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Sustainability, “Going Green”, Eco-friendly, Environmentalism, Earth conscious: There are many ways to describe environmentally responsible living.
This mindset can take a nearly infinite number of forms: zero-waste living, veganism, electric cars, backyard gardening, supporting local farmers, natural yards, refusing straws, taking the bus, wearing natural fibers, hanging clothes up to dry rather than using a dryer.... and on and on...
We make choices every day and there are usually some options that are more environmentally responsible than others. While our goal should be to live sustainably, it can be overwhelming and difficult sometimes.
Sustainability, at its core, comes down to living responsibly, within the resources the earth has, and thinking about the effects of our choices. It’s easy to say, “It’s just one disposable coffee cup a day”, but when billions of people across the world have the same mindset it is no longer a small problem. Personal responsibility and sustainability go hand in hand.
Taking an Audit
Whether we are wanting to focus on our carbon footprint, our resource consumption, or our waste production, we need to know where we are before we can plan a path towards where we want to be.
Once we know what we're using, what we're producing, and what we're throwing away, we can start to make plans for changes to our lifestyle. Big changes can be intimidating and sometimes lead to just giving up if we try to take on too much too quickly. Starting small and building is a great way to move forward.
A great way to ease into sustainable changes is to do a challenge, like at Ecochallenge.org. These challenges usually happen once a quarter, are approximately a month in length, and let us select what changes we would like to focus on for that time.
Below are several links to pages with great audits, challenges, and plans to ease us towards bigger changes.
We can look at what environmentalists are saying and what actions they're encouraging, finding out where some common pitfalls are and also what actions can have the biggest impact for the least effort.
Be prepared and think ahead
How many times have we gotten into a store to discover that our reusable bags are sitting at home? Taking a moment before leaving the house to run through the different places we may be going, or errands we'll be running during the day can help us see at a glance what we might need to bring with us.
Incorporate our changes slowly
We can start by working one or two changes into our daily habits. When we don’t have to think about them anymore, we know they’ll stick and we can add another change to our lifestyle
Recognize green washing
Companies are very good at making us think their products are sustainable choices, with "green" fonts, labeling, and earthy symbols. Take a minute to read what they are claiming and decide if it actually seems like a substantial move towards sustainability. Don't take it at face value!
Break old habits
Don’t just do things because that’s how they’ve always been done. Habits are hard to break, like letting our groceries get bagged in plastic. It is convenient and easy, but if we count up how much plastic that uses just for our family over a year we may decide to make a change. It will take a little adjusting but if we're considerate and confident, most businesses will accommodate our requests and changes.
Be proud of our accomplishments
We may be told that what we're doing doesn't matter, that there are bigger problems, and that what we're doing distracts from something else good, etc. But it doesn't have to be one or the other. We can embrace our lifestyle changes, and also work towards bigger systemic change. Be proud of what is being accomplished and shrug off the haters!
Positive peer pressure can be a good thing, so let's talk about the positive changes we are making. In order for our changes to build and make a difference, we need others to join us in what we're trying to do. We need them to care. But telling someone what they should be doing in a judgmental or self-righteous tone will do nothing but put people off. We can talk about the changes we're making in a positive way, sharing what worked and what didn't. By encouraging others with how great it feels to be doing something positive, and sharing any cost saving we've experienced, we may find that others will give it a try with us!
The COVID-19 pandemic has unexpectedly made it harder than before to live sustainably. Despite the forced slowing down on travel and some other potential waste decreases, the need to control contact between customers, workers, and everyone in general has led to an explosion in waste. Take out containers are way up, when we might normally have dined in and eaten on washable dishes. Grocery workers may not let us bring our own bags for our food. Bulk bins may have been emptied and shut down due to contamination risk. There has been a huge increase in online ordering and so packaging waste and carbon emissions from deliveries is also way up.
It is a difficult time to try to be sustainable and mindful. But there are still things we can do. It may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things but we can try.
If ordering food delivery, we can add a note saying that we don't need any disposable items such as napkins, condiments or utensils. If getting our groceries delivered or through pick-up, we can condense our orders to once a week, and even call the grocery store to express concern if we notice items being put 1 or 2 to a bag, rather than minimizing plastic bag use.
When ordering online, we can do some research and see if we can find that product or a similar one from a company that ships zero-waste. For example: A Drop in the Ocean shop sells personal care items and mails items in reused boxes with zero plastic packing materials.
Try to order items from fewer stores, consolidating shipments into fewer boxes and fewer trips (saving carbon emissions).
All of these are good things we can do to lessen the negative impact the pandemic is having on the environment.
But in the end we should remember to be kind to ourselves and know that this is an unprecedented event in our lifetimes. We must try not to harbor eco-guilt, and instead do what we need to do for the safety and well being of ourselves and our loved ones.
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