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Small Personal Change for Maximum Collective Impact

Green.Org had the pleasure of chatting with lawyer, Tuğçe Ergüden about simple changes we can make in our personal lives to have a huge collective impact on the health of our planet.

coffee paper cups on holder tray on table
Photo by Sarah Chai on Pexels.com

Thanks so much for joining Green.Org today. Can you tell us a little bit about you and your background?

I think it was my destiny to be a part of the environment and energy sector! As the daughter of a father who manages a mining company, I have been involved with both the energy and environmental sectors since the first day. But my first formal studies in this field started with my master’s degree in international energy law at the City, University of London. While I was studying at the university, I was deemed worthy of an award in the fields of Low Carbon Energy and Energy Sustainability and Safety. Energy and environment are two issues that are so intertwined that one falls into the chicken-egg dilemma while discussing these two issues. For this reason, I wrote my thesis about what obstacles the Energy Charter Treaty, which is the only multilateral international energy investment agreement in the world, creates for states to protect the environment. Then, I found myself in the Waste-Recycling Industry Environmental Magazine, which is published monthly in Turkey, and in the UK-based “environmental law discussions. Then, my articles on environmental and energy law were shared in many magazines both in England and France, and there is a book chapter that I wrote for two expert writers to be published in 2023!

Coming to the present, I am currently working as an in-house lawyer in a Turkish energy company that has its headquarters in Turkey but has renewable energy investments around the world. Of course, in addition to this, I work as the assistant general secretary at the Energy Disputes Arbitration Center, the only energy-oriented arbitration center in the world. In addition, I was selected as arbitrator for the Chamber of Arbitrators, Minsk and European Arbitration Chamber, Belgium arbitration centers. These titles have taken a really important place for me because, as you know, many countries such as Italy are sued by investors in arbitration centers due to the measures they take to protect the environment, and this becomes a preventive factor for them to take steps to protect the environment. In this context, as an arbitrator, my main goal is to bring a new perspective to such disputes by mastering environmental and energy law. In this context, we decided to organize Turkey Arbitration Week in a meeting we had with EDAC’s founder, Süleyman Bosca, in order to both bring energy arbitration to the agenda and increase the trust in arbitration in Turkey. With our event, which will be held for the second time this year, we are trying to instill the awareness of arbitration in people. I am currently on the organizational board of Turkey Arbitration Week!

What is a fun fact about you?

I love traveling the world! Whenever there is time, I take my best friends Felicie and Chiara and go abroad and explore new countries, giving me such great happiness that my family always wonders why this girl is not so happy in normal times. But I think the funniest thing is my ability to go to the market abroad. It’s not a joke, it is an incredible pleasure to go to the markets in every country I go to, buy the local products and go back to Turkey and eat them!

Why do you think climate change and sustainability is such an important topic today?

Global warming is becoming a growing problem. As we face natural disasters such as unexpected snowfalls and floods that appear in the news every day, this problem gains a quality that cannot be ignored. But the real problem, I think, is why these agreements, which impose “so-called” obligations on states in order to protect the environment, such as the UNFCC, the Paris Agreement, and the Kyoto Protocol, are really impracticable. In an area where it is forbidden to throw garbage on the ground, no one controls this situation and if people do not face any sanctions as long as they continue to throw garbage, that ban will have no meaning. While it can be determined what the problem is through this simple example, the lack of an effective control mechanism and deterrent is still the main reason for the increase in global warming.

What do you envision your industry looking like 10 years from now?

The energy industry is a rapidly developing and changing industry. It is difficult to predict 10 years, except within the framework of constantly changing legislation and perspectives focusing on renewable energy. However, there is only one known fact that the energy sector stands out as a helpful and necessary resource among all sectors. For this reason, if a change is desired, it is necessary to start this change with the energy sector. In particular, significant incentives should be provided to investors regarding renewable energy. When investing in renewable energy becomes more profitable in the eyes of the investor, only then can we reach our “green energy” target.

What can the average person do to make a difference?

Small habit changes can make a massive difference, and actions representing your environmental policy speak far louder than words. What is important here, I think, is the measures that companies will take, rather than the basis of individuals. Small measures taken by companies (especially large companies) are applicable to many people. The main question here is what can be done. There are several actions that can help establish a company as a business that cares about the environment. Many businesses create a lot of waste; even sending a ‘thank you’ email to your colleague is estimated to produce 0.000001 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. This may not seem like much, but if you consider that the average person sends ten unactionable, unnecessary emails per week, you very quickly have a far larger carbon footprint when looked at on a national scale.

According to research by OVO Energy, if every email user in the UK were to send one less unnecessary email per day, that would reduce carbon emissions by 16,433 tonnes – equivalent to a staggering 81,152 flights from London Heathrow to Madrid. How to solve this issue? Only skip the pleasantries such as ‘thanks!’ ‘lol!’ ‘you’re welcome!’ over email. Deleting emails is also the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint on the computer. So, you’ve deleted your emails and stopped sending unnecessary messages, but what’s the next move?

You can say goodbye to disposable cups. Globally, the world uses around 250-300 billion single-use and disposable cups every year. Out of all of these, billions also end up as trash and waste. In the UK alone, the population discards 2.5 billion paper cups every year. What effect does this have? The beginning stage of coffee cup production is the acquisition of raw materials from trees. It involves a range of resource-intensive processes that first of all requires the felling of millions of trees globally every year. Deforestation alone contributes to the climate crisis simply as we have less of nature’s fantastic carbon-capturing trees. On top of this, coffee cups must be coated in plastic – this not only means that more plastic is being used, but also renders the cups impossible to recycle. So when a single used coffee cup is replaced by a travel mug, you are protecting natural resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to saving energy. Businesses can provide reusable mugs or encourage staff to bring their own, either to the office or the coffee shop.

Lastly, many offices are full of devices that never get turned off. Get in the habit of turning off your computer and monitor when not in use. Also, make use of the power management setting on newer computers which determines when the computer and monitor shut off or go into sleep or hibernate modes which use less power than regular operating mode.

Thank you so much for sharing your in depth vision for the simple change we can make in our personal lives for maximum global impact.

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Charlie Bingham
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