Sustainable (Baby) Steps
Updated: Mar 9, 2021
Hello there, and welcome to my first substantive post!
As an engineer and a recent law grad, my first instinct is always to analyze the problem and then break a new task down into logical steps. Naturally, my sustainability journey is no exception. My first task in this new journey: identify the most impactful reductions to my ecological impact in order tackle the low hanging fruit.
Before I start these steps, I need to define my goals. Overall, I want to live a more sustainable lifestyle. To achieve this larger goal, I will break it into two parts: first, to be more sustainable in my habits and consumption; and second, to reduce carbon emitting activities. A sustainable lifestyle encompasses both of these goals as I ultimately want to reduce my negative impacts on the planet.
Prior to learning more about sustainability, I tended to roll my eyes, as it connoted images of essential oils and natural remedies over modern medicine used by the type of people who were derogatively known as "dirty hippies" by many who I associated with. It also was associated with the other end of the spectrum: expensive organic products (frequently with no evidence to product effectiveness) peddled by health obsessed, wealthy white women. I eventually began to realize that living a sustainable life was more than that. It is possible to be an individual who believes in products backed by science and be a sustainable person. In fact, to be a person who deeply believes in science, living a sustainable life is a fundamental tenant.
I want to make sure when writing about these steps that I do not focus only on expensive and trendy products (though these are fun treats), as living a sustainable life should be available to all. My own background and biases will likely color my available choices, but I will attempt to always include alternate options or suggestions if my choice is pricey.
Steps to Sustainable
First, I want to overall develop more sustainable, eco-friendly habits and overall consume less. When I do consume, I want to make more conscious decisions and pause before that impulse purchase. Sustainability ultimately means buying less and re-using more, following the old adage of "reduce, reuse, and recycle."
Main areas to personally tackle:
Buy less, and when I do buy, attempt to buy secondhand (this will be a challenge for a clothing lover like me)
Reduce overall waste
Reduce plastic consumption, from grocery packaging to household products to single use takeout packaging and utensils (almost all plastic ever produced is still in existence)
Reduce use of disposable paper products
Water conservation (especially in Southern California, where droughts abound!)
Explore buying in bulk (from food items to shampoo)
Research non-toxic swaps for cleaners and other items
Shop local (for products made and grown locally)
Stop junk mail.
Use reusable bags as well as produce bags
Pick up trash on walks (I aim for 4 pieces, to keep it manageable)
Several steps I have taken over the years to be more conscious or save money that are highly recommended when starting a sustainability journey are as follows:
Give up plastic water bottles and invest in a reusable bottle and filters for at home
Use a coffee machine with no disposable filters, such as a french press coffee maker
Vote for environmental causes!
Even a few of these steps are great ways to help live a more sustainable life, and some are quite easy and immediately more affordable than the alternatives! Several swaps are more expensive upfront, though over the lifetime of the product will result in large cost savings (such as switching to a reusable bottle).
Steps to Reducing Personal Carbon Emissions
Well, to reduce my carbon footprint, first I need to calculate it! I used the Carbon Footprint calculator. I just did one month, to keep it simple. My (estimated) monthly footprint was 11.24 tons/year, compared to the average for the US at 16.49 and 6.4 for the EU, with the world average at 5 and the climate change target at 2 (we have a long way to go...). I will have a whole post on carbon footprints, the history (hint- oil companies devised it to put the onus on individuals to reduce carbon emissions), and how to manage yours in the future.
Several steps to personally reduce my carbon emissions include:
Purchase carbon offsets (if/when you fly)
Change up transportation, such as biking for small errands or use public transit!
Washing clothes: use cold water as it requires less energy
Reduce energy usage
Go meatless, starting one day a week (though not all veggie items are more sustainable, on the whole, a vegetarian diet is far better for the environment)
Reduce consumption, such as buying clothes: this was a huge part of my average!
Other ways to reduce energy and carbon emissions:
Check your utility's energy mix (in Santa Monica, we're automatically opted into the Clean Power Alliance, which allows us to pick between plans that use 36% , 50%, or 100% renewable energy).
Ensure your home is energy efficient (proper insulation is a huge energy saver!)
A note: I live in Santa Monica. To those who don't live in SoCal (which included me until earlier this year), this means temperatures range from an average low of 50 in December to a high of 71 in August. Granted, this year it hit high 90's for almost a week (thanks climate change), but historical averages have us in a 20 degree range year round. As a result, I don't have heat or AC, and only invested in a second fan this summer for the aforementioned heat wave.
Each one of these bullet points are rich topics that I aim to tackle in several blog posts, as I could likely write a novel, or at least a novella, about each! I look forward to writing my next post!
Thank you for reading.
Katie @ Sustainably Yours, LA