Monthly Wrap: How to live sustainably in a foreign country

Currencies Direct March 31st 2023 - 4 minute read

There’s no time like the present for learning about how to minimise your impact on the planet. As electric cars become less of a trend and more of a mainstay, more people adopt a plant-based lifestyle and Brits declare the staycation the one good thing to come out of the pandemic, the tide is turning when it comes to our energy-guzzling habits.

Nevertheless, embracing a low-carbon lifestyle is all very well when you’re familiar with local suppliers and walking routes around town: but what about living in a foreign city? Moving to a faraway locale can be daunting at the best of times, let alone when one is on a mission to limit unnecessary consumption.

One key takeaway here is moderation – trying to live more sustainably is a laudable pursuit, but you shouldn’t let it get in the way of making new friends and supporting the local community. If an invite to dinner means hopping in the car, don’t turn it down – there are other ways you can minimise your carbon footprint.

The greenest cities – things to look out for

When it comes to sustainable infrastructure, not all cities are created equal. There are some places where it’s easier to live more sustainably, among which are Copenhagen, Zurich and the Slovenian capital: Ljubljana.

If you’re fortunate enough to be relocating to one of these pioneering cities, look out for easy sustainability wins made possible by local initiatives. In Copenhagen, for example, 546km of cycle paths makes it safe and convenient to get around by bike; across Switzerland, recycling facilities are widespread and it’s easy to buy loose produce, free from plastic packaging.

In Ljubljana, the majority of cafe serve plant-based milk and locally sourced food, so you can get your caffeine fix on the go while doing your bit for the environment. Furthermore, it’s possible to explore the city in a novel and carbon-neutral manner: by hiring a paddle board and navigating its canal system. 

Easy habits for improving sustainability

For those relocating elsewhere – to a city where sustainability may be lower on the agenda – there are easy habits to learn which can improve your eco credentials without reliance on public facilities.

Many of these habits can also be adopted by people at home in the UK. They include using public transport more, eating fewer animal products and shopping more mindfully.

Public transport can be difficult in a new country, but thanks to apps such as Google Maps and Waze it’s far easier to find bus routes and timetables than in years gone by. Use local internet forums to enquire about regular services – do buses run on time? Is contactless payment accepted? – before setting out to save time and avoid confusion.

Dietary habits are also harder to change in an unfamiliar environment. However, while some countries remain devoted to rich, meaty stews – think Russia, Poland and Hungary – there are plenty of cities in Europe and further abroad which are fast becoming more accommodating to alternative diets.

Even France, the land of buttery croissants and coq au vin, has a growing vegan scene with plant-based products more widely available in shops and restaurants than ever before.

Shopping more mindfully is a broad practice that covers everything from laundry detergent to canned beans. With essential products, opt for those with reusable or recyclable packaging where possible and refill containers with loose produce – refill stores can now be found across the globe and some larger retailers (Asda, Carrefour) even have designated zero-waste sections.

With treat spending or things like clothing where there’s an abundance of choice, consider shopping second hand. In the UK we call them charity shops, but many countries have their own version of ‘thrift stores’ or ‘op shops’.

Otherwise, support local growers and makers where you can, opting for items which are made in the same country with organic materials. Farmers and craft markets are a great place to source anything from carrots to skincare products and also provide a good opportunity to mingle with the locals.

The perks of a green lifestyle

There is also a correlation between greener lifestyle choices and improved wellbeing. Walking and cycling rather than driving to places increases fitness and mobility: plus, strolling amongst nature is proven to benefit our mental health.

Eating more vegetables and less meat is also associated with improved health, as the diet of communities living in blue zones has indicated for some time. Various health bodies recognise the ‘Mediterranean diet’ as the world’s healthiest: followers of the diet prioritise wholegrains and vegetables and get protein from plant sources and fish.

Finally, shopping locally and using public transport enables opportunities for connection: a factor which greatly contributes towards human happiness and a sense of fulfilment. Finding your community can be difficult as a new expat, but supporting local businesses and engaging in communal activities like markets and jumble sales is a step in the right direction.

Handy phrases

As a last piece of advice: learn some simple phrases to help minimise waste. The rules around recycling, for example, are something you’ll want to understand as some councils charge for incorrect disposal.

Useful questions and answers to memorise could include: ‘Can I recycle this?’ ‘Where can I refill my water bottle?’ and ‘Do you sell loose produce?’

It’s certainly possible to find advice online, on expat forums and blogs, too – although asking in person provides a valuable opportunity to connect. To impress your new neighbours, do a bit of research before the move: create a checklist with items such as ‘locate nearby recycling facility’, ‘check dates of local markets’ and ‘find transport links to and from the city.’

As international governments vie to lower emissions and brands shout their green credentials from the rooftops, there can be a lot of pressure on individuals to try harder. Simply remember that any measure you take, no matter how small, is meaningful. Even the longest journeys begin with a single footstep!

Written by
Currencies Direct

Select a topic: