In my second year of university I was lucky enough to be involved in a design competition held by one of the big engineering firms. During our mid-semester break we pretended to be adults for a week as we worked with some of the engineers to design a self-sufficient green portable classroom.
One of the engineers gave us a presentation on a concept they used when considering sustainability - one less thing. As important as new technology is, sometimes it is considering what can be removed that leads to the greatest innovations.
At the same time as applying it to our design work, they encouraged us to thing about one thing we could minimise in our everyday lives. At the time this made me quite indignant. I liked to think my lifestyle was already pretty environmentally friendly - my family composted and had solar panels. But one aspect I kept coming back to was transport.
Like all Australian 18 year olds, having just obtained my drivers licence I was reluctant to stop driving and give up my hard earned freedom. Plus I had a million excuses why I couldn't:
Just as a side note, shall we have a look at some of the impacts of driving? I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here, but I couldn't resist including some graphs (I am an engineer after all). This one, from the Australian Government Climate Change Authority shows the significant contribution that light vehicle (aka car) use makes to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. The comparative contributions of public transport seem tiny!
But it still bothered me that there are some emissions from public transport. Looking at it from another perspective, the graph below shows the comparative emissions for a person travelling a kilometre on different transport modes. Specifically in Melbourne, it seems that while travelling by public transport does have less emissions than driving, it's still not the greatest.
It is interesting to note that this data will really depend on where you live. Unfortunately in Melbourne the electricity that powers our trains is very polluting as its mostly from brown coal. Also our bus system often operates below capacity, which means there are less people to share the emissions between. The data I have collated in this graph is from a University of Melbourne study (if you are keen to recreate it, I have averaged all the values in Table 10).
So I started to consider cycling. I had a bike, and sometimes went for leisurely rides but had never considered commuting.
But one chilly morning my dad helped me put some lights on it and I struggled through the 3km ride to work. But I survived, and I grew in confidence. That summer I had the time and freedom to ride everywhere, and by the time uni started the next year I was ready to tackle the daunting 20km commute.
Several years later, cycling has become a habit that I love. It brings me so much happiness to whiz past gridlocked cars and packed trams on my way to work. It started as one less thing - but cycling has had more benefits for me than I had imagined.
What's your one less thing? If there is something in your life that you have changed or are considering changing for the greener, I'd love to hear about it in the comments.
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My name is Kara and I created this blog as a way to document all the lovely aspects of sustainability. You can find out more on my About page.
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