In 2013 Everyday Can Be Earthday
For the last few years, green has been the fastest growing trend in food, buildings, and businesses. Consumers are smarter, and more demanding, than ever and the organizations that are thriving are those that are taking sustainability as part of what is essential. There are 13 habits that will guarantee that your lifestyle is more sustainable this year. Get good at them and you will save resources, money, and your health AND you will have fun in the process.
1. Make ORGANIC a habit
Organic food, products, and materials can improve your chances of living a healthy life (especially for children), decrease your propensity toward certain diseases (like obesity, certain cancers, and even ADHD), and keep dangerous pesticides out of the environment. The majority of green house gas emissions from food occur before leaving the farm gate—so eating organic food can reduce your carbon footprint even more than eating local, but doing both is the best. Make a habit of visiting your local farmer’s market and you will be helping your local economy, getting the healthiest food possible, and spending less per nutrient than in the aisle of the grocery store. Memorize the dirty dozen and you will never be stranded wondering whether it is worth more to buy the organic apple versus the conventional one.
2. Learn to count carbon
Ten years ago, you might have wanted to drop 10 pounds—this year it is time to drop a ton; of carbon, that is. If you haven’t done it yet, it is time to calculate your carbon footprint (the overall measure of how much green house gas you are responsible for in your everyday living). Then, see if you can drop at least a ton (average carbon footprint for a North American is 20 tons, versus 4 tons is the global average).
3. Develop your personal “triple bottom line”
In business, the green economy has gotten many small and large corporations thinking about the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit. If all three aren’t being considered, then your business isn’t sustainable. This same habit of successful green businesses, can help you successfully green your life. For instance, when deciding what toy to buy your child you might consider: Which is healthier? The Rock n Roll Elmo or the wooden dollhouse (Think: Is it likely to be recalled, is it safe if my child chews on it, does it make me happy?) Which is more ecologically sound? (Think: where was it made, does it contain plastic and other things that can’t biodegrade, is it likely to be recycled?) Is it good value? (Think: Will it last for a long time, can I really afford it now, could I save the money and do without?)
Eventually, you will find that a fourth “p” in your bottom line will emerges too: Phun! (Think: Will I be happier, now and in the long run, with or without this thing, this habit, this belief.)
4. Read labels, especially on personal care products.
Start by looking for the USDA Organic or Canadian Biologue labels, both of which ensure that the products inside are really grown according to organic standards AND the label ensures that there isn’t a bunch of other junk (like listed below) added. NEVER wash your hands or shower with anything that says it is anti-bacterial. And DO remember to avoid these ingredients: Fragrance and dyes, Parabens or –paraben, PEG and “-eth”, Triclosan, DMDM hydantoin, and Methylisothiazolinone, Sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate, TEA.
5. Curb your purchasing of packaged goods
It’s easy to forget when living in North America just how much less packaging is really required. In India, I remember buying eggs one by one and never once did I use a package. Now, that is obviously an extreme example, but no doubt there are a dozen daily examples where you would be willing to forego the packaged item. For instance, organic spinach in a bunch instead of a huge plastic box of it pre-washed will cut your waste in half AND cut the carbon footprint of your purchase. If you really get into this one, you will also curb your eating of processed foods.
A few tricks: buy fresh whenever possible and when it isn’t possible buy frozen instead of canned (canned food is more processed, have fewer nutrients, and are lined with BPA-laden plastic), consider bulk foods, and take your own left-over containers to restaurants or just leave it on your plate in lieu of energy intensive (and icky for your health) Styrofoam. Outside of the food realm, the same rules apply: try for glass or metal containers instead of plastic, avoid products over-packaged, and just say “no” to the bag at check-out.
6. Get plastic savvy
Molecules of plastic are found in almost every drop of ocean water and is making its way into much of the aquatic life and, ultimately, into humans. It’s hard to imaging giving up plastic altogether, but with increased information about the problems of the chemicals associated with making plastic (including BPA, phthalates, lead, chlorinated organics) there is a great deal of incentive to limit the amount we use. So, while most of us won’t give up cars, computers, and cell phones (all of which use plastic) we can give up buying juice or water that comes in plastic jugs (plastic is less likely to actually be recycled than glass or metal), find safer alternatives for food storage, and get natural materials when buying toys.
7. Give up the throw-away habit.
That means hiding the paper towels, buying and using a re-usable coffee mug, and trying rechargeable batteries. All of these things will save you money (about $100 a year if you seriously curb all three habits) and will guide you to other trends, like donating old items, recycling, and, ultimately, buying fewer things to begin and prioritizing buying used. This also means ditching the bottled water habit if you haven’t already. That expensive habit could be costing your family upwards of a $1,000/year and the water you are getting might actually be worse than just turning on the tap (almost half of bottled water is just tap water anyway AND it doesn’t have a rigorous of safety regulation).
Whether you live in the country with a huge backyard or in a high-rise without even a balcony, you CAN compost or vermicompost. Your biodegradable waste probably makes up 1/3 to ½ of your garbage, can stink up your house, and is clogging up landfill space. Instead, turn it into soil. Here are a few types to consider: a big pile, a secure bin that sits on top of soil, an enclosed barrel, an under-the-sink composter that uses a small amount of electricity and composts in a matter of days instead of months, or a worm bin (vermicompost) that lives inside and uses worms to eat the food rather
than microbes to break it down. You can throw food scraps into the compost, paper products, and now there are even compostable “plastic”-like products like utensils, take-away containers, and bottles.
Composting will not only reduce your waste, but it will also make the habit of buying less packaging easier.
9. Turn your electronics off.
Phantom loads, or the amount of energy that is used to run electronics EVEN when they are turned OFF, are probably costing you upwards of $100/year. It’s easier to remember to turn off these things if you have plugged everything that can easily be turned off (your stereo, computer, TV, printer etc.) into a power strip. If you want to keep on with that kind of savings, get a programmable thermostat (saves $200/year), stop washing your clothes in hot water (saves $200/year), and get rid of that old refrigerator in your basement (saves $100/year).
10. Get skeptical.
Consumers have gotten a lot smarter over the last few years: looking for green labels as an important part of the products they buy and the companies they support. However, companies have gotten smarter too: some resulting in doing the right thing and others by simply tricking consumers. Greenwashing is when a company or product pretends to be greenier or healtheir than it really is. Learn to read labels and watch out for greenwashing. Whenever possible, ask questions. It is always a good sign when you can get an answer from a person who really knows: the farmer who grew the vegetable, the person who designed the product, or the manager who stocked the item. Questions show that you care.
11. Walk more, drive less
In many cases, driving is just a bad habit. We learn the route to a place in the car and then we often don’t bother to figure out how to do it via transit, bike, or foot. Most trips of less than 5 miles are made by car in North America and because it takes about that much time for a car’s pollution control features to gear-up, short car trips account for 60% of the pollution from auto emissions. If you get so good at this habit that you can get rid of a car, you can save $7,000 year. You might also drop those remaining 10 pounds promised for last year’s resolution.
12. Play (outside) more
The research now shows what we our mama’s used to tell us: “Go outside and play!” Kids, and adults, are happier and healthier when they spend more time outside playing: the outdoor air quality tends to be higher, the sunshine promotes physical (and psychological health), and moving our bodies lifts our spirits. Unstructured play time is particularly important for children: the evidence suggests that unstructured (and even unsupervised), imaginative play is the strongest indicator of a child’s success in school. In fact, now even the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending free play as an important part of a child’s healthy development.
13. Create green community and have green fun (or phun!)
It’s easy to stick with green habits when they are fun for you or when you have friends encouraging you. Take a class or join a group to get started. If neither of those appeal, then get a gadget, a widget, or down-load an app to help.