How many times have you read the word “sustainable”, “eco-friendly” or “zero-waste” in the last years? Lately it seems that displaying a sticker saying “eco-friendly” on a product has more to do with marketing than with the environment which can make things pretty confusing for someone trying to switch to a more sustainable lifestyle.
In order to make it easier for those who are just starting now (welcome to the club!), I’ve put together this short guide with things you can start doing to reduce your impact on the environment. If you live in Brussels, you might have noticed that the city’s administration is working hard to encourage its citizens to become more sustainable: the region is taking action in several fields, including air pollution, food, construction and energy and water. So how can we help?
Things to keep in mind
Given the complexity of this topic, a couple of things need to be pointed out before continuing:
1) this article focuses on Brussels, but you can try adjusting it to other places as well;
2) it will contain some of the basic information needed to embark on the “sustainability journey”. If you want to know more, you will find useful, specific resources with more details, linked throughout the page;
3) even though the most impactful things are to be done at a governmental level, your choices can send a powerful signal to encourage a change in the market.
Now that we’ve cleared this, let’s get started!
1. Reduce your meat, seafood and dairy
Considering that food production is responsible for more than one third of all global greenhouse emissions, it seems logical to start here. The environmental impact differs from one food to another and it is now widely known that animal-based foods (especially beef) have significantly worse consequences for the planet, than plant-based foods. But this doesn’t mean that going vegan is the only solution!
You can start by reducing the amount of animal-based products you consume which will not only lower your impact on the environment, but also send a clear message to the market. If you’re worried about how to cut back on meat, consider using these strategies or try a plant-based burger! With the increasing demand, some brands have developed great-tasting alternatives to meat.
Here are some brands you can find in Brussels:
– Beyond Meat Burger at Delhaize (famous for its meat-like taste and texture, but not the healthiest option);
– Garden Gourmet, Vivera and Quorn products in the main supermarkets.
Once you’re ready to experiment, don’t forget that there are plenty of other products you can use for a great plant-based meal! Try delicious, healthy recipes with different vegetables, nuts, spices, legumes and whole grains. Click here, for more inspiration.
2. Think about where you buy your food
Cutting back on our animal-based products consumption is a great way to reduce our carbon footprint but there’s more to do. Another impactful way to become more sustainable is to reduce our waste by avoiding single-use items and bringing our own containers to the store. In addition to that, if the food you buy has been produced locally, you will also reduce the emissions needed to transport products from one part of the world to another!
Fortunately, Brussels has several shops where you can find low-waste AND locally sourced products:
- The Bio Barn: an indoor market with several locations in Brussels, offering organic products in bulk. You will find fruits, vegetables, coffee, oil, vinegar, nuts, legumes, cereals, beverages of different kinds, cheese, eggs and more; everything at fair prices. Bring your own containers and bags or buy their reusable cotton bags and jars!
- Färm: a cooperative network of organic stores with a wide selection of bulk products (at slightly higher prices).
- Roots: an organic, local and 100% circular farm shop next to Parc du Cinquantenaire. In addition to bulk products, this shop relies on a short food supply chain, meaning that everything is traceable and you can even bring your organic waste back to the shop…it will go straight back to one of their farms!
- Bulk: a small shop next to Flagey with biological products, available in bulk and with short food supply chains.
- Eatik: an organic food shop in the Marolles neighbourhood with products sold in bulk. They also offer hot and cold seasonal dishes to take away!
- Place Sainte Catherine’s zero waste market on Saturdays.
If you want to take it even further, you could sign up to receive a weekly basket full of fresh and local products! Either order online directly from the producer, find an organic basket in your neighbourhood or join a GASAP.
For more information about sustainable food options in Brussels, click here.
3. Minimize your car use
This may sound obvious but it’s always worth mentioning: whenever you can avoid using your car, do it! Brussels offers such great alternatives:
- perfectly working tram, metro and train systems bring you wherever you need to go in a time-efficient way;
- using a bike is also a healthy and sustainable way to get around. Even if you don’t have your own, you can rent one from Villo!, Swapfiets, Blue-Bike, Cyclo and many more.
- if you don’t feel like walking, or biking, try renting an electric scooter such as Dott! You can search for the one closest to you and then leave it at a parking spot next to your destination.
- try carpooling or carsharing! There are several carsharing operators in Brussels; Cambio, Ubeequo or Poppy car are only some of them.
- if you’re out late at night, you can even share a taxi between 11pm and 6am with the Collecto service!
4. Think twice before buying new clothes
Unfortunately, the textile industry also has a negative impact on the environment. With massive usage of natural resources, water and land pollution, as well as high carbon emissions (and unethical working conditions), making the clothes required to satisfy the Fast Fashion business model is damaging our planet. There are several things you can do to be more sustainable when it comes to your clothes:
- go vintage or second-hand! Brussels has so many second-hand clothes shops you can choose from; try finding your next pair of jeans at Melting Pot Kilo, Episode, Think Twice, Les Petits Riens and many more! Or visit Brussels’ famous Vintage Market (when covid-19 measures allow it).
- when you want to buy something brand new, opt for a slow fashion brand. These shops in Brussels can help you with that: Yuman, 128, Natacha Cadonici, Valérie Berckmans, Façon Jacmin (for denim) are worth a visit!
- repair your broken clothes instead of throwing them away or try transforming them into something new!
- if you need a dress for a special occasion, you can also try renting it for a short period of time. Coucou gives you the chance to rent clothes for a couple of days so that you don’t have to buy something you’ll maybe wear only once.
5. Inform yourself and spread awareness
Finally, if you want to do more research on the topic of sustainability here are some very useful resources you can start with:
- Bill Gates’s Green Manifesto
- EAT- Lancet Commission’s Summary Report on healthy diets from sustainable food systems
- BBC Future’s 10 tips to act on climate change
- EU’s response to climate change
- The Guardian’s article on the impact of avoiding meat and dairy
Even though there is still a long way to go when it comes to living sustainably, taking small steps is better than standing still (or going in the opposite direction). Hoping that this simple guide will inspire you and help you reduce your impact on the environment, I warmly invite you to reach out to me on Instagram if you have any questions or useful resources to share – let’s keep this conversation alive!