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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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Otter Interview: Anne O’Brien talks good food

Anne by Cathy Xiao Chen

Anne O’Brien talks good food. Slow food, fair food, supermarket food and affordable food.

How effective do you think consumers can be in creating positive change through better purchasing decisions?

I think better purchasing decisions are one tool in the toolbox that we, as consumers, have to build more ethical economies. This is used well in combination with collective actions: when together people call into question the supply chain decisions of companies, and when they build cultures around the different ideal of economy that they want to support. A good example is the farmers market. I don’t have much time or money at the moment to go regularly, but when I do, I am inspired by the way they can nourish people socially, nutritionally and economically. 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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Otter Interview: Alex Neville on surfing and waste

Nevs picture

Alex Neville, surfer and writer, talks surfing and waste, the value of pre-loved boards and the power of researching on the net.

How effective do you think consumers can be in creating positive change through better purchasing decisions?

I think that consumers as a collective can have an immense influence on what is and isn’t produced. It just depends how people decide to use that influence.

The issue is that the consumer needs to be able to make an informed decision, and that has to be done amidst advertising pressures, PR talk and marketing all making noise in the background. It’s a challenge. We’re in a sort of information overload situation at the moment. What we need are better resources that provide reliable and accurate product information, and ideally we need that information at our fingertips. Continue Reading →

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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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Otter Interview: Suzie Galwey buys local!

Suzie Galwey on Vespa



Suzie Galwey lives in Newcastle with her husband, two children, dog and cat. She runs after-school creative writing workshops for kids and cares about building strong local communities.


Which shopping related ethical issues are most important to you?

Being from a regional centre I believe in supporting local businesses and producers as much as I can. We live near the Newcastle city centre which is undergoing a massive change as the big chain retailers have moved into the suburban shopping centres and small enterprises are gradually springing up in their wake. Purchasing locally makes sense environmentally and I hope it will help my community thrive.

How do you act on these ethical concerns in practice?

It helps that I don’t enjoy shopping centres  – they make my head spin. 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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