Adopting and Living a More Sustainable Lifestyle

Adopting and Living a More Sustainable Lifestyle

A recent (4 May 2019) article in The Observer newspaper, detailed some of the changes that a Quaker couple in Bournville, Birmingham have made to their lifestyle in order to live more sustainably.

Harriet and Chris Martin are now in their mid-70s. In part, they felt a degree of guilt for what their generation had done to the planet, and for passing on to future generations a damaged world. However, being Quakers, it was important to them for faith to translate into action.

True godliness don’t turn men out of the world, but enables them to live better in it, and excites their endeavours to mend it…” William Penn, 1682

In 2008 they decided to downsize. They bought a 1932 semi-detached house in the Bournville Village Trust area, and were determined to find out just how sustainable they could make their lives. In terms of the house itself they took responsibility for installing the following:

  • Cavity wall insulation
  • Condensing boiler
  • Double glazing
  • Floor insulation
  • Loft insulation
  • Low energy appliances
  • Low energy lighting
  • Solar PV panels (mostly on a pergola)
  • Solar water heating
  • Water saving devices
  • Wood stove

The outlay for these improvements was £46,616, and their total annual carbon footprint saving has been professionally assessed at 85%. (If their annual fuels bills were £1,500, then, excluding the now former feed-in tariff, it would take between 36 and 37 years to break even. In this respect, it could be seen that they would be leaving behind them a positive, instead of a negative, legacy.)

However, things did not stop there. Even though they own a car, they rarely drive, preferring to walk when they can, or take the bus. They avoid air travel, travelling  by train instead.

They changed their diet so that they are between 60 and 70 per cent vegan, and the rest vegetarian. In a 2014 US study published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, beef

“… requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions. When compared to staples like potatoes, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gasesThe Guardian, 21 July 2014.

Harriet and Chris grow a lot of their own fruit and vegetables on an allotment, and eat seasonally. They also bake their own bread.

They mend their own clothes and furniture. When some or other item is required, they try to borrow it from a neighbour, or else buy it from a charity shop, or request it on Freecycle or Freegle.

They choose to bank with Triodos Bank. Based in the Netherlands, the Triodos Bank attempts to behave as ethically and sustainably as possible. In particular, the bank refuses to lend to “all organisations, businesses and activities that produce or distribute nuclear energy, weapons, fur, pornography and environmentally hazardous substances.

According to Harriet, the process “… has been an enjoyable challenge, educating myself and adapting my lifestyle. It’s fun.”

Harriet and Chris have taken one more step. Recognising that the action of two people alone will change little, they have been willing to open their house and their lifestyle to public scrutiny in order to encourage, and inspire, other people to consider what, if any, changes they wish to make to their own lifestyles. 

…be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come, that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in every one.” George Fox, 1656, from a Launceston prison, Cornwall.


This article was suggested by Hugh Miall, Canterbury Meeting.

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