How the British Get it Right

by Emma Sleeth Davis

I’ve spent years dreaming about going to England. I took several classes in British history in college, I’ve read almost everything Dickens ever wrote, and, of course, I share a name with a certain Jane Austin heroine. So when my husband and I had the chance to visit northern England for three weeks last month, I thought I knew what to expect: reverse car lanes, pounds and pence, and lots and lots of tea. The little stone villages were, indeed, as picturesque as I’d thought, and people did, actually, eat kippers for breakfast. But what I hadn’t fully anticipated was how much more environmentally conscious English culture is. A few of my favorites ways the Brits take care of the planet:

1. They love, love, love their gardens. I saw way more beautiful riots of color in front yards than chemically-treated grass lawns, and we were shown around flower beds and vegetable patches at almost every place we stayed.

2. Public transportation is abundant. Buses are everywhere, and the passenger train system is still a vital part of the infrastructure.

3. They pay for plastic bags. Many more people bring reusable bags when they shop, since most stores charge five pence (about seven cents) per plastic bag. Since the charge was imposed in 2016, plastic bag usage has decreased by over three quarters and hundreds of millions of pounds have been raised for charity.

4. Outdoor recreation is highly valued. Many of the British tourists we met, especially in the Lake District, planned their long weekends around hiking trails, cycling routes, or sailing.

5. They build to last. We saw tons of homes that were built centuries ago and are still being used today; quality craftmanship, rather than square footage or modern luxuries, seemed to be a priority in every house and B&B where we stayed.

6. Bigger isn’t better. Cars, washing machines, trashcans–they’re all, on average, smaller than in the US, causing less fuel consumption and encouraging less waste.

7. Food is local. Grocery stores often label the farm where their produce was grown; “chippies” take pride in serving locally caught fish; and even fast food chains advertise 100% British meat.

8. Temperature is less controlled. Iced drinks are less common, eggs aren’t refrigerated (don’t try this one at home, unless you buy your eggs from a neighbor or raise them yourself: it’s only a safe practice as long as they haven’t previously been stored at low temperatures), AC is virtually non-existent, and the general consensus is that it’s more sensible to put on another layer than turn up the heat.

9. Clothes dryers are rare. Several of our hosts told us that they either didn’t have a dryer or hardly ever used it; they’d dry their laundry on a line in the garden on sunny days and hang clothes up to dry near the woodstove on a “Lancaster air dryer,” a wooden rack with parallel bars suspended by a pulley from the ceiling.

This short list of sustainable practices I witnessed was only from several weeks spent in one region of England. Have you noticed other ways foreign cultures practice stewardship in your travels abroad? Send us your observations and we’ll compile a list to publish on!