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Behaving in a Greener Way: Panchen Losang Chogyen Gelugzentrum Acts Ecologically
DHARMA AND THE MODERN WORLD
By Andrea Husnik
Panchen Losang Chogyen Gelugzentrum in Vienna, Austria, developed environmental guidelines after moving into our own center space. The guidelines cover all aspects of center administration over which the center is able to make a decision.
First, we started by finding a center space very easy to reach by public transportation. Also, the center tried to use as much as possible ecological materials for various elements of interior design (varnishes, paints, etc.). In Europe, there are many reliable eco-seals (like the EU Ecolabel, EU Energy Star, Fair Flowers Fair Plants, and Fairtrade) for all types of things.
Although the insulation, heating system and windows are the responsibility of the building owner and cannot be changed by us, we tackled the things we could change, such as buying the most energy-saving light fittings. The center board also decided to avoid using a lot of energy, so we have only a refrigerator and do without a freezer. We bought energy-saving household appliances as much as possible and to conserve water, we installed special toilet flushing features while renovating our restrooms.
Not every member who engaged in the renovation of the center agreed completely with these eco-conscious decisions and some accepted ideas only when we could prove that our decision was not particularly more expensive then the conventional, non-ecological alternative. For example, to save membership fees and resources, we made use of second-hand furniture and dishes for the office and the kitchen.
The center also uses marked bins to separate waste. We canceled advertising materials and try to use recycled paper (both sides!). When possible, envelopes are reused. Although we have no garden, we use indoor plants for health, cleaner air and wellness. Pesticides are forbidden.
Our guidelines also address issues like food and drink. We buy only fair-trade and organic tea, coffee and fruit juices, and we check for reliable food and eco-labeling on products. Having mountain water in Vienna means we don’t need drinking water in bottles at all. Aluminium cans are banned because of their energy consumption during the production and its effect on the environment.
Cleaning is done with labeled ecological detergents and cleaning agents. Systems at our entryway reduce the dirt carried into the building. Disinfectants are not used because centers are not hospitals and are not needed (although they are hospitals for the mind!). We talk about getting rid of scents used in the toilets, but it is very difficult because some members love it so much and don´t understand that others might be sensitive to them.
Mindfulness in connection with environmentally correct behavior is not always easy. One has to work against ingrained consumer habits. Being a member, or even being a board member, of an FPMT center does not mean automatically that one is more free of old patterns and aware of sustainability. Often ecologically oriented advice is not well received and even if it is, it is not always valued enough. I’m unsure why this is so. Perhaps its because practitioners are already trying hard to be compassionate in daily life, forgetting the little beings who get killed or will be by the consequences of consumption. Perhaps some practitioners believe that their behavior has nothing to do with environmental protection because they are each only one person. Perhaps it is just laziness and unawareness in daily life.
Although a good start, having environmental policy guidelines is not enough. To live in an ecologically friendly way requires more than just someone knowing what to do. It requires that we think of the environment holistically – remembering all its different parts – and consider all the resources going into the products we consume. We need to ask: Do we really need to buy this? Is this food locally, seasonally and organically produced? We want to get the most beautiful looking fruit for the altar, for example, but we don’t reflect on the impact of it coming from an other continent or being produced by child labor.
So far, Panchen Losang Chogyen Gelugzentrum has not found time to create a system for measuring and evaluating our decisions. But will do so in the near future.
It will take time to raise awareness on environmental issues. In response, as an eco-counselor by profession in the biggest independent educational and counseling NGO organization in Austria (“die umweltberatung”), I started to offer lectures on Buddhism and ecology to the Buddhist Union of Austria and other interested groups. Donations from these events go towards the center.
Soon we hope to post the main points of these lectures on our homepage. And eventually, the center will offer printed materials to students to provide tips for an ecological lifestyle and ways to implement them as consumers in their everyday lives.
Andrea Husnik is spritual program coordinator (SPC) of Panchen Losang Chogyen Gelugzentrum.
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