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Archive | Guides and Tips

Smart meters and smart appliances – what are they and why should I care?

Photo of smart meter

Flickr/Christian Haugen

Smart meters and smart appliances may help you reduce your electricity use, your bills and your impact on the environment.

Smart meters are already a part of life in Victoria and will become an option for consumers in other parts of Australia over the next few years.

Whether or not a smart meter is worth your while depends how you use electricity and may also be affected by where you live and your housing type. Here we touch on some of the issues that might help you to decide whether you could use a smart meter (and potentially also smart appliances) to reduce your energy use, save money or both.

Smart meters

Smart meters measure electricity usage in more sophisticated ways than old style meters. There are two new types of meters. Interval meters measure power use during particular time intervals, typically every 30 minutes. Smart meters measure use over time, but can also send and receive information by communicating with the energy supplier and the energy network. Continue Reading →

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The global fashion retailers are coming – what’s their record like?

Folded jeans (Flickr/Maegan Tintari)

Folded jeans (Flickr/Maegan Tintari)

Some of the world’s largest “affordable” clothing brands have opened stores in Australia or are headed our way. What’s their record like on sustainable and ethical production?

Zara and Top Shop have opened stores in Sydney and Melbourne. But this is just the beginning of a deluge, with reports of 15-20 new stores to be opened by both brands, and 25 stores on the way from Japanese mega retailer Uniqlo. Swedish giant H&M also has plans for Sydney and Melbourne for 2014.

How do these mega brands stack up when it comes to fair working conditions and sustainable practices?

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Keeping it simple with sustainable consumption

Choice paralysis

Photo credit: Maclauren70 (Flickr)

Warning: too much choice can lead to ethical-consumer paralysis!

A famous experiment offered consumers a choice of either 6 or  24 different flavored jams with a discount for purchase*. We think more choice is always better – but consumers were 10 times more likely to buy a jar of jam when they only had to choose from 6 options.

The experiment, which has been replicated for other products in different circumstances, suggested that too many choices can lead us to walk away, making no choice at all.

It’s not just buying jam. When overwhelmed by choice, picking can be tricky no matter the product or issue.

Once you start looking, it’s easy to find options and advice about how to make more sustainable consumer decisions. But it isn’t always simple to work out what action to take. We have competing desires and drives. There’s lots of information but no easy way to rank its importance or assess its accuracy. There seems to be an awful lot of things we should be doing – the temptation is to think that we can’t do them all, so why do any?

Two rules to keep it simple

Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad are Bananas, suggests two key rules to keep it simple. Continue Reading →

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Five tools for better choices

A selection of Australian and overseas resources that provide useful information for better choices.

Otter brings you carefully selected ideas and information you can act on. But we’re just one voice.

A long history of consumer action

People have been making consumer choices according to their values for centuries. One of the most famous examples is the boycott of sugar and rum in England in the 18th century. Almost all sugar came from slave plantations in the West Indies. The consumer boycott was a significant part of the successful campaign to outlaw slavery in the UK and beyond.

Back then information was slow to move around and there was a lot less of it. Today there’s claim and counter claim about what’s good and what’s not on a vast range of issues. It’s sometimes hard to know what has real significance, what actions will really make a difference or where to start.

Five practical tools for now

Our advice and tips are based on the work of many organisations concerned with helping you to make smart, safe and sustainable purchasing choices.

In this post, we look at five of the best quality resources and tools.

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