We Need To Talk About Cycling And Sustainability
CYCLING WEEKLY|September 16, 2021
Compostable bags are an excellent first step, but we should be asking for changes to bike production, Michelle Arthurs-Brennan hears
Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Sustainability is taking up more space in the psyche of most consumers, but you wouldn’t be alone if setting a goal of ‘be more sustainable’ felt paralysingly equivalent to climbing an unstable mountain made from your own annual disposable coffee cup waste output.

Thankfully, none of us have to be environmentally angelic to make a difference.

“Don’t be afraid not to be living the perfect life. As long as you are taking steps and looking at where your impact lies, that’s what matters,” reassures founder and director at Shift Cycling Culture, Lian van Leeuwen.

What steps would be the most effective to take? Dissecting and altering the habits of generations is no easy task, but we asked Van Leeuwen – one of the three directors behind the non-profit sustainability organisation currently working with household names such as Specialized, Rapha and Muc-Off – to give it a go.

Measure your impact

If you don’t know about ‘SMART’ goals, where have you been whilst the rest of us have been striving for anagram-based self-improvement? SMART goals are: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time related.

Homing in on the ‘M’, Van Leeuwen notes: “Look into where your impact lies, it might be flying to events overseas, it might be nutrition, it might be the amount of product you buy; there are a lot of tools for that to help you keep track.”

Shift’s website lists several apps, such as the United Nations Environmental App ‘Capture’ and The Nature Conservancy Calculator.

“They’re not perfect,” Van Leeuwen admits, “but they do give you an insight into where your impact lies. You may note ‘I commute to work in a car daily, can I change that? Do I need to compensate in other areas?’ A concrete first step is to get an insight.”

Buy what you need, not what you want

For me, it’s a new pair of ‘race day’ socks, when, frankly I already own enough to outfit a size-six-wearing centipede.

“Look into your own consumer behaviour. We all get lured into a lot of things, but if you really want to help that’s where to start,” says Van Leeuwen.

“Buy quality over quantity, choose products that could have a longer lifespan.”

What area has the most impact: what we wear, eat, or ride? “It’s not about singling out an area – they’re all relevant. Bike frame material has a huge impact in terms of raw materials, but you buy one much less often than you may use nutrition products.

“Think overall, focus on mindset. Be aware of where you put your money, and how often you change your things, that’s the boring but sensible way to look at it,” Van Leeuwen says.

Buy a bike for longevity

Whilst small changes add up, it is your bike choice that stands to have the greatest raw material cost. And, as much as we love carbon, it isn’t the most sustainable choice.

“Metal bikes are better,” Van Leeuwen confirms. “You can 100% recycle steel, with aluminium, you can reuse most of it, with carbon, though, really none of it can be recycled.”

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