Sunday, September 14, 2008

APLS Carnival: On Affluence

(The inaugural Affluent People Living Sustainably Carnival asked us to define sustainability, and this month's edition asked us to define Affluence. Great topics, especially as we're all in the "getting to know you" phase. However, I would like to remind next month's host that it would be foolish in the extreme to ask a scientist to define People or Living; we'll be here all day!)


Hello! My name is Cath and I am affluent.

If you're reading this, you probably are too.

No, I'm not writing this from my luxury yacht in the Caribbean. I'm sitting in my creaky old house in Vancouver, with its dodgy wiring and other quirks, at a computer desk we got for free and sitting on a chair we bought cheaply from a friend. But I am still affluent compared to the vast majority of the people who share this planet.

Even when I was a lowly first year grad student, living in a drafty apartment with no heating, and eating variations on my famous rice-carrots-onions-soy sauce dinner every night during the last week of each month, I was still more affluent than 87% of the world's population. And, more importantly, my parents (and a financial bail-out) were only a phone call away.

The vast majority of the people in the world do not share this security. No money, no health care, no education, no clean water.

No options.

Because that is what affluence means to me. My education and my resulting professional salary give me choices - more choices than most people living, or who have ever lived.

And I choose to try to live more sustainably.

Again, this is not a choice that most people have. But I can afford to spend a little extra on organic food, on local produce, all that. And, if we're careful with our savings, we can eventually afford to buy a hybrid car, or a solar water heating system.

The great thing about this carnival is that it really gets me thinking about these issues. I loved reading last month's entries, and got some great ideas for more small steps I could be taking. But even just the exercise of thinking about what I might write this month, and then sitting here and writing this post, has inspired me to try something I've been meaning to do for a long time; offer to pay a little more to assuage one of my largest source of environmental guilt. (Don't laugh, it's a very minor change - see draft letter below!).

Affluent people like you and I can afford to make these choices. The world can't afford for us to carry on the way we are.


Dear Sir / Madam,

As I hope you can tell from my address, I am a frequent customer of Ogenkyi Sushi. In fact my husband and I order from you almost every Sunday night!

We have both been very impressed with the quality and price of your sushi, as well as with the professionalism and speed of your delivery service. However there is one aspect of our Sunday night sushi ritual that is less than satisfactory.

After every meal, I look at our empty Styrofoam and plastic containers, and wish that there was a way to reduce the impact of this packaging on the environment. I have done some research on the internet, and found several companies that sell biodegradable alternatives to the Styrofoam and plastic containers that you currently use. As an example, this website sells compostable, biodegradable alternatives:

I appreciate that these containers will be more expensive than the ones you currently use. However I would be prepared to pay a little more for my sushi to offset these costs (say an extra 50-75 cents per large container), and I am sure that I am not alone among your customers. In fact giving your customers the option of switching to biodegradable packaging could even be a unique selling point for you!

I hope that you will consider looking into some of these more environmentally friendly packaging options.



  1. Cath, I think this is a fantastic idea. I often eat Annie Chun's noodle bowls for lunch with a side of veggies. One of the appeals is that they come in a biodegradable bowl and a cardboard outer box. All totally recyclable/biodegradable. Yay sustainability!

  2. Mr Uhdd has spent the last 4 days on a sustainable buildings course, more about that in the weeks to come

  3. That's a good idea (the asking of restaurants to use biodegradable materials)! I think I might ask the local chinese take out place to do the same.

  4. Isis, I haven't heard of that brand, but it sounds more sustainable than some of the quick'n'easy lunches I eat on crazy busy days! I'll keep an eye out for those noodles...

    UHDD, I look forward to reading about that. My husband is a carpenter and he's interested in trying to make his industry (movie set building) more sustainable. In fact we were watching a programme about the world's greenest homes last night (I fell asleep, but the first part was really good!).

    Amanda, if I get a decent response from the sushi place I will also try with a couple of other take out places we frequent. But we'd have the best chance with the sushi people, who now know us pretty well and laugh when we call at 7.30 every Sunday night with more or less the same order!

  5. Great post. "The world can't afford for us to carry on the way we are." This is so true. In many ways, it is our affluence that has brought us to this point and I believe that our affluence can bring us back to a better way of being. Great idea on the letter!

  6. Thank you! I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the carnival for more ideas on how to leverage my assets (sorry, it's been the kind of day where the management speak worms its way into my brain)


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