365 Sustainable Decisions: why Erlijn van Genuchten challenged her lifestyle

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Erlijn van Genuchten shook her life up, quit her full-time job and challenged herself to make 365 changes towards sustainability. Here’s why.

After a year of darkness, we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Millions of people have already received the vaccine, and leaders are talking — again — about reopening countries by Easter week. Fingers crossed on that one. It’s time to think to about getting back to normality, Covid-forbid.

Nevertheless, we can be back to a better normal, where we live more sustainably, consume without excess, and where our daily life is more environmentally friendly. To live in a better world was the rationale behind the 365 Sustainable Decisions Challenge that Erlijn van Genuchten started in 2019.

The task was adding up changes in her lifestyle to live more sustainably. To adopt small daily variations on her behaviour that are barely noticeable individually but make a difference collectively.

“When you imagine a small snowflake, it’s like a tiny action. But when you have many snowflakes, you can make a wonderful snowman. It couldn’t be done without all the other snowflakes,” van Genuchten tells me over Zoom.

She implemented small actions such as picking the non-plastic version of the same food at the store, regularly drinking water instead of soft drinks, and reusing hotel slippers for guests. Van Genuchten found she could improve in many aspects, especially water consumption, waste, and energy use. Not with her transport, though, because she doesn’t own a car, she says, laughing. However, she assures she drives as efficiently as possible when she has to.

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She also focused on the food system and what we eat. “The way we eat is very closely related to sustainability, especially when meat is produced in big farms. It’s also related to health. I can imagine when we eat cows who have been stressed all their lives, that’s unhealthy meat.”

She adds: “For example, eating organic meat would be a good step for the cows and for our health and the environment. And becoming vegan would be a step further.”

Originally from the Netherlands and now living in Germany, van Genuchten quit her full-time job and decide to dedicate her life to sustainability: “It was the biggest change I made. But I’m glad I did it I follow my heart when I’m doing it. This is what I am most proud of.”

Earlier, van Genuchten worked in testing IT security systems for security holes, and she recognises that this job helped her. She analysed her life system, identified where the weak spots were and fixed them to become as sustainable as possible.

She shared her progress on her social media. Firstly, because it keeps her in the loop, and secondly because it creates a community with like-minded people around the world. “When you start talking with other people or engaging in communities online, it becomes social,” she says. It’s something crucial in times when isolation has been the general advice. “I love to connect and exchange thoughts with people all around the world.”

Now, she has begun sustainability courses online. She finished her second workshop recently with tips to reduce waste. The first one had been on learning how to be sustainable and save money. She explains that everything is easier when it becomes a habit “because you do it without thinking. It’s when you have to think about it when it’s an effort.”

Soon, she will start with the third course about climate grief. “It comes from my own experience. I have realised I don’t feel any anxiety, even though I work with climate change every single day.” Perhaps because she knows is doing her best in living a sustainable life.

Van Genuchten warns that everyone has a different meaning for sustainability. She doesn’t expect everybody to copy her lifestyle and change absolutely everything, though. But she hopes those interested in a more sustainable lifestyle recall her motto: “A better world starts with yourself.”

Juanele Villanueva
Juanele Villanueva
Juanele Villanueva is a freelance journalist passionated with Environment Affairs. He is originally from Spain and started to be interested in the Environment and sustainability when he was in his masters at the University of Salford. His goal is to share stories which change the general belief that being eco-friendly is just for wealthy people. Moreover, the vegan diet is the easiest step that everyone can do to reduce its environmental footprint. He is also interested in conservationism, recycling, renewable energies and environmental policies