Piet - Be conscious of the impact you have on the environment

Piet makes it possible for more of us to consume consciously by highlighting the importance of measuring your impact on the environment and helping us reduce our waste in the process. 

Where are you from and what brought you to Bali?

I was born in Pretoria, South Africa, but now if I go back I call Cape Town home. I now live in Ubud in Bali, I’ve been here just over six years. I was working in the Maldives on an Island in Engineering when I got approached by a hotel company that operates in Asia and they wanted me to join the group here in Bali. I then worked for the group as Group Director of Engineering and Sustainability until I started my own business. 

What does sustainability mean to you?

I think the best description for sustainability is that you do something now that doesn’t jeopardize anything for future generations. Personally, I think we shouldn’t just 'not jeopardize' their future, we should make it better. Sustainability is having a positive impact on the environment, and the environment not just being about energy and waste, but poverty, community and all these other things.

What are you passionate about?

At the moment I’m passionate about two things, one is reducing waste so that there’s less waste going to landfill, basically reducing the pollution side of waste. I believe that if you’re aware of what you’re wasting, you’ll do something about it. In order to do that you’ll need to start measuring your waste. So my other passion is getting people to measure their carbon footprint. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

How do you do to consume consciously?

In Bali, we all drive motorbikes so I have a set of bags that I keep in my motorbike. I use them to buy whatever I can in bulk. I buy my vegetables in these bags then the only waste is the sticker they put on it. I buy in paper bags sometimes because I can shred it and it goes back into my garden. Everything else I buy I think about the waste it creates first. I’m also really aware of the energy I’m using if I switched off the fan or lights of. That’s what people should do, but I’m also trying to measure the effect of it. I do the same with water, taking shorter showers, washing a full load of laundry, it’s all a part of it. I believe consciousness needs to start with myself. I also measure my fuel consumption and try to reduce it.

What else could you do to consume more consciously?

I would like to reduce my intake of meats, poultry and milk because I know it’s got a big carbon footprint. When I go to South Africa, I always bring back biltong, but I don’t do it that often. I’ve also been flying a lot, but that’s a difficult one to reduce.

The other thing I’d like to improve is my community involvement. Getting the community to make changes is important. It's not really in my personality to get people to do things so that's a difficult one for me. I'll help, but just don't ask me to organize anything, it's just not my forte. Nevertheless, I still want to try to have an impact on people by sharing what can be done because I've done it myself.

When did you become more conscious of your consumption?

I went to an agricultural school where we produced tobacco, which wasn't very sustainable, but everything we made went back to the earth, nothing was really wasted. I just never lost any of those principles. The zero waste project that we've started has really got me thinking about consumption and waste, it's such an exciting project. We started out wanting to reduce the waste to 5% but then one day I said, hang on, why don't we reduce it to zero?  From that moment we realized that there are so many innovative things we can do with the waste stream. You don't have to waste a lot. It's an innovative and very creative process.

How would more people becoming conscious of their consumption change the world?

When people start to consume more consciously people find that it's really hard to measure your impact. The system allows you to measure your consumption on water and electricity meters, but it's difficult to weigh your waste for example. Electric companies could do more by telling individuals whether they're consuming more or less than the average to make people more aware. Once people become more aware people will want to change the laws to make it easier to reduce or at least measure your consumption. The hardest part is to change the existing system.

What’s the easiest part of consuming consciously?

The easiest part is just tackling the low-hanging fruit. Just measure your water and energy consumption and the see how you can reduce it, and then see what kind of impact it has on your finances at the end of the month, that's what I call a 'lag' measure. The easiest way to do it is not to wait to the end of the month, but you can take what I call 'lead measure' during the month by making sure you switch off your air conditioning and lights, and not taking long showers for example.

What’s the hardest part of consuming consciously? 

The decision to be more conscious is the hardest part. Saying you're going to delve in and see what impact you have is difficult. If you don't do that you'll always say, I don't know, so it doesn't bother me. The moment you start to measure your impact, it will bother you. Once you've made that decision a lot of these things become easier. That decision makes it easier to say ‘I'm going to carry a bag with me so that when I shop I can put it in my own bag.’ It’s the decision to just change your lifestyle a little bit. That’s when you start working with nature rather than against it. When we work against nature we lose. You can't make a deal with nature, you work with it or you lose.

It's hard at first, there's a bell curve. The innovators are the first people to make a change, and it's really hard for them. Then you have the early adopters, and once you have those two groups it'll become easier and starts to snowball.

What are your top 3 practical changes?

  • Measure your energy consumption and try to reduce it

  • Measure your water consumption and try to reduce it

  • Be aware of the waste you're creating, just look at what you're creating and think about where it's going and if you can you reuse it.

What are the biggest challenges we face today?

People aren't really sold on this whole thing, they don't believe it. They don't believe people have an effect on the climate and if they do they don't practice what they preach. People don't want to be aware, because when you're aware you'll have to do something.

If the whole world was listening, what would you say?

Be conscious of the impact you have on the environment. By environment, I don't just mean the physical, nature, food, waste, but also your community. Be aware of the poverty, slavery and all of that. If you buy a product know where it comes from, know whether slave or child labour was used, know whether people are being paid fair wages. You have the choice to have a positive or negative impact. There's no neutral. If you do nothing you'll have a negative impact. The positive part takes some effort, the negative part comes naturally in today's society. Try to find ways you can have a positive impact on the environment, on your community, on poverty. When people can get that, there'll be a big change for most people.

What do you do?

When I started my business I decided that I wanted to do two things. Firstly I'm trying to reduce the negative impact that we have, but less bad isn't good, it's just less bad. So secondly, I want to have a positive impact which means actually doing good, planting trees instead of not cutting down a tree for example. I'm trying to find ways and help people have a positive impact on the environment. Here in Ubud where I live it's a good breeding ground for that, a lot of people want to make a change.

Cornelia BlignautComment