Today, being eco-friendly is all the rage. Still, 9 times out of 10 when I ask my clients if it is important that their space supports a sustainable lifestyle, I get NO as an answer. NO! Really? At first I was shocked, but after some thought, I think the clients may not understand the concept of sustainability. I always try to steer my clients toward products that were made using sustainable practices. Today you do not have to sacrifice style or money to get a product that was made with the highest possible environmental, social, and economic standards. If that is available, why not get it? I think it is important to take some time to break down what it means to practice a sustainable lifestyle.
What does sustainable mean?
The most basic definition of sustainability is striving to achieve development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
This may seem obvious, but the rate at which people are consuming the earth’s natural resources today is alarming. The consumer lifestyle that most Americans have grown accustomed to and quite fond of simply is not sustainable and will inhibit the lives of future generations. We live in a culture of waste that blows through the Earth’s natural resources faster than any generation ever has before. It is easy to get distracted by all the sweet new features on your escalade and not notice that you are spewing out more pollution in a day than an entire third world country does in a week .
Five Simple Ways To Live Sustainably:
1. Cast your financial vote responsibly!
In a world where you might not feel like you have much of a say about what goes on politically, there is one thing that you can always do to be heard. Buy what you believe in. Massive amounts of man hours and money are spent each year doing marketing research that tells companies what you are buying and why you buy it. Every time you spend money on something, you are telling those market researchers what you want. It is just like voting, but possibly more powerful. Companies listen and produce what you ask for. Are you asking for growth hormones in your chicken nuggets, pesticides in the Mississippi River or area rugs made by 8 year old boys in Nepal? You just might be… do some research on what you buy!
2. Buy only what you need.
Think hard about the difference between what you want and what you need. It may be on sale. It may be super cute. It may be the last one they have in stock. If you don’t need it, then you are being wasteful. Buy what you need. Donate everything you have that you don’t need to someone who could use it. When I am tempted to be wasteful, I try to think of what I would say if I had to explain the purchase to my great grandchildren. ”Well, little Sarah, I bought an escalade because a lot of my favorite rap stars drove them and I wanted to look cool. So sorry you have to wear that UV suit all day and go to the zoo to see polar bears since wild ones are extinct because of global warming…”
3. Ride or Die! (In a hybrid)
Transportation is the second biggest drain of natural resources in the world today (right behind all those consumer goods I was just telling you to be careful about buying). Think about how much you are flying and how far. I’m not saying we should all do stay-cations all the time, but if you are traveling excessively, consider how much pollution those jets spew into the atmosphere during each flight and make some changes. Cars are a big investment that you put a lot of thought into. Why not consider hybrids and cars that get more miles out of the same amount of fuel? They might be more expensive, but remember that whole “casting your financial vote” thing I was talking about? This is important. Don’t be cheap. Here is my last “transportation” themed tip… get up and move! If it’s within 3 miles of your house, why are you driving?
4. Know what you’re eating… really.
Agriculture is the third largest threat to sustainability. There are some really frightening statistics about how much food we can produce vs the world’s growing population. As of January 17, 2011 6.5 million people have been born so far in 2011, while only 2.8 million have died this year. The growing cities are eating up farmable land. This means we have more mouths to feed and less farmable land to feed them with.
After World War II there was a rapid increase in food and fiber production due to new technologies, new chemicals, mechanization, and government policies which favored maximizing production. These policies led to fewer farmers with fewer laborers producing the most food and fibers. These farming practices meant less risk for the farmers, but also led to many of the critical issues that we are facing today. These include: topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, habitat destruction, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities.
So that sounds really depressing, right? Don’t be sad, there is a lot you can do to help! Support the sustainable farming movement by buying your foods from farms that participate in sustainable farming practices. Anyone can say their food is “natural” or “organic” but don’t be fooled! Food labeled “U.S.D.A. Certified Organic” meets the strict standards of sustainable farming, so look for that label on your food, clothing, bed linens, bath towels, hygiene products etc. Also look for labels like “hormone free” “antibiotic free” “local” ”cage free” “pastured” “wild” or “grass fed”on your animal products. Try to buy foods that are grown locally and are in season now to limit the amount of waste caused by transporting foods around the world. Whole Foods or other natural foods stores are a great place to start. I love going to farmer’s markets to get my organic food. You can also buy your food from a local co-op. You give money at the beginning of the season and the farmers bring you fresh organic fruits and veggies as they ripen! Here in Phoenix we have www.bountifulbaskets.org.
Get to know some of the dangerous chemicals that are in a lot of products and look to make sure they are not on your labels! Here is a useful link that describes 12 common chemicals that you should probably avoid:
5. Set up your life so that being sustainable is easy.
Reduce, Reuse, RECYCLE… duhhhh. I am shocked by how many of my clients don’t recycle! It is SO easy these days, in most cities you don’t even need to separate it into different categories any more. You just put everything that’s recyclable into one big dumpster. Set up a recycling system in your home. Make sure it is in a convenient spot and that you and your family know exactly what can be recycled in your area. Of course it’s better if you don’t buy that plastic bottle in the first place, but at least if you do you can recycle it and it can be turned into carpet! There are so many things that do not belong in the trash can. Batteries, car tires, plastic bags… do some research and find out where to take them and make a habit of doing so.
Invest in a programmable thermostat that turns the heat and air conditioning down automatically during the hours that you are at work. Invest in Energy Star appliances when it comes time to buy new ones. Replace your light bulbs with more efficient ones. Get window treatments that will help you save energy. Buy clothes and linens made with organic cotton. Feed your family USDA certified organic food. There are a million tips just like this to help you live sustainably. I want to start a running list of them and get input from everyone who visits this site.
The best thing that anyone can do to live sustainably is get educated about what is really going on. Subscribe to a newsletter or magazine that focuses on sustainability. Pick up a book on the topic. My favorites include: Cradle to Cradle, Food Inc, and Easy Green Living. I often visit treehugger.com to see what they are talking about. Sustainable living may seem like a lot to handle, but even if you take just a few small steps, you can greatly impact the lives of future generations!