regular super funds but they only invest in organisations that are sustainable socially, environmentally and economically.  For instance, Australian Ethical's list of benefits include:
  • Investing in companies with positive environmental, social and governance practices
  • Investments are chosen based on both strong ethics and solid financial performance
  • Transparency - you know what your money is funding. 

So my money will now be investing in companies that share my values and I'll still get good returns - thankfully it's not an either/or proposition as Australian Ethical returns are similar to non-ethical super funds - I was even able to invest some of my money in 'Climate Advocacy' shares.

To tell you the truth, I'm sort of embarrassed to be sharing this with you. I mean, I work for an environmental non-profit organisation, write this blog and am writing a book, and yet I paid no attention to where my super was going. Australian Ethical came to my office twice and convinced me both times to make the switch, but I was so lazy about it and never made it a priority. Even more embarrassing is the incident that finally tipped me over the edge: while glancing at my latest super statement I learned - horror of horrors - that I had been investing in BHP, Rio Tinto, Exxon Mobil and Shell. Ahhh! I try and live an ethical, environmental lifestyle and I'd unknowingly been contributing to a number of organisations that go against my ideals all because financial matters bore me.

I filled out my Australian Ethical forms the next day.

Signing up for an account was terribly easy, done online, and the most time consuming part of the process was locating a JP to certify my identification on my rollover form.  Sure, there was a bit of administrative homework, but now it's done and I feel a huge weight lifted and one step closer to leading a completely sustainable lifestyle.

If finances don't bore you to tears you'll be pleased to know that Australian Ethical is not the only ethical super fund so you can shop around; a few other ethical funds include:
So remember, even though super is compulsory, it doesn't mean you don't have a choice in where you invest your money. Invest in organisations that share your values, make competitive financial returns and it's a completely win-win situation (don't you just love it when that happens?)!

Thursday 13 October 2011

a green coles fling

Yep, you read that correctly, I'm giving Coles a shout-out on my green-living blog.

For years I've looked upon the retailer with near-disgust.  After all, they stock all the dreaded packaged foods in this country responsible for so much waste and unhealthy diets. They pushed out the independent fruit and veg shop in my neighbourhood last year and have a pathetic selection of organic produce. And why won't they just ban plastic bags already?

But we have recently kindled a flame.  It started innocently enough. Just a flirtation.

I'd run out of the Fairtrade organic tea I get from Oxfam and was desperate for a cuppa.  I couldn't get to the Oxfam shop so I popped down the road to the oh-so-convenient Coles to buy an emergency pack of tea.  And then, there amongst the Twinings, Bushells and Dilmah, I discovered Coles-brand tea that has been certified both Fairtrade and organic!
I promptly wrote Coles an email to thank the company for its growing commitment to the environmental cause and encouraged them to add more eco-friendly products to their store.

A couple months after discovering the tea I had a similar situation with organic cotton make-up pads (typically purchased from the health food store or Eco at Home). The health food store was sold out for a few weeks and I couldn't get to Eco at Home, so just like the tea, I popped down to Coles to get some non-organic pads to cover me until I could get the eco-brand.  And, voila! Coles now stocks Swisspers certified organic cotton pads - and they are even the same price as the non-organic.

The affair got really steamy a couple weeks ago when I needed clothes pegs  -I had a couple loads of laundry to hang and not nearly enough pegs.  I don't know where they go, probably to the land of lost socks and hair pins, but it seems I have to stock up on pegs about once a year.  Last time I purchased wooden pegs, thinking they must be better for the environment than those made of plastic.  Unfortunately they don't withstand the weather or frequent use, and were the first to disappear or break down.  As I entered Coles I still didn't know if I was going to buy more wooden pegs or buy the plastic ones in hopes they lasted longer, but instead I found these:

They're a bit alien-like, but I do appreciate the Aussie colours!

They were produced in the UK, so there is a travel footprint associated, but they are made of 93% recycled plastic and use no metal.  According to the back of the pack, making recycled plastic uses 70% less energy than making virgin plastic. They are also completely recyclable should I ever need to discard them. The pack also says they can withstand hurricane-strength winds - I don't know if I'll have to worry about that, but a few weeks in they are withstanding the sea breeze that blows through my garden.

Of course I love supporting small businesses and will continue to frequent the great specialty shops I've discovered along my green journey, but I also think it's incredibly important to support mainstream stores stocking green products.  I'm a firm believer that if these products are readily available people will purchase them, it's all a matter of convenience (and price), so I'm happy to support Coles by buying these certified (remember to ensure the products you purchase are certified organic, Fairtrade or recycled so you're not greenwashed) green products and encouraging them to do more.

So what are you waiting for?  Why not see what great green finds are at your local grocery store? I'd love to hear what you discover!

Friday 7 October 2011

a green fling lesson: patience : follow-up

Wouldn't you know it - 5 minutes after I blogged, facebooked and tweeted about my waning patience for eco-custom-mixed-paint I received a phone call from the fine folks at Eco at Home telling me my paint was ready to pick up.  Insert sheepish feelings here (and gratitude to the universe!).

So last Saturday morning I hightailed it over to Willoughby to pick up my paint so that I could spend the long-weekend refinishing my dresser.

The lovely man who had taken great care to create my dream eco-paint colour told me to brace myself for the bright colour I was about to see - I was so excited to see the beautiful blue!  It was probably more duck-egg than peacock, but still as vibrant as I'd wanted.  I picked up a paintbrush and stir-stick, and he provided me an instruction sheet (printed on beautiful brown recycled paper) for how to use my BioPaint.  I've used it before, and love that I can just rinse everything with soap and water, no paint-thinner required.

As he apologised for the delay he explained he had a 'painterly' week, spending the bulk of his time mixing custom-paints for a number of clients.  My hubby was with me and asked if it's the painters or designers who recommend green paint or if it's client-driven, and he explained demand is predominantly client-driven.  He said there are "a handful of architects out there who will specify eco-paints" but 99% of the requests are from the client.

He recounted an encounter he had the day before with a young painter who had come to the shop a couple times throughout the week. When he came in Friday to pick up a final can of paint he said:

"This is the first Friday I've ever worked that I didn't wake up feeling really sick."

To which the Eco at Home paint guru replied:

"Well, you don't really see any old painters around, do you?  It's too hard on your body to do this job for long, breathing in fumes from synthetic paints."

During the week the Eco at Home paint guru had also given a talk at the Greenpainters Association where he started the discussion by writing down a long list of health problems associated with VOCs including: brain and central nervous system damage, lung disease, skin disease and reproductive disorders.

There's really nothing else to say, is there?  Please take care of yourselves when you catch that renovation bug and use low-VOC, plant-based paints.  You'll be amazed at the difference in how you feel and at the similarity of the end result.

Now, what you've been waiting for - the big reveal of my final product.

I'm really happy with my bright new dresser!