Low Carbon Lent - How our team members got on and what they learnt

June 23, 2022

Background to Low Carbon Lent

The idea for Low Carbon Lent came from our CEO Laurence and was an attempt to encourage individuals to take action on climate change. The logic was that it might be easier for people to change by lowering the bar to a temporary commitment only… and the hope was that once they’d made the change, they might stick with it after Lent. As a data-driven organisation, we need to stress this was an unscientific experiment with a very small sample, but we think the experiences people had are genuinely interesting and worth sharing…

What did people do for Low Carbon Lent?

A range of commitments were made by members of the team including:

  • Eliminating (or at least reducing) meat consumption
  • Only putting on the heating below 16 degrees
  • Consuming fruit and vegetables sourced in the UK only
  • Going vegan
  • Giving up single-occupancy car use
  • Cutting out fizzy drinks (including beer)
  • Eliminating baths and setting a strict time limit for showers

How did it go and what did they learn?

We haven’t checked in with all participants, but here is a selection of the most interesting good points, bad points and other learnings…

  • From Laurence (committed to reducing food emissions): "I learnt that change is easier than you think (or at least easier than I expected it to be). In fact, the hardest part about change is other people and peer pressure. On the positive side, change can save you money (we think we’ve saved £30/week) and trying new things has largely been fun. There have been a few disasters though - I made terrible vegetarian curry that I think put the whole family off carrots for life. As well as saving money, in addition to carbon, we also significantly reduce plastic waste by making the changes we made. The most frustrating thing was that there is really bad consumer information out there. I didn’t have enough consistent data on food origins or modes to develop the full analytical approach I’d hoped for – it’s going to take more work, but something I hope to keep working on."

  • From Jo (committed to being a vegetarian): "Some things were easy.There’s a lot more choice in the supermarkets these days for no-meat alternatives. In fact, even over the 40 days that I was doing Lent I noticed an improvement. The same goes for some restaurants and pubs, they’ve realised that they need to offer more than one vegetarian option, and that it needs to be a bit more exciting than previous offerings. But there were some difficult aspects too: Mostly it was retraining our brains, and trying to come up with something quick and easy at the end of a day’s work was a trial. Also, my other half said that he never quite felt full, and he was sick of eating cheese! So we had to be better at meal planning, which was probably good for our wallet as well as our carbon footprint. Some things will definitely stick: Quorn (Non) Chicken Burgers taste the same as a chicken burger as far as I can tell. So I definitely think we’ll be sticking with those. Also the Southern Fried Bites were delicious. I also think we’ve got better at considering and choosing the veggie option as a default rather than not when it comes to restaurant menus – valuing the “cost” of meat."

  • From Jade (committed to: paying attention to which foods are seasonal and where they come from; setting a shower timer; only put on the heating if it's below 16 degrees and finding an environmentally friendly version of Cif bath cleaner!) "Overall I kept to the commitments but there have been a few slips such as not always remembering to check food origins, especially when in a rush. That said, it has been far harder than I expected to understand the origins of food! When grocery shopping online, it is even harder as they record a range of places. As an example, Chestnut Mushrooms from Tesco online are a “Produce of the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Netherlands”. The main thing I’ve learnt is that we will need to start purchasing food from independent retailers such as Riverford if we want to really know where it comes from. But I also have to conclude that the UK NEEDS a requirement to add carbon footprints for food. It’s currently virtually impossible to make an informed decision. In terms of heating - 16 degrees is too cold even with extra layers, so this is too stringent a target moving forward but we can slowly adjust until we find a target that doesn’t compromise our health. I have learnt that 4 minutes is plenty for a decent shower, at least on a non-hair wash day! I’ve bought some Ecover Cream Cleaner as an alternative to the Cif Bathroom Cleaner - it contains biodegradable, plant-based ingredients and isn’t harmful to aquatic life. I’ve tried it out and it seems to be just as good!"

  • From Simon (went Vegan): "It started off fairly easily as we had a vegan friend’s surprise birthday at ours a few days before Lent and had some amazing vegan spreads and snacks, so I was really positive going in. I’ve been dairy free before, so that part came back naturally, but I was amazed how many other things have eggs or animal products in them. However, labelling was really helpful and I found a lot more options this time, compared to when I was dairy free before. The hardest part was marathon training. I’d swapped onto Vegan protein, but midway through Lent, I found that something was missing from my diet, as my training plateaued. I’m a big fan of jackfruit and (now) tofu, but not of beans and lentils. So I was really having to search for alternatives. We found lots of good vegan meals on Healthy Fresh, which really helped. Staying with my parents was also funny. Not eating meat was an alien concept to them, so I bought plant-based meat products to help fit in. It was similar with my in-laws, where they’d really kindly planned all the meals to include a vegan option, but hadn’t realised I wouldn’t drink milk. I was really amazed at the broader support I got. Two of my running friends went vegetarian in support and a family in New Zealand only bought locally for the 40 days. I really enjoyed this and will be more vegan than I was, but I’m not ready to go full-vegan just yet. I also really appreciated that on Easter my wife and kids gave me a Vegan easter egg, as a nice finishing touch."

So, same again next year?

Overall we are really encouraged by the results of our Low Carbon Lent Challenge. As well as the City Science team, we are aware of a number of other people who followed our lead and did their own Low Carbon Lents with positive results. The bottom line is that we need change urgently at all levels - from governments and organisations of all sizes but also from individuals. Change is hard and we believe getting people to try a change for a limited period (eg Lent) might be a better way of getting them to do something that actually sticks long term.

That said, it also became clear that knowing what to change and which options are really better can quickly become very difficult and better information is urgently needed. We’ll be working on this and will definitely be back for a bigger and better Low Carbon Lent Challenge next year.