A sustainable Mindset is Knowledge and Awareness

What if I told you humans take mental shortcuts (heuristics) everyday? I don’t mean just choosing a less busy street to drive on or using ctrl C on the keyboard. When I say shortcuts, I mean every time we go to the shops to buy food, laundry detergent, clothes, and many more choices we make during our busy lives. Shortcuts are not only within our capacities but within our very essence. We use them daily and we need them (Sprout 2021). If we did not have this ability to take shortcuts, we would never be able to come to a decision on anything. Unfortunately, companies and their marketing teams also know this and do an abundance of research to nudge us towards purchasing products they want us to buy. For example, you may pick a detergent because it’s in green packaging, so your mind links that to an environmental benefit choice when it could be the complete opposite. We need to remember that marketers are very good at their jobs and usually have a lot of information on how to lure us in.

So, you are probably thinking, what on earth has this got to do with sustainability…. Well, everything of course! You see, sustainability is more than just a catchphrase or a list of sustainable goals, it is a mindset (UNPRME 2022). If you have a sustainable mindset, then most purchases you make are usually considered as making the right choice for the environment. But making decisions based on catchy words or colors is not enough. Color has a strong psychological impact on decisions (Faisal Zaidi 2022; Rita Kuvykaite et al. 2009; Dan Luo et al. 2019) and it`s a marketer’s job to know this and apply it in order to sell more.

It’s not just colors either that marketers are targeting. They are also now finding ways to use organic credibility for advertising their products. Unfortunately, consumers like you and me are overexposed to claims made and symbols suggesting sustainable practices are undertaken. They are posted all over-packaged food  (Lanero et al. 2020). Regrettably, this does not only impact our in-shopping purchases but online purchases too. Online Shopping sites are also tapping into our mental shortcuts. In fact, to such a degree they are even using data mining methods and algorithms to better predict consumer purchases based on internet store visits (Parkhimenka et al. 2017).

It’s terrible to think that companies take advantage of us, using psychological methods to influence our purchase behavior, I for one do not like it one bit. With so many choices to make each day, having to make even more decisions at the local food store when deciding on weekly groceries can be tiring. Luckily now you are aware of the cheeky little marketing games food companies are playing and with this insightful information, we can take action.  Even if it`s small steps, where we make informative decisions a few products at a time, it would support our sustainable mindsets and beat the marketers at their own game. If there are products in amazing packages and suspicious organic symbols and claims, it takes a quick minute to pull out your handy smartphone and do a search. In addition, a sustainable mindset is also a willingness to continue to learn about all areas of sustainability. Therefore, continue the good fight as knowledge allows us to make informative decisions and can only make us wiser.

 And remember, awareness is key, if we are not aware, then we are likely not well informed.


References

Dan Luo; Luwen Yu; Stephen Westland; Nik Mahon (2019): The influence of colour and image on consumer purchase intentions of convenience food. Available online at https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stephen-Westland/publication/332304769_The_influence_of_colour_and_image_on_consumer_purchase_intentions_of_convenience_food/links/5e39f4e9299bf1cdb90e4093/The-influence-of-colour-and-image-on-consumer-purchase-intentions-of-convenience-food.pdf, checked on 6/6/2022.

Faisal Zaidi (2022): Color Psychology of Consumer Decision Making | LinkedIn. Available online at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20141006095417-101549284-color-psychology-of-consumer-decision-making/, updated on 6/6/2022, checked on 6/6/2022.

Lanero, Ana; Vázquez, José-Luis; Sahelices-Pinto, César (2020): Heuristic Thinking and Credibility of Organic Advertising Claims: The Role of Knowledge and Motivations. In Sustainability 12 (21), p. 8776. DOI: 10.3390/su12218776.

Parkhimenka, Uladzimir; Tatur, Mikhail; Zhvakina, Anna (2017): Heuristic approach to online purchase prediction based on internet store visitors classification using data mining methods. In International Conference on Information and Digital Technologies (Ed.): The International Conference on Information and Digital Technologies 2017. 5-7 July 2017, Žilina, Slovakia. 2017 International Conference on Information and Digital Technologies (IDT). Zilina, Slovakia, 7/5/2017 – 7/7/2017. International Conference on Information and Digital Technologies; IDT. [Piscataway, NJ]: IEEE, pp. 304–307.

Rita Kuvykaite; Aiste Dovaliene; Laura Navickiene (2009): IMPACT OF PACKAGE ELEMENTS ON CONSUMER’S PURCHASE DECISION. In ecoman (14), pp. 441–447. Available online at https://www.ecoman.ktu.lt/index.php/Ekv/article/view/9405.

Singun, Amando Pimentel, JR. (2018): Heuristics as Mental Shortcuts in Evaluating Interactive Systems. In Int. J. Eng. Ped. 8 (4), p. 143. DOI: 10.3991/ijep.v8i4.8054.

Sprout (2021): Understanding the mental shortcuts that dictate buying behaviour – Sprout. Available online at https://sproutstrategy.com.au/understanding-the-mental-shortcuts-that-dictate-buying-behaviour/, updated on 7/14/2021, checked on 5/21/2022.

UNPRME (2022). Available online at https://www.unprme.org/prme-working-group-on-sustainability-mindset, updated on 6/6/2022, checked on 6/6/2022.

HOW TO MAKE COW BURPS AND FARTS ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY?

When I was in elementary school, I visited a farm on a fairly regular basis with my class as my school had a partnership with the farm. I had the opportunity to ride horses, make bread, apple juice, chase chickens and feed cows, even though I was terrified of them and absolutely hated the smell of the barn. Little did anyone in my class, including myself, realize that by feeding the cows we were indirectly contributing to the so-called greenhouse effect.

Did you know that livestock’s burps and farts release methane, which causes significant damage to the environment by contributing to 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions? (FAO, 2013)

When I use the term “livestock”, it encompasses cattle, buffaloes, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese, basically animals that are raised to either produce edible products or for economic activity (FAO, 2013).

Greenhouse gasses emitted by economic area (Steve, 2015)

WHAT IS METHANE AND WHY IS IT HARMFUL?

Methane is a pollutant gas released by human activities such as by the energy and transportation sector, livestock and waste (Ravishankara, et al., 2021). Methane causes 30% of the temperature increase, also known as climate change (IEA, 2022). Over a two-decade period, methane appears to be heating the atmosphere 80 times more severely than carbon dioxide (UNEP, 2021).

A large part of emissions originates from the production of beef, accounting for 41% of the agriculture sector and cow’s milk, representing 20% of the industry’s emissions. Pigs are responsible for 9% of emissions, while poultry (meat and eggs) is the source of 8% of total sector’s output (FAO, 2013).

When digesting their food, cows generate methane. The volume of methane generated by livestock varies according to the quantity of animals, their digestive systems, and their food intake. Ruminants are the main source of methane emissions from livestock because they produce the greatest amount of methane per unit of feed consumed (Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Agriculture and Food, 2022). About 95% of the methane emitted by cows is discharged in the form of burps, while the remaining 5% is generated by flatulence (Torgovnick May, 2018).

Generation of methane in the foregut of a cow (NZAGRC, 2019)

SOLUTIONS AND IMPROVEMENTS TO BE IMPLEMENTED

The most effective solution to remedy this issue is to reduce methane emissions. One approach that researchers have discovered lies in the seaweed “Asparagopsis taxiformis”. The solution lies in adding a quantity of this specific seaweed to the feed of cows. This alga is able to reduce methane released by cows’ belching and intestinal gas to a level that is nearly inexistant, namely 1%. In addition, this alternative does not impact the meat and milk quality or productivity and health of the animals. The cattle are satiated with a lighter amount, thus cutting their feed consumption by 14%. This alternative also presents cost benefits for farmers as it is cheaper to use in the long term. This makes the agriculture and especially cattle raising more ecologically and financially sustainable (Roque, et al., 2021).

The current implications of methane on humans are pretty consequent, and thus switching to the alternative solution and cutting 45% methane emissions, representing 180 tonnes per year, would prevent a temperature rise of 0.3 C° by 2040. Furthermore, it would save 255,000 people from early death, avoid 775,000 hospital visits caused by asthma, prevent the loss of 73 billion work hours from exposure to intense temperatures and avoid the annual destruction of 26 million tons of harvests worldwide (Ravishankara, et al., 2021). Efforts to mitigate methane also support several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as SDG 2 “Zero Hunger”, SDG 3 “Good Health and Well-being” as well as SDG 13 “Climate Action” (Ravishankara, et al., 2021).

Red seaweed – Asparagopsis taxiformis (Azzopardi, 2019)

ETHICAL IMPLICATIONS

Even though this solution is a good alternative, it does not solve the overproduction issue that humans cause. For instance, something I find horrifying is that farmers inseminate their cows to satisfy the demand for milk and meat. Cows should not be forced to give birth if they do not conceive naturally. Instead, wouldn’t it be simpler and more ethical to just reduce our meat consumption rather than trying to always find alternatives to solve the problems we are creating as humans, just for our own comfort, even though overconsuming meat does actually impact us negatively as it endangers our health (Westhoek, et al., 2015)?

Greenpeace European Unit (2020) disclosed that Europeans consume much more meat than needed and should cut their consumption by 70% until 2030 to ensure sustainability. This involves that individuals would consume the equivalent of 460 gm of meat, representing approximately 3 burgers a week, knowing that the current European average stands at 1.58 kg per week. The recommended level of meat consumption has been calculated wisely and would not put our health at risk.

CLOSING REMARKS

I believe that by combining these two solutions, we could contribute to our present and future well-being. As in many other areas, it will be very complicated, if not impossible, to achieve total sustainability. However, in order to create a better world and, more importantly, to be part of it, every single individual on earth will be required to make efforts in terms of consumerism and each of us will be obliged to sacrifice our own comfort.

REFERENCES

Azzopardi, B. (2019, January 29). Asparagopsis taxiformis (Rotalge). Retrieved from Atlantis Diving: https://www.atlantisgozo.com/de/asparagopsis-taxiformis-red-algae/

Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development’s Agriculture and Food. (2022, February 1). Carbon farming: reducing methane emissions from cattle using feed additives. Retrieved from Government of Western Australia: https://www.agric.wa.gov.au/climate-change/carbon-farming-reducing-methane-emissions-cattle-using-feed-additives#:~:text=The%20amount%20of%20methane%20emitted,per%20unit%20of%20feed%20consumed.

FAO. (2013). Tackling Climate Change through Livestock. A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities. Rome: FAO. Retrieved from https://www.fao.org/3/i3437e/i3437e.pdf

Greenpeace European Unit. (2020, March 13). EU climate diet: 71% less meat by 2030. Retrieved from Greenpeace: https://www.greenpeace.org/eu-unit/issues/nature-food/2664/eu-climate-diet-71-less-meat-by-2030/#:~:text=Brussels%20%E2%80%93%20Meat%20consumption%20in%20the,to%20new%20analysis%20by%20Greenpeace.

IEA. (2022, February 23). Global Methane Tracker 2022. Retrieved from IEA: https://www.iea.org/reports/global-methane-tracker-2022

NZAGRC. (2019). The science of methane. Retrieved from New Zealand agricultural greenhouse gas research centre: https://www.nzagrc.org.nz/domestic/methane-research-programme/the-science-of-methane/

Ravishankara, A. R.;Kuylenstierna, J.C.I.; Michalopoulou, E. ; HöglundIsaksson, L.; Zhang, Y.; Seltzer, K.; Ru, M.; Castelino, R.; Faluvegi, G.; Naik, V.; Horowitz, L.; He, J.; Lamarque, J. F.; Sudo, K.; Collins, W. J.; Malley, C.; Harmsen, M.; Stark, K.; Junkin, J.; Li, G.; Glick, A. & Borgford-Parnell, N. (2021, May 6). Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions. Retrieved from UNEP: https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/35913/GMA.pdf

Roque, B. M., Marielena, V., Kinley, R. D., De Nys, R., Duarte, T. L., Yang, X., & Ermias, K. (2021, March 17). Red seaweed (Asparagopsis taxiformis) supplementation reduces enteric methane by over 80 percent in beef steers. Retrieved from PLOS ONE: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article/file?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0247820&type=printable

Steve, G. (2015, October 9). Can we make cow burps climate-friendly? Retrieved from European Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/research-and-innovation/en/horizon-magazine/can-we-make-cow-burps-climate-friendly

Torgovnick May, K. (2018, September 27). IDEAS.TED. Retrieved from Methane isn’t just cow farts; it’s also cow burps (and other weird facts you didn’t know about this potent greenhouse gas): https://ideas.ted.com/methane-isnt-just-cow-farts-its-also-cow-burps-and-other-weird-facts-you-didnt-know-about-this-potent-greenhouse-gas/

UNEP. (2021, August 20). Methane emissions are driving climate change. Here’s how to reduce them. Retrieved from UNEP: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/methane-emissions-are-driving-climate-change-heres-how-reduce-them

Westhoek, H., Lesschen, J.P., Leip, A., Rood, T., Wagner, S., De Marco, A., Murphy-Bokern, D., Pallière, C., Howard, C.M., Oenema, O. & Sutton, M.A. (2015). Nitrogen on the Table: The influence of food choices on nitrogen emissions and the European environment. (C. H. Sutton, Ed.) Retrieved from INMS: https://www.inms.international/sites/inms.international/files/Nitrogen_on_the_Table_Report_WEB.pdf

Let’s talk about contact lenses and their impact on the environment

Introduction

Plastic waste is a key issue. A current estimate assumes that around 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of plastic waste enter the oceans every year. However, only a small part swims on the surface, the rest is drawn into deeper waters or onto the sea floor. Many animal species are affected by plastic waste and even eat it and therefore the plastic enters the natural food chain (WWF, 2020). When using contact lenses, there is a lot of waste, which is not biodegradable because they are made of plastic. The use of contact lenses thus contributes to the single-use plastic problem. But how does this happen?

Problems

Contact lenses have been used for decades to correct vision. More than 150 million people use contact lenses today (Moreddu et al., 2019). According to a Statista survey , around 4.2 % of the Swiss population wore weekly or bi-weekly lenses in 2021 (Statista, 2022). Most modern contact lenses are made of silicone hydrogel. In addition, there are also older models which are manufactured as pure hydrogel contact lenses. Contact lenses improve the lives of many people (Wilhelmi, 2022). However, the issue of the plastic waste produced by contact lenses is often forgotten. The use of contact lens products by end consumers comprises 0.5 % of the total environmental waste (Morgan et al., 2003). The materials used to make contact lenses are different from other plastic waste. Most plastic waste from the contact lenses themselves and their packaging end up in the ocean or in landfill. Plastic can take up to 500 years to fully degrade in landfills or in the ocean (Optical Express, 2019). Optical Express surveyed over 3’000 contact lens users across the UK in 2019. The survey showed that 95 % of those surveyed discard their contact lenses in the trash or simply flush them down the toilet. Only 3% of people recycle their lenses (Optical Express, 2019). This is a huge problem. According to researchers, the bonds of the plastic polymers of contact lenses change in sewage treatment plants under the influence of microbes. However, the contact lenses are not degraded in this process. The contact lenses lose their structure and break down into smaller plastic particles, which lead to microplastics. Microplastics are small plastic pieces less than five millimeters long which can be harmful to our ocean and aquatic life (NOAA, 2021). Microplastics pollute the oceans and are eaten by marine animals and thus enter the food chain.

Contact lenses (Dougherty Laservision, 2022)

What can be done?

In principle, all contact lens waste can be recycled. Nowadays, a lot of materials science research is being done to better recycle plastic waste. Today’s recycling process is both time-consuming and expensive, as materials must be sorted first. Recycled plastic is often a poor-quality polymer that cannot be used for many materials today. New advances are being made towards chemically recyclable materials, which requires less energy.


Which Plastics Are Recyclable? (Contact Lens Spectrum, 2019)

The correct disposal of contact lenses and their packaging can be changed by the consumer and retailer. Consumers should never flush contact lenses down the toilet, otherwise the structure of the plastic will decompose in the sewage treatment plant and end up as microplastic. According to Optical Express 2 out of every 3 patients are unaware of the impact contact lenses have on the environment (Optical Express, 2019). Contact lenses should always be disposed in the trash can. Most packaging is made of cardboard and plastic, which can be recycled. Extended wear contact lenses, as opposed to daily, are better for the environment as they result in less plastic waste. Even better is choosing to wear glasses or eye laser surgery.

Bibliography

Moreddu R., Vigolo D., Yetisen Ali K., 2019. “Contact Lens Technology: From Fundamentals to Applications”. (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

Morgan Sarah L., Morgan Philip B., Efron N., 2003. “Environmental impact of three replacement modalities of soft contact lens wear”. (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

WWF, 2020. “Plastikmüll im Meer – die wichtigsten Antworten”. Online: https://www.wwf.de/themen-projekte/plastik/unsere-ozeane-versinken-im-plastikmuell/plastikmuell-im-meer-die-wichtigsten-antworten#:~:text=Das%20entspricht%20einer%20Lastwagenladung%20pro,etwa%2080%20Millionen%20Tonnen%20angesammelt (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

Statista, Stewart C., 2022. “Share of population aged 15-64 old who wear contact lenses in Switzerland from 2021, by type of lens”. Online: https://www.statista.com/statistics/431220/penetration-of-individuals-who-wear-contact-lens-by-type-of-lens-in-switzerland/ (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

Optical Express, 2019. “97% of contact lens users are damaging the environment”. Online: https://www.opticalexpress.co.uk/magazine/article/97-of-contact-lens-users-are-damaging-the-environment#:~:text=97%25%20of%20contact%20lens%20users%20are%20damaging%20the%20environment&text=Vast%20amounts%20of%20plastic%20are,ending%20up%20in%20the%20oceans. (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

NOAA, 2021. “What are microplastics?” Online: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

Dougherty Laservision, 2022. “Contact lenses harming the environment”. Online: https://www.doughertylaservision.com/vision-blog/contact-lenses-harming-environment/ (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

Wilhelmi A., 2022. “Environmental Impacts of Contact Lens Waste”. (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

Contact Lens Spectrum, Yeung K., Davis R., 2019. “The environmental impact of contact lens waste”. Online: https://www.clspectrum.com/issues/2019/august-2019/the-environmental-impact-of-contact-lens-waste (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

Country Living, Avis-Riordan K., Cornish N., 2019. “Acuvue launches new eco-friendly way to dispose of your contact lenses”. Online: https://www.countryliving.com/uk/wildlife/countryside/a22797174/eco-friendly-way-dispose-contact-lenses/#:~:text=Now%2C%20Johnson%20%26%20Johnson%20Vision%20is,and%20foil%20packaging%20after%20use. (Accessed 3 June, 2022)

Saving the Swiss Glaciers

Issue

In the last twenty years, the glaciers of the Alps have lost more than one sixth of their volume. These are the findings of a study conducted in June 2020. For the first time, it was possible to examine the entire Alpine region and not just individual glaciers and regions(Vom Sterben der Gletscher | WWF Schweiz, o. J.). In total, the glaciers of the Alps lost 22 cubic kilometers of ice between 2000 and 2014. This amounts to an ice cover decline of more than half a meter over the entire area of Switzerland (Vom Sterben der Gletscher | WWF Schweiz, o. J.).

The Swiss National Centre for Climate Services (NCCS) writes that the glacier scenarios show that a large percentage of the ice fields in the Alps will have disappeared by the end of the century. With climate change legislation, around 37% of the 2017 glacier volume will remain, but only around 5% without climate change legislation.

The summer runoff of the glaciers will be greatly reduced(NCCS, o. J.) and it is determined that heat surges accelerate the speed of the melt very strongly in addition to the steady decline(Thibert et al., 2018).

Effect

The melting of glaciers has a whole host of local and global consequences. Only a couple of those consequences are listed below(Smid, 2014):

  • The meltwater forms huge lakes, water flows down to the valley and there are more frequent floods.
  • The melted glaciers expose rock faces and debris areas. This leads to dangerous rockfalls.
  • The drinking water supply is in danger. Glaciers are important water reservoirs.
  • Sea levels are rising. The United Nations climate panel predicts a rise in global sea levels of up to one meter for this century. Of this, 20 centimeters alone will be due to glacial melt.
  • Wildlife which has adapted to the frosty environment is threatened with the loss of their habitat.

Possible Counter Actions

Many solutions are being discussed in Switzerland and some have already been implemented. One idea is to artificially snow the glaciers and thus build a protective layer of snow. Critics say that this is not sustainable in terms of energy, as the area to be covered is huge. (SRF, 2019)

Another idea is to reduce the carbon particles on the glaciers. Burning diesel and fossil fuels create carbon particles that darken the glacier. The darker surface cannot reflect the sun as well and so the glacier heats up more, leading to faster melting(SRF, 2019).

One measure that is already being implemented is to cover the glaciers. On the Rhone glacier, the ice has been covered with white fleece for years to protect it from the sun. But this measure is only a drop in the ocean: every year more blankets are needed, and by now they already cover an area as large as several football fields(SRF, 2019).

It has even been found that there is a possibility of building a wall around Antarctica. This can keep warm ocean currents out and protect the floating ice shelves from melting(Wolovick & Moore, 2018).

These are all very innovative ideas. And it seems we are dependent on them. Because it looks like the climate targets that have been set will not be met and the measures that are being taken on an international level will not be implemented quickly and efficiently enough.

Personal conclusion

As someone who grew up near the Alps, for me, the consequences of global warming are best seen in the glaciers. It is shocking to see meters of ice disappearing year after year. Sometimes I feel helpless, and I am glad that there are families like the Carlens, who fight actively for our glaciers and raise awareness(SRF, 2019). Initiatives and research that lead to the delay of melting or even the rebuilding of glaciers must be supported at the political and scientific levels.

References

NCCS, N. C. for C. S. (o. J.). Snow and glaciers. Abgerufen 6. Juni 2022, von https://www.nccs.admin.ch/nccs/en/home/sektoren/wasserwirtschaft/auswirkungen-auf-den-wasserhaushalt/schneeundgletscher.html

Smid, K. (2014, Juli 4). Gletscherschmelze | Greenpeace. https://www.greenpeace.de/klimaschutz/klimakrise/gletscherschmelze

SRF. (2019, Juli 1). Kampf gegen Eisschmelze—So wollen Forscher die Gletscher retten. Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF). https://www.srf.ch/news/international/kampf-gegen-eisschmelze-so-wollen-forscher-die-gletscher-retten

Thibert, E., Dkengne Sielenou, P., Vionnet, V., Eckert, N., & Vincent, C. (2018). Causes of Glacier Melt Extremes in the Alps Since 1949. Geophysical Research Letters, 45(2), 817–825. https://doi.org/10.1002/2017GL076333

Vom Sterben der Gletscher | WWF Schweiz. (o. J.). Abgerufen 6. Juni 2022, von https://www.wwf.ch/de/stories/vom-sterben-der-gletscher

Wolovick, M. J., & Moore, J. C. (2018). Stopping the flood: Could we use targeted geoengineering to mitigate sea level rise? The Cryosphere, 12(9), 2955–2967. https://doi.org/10.5194/tc-12-2955-2018