Sustainability Abroad

The view from Table Mountain

What a luxury it is to travel! Especially when you are treated to the delights of South Africa*. Whilst discovering this alien land, I couldn’t help but take note of certain things that both differ from and mirror life in the UK… 

I loved the creativity and art that burst out of the most unexpected places along the trip. More often than not the materials are recycled. Old bottle tops, broken records, scrap metal, twisted plastic bags, even wallpaper are upcycled and given a new chance of a more colourful life. I’ve had a few inspired ideas already, watch this space! 

Little scrappy birds for sale

It was great to see eco-tourism that wasn’t just targeted at hippies. Although I did my best to get my family to stay in as many free loving places as possible, there were many upmarket alternatives like the phantom forest eco-reserve (a little out of our budget sadly). Everyone I spoke to had an environmental awareness and a respect for our delicate ecosystems that I’ve not always experienced back home, or even on holiday elsewhere. It struck me that here, a country that faces great social and environmental challenges, has had to have sustainability at the heart of society through necessity. Water can’t be wasted: Waste is a resource.

Colourful and easy to recycle

Sustainable living is engrained in their society, in one form or another. The norm is water conservation: in Knysna there are signs ordering people to report water waste; Table Mountain national park uses eco-toilets; hotels encourage reuse of towels to prevent overwashing.

In South Africa sustainable attitudes have developed because they have to. The consequences of poor resource management wouldn’t be felt 10 years down the line, it’ll be felt in the coming season. Theres an attitude in the UK that’s too c’est la vie. I worry that this attitude could very well be the attitude our future children shudder in embarrassment at as we do when anyone mentions colonialism. 

Many times my heart broke at the sight of human beings reduced to begging in the middle of the road and the miles of shanty towns whose fields of corrugated iron glistened in the sun. Such wealth inequality is unsustainable. South Africa suffers destructive levels of inequality which is why there is a strong focus on sustainable development. There’s a bottomless need for housing, access to energy and jobs. In response, housing projects are becoming more sustainable because people aren’t just asking that their homes have access to energy, they are asking to always have access to cheap energy. Fighting for sustainability is fighting for social progress.

There’s much work to do in sustainable development nationally, globally, corporately and individually. I’ve taken away a geat appreciation for the fight towards a sustainable lifestyle that is being fought in South Africa, especially the places I visited. We’re united in our common goal: to live within our environment’s means. 

It doesn’t matter how small an action it is: you could hang up your towel in your hotel, recycle your tins, switch off your lights, cycle short car journeys… individually each of these is the beat of the butterflies wings that together will create the hurricane of change our planet needs.

A sign in Milverton Flea Market

*Before you ask…. I have a few sheepish truths to bare. Yes, I flew and no, the plane wasn’t biofueled. The impact of my return flight is 4.17 tonnes of carbon, at least. I whatsapped Bex whilst I was in Cape Town to tell her how guilty  I felt, and this was before I’d even read her blog!


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