​The top eco-friendly countries to visit in 2017

​The top eco-friendly countries to visit in 2017

Eco-tourism is about much more than just beautiful scenery and socialising with the friendly locals. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship that doesn’t exploit the indigenous community or its natural environment. It’s about preserving and protecting what is unique and precious. Previously I’ve spoken about choosing both your destination and activities very carefully, well here is the perfect bucket list for any traveller that is looking for an eco-friendly destination:

Costa Rica – Costa Rica is well known in the eco-traveller’s community as the leaders in eco-tourism. Not only is it one of the most beautiful countries you will ever visit but it boasts a long list of protected national parks. They have also now implemented a brilliant new system whereby it grades lodgings according to their environmental conscientiousness. It truly is a shining beacon in this industry, proving that you do not have to compromise on luxury and beauty to achieve a sustainable relationship with your natural environment.

Norway – This might not come as a big surprise but Norway is one the leading countries when it comes to living sustainability. The country might be very small but it is one of the leaders in terms of switching its consumer energy to renewable sources. And if that’s not enough to convince you, I have two more words for you, Norwegian Fjords.

Kenya – I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that there are few countries in the world that could offer you such a rich diversity of the animal kingdom than Kenya (or most African countries for that matter). But far more impressive is Kenya’s unprecedented effort to combat illegal poaching and preserve its natural habitats.

Palau – Palau is known for the most spectacular oceans. It’s no secret that our oceans are suffering immensely as a direct result of pollution, global warming and over fishing. The Palau nation has declared most of its reefs no-fishing zones and has been breading a culture of conservation and preservation in the youth with projects, like the Palau Project, that focusses on teaching the youth about these oceans.   

Galapagos Islands – About 90% of these islands are actually national parks where conservation is key. They also restrict the number of visitors to these islands. You can expect to be treated to breathtakingly beautiful views and world renowned snorkelling sites. 

Peru – This one is definitely next on my bucket list. This mountainous country is rich in unique fauna and flora that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, about 30% of its plant species are exclusively endemic to Peru. Then there is the rich history, and the vital role it has played throughout the decades in modern day civilisations, known for having archaeological sites containing evidence of one of the world’s oldest civilisations.

Iceland – Iceland was recently declared as the cleanest consumer energy country in the world, top that with breath taking scenic views and the infamous northern lights, how can it not be on your list already? 

Amazon Rainforest – The Amazon is known to provide 20% of the earth’s breathable oxygen. It stretches across several South American countries and is home to literally thousands of micro and macro ecosystems. Make sure that you choose eco-friendly accommodation and activities as it is well known that the Amazon is one of the hardest hit regions by global warming.

Lithuania – 22% of this beautiful Baltic country’s energy consumed is generated renewably. It is seen as the pioneer in its region when it comes to embracing and achieving the U.N. sustainable development goals. Naturally, the country boasts a long list national parks that can be visited.

What would you add to this list?

Responsible “Touristing”

Responsible “Touristing”

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For me traveling is a way of discovering one’s true self, with every new adventure I embark on, or every new place I discover or soul I come to meet, a little of my own soul is tweaked ever so slightly sculpting the person I dream of becoming one day. I mean, I have a bucket list longer than the Trans-Siberian railway line, but as tourists, I don’t think we always realise the impact we have on the communities we visit, and it’s not necessarily a positive one. There is such a thing as being a responsible tourist:

Use public transport when possible

With a little research on the best/safest/cheapest mode of transport and the best routes to take most of the touristy towns can be discovered by public transport. This isn’t just applicable to the bigger cities in first world countries. Plus, it’s one of those win-win situations, you’ll be saving a lot of money, AND it’s much better for the environment.

Stay away from the roads less travelled

In many places the natural habitat can be very stressed and on an extremely delicate equilibrium, especially in water scarce areas. Wandering off the designated pathways and roads set out might seem innocent enough but in some of these areas nature is not able to recover as quickly. In semi-dessert areas, for instance, if you damage the ground covering vegetation it can quickly lead to more serious issues such as erosion.

Do not litter

This might seem like an obvious one, but surprisingly enough, this is not a concept instilled in everyone. Throwing your trash in a designated bin makes a bigger impact than you might think. We’re all very quick to comment on the cleanliness of a place so let’s all make the vow to leave a place the way we want to find it. Leaving your trash everywhere goes much further than just being uneasy on the eye. It spreads and soils areas all around and can eventually have serious health risks to both people and wildlife in the area. I’ve heard many horror stories of animals dying a long and slow death indirectly or directly as a result of trash lying around.

Do your homework

It’s very easy to be fooled when you’re in a foreign country, where you’re most probably not fluent in the native language or don’t know the area too well. Often, we might visit a popular tourist attractions that is actually doing more harm than good. So-called animal shelters are some of the more common smoke screens. Before you visit an attraction do the homework and make sure what they’re doing is legal, ethical, and most importantly not exploiting anyone or anything.

Respect their rules, religion and culture

Before you visit the area make sure you are familiar with their customs and cultures. It’s true what they say, knowledge is power, by being prepared you will be less likely to offend someone. For me, respect for other cultures and religions is of the utmost importance.

Think twice before you support these popular tourist attractions

Think twice before you support these popular tourist attractions

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On my recent travels to Turkey I came to realise just how destructive tourism could be to these communities and nature, suddenly I felt so guilty that I too was contributing to it. A large number of tourist attractions around the world are more often than not natural wonders or phenomenon’s. It not only attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year, but is also often the biggest source of revenue for many of the 3rd world or developing countries. Sadly, these people and places are often exploited, partly due to ignorance and partly because they are just so desperate for the income.

The internet can also do a lot of [unintentional] harm. The World Wide Web is full of dreamy eyed travel bloggers and agencies telling us just how wanderful the world is out there. To top it all off, traveling has become somewhat of a culture nowadays so there are tons of special offers and tour groups making it so much more affordable for us laymen.

Another ‘new culture’ that is becoming more and more popular these days is conservation and protection of wild life and indigenous communities. Needless to say, there will always be someone that’s seeks an opportunity to make some easy money, people who will exploit others to make a few extra pennies, more often, these days there are people making all kinds of claims to either protect or conserve in some way and then the opposite turns out to be true. Some of these traps may include:

Wildlife sanctuaries

Tourism and conservation often goes hand in hand and it’s a great way to raise funds and awareness on critical issues in specific areas, but you need to be very careful which ones you support. Countries usually have very specific laws around wild and captivity. I’ve now, more than once, almost found myself in a situation of supporting an institution with a less than favourable reputation in the industry. Unfortunately, there have been some people now that have seen the income potential from such institutions, and there have even been instances where they kidnap the young from their mothers and raise them in the sanctuaries as so called rescued animals, or even start breeding with once rescued animals. This gives the whole industry a bad name, this is, however, not the norm and we should by no means let it discourage us altogether from supporting such institutions.

Animal performance acts

I myself have been to shows where animals are trained to perform certain acts for entertainment purposes when I was younger. Historically, circus acts coming to town or dolphins playing with little red balls were very popular attractions. However, times change, and I think it is important to ask yourself: Is this natural? These animals will spend the rest of their lives in tiny enclosures, sometimes traveling very long distances and forced to practice the same unnatural routines repeatedly.

Feeding and petting of wild animals

Wild animals should only stay in captivity if they were rescued and would not be able to survive in the wild if released again. When masses of people interact with wild animals it often stresses them out, not to mention all the foreign germs we bring with us from wherever we come from. Then there is the fact these animals remain wild and we never know when instincts might kick in and people get seriously injured, or worse… Then, it becomes very easy to justify that the animal should be put down, but when do we turn to ourselves and realise where the error in judgment originated from?

Visiting Orphanages

Children should never be used as amusement or a tourist attraction. If you feel the need to contribute and make a difference, then do a legitimately co-ordinated volunteering program. While there are millions of children that needs our time and money, parading for day visitors will not help them at all, it is demeaning and inhumane.

As with anything in life, if you are unsure about a trip you are about to take or an activity you want to take part in, a little research will get you a long way. Read the reviews, compare to other similar trips available, and most important of all trust your instincts, if it’s telling you something is off, it probably is.

The story of N/a’an ku sê

The story of N/a’an ku sê

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I will never be the same, how can I? How can I carry on with my mediocre life, not really making a noticeable difference in anyone else’s, knowing now that there is such a huge need, having felt the joy of being a part of something so special, and so desperately needed?

As I write this post with tears in my eyes, I can honestly say I wish I didn’t have to come back, that I could stay there forever, that I could be a part of that family for the rest of my days.

I decided to do a two part post about this wonderful place. In this post I will give you guys a little bit of background on how it all started and what their ultimate goal and mission is, I will essentially be sharing the vision that Marlice and Rudi had when they took up this project.

I believe they were inspired to take action and make a real difference after a horrible incident one night involving a very sick little San Bushman girl. They realised that there were no real and reliable medical centre for the San people within 100km radius. And so the life line clinic came to life, but they soon realised that there were so many more pressing issues and decided right there and then that they would devote their lives to bettering the circumstances of these people. But the challenges did not start and end with the San people.

Both Dr. Rudi and Marlice van Vuuren have always had a great love for nature and an even bigger respect for their environment. This integrated well with the work already up and running in the community and soon N/a’an ku sê was born. It allowed them the opportunity to care for the San community by assisting them with work opportunities, caring for the animals, and preserving the very fragile ecosystem they find themselves in. This sanctuary also provided them with a prime opportunity for the research and development of new techniques and methods for predator control in a bid to end the human-animal conflict situation.

Since the 2006 the N/a’an ku sê family has grown into a diverse and committed group of individuals and sponsors that all have one goal in mind, to preserve, protect, and ensure a sustainable future where both man and nature could live together in harmony.

Unlike some of its neighbours, Namibia has very strict laws regarding wildlife and breeding in captivity. It is also very important to the sanctuary to be a beacon of hope for these endangered species, and they strive to run a sustainable and ethical organisation.

An integral part of the sanctuary and its future are the volunteers, not only do they contribute to the much needed financial side of running such an organisation, but more importantly, they volunteer their time, effort, love and care to these animals and the community. They have various comprehensive programs across a number of sites in Namibia, where you will get the chance to take part in food preparation for the animals at the sanctuary, get to spend quality time with the o-so-adorable little baboons, be part of the bigger baboon family, or you might even be able to join in a snake catching expedition with the very capable and experienced resident snake-man Francoise. And if you are more of a people’s person, you can always volunteer at the lifeline clinic or at the pre-school.

They also have research sites were you will get a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a part of most vital part of the whole operation. They do ground breaking research on cheetahs, leopards, jackal, wild dogs and elephants to name a few.

While I was there I met the most amazing group of people, from the co-ordinators and my fellow volunteers to Marlice and Rudi themselves, all seem to have the same goal and mission in mind, to serve and protect the indigenous wildlife, people and ecosystems of Namibia. During my stay I had the privilege of taking care of one of the little orphaned baboons called Christa, the moment I looked into her twinkly little brown eyes I fell in love. I realised then that this is what I was made to do, and I had to do more of it, at whatever cost.

My goal with these posts aren’t to announce to the world of my missions for me, but rather to spread the word of these wonderful organisations, the more people that know the better, and if I inspire just one other person I will have accomplished my goal. We can make a difference, never assume your part in it all is too small, it starts with one step, one volunteer, one initiative.

 

 

5 ways you could help the bees through this drought

5 ways you could help the bees through this drought

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South Africa is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in 20 years and it has certainly taken its toll on all ecosystems. One hears stories of animals that have to be culled in order to prevent a crisis of starvation and overgrazing. Even our little lemon tree at home is looking pretty bleak. A lot of our plants have not bloomed yet, and the ones that have’s blossoms are much smaller than usual and don’t last as long.

This is affecting all pollinators, and while many people are putting out bird feeders and have bird baths in their gardens, we often forget about the silent heroes, the BEES.  It seems that even amongst beekeepers there are some conflicting opinions on what the best practice might be. I have compiled a very short list of five things you could do that might save a whole colony of bees.

Put out some water for them, we here is South Africa can definitely testify of the rising global temperatures. Seeing as we are supposed to be in spring but is already experiencing temperatures in the 30°C region, I am assuming we will have another record breaking scorching summer. Bees generally have to work very hard during the summer months to regulate the temperature in the hives. When fresh, clean water is not easily available they might wonder off to the neighbour’s swimming pool, which might be catastrophic for them. Providing a close, clean and fresh water supply will help them cool off the core of the hive without having to fly too far for it. They also use the water to dilute the honey for the newBEES. It is important to know that once you’ve started to put out water for them you’ll have to keep it up, they are creatures of habit and will quickly start to depend on your source of water.

Planting drought savvy plants, it’s not too late to start. Bees will need to have nectar sources for much longer seeing as the amount of nectar on the flowers are so much less than usual because of the drought. A lot of succulent species will have flowers until late summer, and are great soldiers in a drought. Certain herb types such as lavender, sage, thyme, and rosemary will all be able to withstand the drought, more than others in any case, plus you get the added bonus of the wonderful aromas filling your garden and fresh herbs on demand. Most wildflowers are naturally drought resistant and makes for a beautiful and colourful garden at the same time.

Shade, this might be more relevant to beekeepers than laymen looking out for wild bees. By providing shade for the hive you will help to keep it cooler and they won’t have to work so hard, foragers can focus more of their energy and time on collecting nectar and less on collecting water to cool the hive. On the other hand I would also suggest that you put the water source in shade, thereby decreasing the amount of water that is evaporated by the scorching sun.

Harvest less honey, if you are a beekeeper it would be wise to harvest less honey than usual. It might seem that there is enough, or maybe even more than enough, but seeing as we do not know when the drought will end and how much nectar they will be able to collect before winter comes, it might be a good idea to let them store more of the honey. If you have more than one hive you could also keep a brood box frame, to transfer honey between the hives if  you see that one might not be producing enough.

This last point is somewhat of a controversial one, artificially feeding the bees. Many experts have conflicting opinions on this matter. Personally I have come to realise that in the long run it has more disadvantages than what it’s worth. Having said that, I also feel that in extreme circumstances, where it is a case of the bees literally starving or you feeding them, I would be in favour of it.  It is however, a very delicate thing and there are a number of factors to take into account. Firstly, it is imperative that you only use white refined sugar for your mixture, you can make a mixture of water and sugar, a ratio of 1:1 or 1 sugar: 2 water. Remember to put this mixture in a shallow plate or bowl and to put some pebbles or rocks that will stick out above the mixture, to allow the bees to gather the mixture without getting some of it onto their bodies or wings, which will subsequently lead to drowning. I have also read about people putting out a pollen supplement for the bees.

Just remember that whether you are putting out water or some form of a feeding station you might attract some unwanted predators in the process. Always keep an eye out for any signs that your bees are being robbed or killed, chances are something is luring the predators.

Consequences of our Acidic Oceans

Consequences of our Acidic Oceans

Consequences of our Acidic Oceans

As we all know there’s been a rapid increase in the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere as a direct consequence of our way of life, burning fossil fuels for our primary source of electricity. This has had many negative effects on the earth and all environments around us. Trees are a great roll player in the photosynthesis process whereby they turn the CO2 in the air into breathable oxygen for all living creatures, and while the recent drives to plant trees and stop deforestation are great and should be continued, it is should not be our only concern in searching for a solution for the quest to decrease CO2. The ocean absorbs about a quarter of the CO2 we release into the atmosphere every year.

The ocean is absorbing about half of the man-made CO2 that is in the air.  Carbonic acid is what is formed when CO2 is absorbed in the ocean, thus resulting in Ocean Acidification.

The acidification of the ocean has many effects, not only on the ocean species but on a global scale as well. Did you know that the zooplankton in the ocean is responsible for producing most of the earth’s oxygen?

Coral reefs are also an integral part of the ocean’s balance, not only do they provide shelter for millions of little creatures but they also provide food for many of them. The increase in the acid levels is significantly reducing the ability of reef-building corals to produce their skeletons.

Have you ever heard of Pteropods? Better known as the sea’s butterflies, they are also a major food source for many different species underwater, but most importantly to the North Pacific juvenile salmon. By 2100 these Pteropods will have literally slowly dissolved, if the acidity level keeps rising at the current rate.

It is also affecting shelled organisms, and as a result the entire underwater food web. The fact is that there are limited information and research available on this topic, but scientists all agree on one thing, and that is that the changes in the chemistry of the ocean can only lead to catastrophe, and we need to act as fast as possible if we want to prevent it from happening.

Globally over a billion people depend directly or indirectly on the ocean for their primary source of subsidence. Do you know that burning 1 ton of coal emits 2.86 tonnes of CO2, it is estimated that in 2011 the U.S alone emitted about 1.87 billion tonnes of CO2.

Now is the time to seriously consider renewably energy sources like wind and solar. The prices of renewable energy solutions are currently at an all-time low and it is more affordable now than ever before. It is time that the countries that signed the Paris agreement all stand together and reach realistic ways in which to reach their goals, I believe the answer is in government funded renewable energy plants, instead of building new coal plants, yes a wind or solar energy plant may be more expensive initially, but if the running costs were to be considered, they quickly seem more and more viable. There is no coal to mine, or buy, minimal waste and footprint on its environment.

What is your standpoint on coal vs renewable energy?

Urban Farming

Urban Farming

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With an ever increasing world population people have to start thinking out of the box for food solutions. One of these great new revolutions is urban farming. Urban farming is exactly that, farming and producing food within the urban community, there are many ways in which it can be done.

Urban farming has many advantages, including a reduced carbon footprint due to limited transportation needs, utilising space that would otherwise be wasted, adding to a greener look of cities, as well as contributing to the reversal of the alarming levels of CO2 present in cities. It is also found that it generally uses less soil and water, and very importantly, supplies a pollen source for the city bees.

Rooftop Gardens

These are often the most popular and prevalent due to its simplicity. Very little initial infrastructure is required and it often also serves as a stress outlet for the people involved in it, a sort of ‘get away’ from the city’s hustle and bustle.

Over the weekend I saw a documentary where the shop was growing most of its own fruit and veggies on the rooftop. This means there is practically no transport involved, significantly reducing the carbon footprint of these produce. And because there isn’t nearly as much soil to be watered you save on that as well, not to mention the space efficiency.

Aquaponics

It uses less than 5% of the water of conventional commercial farming. This method produces both fresh leafy greens and a healthy supply of Tilapia fish. I have seen very successful examples of this in old warehouses, where the fish is kept in tanks, big enough for them to grow sufficiently, with tall frames holding the containers of greens. There is no soil involved and the roots of the greens hang in a channel of water below them, the nutrient rich water from the fish tanks are flushed through these water channels ‘feeding’ the plants, and assisting in the filtration process of the tank’s water. These frames consist of numerous shelves with UV and LED lights that serves as a kind of replacement for the sun, which means that these veggies grow 24/7. Another advantage of this type of farming is that no pesticides are needed since the environment is controlled and no bugs can get into this closed system.

I hear you when you ask, ‘but what about the electricity involved to power this system?’ Because both LED and Fluorescent lights are more power efficient when running them long term as opposed to regularly switching them on and off, they use surprisingly little electricity. So much so that it would be totally viable to run this system on a solar or wind powered energy source.

Vertical Gardening

This is different from Aquaponics in some key aspects. Firstly there aren’t necessarily Tilapia fish involved, and these are often grown in greenhouses, or outside, where they are fuelled by the sun, and not artificial lighting.

However, people often get confused due to the fact that they both include stacking up the greens on tall frames. In vertical farming, these frames often rotate, so as to give each shelf enough time in the sun to grow sufficiently. This system can also very easily be powered by wind of solar energy.

Backyard Gardens

This trend is gaining popularity by the day, with more and more people trading in their lush green lawns for a more nutritious veggie garden. I have written a very informative  post about this previously, which will also help you to save water in the process.

Other examples of urban farms include beekeeping, cattle farming and underground gardens.  With more difficult circumstances caused by droughts, global warming, wild fires, and displaced people food security is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.

How do you plan to help relieve the pressure of food security?

The truth about palm oil

The truth about palm oil

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Palm oil is one of those products that mainly pass by without you knowing it, even though it is included in a vast range of products that most people use every day. Many people do not know that it is also a large contributor to the alarming rate of deforestation of the already ailing rainforests that remain throughout Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo, Sumatra and the likes. In many of these communities where these plantations are established small children are forced to do physical labour for long hours in horrific conditions. The big corporations funding these expeditions also lie, cheat and steal their way onto ground that belongs to the indigenous people with their empty promises of development and a better life for all. Many families are dumped into extreme poverty because they can no longer sustain themselves from their own land is forced to become plantation workers, not even earning enough to provide the basics for their families.

With deforestation also comes the endangerment of over 300 000 species of different animals, insects and plants across many ecosystems. Orang-utans are one example of a species that could be extinct in 10 years if their numbers continue to decrease at the currents rate. This endangerment is not only due to their habitat that is shrinking each day, but by the increase in poaching and black market trading of rare species that these foreigners bring with them.

Not to confuse coconut oil with palm oil. Palm oil can generally be found in products such as shampoo, lipstick, instant noodles, ice cream, margarine, detergents, and alarmingly, biofuels. It is the most widely used vegetable oil in the world at the moment, contributing about half of the vegetable oil used in America, Australia and England, and its use is expected to double by 2050.

The ripple effect of deforestation, poverty and endangerment that is left in its wake cannot be ignored any longer. There may be hope, it was estimated that about 18% of the world’s palm oil was certified as sustainable in 2014, even though there has been widespread controversy around this topic. The fact is that oil palm trees are capable of yielding more oil from less land than any other vegetable oil, if it is controlled and regulated properly.

Ever heard of the Tiger Challenge? Companies that have agreed to make use of sustainable sources of palm oil, which is tiger and forest friendly are;

  • Procter & Gamble
  • Colgate-Palmolive
  • Ferrero
  • General Mills
  • Godrej
  • Johnson & Johnsons
  • Kao
  • Kellog’s
  • Libay
  • L’Oréal
  • Mondelēz International
  • Nestlé
  • Nice Group
  • PepsiCo
  • Reckitt Benckiser
  • Unilever

Think twice before you purchase a product, make sure you know where they get their resources from, and that you are not unknowingly contributing to the destruction of our precious rainforests. Make informed decisions.

For more information you can visit:

http://www.saynotopalmoil.com

http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/palm_oil/

http://www.wwf.org.au/our_work/saving_the_natural_world/forests/palm_oil/

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/Campaign-reports/Forests-Reports/Cutting-Deforestation-Out-Of-Palm-Oil/

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/publications/reports/how-unilever-palm-oil-supplier/

What does it take to live a sustainable life?

What does it take to live a sustainable life?

What does it being sustainable really mean- (2)

Sustainable, green living and clean energy are all words that are trending right now, but what do they really mean? Truly living in a sustainable way is much more than just installing a solar geyser, which is still a great idea by the way. Green living requires a shift in mind set, habits, and perspective. Truly understanding why it is important is the first step, and probably the most important.

We as humans have, for many decades, over indulged in all that mother nature has to offer, we have driven species to extinction, set off a ripple effect starting with greenhouse gasses and globing warming, and taken earth’s ability to ‘bounce back’ for granted. But it is not too late for us to right our wrongs, and people need to realise that the sooner we start the better.

The first step in making a lifestyle shift to one that is more eco-friendly and sustainable is to realise that there are many luxuries that we can do without. Once we realise that we do not need to water our lawns and gardens every single day, for example, or that we do not need to heat the whole house in winter time, but rather just the rooms we are using at the moment, we will start to see how we have lived wastefully.

Step two is just as important, it is where we must realise the full extent of the effects that our way of life has on our environment. Many people are in denial over global warming and its effects, what makes it worse is that people of influence that feel they should express their uninformed opinions publically. Ignoring and denying it will not make it go away, people need to realise this is a real issue, and that our own quality of life will get a lot worse if we do not act now.

Lastly it is crucial that we act on it right away, the sooner we start making changes to decrease our carbon footprint and the effect on nature, the better our chances are to turn this runaway bus around. Making sustainable life choices means that we are ensuring a future for many generations to come; we are saving and re-using our resources, protecting and conserving all life forms (fauna, flora, oceans, and humanity).

For me the goal has always been to not live wastefully, to use only what I absolutely need and leave the rest for the next person, the future. Over the years I have picked up some skills from experience, and learned some tricks from others. Follow the link for my post on how to be more sustainable.