I’m sure you’ve heard the term “sustainability” or perhaps you’ve heard about how “sustainable” a particular product, activity, or place of business is. But what does it really mean? In terms of how you live, how can you nail the ghost to the floor? Is it a set of principles or is it a set of actions that you take? These are some of the questions that run through people’s minds when they attempt to implement sustainability in their lives. It is becoming increasingly clear that sustainable living is born of a particular state of mind, or a way of thinking. It is not rigid, or dogmatic rather it is fluid, and always moving. It is this fact that makes “sustainability” a double edged sword. If you don’t have the cypher or lens with which to decode the world around you, a sustainable lifestyle will seem to be a nearly impossible task. However, once you have the lens you may find yourself asking, “How did I ever live without this?”.
For many “green disciples” the transformation comes from realizing the fragility of the world around us, and from that learning to cease taking the basic elements of life for granted. In my own journey to realizing a sustainable lifestyle I did two key things. First, I attempted to reduce my life to the basic, innate aspects of living as a human being (eating, working, building a home, and merrymaking). These four aspects of human life are things most can agree we partake in. Secondly, I looked at the options close to home. What makes sense for a citizen of Colorado? In my opinion the key to understanding sustainability comes from finding your regions culturally acceptable margins. What makes sense in New York City, may not apply here in Denver, Colorado. So, what are some examples of ways we can live sustainably in Denver, Colorado? Lets examine ways to implement sustainability in the four cornerstones. This is a crash course so I will break each aspect into two easy and fun steps!
Eating Food! We all love and require food. Whether its going out to a fine restaurant or staying in and enjoying a home cooked meal we all must eat. In many ways the age old saying, ” You are what you eat.” rings true in the case of sustainable living. So what are some steps we can take? First, ask questions.
- Where did this come from?
- How was it grown?
- How did it get here to this shelf?
- How will this effect my body?
We are quite blessed in the state of Colorado to enjoy a wide variety of vegetables and live stock. Imagine if all the food you ate came from a local farm, and imagine that this farmer used eco-friendly and organic techniques in producing his product. This would be an ideal situation, would it not? Well look no further as Farmers Markets get ready to kick off here in Denver.
- Find your local farmer’s market here and buy a weeks worth of food and try to go a week without going to the supermarket. This may seem difficult to complete, or you may say its more expensive. Last summer I went to the supermarket for about 10% of my food, the other 90% were from farmers markets. My grocery bill for the summer went down almost $150 a month!
- Consider subsidizing your food stores with an indoor or outdoor garden. Start small and try something easy, tomatoes and squash are popular starter veggies. These veggies can be started with minimal space and even if you don’t have a “green thumb” you are likely to have success.
Back to the Grind! It is Monday and we are all back on the clock. So how do we start bringing sustainability to the workplace? One theme that is consistent across work places of all types is “waste”. Perhaps you are a law firm, where paper use is often a key component, or perhaps you are in manufacturing and water is a key waste concern, either way all of our workplaces are subject to waste of some kind. As with the previous topic, the first step should always be ask questions.
- What is our key resource?
- How can we conserve and be more efficient?
- Who do i need to talk to?
In my work as a sustainability consultant I stress two key programs for businesses beginning to tackle sustainability in the work place. As they say you need to learn to walk before you can run, the same is true for implementing sustainability in the workplace. These two steps are imperative in creating an effective strategy.
- Identify who in your organization has a passion for sustainability and build a team of like minded, well respected employees around them. Make this “sustainability squad” as formal as can be possible and help them create a goal for the business to pursue.
- Start slow and simple! Implement a pilot program or two centered around conservation and efficiency. Perhaps its a carpooling or biking event, or perhaps it is as simple as an energy conservation campaign in the office. By and large the majority of employees will appreciate a sense of frugality and responsibility.
Remodeling the House! To be clear I’m not talking about building a brand new home that is LEED certified. For the great majority of us that does not make sense. What I am talking about is renovating two or three key areas within your abode. If your home base is slowly becoming more sustainable it will pay dividends in holding to this new lifestyle. As with the aforementioned steps, ask questions.
- How can we make our energy bill smaller?
- How can we make better decisions on the products we bring into the home?
- How can we conserve water inside and out?
- When we have guests, would they notice that we are living sustainably?
The home has a multitude of areas where you can implement a more efficient, more eco-friendly way of doing things. The first that pops into our minds is energy, followed by water, and the chemicals we bring into our homes for cleaning. So what steps can we take to dial back?
- Lighting in your house accounts for nearly 28% of your energy uses. How can you get some of that back? While we all know about those wacky new bulbs that are supposed to save us gobs on our monthly statement, the initial investment can be startling. The math is very simple, if you upgrade your lighting to a mixture of Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFL) and LED lamps you can cut the amount of energy used by more than 75%.
- Create an action plan for the kind of products you bring into the home. Are you buying the most energy efficient TV, are you buying non-toxic cleaning supplies, etc. Ask questions when purchasing and read the labels. Over time this will become second nature.
Now get out there and have some fun! So you’ve implemented sustainability into your eating, your work, and your home. Now its time for some merrymaking! Perhaps its time to sneak up to Boulder for the day and sample some of the new Organic Beer at Asher Brewing Company or maybe its time to plan the family vacation around ecotourism. The point is that sustainability is supposed to be fun. It is not about depriving yourself, or giving things up, its about making better choices.
As I stated before, this is not a road map to sustainability. For each and everyone of us sustainability means different things. Its a state of mind, its making better, healthier decisions. Sustainability should be seen as a way to amplify your life. Take a step back and consider all the areas of your life that could use a boost and see how sustainability fits. I think you’ll find it fits quite well.