Week 5: Sustainability in Strasbourg

Allo! How was your past week? Weekend? I hope that it was as beautiful and as heartwarming as ours was. I got to see visit a city dedicated to strengthening their networks of sustainable, eco-friendly transport, like on electric trams and bikes, to meet an organization that works year round to compost for the community (all on bikes!), and to meet the Mayor of Metz at the Ecology Festival on Saturday.

In Strasbourg, the streets were beautiful, not all too different in composition from the ones you’d walk down in Metz. There are cafés with tables sprawling out into the terrace, shops with postcard racks out front or with hand woven fabrics hanging over some displays, and musicians on street corners. The architecture, though, is a telling mix of French and German techniques (maybe due to their occupation in a couple of wars). The cathedral was breathtaking, in contrast with the beautiful orangish stone color cathedral in Metz, and with ornate detailing all the way up the grand tower. I’m partial to Metz because the stained glass is legendary, but there was something special about the cathedral in Strasbourg, maybe the views from the base of the tower were what did me in.

Apart from sightseeing, I met Joakim Couchoud from an association in Strasbourg called Sikle that operates much like Metz’s Epluchures and Bicyclettes. Sikle is a larger movement with more frequent pickups (up to 5 times per week) and visits around 16 restaurants/business, approximately ten more than we visit here in Metz. Their composting site is much larger, also, because they pick up much more waste each trip than we do with E&B. The objectives in each sense are the same, though: they aim to reduce the amount of waste generated by people in Strasbourg that goes immediately to a landfill or incinerator. There is potential for their food waste, and they don’t want to waste the opportunity (or the waste, haha). Once E&B gets a few more volunteers, I think they’ll be able to operate at a level like Sikle with no problem whatsoever. They’ve laid good groundwork and have done a lot of good with their small operation so far, I’m just happy to see that Metz isn’t the only diamond in the rough. There are cities all over Europe doing what they’re doing on larger and smaller scales, trying to make a difference in their impact on the environment and on the community. That’s the most successful and inspiring aspect to me. I’m bringing this idea home to Georgia Tech with me; look out for an Epluchures and Bicyclette club on campus in the spring!       

After a brief lunch on a log bench, we made our way to the Department of the Regulation of Traffic in Strasbourg, where we met Benoît Wolff, who explained the innerworkings of the circulation system that manages the traffic lights, public transportation, and monitors public roadways for accidents (as a partnership with the police department). Strasbourg is an extremely bike friendly city (the most notable in France) and the public transportation system, a network of tramways, is also widely known for its effectivity. At the Department of Regulation, there are people working around the clock to ensure that the car traffic blends seamlessly and safely with the tram and pedestrian traffic. I would say bike traffic, as well, but they make a lot of effort to keep the bikes and cars separate. There is a large network of bike paths that Strasbourg dedicates time and money into developing so that bikers don’t need to share the road with cars or share the sidewalk with pedestrians. It makes a switch from driving a car to riding a bike seem that much sweeter, doesn’t it? No pollutants AND safety? Sounds like a dream. Their facilities have been some of the best since the 1970s, and they’re constantly trying to improve the state of mobility in their city both for the environment and the safety of the citizens in Strasbourg. I think the climate strike going on in town added to the experience, as well, because we could see the mob moving from one screen to the next across the intersections with cameras as Benoît was talking. I knew at that moment that Strasbourg was cool with me!

I know I already mentioned this as an introduction to my topics in the blog, but I met the Mayor of Metz, Dominique Gros (third from the left in the first picture below)! He was a strong spoken man who liked to joke, and even though I didn’t fully understand all of what he said, he made the people watching him smile and preached about the importance of the efforts people were making at the Ecology festival and for the environment. What’s not to like? The Ecology festival was held at the European Institute of Ecology, which we visited earlier in the semester to learn about sustainable developments in Metz. This time, we were outside helping at a table for Metz à Vélo, whom you’ve met before. We asked people if they liked to bike, handed out some pamphlets, and talked with them about the importance of a shift in mobility towards bikes. We had pamphlets with tips and tricks for things like biking to work (how you keep yourself looking professional as opposed to sweaty), and one was a map of all the biking paths in Metz. We were faced with an irritated woman, at one point, complaining about bikes on the sidewalk and the dangers that she’s witnessed as a result of them, but our friend Edmond just clapped back saying “The sidewalks are split between bike and pedestrian lanes; you just don’t respect them!”. This highlights the main problem that I’ve seen with bikes here in Metz; there aren’t lanes dedicated to one or the other (except in few locations), so pedestrians and bikers often have to share, which doesn’t always end harmoniously.

There were tables at the festival for homemade products (promoting a zero waste lifestyle), a table set up for tree conservation, for teaching people how to compost (lead by our friend Jean-Jacques), one for the European Institute itself, another for Motris (hosted by another friend, Olivier Rudez, whom we do E&B with) and most others selling naturally, sustainably sourced goods. There were food trucks and live music as well, which made for a lot of happy tummies and good fun. I’m so happy that I attended and became a part of this program because of events like the Ecology festival, where I got to see a community come together and rally for the environment. I’ve been inspired by the people here to act on the concern that I’ve had for the environment since my youth. I can do it, we all can, we just need the know-how. I feel confident that my efforts and the people that I’ve met here in Metz have permanently changed the way that I’ll live my life. Go green, my friends, the rewards are endless.

Week 4 – Metz by Bike

This past week was another busy one for the SLS program at GTL. We spent some time with a representative of Mortris doing some cool composting, got to visit a workshop for bikes held at Metz à Vélo and also got an inside look at traffic management in Metz at the circulation office.

We started off with a visit to an event called Épluchures et Bicyclette in which the other students, Dr. Kozhanova, and I rode bikes with a volunteer from Motris, an organization dedicated to improving the state of society (greener, more accepting, more creative), named Olivier Rudez around Metz gathering food waste for composting from a couple different restaurants, bars, and a tea shop. We started at the office of Metz à Vélo to borrow some bikes, then set off on our mission. It was an amazing experience, being able to ride alongside the drivers on the road, who were all very considerate of our entourage, and wave at people sitting outside of the cafés. Each time we walked into the restaurant or bar, we just had to mention “Épluchures and Bicyclette”, and someone would run to the back in order to get their food wastes for us. They always smiled and thanked us for our efforts, but it didn’t feel like we were doing much work. We would dump things like potato peelings, squeezed lemons, and old coffee grounds into containers and then weight them in order to document how much we were adding in total to the composting at Motris. I’m looking forward to doing it again in the next coming weeks, as long as the weather holds up. I think that this has been my favorite composting activity yet!

The next day, we visited Metz à Vélo again, this time to see one of the workshops in action. Metz à Vélo is an organization that aims to shift the focus of transportation away from vehicles and instead to bikes for the good of the environment and potentially economic advantages. At the workshops, the volunteers will repair and tune up bikes for people that use them exclusively to get around, like to work or to school. One of the volunteers talked with us about the different events they host, like a “Bike School” for children to instill the idea in them that bikes should be their preferred method of transport and to keep them active. The vice president, François Baudry, was also informative and very eager for us to help him spread the word, for us to engage in the events going on around Metz à Vélo, and for us to potentially help make biking safer for people on larger roadways.

For our last adventure of the week, we visited the office of Direction of Traffic of Public Spaces and sat through a presentation by Dominique Loesch in which he walked us through the traffic/circulation challenges in Metz. He discussed the challenges with congestion in the city created by the intersections in Metz (there are 92!) and the solutions that Metz was putting in to place in order to alleviate some of it, like their traffic monitoring system Gertrude (a one-of-a-kind system in Metz) and the buses called Mettis. He talked about the importance of public transportation and often mentioned Strasbourg, France as a good example of effective implementation of public transport (with the trams). In my experience so far, getting around Metz has been extremely easy. The dorm where all of the techies stay is about an hour walk away from the city center, but its cut down to around 25 minutes by bus. There are multiple routes and times that the buses come and go with an app that helps you navigate them, and people use the buses all the time. If Metz is this good, I can only imagine was Strasbourg public transport is like. I think it would be a great idea for Atlanta to start looking to some European cities for examples of how to improve their public transportation. It’s a sprawling city, and its constituents could really use a way to get around besides using a car (traffic is a hug problem in Atlanta!).

As each of my weeks come to a close, I enjoy reflecting on the efforts that people are making in order to facilitate a greener, more sustainable city/life. I hope that one of the journeys our program takes this semester will inspire you to try it out.

Before I go, I just want to share my weekly picture from my travels, reminding you and me why it’s important that we aim to live sustainably and responsibly. Pictured below, the bay next to Èze, France, a small medieval town in between Nice and Monaco, Monte-Carlo. Thank you for reading through another one of my installments. À tout à l’heure!

Week 3 – Daily Sustainability and a Trip to Switzerland

Bonjour mes amis! The third week of the semester is officially over, and it was the best I’ve had yet.

On Monday during our SLS classes, we discussed ways that we could become more sustainable in our daily lives or alternatives to things that we’re already doing. For example, one of the more commonly known solutions for reducing energy usage in lighting a room is to rely on natural light coming in through windows. Something new I learned, though, was that sending an email of 1 MB (with photos or attachments) produces the equivalent of 15 g of CO2. I had never even considered the energy usage that’s required of digital sources, and it makes me wonder how this energy requirement will shape the future of digital media.

On Wednesday, Jean-Jacque Gaumet (our composting friend and a professor of chemistry at the University of Lorraine) came to Georgia Tech-Lorraine and explained the life cycle of waste, illustrated how much of specific resources we use versus the natural stores of the resource, and gave us examples of how to live more sustainably (and where to find some good tips). Later in the day, he walked the group through a lesson in the kitchen, but he wasn’t cooking us food. Using Marseille soap chips, white vinegar and baking soda, he made us all a little jar of laundry detergent. The total cost turned out to be just over a euro for 18 loads of laundry, and the makeup of the laundry detergent is completely earth-friendly.


We joined Jean-Jacque again on Thursday evening to dump our compost and say hello. He’s attending a conference in China soon to discuss biomaterials, things made completely of biodegradable substances, essentially. I hope he comes back with a lot of pictures!

Speaking of pictures, too, I went outside Metz for the first time this semester to Interlaken, Switzerland, and I returned with at least 200 new photos in my gallery. Everything about this city was amazing: is was bustling with people, there were really good options for food and chocolate (of course), the hostel was picturesque and cool, honestly, and the hike that we took had incredible views over the two lakes (Lake Thun and Lake Brienz). I hiked with a partner, Lindsey Lovitt (a student studying abroad at GTL from Duke University), a total of 18.57mi in 10.5 hours. Some of you may consider this a slow pace (which is true), but we walked next to cliffs for a large chunk of the hike which warranted the slow pace. It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. At the beginning of the hike, it was foggy and a little rainy; eventually we got to a point where we had passed the fog in elevation and got glimpses of the lake between the little wisps of fog. It wasn’t until our descent that the sky cleared up and we were able to look out upon the beautiful blue lake without interruption. It was one of the most beautiful 10.5 hours of my life. Places like this remind me why I’m so passionate about sustainability, smart cities, and green living. There is so much intrinsic value in our planet, and we must preserve it.

I hope you all had as good a week as I did and that you’re looking forward to future installments of my adventures here at GTL. Au revoir, mes amis!