Share your advice
- contributions or suggestions for our website
- questions from people just arriving in Belgium
- calendar and content of events
- legal issues
- cooperation with our project, including this website
- environmental agencies or institutions
- European or Belgian authorities, communes
- expat agencies
- relocation agencies
- the request to republish the articles posted here
- schools, mothers' groups or others offering to hold our events at their premises
all about sunbeams
who we are
what we do
why we do it
how it all began
sunbeams at the welcome fair
the heavy lifting crew
at the Social Christmas Fair in Tervuren
Here we will post your personal and practical advice which you would like to share with other expatriates living here in Brussels. Anything useful you encounter in your quest to reduce the impact of your lifestyle on the environment can be posted here: e.g. "what is my experience with changing energy supplier" or "I just bought a composting bin and would like to share with you what went well/wrong".
Here are our first contributions:
"I asked my cleaning lady, Linda, to test some environmentally friendly cleaning products and we were both happy with the result. We gradually changed all products in the house. Now she even succeeded to promote the same products towards THREE other of her employers. She works at five different homes and her aim is to convince the last two ones to do the same. Imagine, if everyone would do like her!", 22 July 2008.
"Every time we get the annual bill for gas, electricity or water, I gather the whole family and we ask everyone including the children how we could save some money. It is amazing what the children come up with! They really have some great ideas and in this way they feel involved and responsible!", 22 July 2008.
be heard how to have your voice heard by shops, politicians and the media
eco-challenge take a small step every month towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle
useful addresses where to find eco-friendly priducts and services
small steps little things you can do to lessen you environmental footprint
Here we will propose our challenge of the month. Every month we will challenge you to make a little step towards a more eco-friendly lifestyle. Some of these challenges you might already have met and then we allow you to feel very good about it! Maybe it will even encourage you to take up one of the other challenges as well.
Cut Your water Consumption
Living in a country like Belgium, the idea that water is a scarce resource can be hard to swallow; scarce things don’t fall from the sky every other day. But globally, the situation is quite different:
• Only 3 percent of the Earth’s water is freshwater, and at least two thirds of that
is held beyond human use in glaciers, ice caps, permafrost, or deep underground wells.
• That last 1 percent? It’s not evenly distributed. In 2006, one billion people (one
sixth of the world’s population) were living on less than the bare minimum of four liters
of water a day needed for survival.
• For the future, the situation only looks more precarious. Rising population means more pressure on existing resources, while global warming may put much of the freshwater
supply at risk of disappearing, both from melting ice caps and glaciers and from
decreased rainfall in much of the world.
With this in mind, it’s clear that water needs to be used as conscientiously and efficiently
as possible (hydrologists estimate that up to 60 percent of water taken from aquifers for
human use is wasted by leaks, evaporation, carelessness, or inefficiency), and to that
end, here are some clear steps you can take to minimize your water consumption:
Around the house: Take showers, not baths; make sure there are no drips from any faucets or pipes; try and get water efficient toilets, showers, and appliances; and never let
the faucet run while you’re not using it.
For the more motivated: why not even install a rainwater collection system on your house so that you can minimize the pressure you put on sanitation and purification plants and eliminate the runoff which would otherwise collect chemicals on the road and flush pollutants into the sewers and streams? There is no reason we all need to flush our toilets and water our lawns with drinkable water, and a rainwater collection system can save both pollution, overconsumption, and money!
At the store
Ninety percent of freshwater use comes from agriculture and industry, so you can have a far greater impact on your water consumption by looking closely
at the food you eat and the products you buy.
With regards to food
try to eat less meat and animal products. A hamburger represents over 3,000 liters of water; 500 grams of cheddar cheese represents over 2,400 liters of water. A vegetarian diet requires 2,000 liters of water daily, while a high-calorie, grain-fed meat diet requires 5,000 liters daily. But also, this relates to the non-food products we buy. On the clothing front, over 2,500 liters of water are needed to grow enough cotton to make a t-shirt; the diverting of freshwater to grow cotton was the chief factor behind the draining of the Aral Sea (once the fourth largest freshwater body in the world) – widely considered one of the greatest ecological disasters of all time.
Make sure then that you buy responsibly
that you don’t over-consume, buying products you don’t need; but also that whenever possible you buy products which come from regions of the world where freshwater isn’t scarce; or products made from alternative materials like bamboo or synthetics or wool, which consume significantly less water. And of course, whenever possible, be sure to purchase organic products that haven’t left a chemical stain on the streams and rivers (and oceans!) of the world.
At the faucet
Whenever you have thechance, use tap water instead of bottled water! It is unequivocally better for the environment and for your health.
First, the environment
the Earth Policy Institute estimates that bottled water pollutes 10,000 times more than the same volume of tap water. That includes the manufacture
of the plastic bottles, the fossil fuels used in manufacture and transportation, the disposal problems after the water is consumed, and the damage on our limited freshwater resources by bottled water companies that pump huge amounts of water from often already sensitive aquifers.
On the health front
the idea that bottled water is more healthy is a marketing myth! The reality is that there is far more government control over quality in tap water than bottled water, which means that with the exception of instances where disasters have compromised the public water supply, the water coming out of the tap is much cleaner.
A 1999 study by the US National Resource Defense Council found that one third of
bottled water tested (from 103 brands) contained carcinogens and even arsenic! Numerous other studies have shown that even when minerals and salts are added to
bottled water, they have no positive health impact, and tap water is still better for you.
The main trait which bottled water has going for it in the end is taste – but that can easily be duplicated at home with a good reverse osmosis water filter. And even with the cost of the filter, using your own water will save you big! Tap water comes at a cost of just a few cents a day! Let’s see Evian match that!
So yes, living in a wet part of the world it can be difficult to feel like water scarcity problems are pressing, but one last number should illustrate just how much of an impact
our consumption can have. According to the study Globalization of Water, 80 percent of the water consumed by the average resident of Belgium (that includes in the production of our clothing, our food, our building materials, etc.) is imported from outside the country.
Eighty percent. Even in the wet parts of the world then, water is definitely a scarce resource.
Thirsty for more information? Most of the numbers in this article come from the book 'Water Supply,' edited by Richard Stein (H. W. Wilson Press, 2008). More information is also available online: www.waterfootprint.org is a great place to start.
ready for more?
try our previous ecochallenges...
If you feel like doing a bit more this is the place to be. We are all consumers and all the things we buy and do have an impact on the environment - sometimes in a very negative way. Think of it like casting a vote: when we - the consumers - ask for something, the producers will react.
Write a letter or e-mail
Write a letter to express your views. We will provide you with some ideas, topics which we find important and eventually, we will post some draft letters in English/French/Dutch which you can use to make your point.
Ask your shopkeeper to sell more biologic or organic food or to stop selling battery hen eggs (the ones with a stamp on them starting with 3).
Address your supermarket so they label their products better. They should make clear whether the food you buy contains genetically modified organisms. You should tell them about anything which concerns you as a consumer; they will pay attention because it's the customer who keeps their business running. You do not need to write to them, you can just talk to them as well.
We will soon provide you with some ideas and topics which we find important. We will post some draft letters in English/French/Dutch that you can use to make a statement. How about writing to one of the big coffee brands about the recycling of their coffee capsules or whether their coffee is traded fairly?
Sign a petition
Add you name to that of others who feel the same way.
June 2010: Illegal logging
Illegal-logging destroys forests and communities all over the world. As a major timber importer, new EU regulations could help undercut this black market and protect forests worldwide, unless powerful companies succeed in watering down the agreement. Let's push back with a roar of strong support for forests - click this link to take action: http://www.avaaz.org/en/eu_stop_illegal_timber/96.php
April 2010: Whales under threat
Within days, a proposal will be unveiled that could legalize commercial whale hunting for the first time in 24 years.Once the proposal becomes public, member countries of the International Whaling Commission will make a decision to support it -- or push back. An outcry now -- in the days and hours before these countries decide their positions -- could stiffen the spines of those who want to protect whales by keeping whaling illegal. Avaaz has launched a last-moment petition which will be delivered to the delegates to the IWC every time we raise 100,000 signatures -- sign here and forward this message:
To parties of the International Whaling Commission: As citizens from around the world we call on you to retain the International ban on commercial whaling as the core policy of the International Whaling Commission in its pursuit of conservation for whales.
Past petition: The Big Ask
On 11 December 2009, our governments will decide Europe's response to climate change for the next 12 years. Unless they agree to at least 30% cuts in European greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, we'll have no chance of keeping global warming below 2°C and avoiding climate catastrophe. We need to make ourselves heard. On 10th August, more than 6,000 people took part in the recording of The Big Ask video clip at Ostende on the Belgian coast. This was the largest event against climate change ever organised in Belgium. The film clip was made possible due to the engagement of volunteers from Friends of the Earth, and many film industry professionals including award winning director Nic Balthazar, film crews, production houses, actors, ... the music was supplied by Hooverphonic. After you've watched the clip, do something, ACT NOW! Send the clip to politicians, friends, family, and colleagues. Then sign the online petition to demand that our leaders do everything possible to keep global warming below 2°C
Past petition: A new coal power station in Belgium?
In 2003, Belgium passed legislation requiring the phase-out of nuclear power stations when they turn 40 years old. As a result, the existing nuclear power stations, which generate approximately 55% of the country's electricity, will be phased out between 2015 and 2025. However, replacing nuclear capacity with coal power stations is not the solution, as coal is very polluting and contributes to global warming. You can sign the petition of Greenpeace to oppose the construction to the coal plant in Antwerp in French or in Flemish.
Because you can make a difference...
We organize different types of events on a more eco-friendly lifestyle - in English - at different locations in and around Brussels. Here are some of the events we have organised or been involved with in the past.
- Friday 05 : Sunbeams, in collaboration with R99 Wine Consulting, invited to a very unique and special wine tasting evening. By joining us for this event, you will not only learn the differences between eco friendly, organic & biodynamic wines by tasting great examples from all over the world, but you will also help a great cause. Profits of this event will go towards the Red Cross for helping survivors following the recent devestating earthquake in Haiti.
- Tuesday 09 - 9h15 am : workshop on eco-labels at the International Montessori School, Savoorke, Bergestraat 24, 3080 Tervuren. If you register, an information pack will be set aside for you.
- Wednesday 10 - 16h30 to 18h00, Audergem : sunbeams crochet class, team member Nickie will teach young people from 12 to 18 years old, as well as interested adults, how to do crochet - all abilities are welcome!
- Thursday 28 - 19h00 to 20h30, Tervuren - sunbeams crochet class, team member Nickie will teach young people from 12 to 18 years old, as well as interested adults, how to do crochet - all abilities are welcome!
- Thursday 28 at 20h30: Energy saving event. Learn easy tips on how to save energy at home. A specialist trained by the IBGE/BIM will answer all your hot questions related to energy savings and investments. Emma Davies of The Bulletin wrote about his presentations in December. Learn easy ways to reduce your energy bill and lower your carbon footprint! Taking place in Ixelles/Elsene. Registration required.
- Sunbeams had a stand at the Christmas market organized by the International Montessori School. Lists and samples plus addresses for eco-friendly presents and wrapping were available.
- Sunbeams had a stand at the welcome day for families organized by the European Commission.
- How to have an eco-friendly holiday season. What can you do to make your celebrations more eco-friendly? Demonstrations on alternatives for wrapping, many ideas on eco-friendly presents and how reduce the eco-footprint of your party dinners. Making this season great with a good conscious, lots of fun and saving some money as well.
- Sumbeams Enegy Challenge - easy tips on how to save energy at home. A specialist trained by the IBGE/BIM will answer all your hot questions related to energy savings and investments. An easy way to reduce your energy bill and lower your carbon footprint.
- Sunbeams had a stand at the Christmas market of the British School of Brussels in Tervuren. Ideas, samples, addresses on eco-friendly presents and wrapping will be available.
- Workshop on Eco-friendly Living in Belgium at the International School of Brussels (ISB), Kattenberg 19, 1170 Brussels, from 13.00-15.00. The workshop focussed on the small steps we can take towards sustainable living through healthy gardening, 'greening' the holiday season, home health and energy efficiency. The event was open to all.
- Weekend 21-22 a weekend organized by Natuurpunt to lend nature a hand. Everyone can help to clear areas, plant plants and trees and have fun at one of the hundreds of activities in nature reserves. More info: www.natuurpunt.be/dagvandenatuur and click on the map to find your nearest activity.
- Week of 21-29 European Week of Waste Reduction. See the article on page 3 of our November 2009 Newsletter.
- Welcome Fair of The Bulletin Group at Area 42. Sunbeams had a stand. More info at www.welcomefair.be
- Expatica Fair at Autoworld (Cinquantenaire/Jubelpark). Sunbeams had a stand. More info at www.expatica.com/iamnotatourist_be
- Workshop on protecting wildlife in Belgium. Two presenters, an ornithologist and a nature lover, gave demos on how to build simple shelters for small creatures, what to feed them in winter time and what you can do for biodiversity in your own garden.
- Parents coffee/tea morning at the International Montessori School in Tervuren “How to get a green start in Belgium”.
- car sharing event to Bioplanet in Mechelen.
- Brussels Environment Fair - sunbeams had a well atttended stand during this annual event.
- European Commission Green Week Conference taking place at the Charlemagne building with info stands, discussions, working groups and panels with high-level speakers.
- Composting Toilet Demonstration organised by the Tervuren Transition Town group.
- Composting Workshop. In a private garden, Tervuren. Informal format, sharing experiences, asking questions. Approx one hour.
- Sunbeams had a stand at the Expatica Fair in Espace 53/Autoworld at the Cinquantennaire.
- Sunbeams was at the European Parliament to greet the newly elected MEPs.
- Visit to the ‘Marché Biologique’ Weekly organic market of Mandala Organic Growers at the Ateliers des Tanneurs. Fruit and vegetables, fruit juice, jams, honey, bread, wine and other organic products. (Rue des Tanneurs 58, 1000 Brussels, open Sunday 10am to 4pm)
- Wednesday 22 April - Earth Day.
- Visit to Bio-Planet supermarket in Mechelen.
- Outing to exhibition ‘C’est notre Terre’ at Tours et Taxis, Brussels.
- Energy saving challenge - how to save electricity, heating and water at your home with small, big and bigger investments.
- Earth Hour - 20:30 - 21:30, Saturday 28 March. Earth Hour 2009 is set to switch off the globe. Already 377 cities, and double the number of countries that participated in 2008, are committed. With hundreds more cities expected to sign up to switch off in the coming months, Earth Hour 2009 is setting the platform for an unprecedented global mandate for action on climate change. earthhour.org and earthhour.be
- Outing to Bio-Planet in Mechelen.
- Energy saving challenge: how to save electricity, heating and water at your home with simple gestures! Initiative of Brussels Environmental Institute - IBGE/BIM.
- Friday 5 - Volunteer get together
- sunbeams was represented at the Social Christmas Fair in the center of Tervuren. Information on the Fair (in Flemish) can be found here.
- Saturday 22 November 10-17h: Sunbeams will be present at the Christmas Fair held by the International Montessori School with info and ideas for original presents (Savoorke, Bergestraat, 3080 Tervuren). We will provide you with lots of ideas and samples of original presents and wrapping, food suggestions and we will do some sales for the Jane Goodall Institute !!!
- 21 November - Volunteer get together (Oudergem)
- 17 November - A Conscientious Holiday Season (or how to splash out and enjoy the holidays with a conscience) at the International Montessori School’s Savoorke location in Tervuren. Based on tour article The Art of Giving and Receiving
- 12 November - Volunteer get together (Oudergem)
- 5 November - Volunteer Recruiting Event
- 25 October - Nature Walk with forest ranger
- 18-19 October - Welcome Fair for expats, participation Sunbeams
- 2 October - Volunteer Recruiting Event
We organize different types of events on a more eco-friendly lifestyle - in English - at different locations in and around Brussels.
Our Calendar can be seen here
The Brussels Institute for the Environment challenges all households to take some easy steps to reduce their use of energy (electricity, heating and water). They have trained some people to speak to small groups of people gathering at somebody's home. These trained specialists explain how you can save energy in your house by simple gestures which do not cost anything or not much. They show that savings in electricity, gas and water can be done easily and will help to reduce the CO2 emissions and your annual bills. This module was developed by the BIM/IGBE and is called Energie Uitdaging or Defi Energiand we managed to find speakers who can do it in English for us. Anyone can host these events at their place as long as you find an audience of 8-10 people.
See our calendar for details of the next event.
A speaker specialized in a specific topic will pass on very practical information, e.g.:
- Solar Panels: e.g. which steps to take in order to install solar panels on your roof, how get most of the expenses paid back by local authorities, how to show your landlord/lady there is a benefit in it for him/her as well, and how to work together with your Belgian/expat neighbors on making your own energy;
- Eco-gardening: e.g. how to keep you lawn nice without putting a burden on the environment and how to attract wildlife to your own garden;
- Organic clothing;
- Home energy audits: together we go through (a part of) somebody’s house to improve things in a more eco-friendly way (we will find an expert to do the audit);
- Changing energy supplier: how to change to a green supplier, which data you need and how to download and fill in the new contract.
In these meetings we do a brainstorming exercise among us on an agreed topic with one to steer the discussion, e.g.:
- How to prepare your garden for the winter (plants and wildlife);
- How to have a more eco-friendly Christmas (presents, decorations, food);
- Children’s parties: on how to make them more eco-friendly.
We will start organizing common events with different agencies and authorities on several topics. The first of these Common Events will be held at selected international schools in the Spring. More info will follow later.
Please check our Notice Board for events organized by others.
Here is a list of past events we have organised
We are looking for volunteers who share the same passion and interest: people who care for the environment and our planet. If you have some time, dedication and maybe some special skills to offer, please do not hesitate. We will need people to take care of:
IT issues, including website
events: organise and/or host
Answer questions coming in
start a co-operative buying group
help expats dealing with local authorities
notes for potential volunteers
It is our legal obligation to provide all volunteers with the following information:
- Sunbeams is registered as a non-profit organization "vzw/asbl".
- Our Mission and Goals are legally registered and you can read them here.
- We have insurance covering volunteers participating at our events and fairs.
- We do reimburse costs incurred for Sunbeams, but only on the basis of authorization from the President or one of the two co-founders. All official receipts need to be given to one of the above mentioned people before any refunds can be made. For the time being transport costs cannot be refunded.
- There is an obligation on all volunteers to be discrete and not divulge any personal information (on beliefs, family situations, health etc) concerning any other volunteers working with/for Sunbeams.
Ilke Pedersen-Beyst, President of Sunbeams