New Environmentalists “Living sustainably means living more happily”

Roman (23),  Pia (24),  Ulrich (19), © Clara Migsch
Roman (23), Pia (24), Ulrich (19) | Photo (montage): © Clara Migsch

They take from rubbish bins what supermarkets have thrown away, they run community gardens and they wear second-hand clothing instead of brand names: Many young people no longer attach importance to limitless consumption, status symbols or the latest technological toys. They endeavour to lead a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle that isn't necessarily the same as doing without. Three representatives of the new environmental movement describe their everyday lives.

Roman (23), Home Care Aide, Bin Diver and Eco Pioneer

In my previous life, I was a professional soldier and partied every night. After a knee injury, I realised that I needed to change my lifestyle if I wanted to grow old happy and healthy. I started vocational training as a home care aide, and I'm currently organising campaigns that provide homeless people with tea, cake and rescued foodstuffs.

I go bin diving, also called skipping, three nights a week. Bin diving means that we take foodstuffs that are still edible from the skips of supermarkets and factories. I can easily live on discarded food. There are about 40 to 50 kilos of potatoes stored in my basement that seem to last forever. By myself, I often wouldn't be able to cope with the amounts I find, so I regularly take others along to bin diving. It's been about 300 people so far. I would like to see enough people go bin diving every night that simply no food ends up in skips anymore.

To use fewer resources, I have banned all electronic devices from my household, including my washing machine and my fridge. The first thing I did was give away my TV. I rely on the Internet to organise my campaigns. That's why I've bought a tablet that I recharge with small solar panels. The Siebenlinden Ecovillage is a role model for me; its inhabitants build with natural materials only and now live exclusively off the food they grow themselves. Living sustainably means living more happily.

Pia (24), is a vegan and studies International Development

I've been mainly vegan since 2007, even if that can be harder when I travel than it is in my everyday environment. For me, it's about the way animals are kept, the worldwide transport of live animals, and the environmental impact of too much livestock. I'm quite familiar with people not understanding where I'm coming from, but I've managed to get to a stage now where nobody feels threatened because I do things differently. In Romania, where I'm currently doing my European Voluntary Service with incubator107, a social arts organisation, I'm usually pigeonholed as "well, she's different, but we love her anyway".

I love swap parties and swap shops. I like discovering the stories behind the clothes, and I don't have to expose myself to the excessive consumerism in shopping malls. However, it can get a bit difficult sometimes when I actually need something urgently.

Constantly thinking of everything can be quite exhausting. Like standing in front of Spanish peppers, for example, and ponder three times whether I really need them. Bin diving is great. It's fun to stand in a skip together, greet the shop assistant from the organic shop when she arrives and then continue to rummage around. It also forestalls the internal conflict I experience in front of the Spanish pepper on the shelves of the organic shop. When I go shopping, I also like to buy fruit and vegetables that aren't perfectly fresh anymore: Who knows whether someone else will come and rescue them?

Ulrich (19) is studying "Environment and Sustainability"

In the past two years, I have undergone a massive personal transformation. It started when I was writing a high school thesis on a "Democratic Bank" during my last year of school. The bank focuses on the welfare of all rather than on capital. This way of looking at things made me change my diet from vegetarian to vegan during my Alternative Civilian Service in a workshop for people with disabilities.

Later, I also began to buy clothes at flea markets, even though I used to think that all you'd find there were threadbare rags. I've been studying "Environment and Sustainability" at Keele University in England for a year now. The programme is a mixture of natural sciences and politics. I'm not only learning a lot about climate change and political sustainability, but also practical things, for example in our community garden.

I have managed to change a lot in my life, but many challenges still lie ahead of me: electronics, cosmetics, travel, alcohol – it's a constant development process. I think it takes the sum of many of these small movements that reduce rubbish: building gardens, preserving natural areas, managing forests and founding cooperatives to limit our excessive consumerism and thus ultimately global warming. Our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will thank us.