The Sustainable Family: “Individual Actions Make a Difference” – Knack Weekend – Inspiration for Your Lifestyle

Together with their two sons, Nikolas Sterck and Ellen Dictus were called “Sustainable Family”. Today, her book is published, with which they also want to inspire others to live a sustainable lifestyle. “Sustainable living does not mean that you lose quality, on the contrary.”

The couple behind Sustainable Family’s mission is to show others how sustainability can be an asset on both a professional and a personal level. Ellen received her Nutrition certificate from Cornell University last year and trained as a yoga teacher. In 2019, Nikolas sold his company’s shares to focus on his other passion: sustainability.

The couple behind Sustainable Family’s mission is to show others how sustainability can be an asset on both a professional and a personal level. Ellen received her Nutrition certificate from Cornell University last year and trained as a yoga teacher. In 2019, Nikolas sold his company’s shares to focus on his other passion: sustainability. Nikolas: “First of all through the birth of our sons Jules and Arthur. We live like this so that they have a future. Besides, Ellen and I have always been people who like to kill things through. If you look at this issue, you can see that it is really necessary. And also that a sustainable lifestyle is not just for a small group of people. We are convinced that we should not lose luxury.” Ellen: “The insight came to me a few years ago, when I suddenly suffered from the most severe form of asthma. No reason, I was at home for nine weeks. During this time I experimented with nutrition and by eating only vegetables, I was healthy in two months.” Nikolas: “And that’s what it’s all about: sustainability is ecology and climate, but it also goes hand in hand with your own health. It is important that they feel comfortable, because only in this way can you inspire others and contribute to a sustainable society. With our book we want to help people: we want to show you that you can live comfortably, eat right away and buy beautiful clothes without sacrificing. Because if you can eat a vegetable burger that’s just as delicious as the animal version – this moment is coming – why choose the animal version with all the disadvantages in terms of climate, animal suffering and health?’ Ellen: “Meditating stands for contact with oneself and at the same time for letting go: observing thoughts without judging. In this way, meditation can help you optimize your ability to concentrate and handle situations better.” Nikolas: “I really need these moments of calm, but I don’t find it easy to meditate. Here, yoga offers a solution: you meditate while your body performs movements. Because you focus on moving, you don’t think about anything else and then you’re more productive.” Ellen: “It helps to plan a fixed time every day: make sure she is in the same place, on the same mat, in the same clothes. In this way, your mind prepares for it. I also give online yoga classes and because of all the positive reactions I realize that people need these moments of rest.’Nikolas: ‘You can only get rid of habits if a lot of people around you also move away from these habits when it becomes a habit to break your habits. That’s why it’s so hard for many people to stop eating meat: if no one else in your area does it, you’ll be much less inclined to do it yourself.” Ellen: “Partly it has to do with ignorance: on the one hand, you don’t know how to change your life, on the other hand you don’t know how the food industry works. Many people don’t know the history behind meat or dairy products.” Nikolas: “In our society, it’s never enough: you have to try to own more, buy a bigger car or live more beautifully. We grew up like that, and we still stumble upon it every day. You have to keep asking yourself, “Do I really need this or is it just because everyone has it, that I want it?” “Is this holiday in Bali really happy, or am I happy with a holiday nearby?” We force ourselves to think about it every time”. A habit can only break you if it becomes a habit to break habitsEllen: “That’s why individual actions are so crucial: the more people in a restaurant ask for vegetable milk with coffee, the more exercise is triggered.” Nikolas: “No political party or company will take steps if there is no demand from the population. They can indeed achieve the most, but they need us to feel that there is a need for it. If 25% of the population support an idea, there will be social change. This phenomenon is called a turning point, and we have also seen slavery and smoking.” Nikolas: “Plastic becomes extremely harmful at the moment when it lands in nature, especially in the sea or ocean. If you use the same plastic bag for months to shop and don’t throw it into nature, there’s no problem. It’s a problem when you buy a new bag every time, because that’s how you maintain production. We have to move away from disposable plastics, but there are also advantages for plastics: it is a very light material, it is strong and lasts a long time. If we stopped packaging food in plastic, there would be much more food waste. And the disadvantages of food waste for the climate are much more drastic than those of plastic packaging.” “According to the University of Antwerp, 95% of the effects are related to the food itself and only five percent to the packaging. This actually makes sense: when you see how much natural raw materials, water and emissions are needed to produce a kilo of steak, the plastic packaging that is around it is negligible. That’s why a plastic-wrapped veggie burger from the supermarket still has a lesser effect than a burger from the butcher in your own box.” Nikolas: “A brand that offers soap blocks usually thinks more about ecology and uses more natural ingredients. A block of soap also lasts much longer: one block corresponds to about three plastic canisters. Soap doesn’t need packaging and you don’t transport unnecessary water. The marketing of companies makes us believe that soap should always be on the bus, if that is just a useful way to promote a brand. With soap blocks, you can make any shampoo or shower gel that is tailored to your needs.’Nikolas: ‘The production of electronics, such as an electric toothbrush, has a big impact on the environment. So, unless you already have one in your house, you should opt for a wooden toothbrush made of bamboo. If your toothbrush is worn out, just break off the hair and throw it on the residual waste, the wooden handle can be on THE GFT. In this way, your toothbrush has a much smaller effect.’Soap in a bus is just a practical way to promote a brand Ellen: “To replace toothpaste in a tube, you can bring toothpaste tablets into the house. This is concentrated toothpaste without water. It doesn’t need packaging and is much more compact and lighter, ideal for transport.” Nikolas: “Flosswire is a tricky subject because it is made of plastic, but also in this case: you don’t throw your floss into nature. There are alternatives that are compostable, but they are made of silk and that is an animal material. We are working on vegan flosses that are allowed in the GFT, but they are still hard to find.” Ellen: “I used to buy very impulsively and follow the latest trends closely, now we buy a lot less clothes. One piece of clothing a month, that’s the rule.” Nikolas: “I’m not going to get there for you. (laughs) Our book contains a checklist that takes three factors into account: Where is something done? What material does it consist of? Under what working conditions is it produced? It can be a task to score well on all three factors, especially working conditions are sometimes difficult to find. You can assume that if a brand or website does not mention this, it is not okay. But beware: not because it’s on the site, a brand is necessarily sustainable. You quickly feel like it’s a marketing stunt or not. When it comes to a sustainable brand, they will do everything in their power to take you into their story with videos, interviews and blog articles.” Nikolas: “A lot of people go to the store to look for new clothes and then buy them on Zalando: we do it the other way around. On Zalando you can filter clothes according to vegan and sustainable. In between there is also a lot of linen and this also makes sense: This material has a small effect and can be produced perfectly locally. Through these filters you can recognize beautiful things and then buy from a Belgian dealer or webshop. Sustainable brands sometimes have trouble breaking through, so it’s always good to buy from the brand itself.’Ellen: ‘On the website COSH! You can easily search for sustainable businesses in your neighborhood.’Ellen: ‘Actually, you have to turn the question: What’s cheap? A T-shirt, das five euros, could be cheap for you, but who pays this price? Because there is always an animal, a human being or the environment that pays the price. If you use your common sense, you also know that something is wrong with such cheap clothes. In addition, cheap pieces almost always pay for quality. If you consciously choose a sustainable timeless piece, then that is a good investment. You’re paying for something yourself at the moment, but because you’re more conscious and buy less clothes, you’re still spending less money. After just a few months, you’ll reap the benefits.” Instead, ask yourself the question: what is cheap? Nikolas: “And if you prefer to tap cheap pieces on your head, second-hand clothing is the solution: nothing new is produced for this.” Ellen: “Very often it’s also about top clothes that are hardly worn. There is a nice feeling to find a unique piece for a prize.” Ellen: “I now wear jeans that I bought six months ago, and I haven’t washed them once. If I make a place, I will remove it with hot water. The whole garment does not have to be washed for a stain.” Nikolas: “Only when the stain doesn’t go out or when the clothes stink. And even then, the smell often disappears by igniting the garment.” Ellen: “From time to time you don’t get to wash, but then use ecological detergents like Ecover or Marcel’s Green Soap. They really mean it. Our book also includes a recipe to make your own detergent: super simple. If everyone does their best, we will have a long way to go.”