I’ve been living in Poland for about 6½ years. I’ve been around the culture and habits here so long that they are practically second nature, and thus invisible, to me. But there are clearly some big differences compared to what is “normal” in the US, my home country. Some things are of course “not as good,” while others are much better. For you good TreeHugger readers, I thought I’d run through a few of the good things.
First of all, let’s be honest: Poland is not the greenest country in the world. About 90% of its electricity comes from coal power plants, including some really old and dirty ones. The coal industry has so deeply influenced energy awareness in Poland that even very intelligent people I know have warped ideas about coal power, wind power, solar power, and global warming. Poland has been the key country blocking stronger renewable energy and climate targets in Europe.
That said, for a variety of reasons, many Polish people have a number of very green and energy-efficient habits. Below are three that I wish were much more common in the US.
1) Walking to the shop: A good number of Polish people simply go for a walk to go shopping, particularly grocery shopping. I think there are two big factors influencing this. The most important one is that many neighborhoods are densely populated, mixed-use neighborhoods with plenty of fruit and veggie shops, bakeries, small grocery stores, and even fairly large grocery stores. Despite coming from a city planning background and knowing well that Europe was the place to be for such mixed-used neighborhoods and corner shops, I’ve on many occasions been very surprised at how many shops, bakeries, etc., you can find near each other.
The other thing that makes foot power such a popular mode of getting one’s groceries and other goods is that Polish people are keen to walk, and do so much more than a typical American. I don’t know how much of this comes from them knowing that walking is healthy, cultural history, or the greater walkability of neighborhoods.
2) The second norm that I think has a great impact and is a big departure from the story in the US concerns living space. I created a video on this one:
If you hate videos or can’t watch that for some reason, this is essentially what I said: If you go searching for an apartment to buy or rent, they are listed by # of rooms rather than # of bedrooms (how it’s done in the US). However, for sleeping purposes, # of rooms is # of bedrooms. The thing is, people typically use the living room as a bedroom as well. It is quite common for the parents to sleep on a sofa bed in the bedroom, saving a lot of space, and thus also energy.
In fact, if you go shopping for a sofa, they’re almost all sofa beds. Aside from the living room being turned into a bedroom at night, kids’ bedrooms also often make use of sofa beds.
The sofa beds I slept on in the US as a kid were quite uncomfortable — not something you’d want to sleep on regularly. Some of the sofa beds here aren’t the best thing for a healthy sleep either, but there are plenty of good options on the market.
3) Jarring foods is pretty popular in the environmentally minded community in the US, but it’s by far the norm here in Poland, and they do it with a lot of foods — mushrooms, berries in their own syrup (with the help of a bit of sugar), pickles, tomato sauce, veggie “salads,” jam, fruit mousse, kompot, and much more. Besides being a good way to not waste food, not rely on processed and plastic-packaged foods, and cut down on food shipping emissions, these jarred foods are often really freakin’ good.