Nostalgia and sustainability – The Eco Etiquette

While sorting through my mother’s estate, I came across the “Öko-Knigge” ecological etiquette guide (unfortunately not translated into English). Rainer Griesshammer’s book was published in 1984, and I gave it to her sometime in the 80s as a birthday present – which proves that the admonishing index finger was not only pointed from mother to daughter, but also vice versa.

My mother, like a large number of the women of her generation, was a full-time housewife for many years and had high standards of cleanliness and order, which I did not really live up to consistently in my first personal household. So the eco etiquette was just right for me, because it was a perfect argument for me that cleaning a lot is not healthy for anybody – not for the environment and especially not for the person who is cleaning!

In retrospect, it is a little bizarre that I – a chain smoker and 2CV owner, but with a great ambition to protect the environment – felt called upon to criticise my mother for her favourite toilet cleaner (with chlorine!) I wouldn’t get very far with this inconsistency nowadays, but would fall victim to the strategy of “whataboutism” – which has apparently become an all-purpose weapon in national and international climate debates ( see

Let’s leaf through…

The author, Prof. Dr. Rainer Griesshammer, has worked for many years at the Öko-Institut, one of Europe’s leading independent research and consultancy organisations working for a sustainable future, and is considered an expert on sustainable consumption. There are many of his more recent publications, but his ecological etiquette guide is a good example of the issues that were already occupying us back in the 1980s. Are they still the same ones as today?

Partly… It’s about saving electricity and water, waste separation and recycling, sustainable products, chemistry in the household, gardening without toxins, car use and ecological living. Reading it, it becomes clear that over the past 35 years we have gained more options – and that is good news. In 1984, solar and wind energy were not yet as much a part of the landscape as they are today, and there was no mention of electric cars or Tiny Houses. Neither did terms like “upcycling”… (In those days if the expression “on the Web” was mentioned in any sentence, then we thought of spiders!)

But there are also some perennial topics where not only new solutions but also new threats have been added, for example the issue of water pollution. With the question of water quality the following are mentioned:

phosphates in Lake Constance, chloronitrobenzene in the Rhine, nitrate in drinking water, oil pollution in the North Sea. Microplastics are not mentioned. Didn’t they exist yet or did we just not know it? I don’t remember exactly, but I suspect that neither fleece jackets nor peeling were in vogue in the 80s…

I will leaf through for now and – for comparison – turn to some more recent books on the subject of environmental and climate protection. I’m sure I’ll come across Mr. Griesshammer again…

The problem was already complex then and is even more so today. In my own commitment to the environment, climate and sustainability, I don’t want to limit myself to waiting for Greta Thunberg to do something wrong after all and then settle into my own imperfect life (whataboutism!) On the other hand, from tomorrow on I don’t want to and cannot consistently lead the life of a drop-out. So I am on the lookout and on the way. What can I do to make my everyday life more sustainable?  How can I live, work and travel in a more resource-saving way? Is there also an 80/20 rule in this topic range? What do really fundamental changes cost me and (when) can I afford them?

As a “sustainability layman with a lot of good will and first successes,” I will present to you on the experiences, learning processes and literature I find particularly interesting.

P.S. So you don’t get the wrong impression: Except for the eco etiquette, I have never given my mother any gifts that could be taken as hidden criticism of her lifestyle (- and fortunately she hasn’t given me any!) And as far as books are concerned, they were mostly detective stories!

Original text: BBR
English translation: BCO


Author: bbr

Hello, I am Beate Brinkman, the bbr.harlekin. I am editor and author for Harlekin.Blog e.V. and my “main job” is support coordinator in an international IT company. So far I have worked in German, Dutch, American and Indian companies and have acquired a great deal of experience of multicultural cooperation. I have been living in the Netherlands as a German for many years and have discovered that the cultural differences between Germans and Dutch alone could fill entire books. For professional and private reasons, I am particularly interested in multicultural (mis)understanding. Whether it’s about food, language, official conference calls or the organisation of funerals – when the cultures of several countries collide, things get lively. And that leads to sometimes unpleasant, often very funny, but always instructive situations.

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