ERGO Lifestory Nachhaltigkeit

ERGO #LifeStories: Sustainability


Empower change

Magazine, 12.12.2023

How can CO2 be reduced in everyday life?

Climate-friendly living and saving CO₂ are also central themes of Melanie Zechmeister, a blogger from Austria, with whom ERGO has produced the second episode of ERGO #LifeStories. In this new episode, she gives tips on how each individual can live more sustainably and how to reduce CO₂ emissions in everyday life. Find the full interview here.

The sustainable protection of the environment and climate is an important investment in the future for ERGO. Therefore, we decarbonise our investments and insurance activities and consequently reduce the emissions from our own operations. From 2030 at the latest, we want to remove unavoidable emissions in our own operations from the atmosphere by contributing to reforestation or carbon capture projects.

Tell us a bit about yourself: Who are you and what’s your job?

I am Melanie Zechmeister. I’m 32 years old and live with my family by Lake Neusiedl in Austria’s beautiful Burgenland province. You could say that my job is my life. I’m a blogger, wine grower, trained graphic designer and cookbook author. As a blogger, my passion is helping people to live a healthy and more sustainable lifestyle. Over time, sustainability has become a key issue for my family, my readers and me.

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That sounds exciting. What is particularly important to you about this, and how did you get into it?

My focus is on healthy, seasonal and regional food, and on sustainability in general. My wish is to give as many people as possible a greater understanding of how to live a more sustainable lifestyle. I’d like to inspire them to think about sustainability in their day-to-day lives, and I do this primarily on my blog but also on social media or through cooking and baking courses.

It all started with my blog, which was at the time I began to study graphic design in Vienna. I come from a rural area. My family always had their own farm, so seasonal and regional food were simply part of my everyday life. In summer, the tomatoes for our lunchtime snack came from our own garden. I wasn’t really aware that that could be something special. Things were different in Vienna, of course. The tomatoes for my lunchtime snack, as well as all my fruit and vegetables, came from the supermarket and suddenly didn’t taste like they did at home. That made me think, and I realised that it’s not only what we eat that’s important but also where our food comes from. Our food affects not only our health but also the planet. This realisation also led me to ask myself what I could do to change things for the better, and that in turn led to my desire to inspire people to take conscious decisions and live more sustainably.

For my study dissertation, I then developed a fictitious brand and a fictitious blog on precisely that subject. And over time, that fictitious project became reality. When I first started 10 years ago, my blog was one of the first of around 300 blogs dealing with this topic.

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Why is this topic so important to you?

For me, sustainability doesn’t mean just conserving but also improving. In other words, not simply minimising negative impacts but creating added value.
It’s all about using our resources consciously and respectfully, in order to maintain a healthy environment for ourselves and future generations. Sustainability is important to me because I’d like to create a future worth living for us all.

What does sustainability mean for your everyday family life, for example as regards consumption, food, (energy) resources and holidays?

Sustainability and decarbonisation, which is to say reducing CO₂ emissions, play a big part in my everyday family life. I always ask everyone the same question: “Do we really need it and, if so, why?” It’s all about conscious shopping and always putting quality before quantity. We favour seasonal and regional food, support local producers and try to waste as little food as possible.

We produce our own electricity with solar panels and use geothermal energy for heating. When planning holidays, we also try to minimise our carbon emissions by taking fewer flights and giving preference to environmentally friendly travel destinations and accommodation.

It doesn’t always work out 100%, of course. Family life is hectic and sometimes unpredictable. Overall though, we’re on the right track.

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How do you reduce CO₂ in your everyday life? Are there things that you avoid or pay attention to?

A climate-friendly diet is an important factor when it comes to reducing CO₂ in your everyday life. Overall, I rely more on plant-based foods and reduce our consumption of meat. When we do eat meat, we source it locally. I try to make good use of leftovers. For example, you don’t always have to throw away vegetable peelings, as they often make a super base for a vegetable broth, which can in turn be used in soups and sauces. For short distances, my bike is my favourite means of transport. Of course, in the countryside it’s not always possible to do entirely without a car, but this way I can at least keep driving to a minimum. Reusable containers and bags help me to avoid unnecessary packaging waste, and I buy long-life products in bulk. That way, my pantry is well stocked and I save myself having to dash off to the supermarket because one thing is missing.

In my own garden, I rely on mixed cultivation without the use of chemicals. I’m also constantly learning things in this area. Which plants benefit from growing next to each other and how can this help me to get good soil quality? How can I save water in my own kitchen garden and flower garden? But also: How can I maintain or even promote biodiversity in my surroundings through the right choice of plants? These are all questions that regularly concern me and that I’m always finding new answers to.

 

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The circular economy is an important buzzword in connection with sustainability. How do you implement it on your farm?

I endeavour to implement the principles of the circular economy and thus reduce CO₂ emissions. For example, I grow some foods myself and then use the plant and vegetable waste as feed for my hens. They in turn provide me with eggs. Old bread scraps are fed to my horses and I use their droppings as a nutrient-rich fertiliser for our garden and vineyard. Our own bees pollinate the plants in the garden and we get fresh honey. I leave some of the plants in the garden to flower, so that I can dry the seeds and sow them the following year. If we have surplus fruit and vegetables, I make them into marmalade or chutney. For watering my plants, I rely on efficient mixed cultivation to minimise evaporation and thus water consumption. We use solar panels to produce our own electricity and also use geothermal energy for heating. I also try to reuse or recycle materials wherever possible. These measures help me to save resources and create a more sustainable cycle on my farm.

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What do you think is the best way to bring the subject of sustainability to other people?

First of all, it’s always important to make new things practical and accessible and to engage with people on the subject of sustainability.

By giving specific tips and advice on how to take more sustainable decisions in everyday life, we can motivate people and show them that they can make a positive difference. Sharing personal experiences and stories can also help to create a connection and get across the importance of sustainability. It’s also important to give a positive and inspiring message instead of blaming, judging or lecturing people. If we set a good example, we can encourage people to tackle and accept changes. We can live a more sustainable lifestyle and, in so doing, show the advantages both for ourselves and for the planet.

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If you could give other people five tips for more sustainable living and lower CO₂ emissions, what would they be?

There are certainly hundreds of ways of approaching the subject of sustainability or integrating more sustainable behaviour into your own life. However, there are a few tips that almost always make sense or that almost everyone can follow:

  1. Consciously buy locally and support regional agriculture – this applies to vegetables and meat. In this way you can shorten transport routes and boost the local economy. And you may even get to know the farmer next door better.
  2. Avoid buying unnecessary things. Always ask yourself if you really need it. This question is not only good for more sustainable living but for your wallet too.
  3. Avoid waste and single-use products. Use reusable alternatives like stainless steel drinking bottles, reusable shopping bags and glass containers for food. It doesn’t always have to be plastic – there are now good alternatives almost everywhere.
  4. Make use of leftovers instead of throwing them away. It doesn’t sound so easy – and sometimes isn’t – but there are lots of tips and tricks on the subject. The internet is full of ideas and, if all else fails, a leftovers soufflé is always a good idea.
  5. Travel more often by bike, use public transport or form carpools to reduce CO₂ emissions from traffic. Incidentally, that’s also good for fitness.
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If someone wanted to start making their life more sustainable, where would you tell them to begin?

To start with, I always recommend small steps and clear, realistic goals. Changing your own diet, using reusable containers and bags or more environmentally friendly cleaning products can be a good starting point. But the most important step is to make a start and then gradually develop.

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How do your children experience sustainability? Why is it important to you for them to have a connection with this topic?

Sustainability is already an integral part of my children’s lives. Children learn primarily from observing and they’re aware of the smallest movements. In my view, setting a good example for our children and allowing them to ask questions is already a big step. They’ll already grow up with conscious decisions in relation to diet, recycling and the use of resources if we let them get involved. At the same time, they’ll also understand that their actions have an impact on the environment. I think it’s important for my children to relate to the subject of sustainability, as they are the future decision-makers and can have a decisive influence on the world they’ll live in.

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Sustainability at ERGO
Insurance is a long-term business, which is why we at ERGO always have the future in mind. We operate sustainably, are committed to environmental and climate protection, create a good working atmosphere for our employees and are committed to helping others. Look ahead with us and find out what ERGO is doing for sustainability.

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