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Be kind series: Retail staff

I’ve decided to do a short series on how you can be good/kind to other people. These are simple everyday considerations which can really make a difference to someone. I often speak about leading by example so here are something I’d like others to consider.

Retail staff/shop assistants

Since we’ve just come out of the mad shopping rush of the festive season I can only imagine how many cashiers and floor workers got shouted at and belittled over things which really are not within their control. It’s terrible that shoppers have that feeling of superiority which allows them to act so badly towards another person.

Now, before I carry on I think it’s important to say that in store service is something I take very seriously. I want retail staff to be helpful and friendly. Customer service should be valued wherever you shop. I used to be a waitress and now work in a customer orientated position so I know it’s not always easy but it’s important. I get frustrated when cashiers don’t greet me or just shove the card machine in my face without even telling me how much I owe. I am the customer I should be treated with courtesy

That being said a shopper has no right to feel superior over a store worker. Yes, they are there to assist you but that doesn’t mean that they are inferior to you. Store workers should never be treated as idiots or plebs just because you are now in the “I am the customer” position of power.

The least you can do is to be polite. Ask nicely for what you’re looking for. Greet the cashier in return. Don’t patronise them or assume they’re going to pack your bread rolls under your wine or leave the price on when they wrap your gift. You also have to take responsibility for your own stuff and there are nice ways to communicate any concerns you may have.

So, use the next 11 months to practice being courteous during the festive season madness. I assure you that your levels of service will improve (because treating someone with respect yields a more positive response from them) and you won’t leave every store with a cloud over your head.





Water saving tips

South Africa is experience severe water shortages with some places in crises. I am lucky to live in a metropolis so at least the city will do everything in it’s power to provide me with water but I still feel responsible for helping to save water. As @CityofJoburgZA put it, water saving is not about who can afford water, it’s about trying to reduce your water consumption no matter who you are.

So, based on what I’ve seen in the city in the past few weeks I’ve put together some practical tips to help reduce the water demand so that the little bit we’ve got left can go further

  • Swith off your automatic sprinklers – this is not the time to be watering the lawn on your pavement daily. Your grass is going to go into “hibernation” and turn brown. Deal with  it
  • Choose which plants in your garden have daily priority and water only those on that day – preferably with a watering can. Not all plants need to be watered every day. Be selective and this will help your garden stay alive (it won’t be lush) until the drought is over
  • Try and collect “grey” water. If you can afford to but a grey water system in do this right now. If you can’t afford a system there are a few manual efforts you can try. Once you’ve bathed collect the water in the tub with a bucket and use that to water your plants or flush your toilet. If you shower put a large bucket in the shower with you which will collect a lot of cast off water while you shower. It’s mostly fresh water that would have gone down the drain anyway. Perfect for watering plants or even washing laundry
  • Families should bath together to save water. Then put your grey water to use as above
  • Don’t let the tap run while you brush your teeth or shave
  • Don’t use running water to rinse dishes. Fill the basin and rinse all dishes in the same water. I promise it will be fine
  • If you have a dishwasher make sure it’s full before running it. Run it on “eco” mode.
  • Don’t every just throw away water. If you have some water left after an outdoor activity be sure to put your leftover water in the garden or your pets bowl. You might not want the bottle of the bottle but they won’t mind
  • Cover your pool. It’s an investment which prevents excessive evaporation and keeps your pool clean. It’s also an added safety feature. Winning all round. It’s worth paying for. If you really can’t afford a pool cover then don’t keep topping up your pool as the water evaporates Also, put off remodelling or building pool until there is enough water to fill it. There is a crises people- pool water is not an ethical investment at this stage
  • Fix leaking taps and report any leaking municipals pipes to the council. Just do it
  • Invest in a Jo Jo tank or Raincell. One day it will rain again and then you will stock up on this precious resource. I have one and it’s been a great help during these dry weeks. It’s the responsible thing to do and will save you money in the long run
  • Talk to people about their water habits. Spread the word about the drought. Some people are so caught up in habit they don’t realise how they are “wasting” water. If you share tips with them and lead by example you can help make a difference

Water is a limited resources and the more we make efforts to save it the longer it will last. This is everyone’s problem

No more prawns for me (for now anyway)

I have been aware of the overfishing of our oceans for several years. I have considered myself a responsible consumer by only buying fish from the supermarket which falls into the WWF SASSI green classification. A lot of large retailers make it easy to identify the classification of the fish we buy by labelling and so I thought I was definitely making a difference by not supporting the fishing of threatened fish.

What I completely, and ridiculously, did not consider was fish I ordered on a menu. Some restaurants say they take the SASSI classifications into account and of course I believed them. However, what I learnt yesterday is the even though a restaurant is considering SASSI they are still not necessarily making the best choice. For example despite the fact that prawns are often farmed which may make them seem eco responsible the truth is, they are still in the orange band. That is a problem. As it turns out, a lot of prawns are still wild caught from tropical regions and this is where the trouble comes in. There is a major negative impact on the environment because of this wild catching. How can I be sure that the prawns I order in a restaurant are farmed? I could ask but the restaurant could lie. On top of this, a lot of prawns consumed in South Africa are imported, there is certainly an environmental impact there as well. So, until further notice I will not eat prawns, it is the only way to guarantee that my actions do not hurt the planet.

If you still want to eat prawns, or any sea food for that matter, please familiarise yourself with the SASSI List and know that what you are ordering is environmentally friendly. As consumers, we can change the way the environment is managed for our food. Supply and demand drives fishing activities, if enough people insist on sustainable fish then more will be done to protect the world’s oceans.

Our (just about) free hot water

I am delighted to say that my household now runs our geyser on solar. We made the change last week and it’s the easiest home improvement project we’ve undertaken so far.

My husband phoned Solar Heat exchanges, they sent their consultant a few days later, who then arranged for seamless installation a few days after that. The job was done quickly and cleanly and the electricians even cleaned up after themselves. I was very happy with the level of service received.

As for the geyser: It’s only been a few days (some of which have been cloudy) and we’re very happy. The water is warm and there are no issues with pressure or anything of the like.

Our geyser is in the roof so there are only two panels as evidence that we have solar. I like that as I think the geysers on the outside of the roof are a bit of an eyesore. We’re fortunate in that our pitch was high enough to accommodate this “hidden” geyser without a pump. A good solar provider will provide you with the best advice in this regard.

We asked about retro-fitting our existing geysers and Solar Hear advised against this as it gives more opportunity for things to go wrong with the system. Another thing to avoid is installing a pump as this is another area where things go wrong. This is something we had heard from many installers.

I don’t know what exactly our electricity savings will be at this stage but I figure it’ll take no longer than three years for the system to start earning it’s keep and then providing us with free hot water for energy

So, first step geyser, next step is to hopefully switch over a few lights and the TV for the inevitable dreaded load-shedding hits again.

The time is now

When I was putting out my paper for recycling the other day it struck me that this was something I would not have been able to do a few years ago. A few years ago I would not have had a company come by my house every Wednesday to pick up my unwanted paper and cardboard. They collect for free and then make some money off it on the other end. I get what I want (a clean house and a contribution to recycling) and they get what they want. What more could you want?

I know other countries have had sidewalk pick up for years but the point is that when it became easier I automatically recycled more. I still have to drive a few kilometres to throw my glass out but it’s easy enough. Also a facility that wasn’t around more than a few years ago. Thanks to that glass bin being there I recycle more.

I also discovered a few years ago that several charity organisations collect unwanted items from your house and so I up cycle and re-use (well, someone else does) more and encourage others to do the same. It fantastic.

I got a guy over to our house today to do a quote on solar. It’s a big and costly step but we can do it so we’re going to. I’ll be less reliant on fossil fuel. Thank you sunny South Africa for my free hot water (soon anyway).

My point is, being environmentally is easy these days. Really easy, really accessible. Most people have no excuse to not recycle, up cycle, re-use, reduce.

IN South Africa, the poorest of the poor have gotten into the recycling business because every plastic bottle they salvage from a bin or dump means that they get to have a meal that night. They work hard and it’s clearly no fun but they have recognised it as an industry. If they can work so hard to recycle your plastic trash then the least you can do is put it out for them in a separate bag or on top of your other rubbish.

Get with the programme. Start recycling today

The office activist

Even if I do say so myself, Mandela Day was a raging success in my office. It all started with one email I sent out the to company challenging different departments to donate items to an orphanage I and a colleague had selected. Our smallish company does not have an official Community Service Committee – so someone had to do it.

We collected boxes and boxes full of clothing, food, and toys. It was fantastic. In fact, we collected so much we ended up donating the surplus to a community centre near the orphanage as well.
It was this success that made me realise that a lot of people want to help needy organisations but don’t always know how to or where to. So, considering the bosses didn’t tell me not to send out charitable emails again, I’ve taken the opportunity to “run” my own little charity collection hotspot at my desk.

A few months ago we collected more items (toiletries and treats) for the orphanage and right now I have a box of dog goodies being collected for Barking Mad ( This no kill shelter has recently moved properties and deserve some extra help at this stage.

Being an ‘activist” is as simple as sending out an email and a few reminders for the duration of the campaign. I only do one charity at a time because I don’t want people to get overwhelmed. While the donations don’t quite roll in I always have enough to present to the charity at the end. Enough to make a difference.

What I didn’t expect though is other people in the office drawing my attention to different charities and asking if I can send out an email to support them (apparently I’m the unofficial rallier now). This is a great added bonus because it draws my attention to organisations as well. The Barking Mad campaign was suggested by a colleague and so both our names appear on the appeal email. Once this campaign is done I’m going to run a school sock and musical instrument campaign for a very poor school in Ermelo after another colleague told me about the sweet, polite children there who need something as simple as socks. Just something to make their lives a little bit easier and more comfortable.

One email is really all it takes and people who are interested will support you and thereby you all support others. Sometimes good things need to be suggested but it’s well worth it. I challenge you to do the same at your company. I am confident that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how many people want to help.

P.S. If you want to donate some socks I’d be eternally grateful. There are a lot of kids. Of course I’ll post a follow-up blog post and some pics. Please get in touch.

Remember to recycle and reuse this festive season

AS the festive season fast approaches (yikes) I’m guessing that a lot of people have started thinking about buying gifts and the subsequent gift wrapping. I love giving nicely wrapped gifts but I would also like to remind you that not all wrapping has to be bought new from the store.

If you haven’t done so before, use this year’s festivities to build up a paper and bag bank. This will consist of all of the larger pieces of paper which have not be torn by opening or damaged by sticky tape or a label. Make a habit of rolling these up as soon as you’ve opened your present as this will preserve them safely without the risk of being squashed or creased. It’s a no brainer that these can then be used by you the following year to wrap friends’ and family members’ gifts. The same can be said about the bags because those are easy to set aside for the next year.

Now, there are time when the top of the bag will be torn slightly and you’ll be tempted to throw it away because one can certainly not re-gift in a torn bag. I understand that so I’ve come up with an easy solution: Untie the string handles and cup off the top portion of the bad. Then, simply using a paper punch, punch four holes into the bag again and re-tie the handles. New bag, easy.

Something else I do is ‘make’ gift bags from other paper shopping/store bags with the addition of a picture from a magazine. Some stores, especially cosmetic and lingerie stores, give you your products in very high quality paper bags. Your first option is to not accept the bag because you have a cloth one handy, or you can take it and repurpose it as a gift bag at a later date. Gift bags are easy to present presents in because there is no folding or sticky tape so I often opt for a stores quality paper bag. To me it’s just about free wrapping. The issue is that most of these bags are branded and you don’t want to give someone a bag you clearly got from a shop – that’s no thoughtful. So, what I do is to simply go through a magazine and look for an appropriate picture or photo which is big enough to cover the store logo and stick it on. Most magazines have some features which make use of full page high quality photos which make for very attractive gift bags. Once neatly stuck onto a bag it looks really nice. I recently made a great lingerie gift bag for my sister-in-law by sticking two pics of a lavender field on either side of a black cosmetic bag. It looked sheik and served it’s purpose really well.

Another use for these big photo spreads is to actually wrap smaller presents in them. Make sure all the writing is cut off (as you should do when decorating the bag as well) and then simply use as wrapping paper. Now, there is no way to ‘hide’ the fact that this is a magazine feature once the package is opened (because inevitably there is an article or recipe on the back) but it really doesn’t matter. The present will look great before being opened and as your loved ones know the environment is important to you they’ll think it’s a novel idea.

I go through all my magazines (which I get from my mom) every two months or so and tear out all the pictures and photos with re-gifting potential so I have a stack handy whenever I need them. The magazines then go into the recycling bin but at least they’ve been read at least twice and some parts of them are going to be re-used one more time.

This year I am committing to give all my gifts in sturdy decorated canvass shopping bags. Woolworths in South Africa sell beautiful ones in aid of different environmental causes so buying there is a triple investment really: The organisations get some money, I get a handy gift bag and my family get a bag they can re-use all the time when shopping. The bags are quite big but even small presents are going in them because it matters. My presents will look nice and I hope my family and friends will learn from my example and get the message I’m trying to teach: Wasting paper on gift wrapping when you have other options available is not really acceptable.

On the flip side, if you get gifts wrapped in paper and you can’t re-use them for whatever reason do remember to recycle. It may be holiday time but popping paper in the recycle bin only takes a few seconds.