Born in the household where the environmental magazine Resurgence was produced, I grew up listening to dinner table conversations between many of the environmentalists of the day. By the time I left education I was saturated with inspiring ‘green’ ideas and felt my job was to put them into practice.
At 16, I read James Lovelock on Gaia theory and realised that carbon dioxide was going to be the defining issue of the 21st century and that massive reductions in emissions were critical to the survival of human life as we know it. Inspired by Gandhi’s motto ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’, I decided to follow a low carbon lifestyle that was deeply satisfying in every way, with a high quality of life, that other people could replicate, leading to global CO2 reductions.
After University I worked for Resurgence as marketing manager part-time and spent the rest of my time doing low carbon activities like cooking local, organic vegetables, going as many days as possible without getting into a car and purchasing quality long lasting products. To my surprise, after doing this for three years, I realised that every decision I made to cut my carbon footprint improved my quality of life and made me happier and healthier. For example, I noticed that the days I didn’t get in a car were always the best in my memory – brighter and nicer.
One experiment that amazed me was buying a top-end electric drill for £150 when the cheapest one was £30. I calculated that if it lasts five times as long then it has 1/5 of the carbon footprint because cheap and expensive drills have similarly embodied carbon since they all have a body, chuck, coil, plug, lead etc, but careful engineering makes one last longer. To my utter astonishment, I still have that drill 27 years later and it still works like new! Not only has it achieved a very low lifetime footprint and paid for itself many times over, but I have also had the pleasure of the most powerful and accurate drill for 27 years, and it has become like an old friend, always putting a smile on my face. After this, I became bolder in my low carbon choices, spent more money on quality, long lasting products and tried out more outlandish low-carbon ideas.
This led to me cycling around Britain at the age of 24 which took 2 months. I visited lots of friends along the way and I had a lot of time to think. My mind became really sharp and the exercise put me in a fantastic mood because of all the endorphins – my skin, body – everything was brimming with health. It made me realise that cycling to work, even quite long distances, was not just about saving emissions but also about the benefit in its own right on my own well-being. I later met two people who both cycle about an hour, 12 miles each way to work. They said it completely psyches them up for work in the morning and then relaxes them at the end of the day.
That was the beginning of me coming to understand what Smart Living is. I describe it as “lifestyle choices that come back to hug you”. The Dalai Lama says “be wisely selfish”. Smart living is making choices that are intelligent because they have a really positive effect on your life in the medium and long term, as well as short term. I found this strange co-incidence that aiming to in a way that is good for the planet can be a guide to a healthier, happier life. At first, it seemed too good to be true – but when I thought about it, it makes sense – because we come from nature and are nature, it follows that the life we most love is in harmony with nature.
Mukti Mitchell lives in Bristol and is director of CosyHome Company, providing energy saving insulation solutions for period properties.