Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak: Hey everyone! I am super excited to finally launch this podcast!
I know it’s been a long time. There was so much going on – I don’t even know where to start. There was this one project: It was so much fun. But also much more work than I expected. It has to stay secret for now, but let me just say it was a somewhat creative approach to sustainability. And I promise I will tell you all about it, once it’s officially out.
I was invited as a guest speaker to a few companies, and I have to confess I love speaking at events. People are just so engaged and interested and really want to make a difference. And it’s such an honour to be part of that journey.
But before I ramble on, you probably want to know who is this person talking into my ears. So let me just quickly introduce myself.
My name is Dr. Elisabeth Ignasiak, and I’m a sustainability coach and consultant. That means I help individuals, for example, to identify the most effective climate actions or I support businesses in creating meaningful sustainability strategies. And I do this for example, through workshops, talks, coaching or longer consulting projects.
I’ve been active in the sustainability space for about nine years, though, my background is actually in astrophysics. And for my PhD, I studied supernovae – that’s star explosions. And now you’re probably wondering, how does an astrophysicist turn into a sustainability consultant?
And, you know, at the end of the day for me, it’s all about the science. Once I understood how dramatic climate change is and how urgently we need to act, I was like: What am I doing looking at the stars when our problems are down here on Earth?
So I decided to change careers and it wasn’t a straight line, of course. I’ve done a number of things: I worked for a big consultancy firm, I joined a startup accelerator, I’ve been in a number of NGOs until I ended up you know where I am now.
And in my early days of my sustainability journey, just trying to live sustainably myself, I did what everyone else would do: I went online and I searched for information and advice. And I think in terms of the learning materials if you want to understand sustainable aspects, there is a lot of really great information out there. I mean, I learned a lot you know, just teaching myself, reading stuff online.
When it comes to becoming active though and making changes I always felt really frustrated by the advice. Like, does it really help to defeat plastic pollution if I stop using plastic straws? Like I really don’t think that’s the issue. Or changing light bulbs? I mean, sure. Nice. Of course, LEDs are more energy-efficient than normal light bulbs, but is that really gonna save the planet? It always left me feeling uneasy, these kind of things. I always felt like: I can’t believe this is all – there must be more.
And this is when I started to look more towards big impact action, effective actions. I’ve always asked myself what… what are the things that make the biggest possible impact with the least amount of effort? You can pour so much effort into trying to do everything correctly, but I’ve always wanted to know: Okay if I put all this effort in, you know, is it worth it? Is it worth my time doing this?
And that brings me to this podcast. Living sustainably can be so difficult and overwhelming. There’s just so many things to consider. And the same is true for businesses. Maybe your organisation wants to become carbon neutral, but where do you even start?
I focus on what’s effective: Out of all the things that you could do, what is it that actually makes a difference?
Let me give you an example: A typical piece of sustainability advice that you might hear could be: ‘reuse your shopping bag’. And this will save you about five kg of CO2 per year. In contrast, if you were to change your bank, from a normal bank to a sustainable one, you might be saving two tons of CO2 per year. That’s because unfortunately, most banks still use your money to finance fossil fuels.
So it’s not that reusing your shopping bag is a bad thing on the contrary: Please do reuse your shopping bags. It’s just that changing your bank is 400 times as effective.
So this is the kind of stuff that I will be focusing on: big impact climate action. Each month, I will introduce a new topic and give you some information around it. And I will also break down the impact that you can have when you take action.
I’ve developed a very simple framework to look at climate action. Imagine an onion that has three layers. The innermost layer is 1-time actions. So this might be changing my bank account or switching to green electricity. So you do it once and then you don’t have to bother with it again.
The second layer is habit changes. So this might be increasing the proportion of plant-based foods in your diet, or could be renting clothes rather than buying them. So this is something that you usually don’t do from one day to the other. Though, if you do: Then I’m impressed. But usually, it takes, you know… it takes time to find new recipes, to find rental services – it’s a process, it’s a journey.
And these first two layers 1-time actions and habit changes are directed inward. So these are things that I can change in my own life.
The third layer is my sphere of influence. So this might be my family, my friends, my workplace, joining a political party, an NGO. So this is where you can bring in your passion, your expertise and multiply your impact. It is more risky, in the sense that you know, no one will be able to tell you if you join a political party, you will be saving X amount of carbon dioxide. I don’t think that that exists. So it’s much harder to quantify. And it’s also more risky, right? It doesn’t… there’s no guarantee that you will actually have a positive impact, but at the same time the possible rewards are much bigger.
And so you can look at this also from a business point of view. So a business… similarly, you can have 1-time actions, right? Changing the bank is also something a business can do.
Of course, a business wouldn’t have habit changes, but they do have processes. Certain processes are not very simple to change. Let’s say you want to procure more sustainable products. Procurement is usually, you know, a well-oiled machine and changing that process is not something, again, you do from one to another it takes time to change the process, to find new suppliers. Again, it’s a journey.
And then lastly, the… your sphere of influence. So the business’ sphere of influence. This could be lobbying, right, for… for climate policies. Or it could be passing on what you learned along your own sustainability journey to other businesses.
I use this framework because it helps to put a language to the balance between the impact of a certain action, the effort it takes to implement it, and the risk – how likely is that this action will have the desired outcome?
In the first season, I will be focusing on 1-time actions and habit changes, so things that we can change in our own lives because I want to have those basics covered before we move on to more complex topics – all those things I can do within your sphere of influence.
I wanna switch gears slightly and talk about one more thing before I let you go, and that is this unit, tons of CO2 that I will be using a lot in this podcast to quantify climate action. And I feel, tons of CO2 – it’s so abstract. It’s really hard to grasp what it even means. So I did some… some silly, some not so silly calculations and research on this to… to make it a little bit more tangible. So please bear with me.
The first question I asked myself was: What volume would a ton of CO2 actually have? And it depends on the pressure, of course, so I’m gonna assume atmospheric pressure which is what we have on the surface of planet Earth. And it turns out, 1 ton of CO2 would correspond to 556 m3. Now, that’s a bit of a random number but it happens to be the size of a swimming pool. So if you fill your average 25 m pool with water that volume that the water has: If you replace that with CO2, it would weigh 1 ton.
What else can we deal with CO2? The most obvious answer is: fill it into bubble wrap. I know it’s not sustainable, but one of my guilty pleasures is actually popping bubble wrap bubbles. Once, my family actually gave me bubble wrap for Christmas as a gift, though they immediately regretted it, once I unpacked it and started popping all the bubbles right then and there. Anyway… I’m getting sidetracked.
How many bubbles can you fill with a ton of CO2? I did the maths and the answer is 2.6 billion. So this would be enough bubble wrap to cover 63 soccer fields.
This of course raises the question: Why would you cover a football field in bubble wrap in the first place? Though, I have this mental picture in mind of a football game actually taking place on bubble wrap. And like… just imagine people running along and as they run, like the bubbles keep popping. I think that would be hilarious. Though, I guess we should make the bubble wrap biodegradable – this is a sustainability podcast after all.
Now, let’s get a little bit more serious. With 1 ton of CO2, you could drive about 4700 km or 2900 miles by car. So this would be a little further than say from Lisbon in Portugal all the way to Moscow in Russia.
Now it turns out, when you fly that same route from Lisbon to Moskow, the carbon footprint of that flight would also be 1 ton of CO2. Now you’re probably wondering: Wait! That can’t be right. Flying is worse than driving – we all know this! And you are right, to some degree.
What’s happening here is… and this is actually quite interesting – I never thought about it… that of course, when you drive, you’re not driving in a straight road. There is no straight highway from Lisbon all the way to Russia. However, when you fly, you can go straight from Lisbon to Moskow.
So you actually save about 600 kilometres in… just in terms of the route, that is roughly 400 miles, if you fly instead of taking the car. And this shorter route, also means that you actually save in emissions and it happens that for this random route that I picked, actually the route by car and if you fly, happens to have the exact same emissions, which is 1 ton of CO2.
Now in contrast, if you wanted to remove a ton of CO2 from the atmosphere, you could plant trees – that’s very popular – however, you should keep in mind that it actually takes a lot of trees and a lot of time to absorb a ton of CO2.
So to be precise: For the average tree, you would need 100 of them and you would have to wait a full year to absorb just one single ton CO2. Let me repeat that: It would take an average of 100 trees a full year to absorb just one single ton of CO2.
I really wanna hone in on this example, because I see so many advertisements that go like: ‘Buy this product and we will plant a tree!’ Planting a single tree is not effective. I mean, again, you know, it’s nice, but on this podcast, I’m all about effective action and if you want to be effective on climate change, and you want to plant trees, a single tree is not enough. You will need to plant many many thousands of trees and there’s a lot more that goes into it. For example, biodiversity, planting the right trees for the right climate, and so on.
The last thing I find really instructive to think about is comparing the carbon footprint of an action you can take… you know, that positive impact that you can have with the carbon footprint that you have as a person. So for example, I live in Germany. The average German has a carbon footprint of 10 tons of carbon dioxide per year.
So if I change my bank and I can save a ton, two tons of CO2 that has a huge impact in terms of my carbon footprint. That’s 10, 20% you know, depending on how much money I have. That is huge! And that’s just a single action.
Now, of course, that exact percentage will vary depending on where you live. That’s because the per capita emissions vary a lot from country to country. So for example, if you live in the United States, your average carbon footprint is 17 tons of CO2 per year, whereas if you live in India, then your average carbon footprint is less than 2 tons of CO2 per year.
So! With this introduction, I think you’re ready to dive into the very first climate action next month. I am not gonna tell you what it is. I want you to stay curious, but I will say that it is a controversial topic. Emotions might run high. But you will have to find out next month, what it is.
I really hope you will tune in! Please subscribe! That way you will get new episodes directly in your app. And tell all your friends! Please, please, please! Tell them about this podcast and see you next time! Bye-bye.