If you’re going to remember one thing abut sustainability remember that every change from unsustainable practices to sustainable matters. You don’t have to become the next David Brower or Greta Thunberg overnight. Morph into the next Edward Abbey and you can count me as a friend. More importantly, talk about sustainability with your children as if their future depends upon it.
The word sustainable and its derivations have become prominent in our economy and our daily lives. The message, from start-up ecommerce websites to the largest corporations, are attempting to tell us that they’re doing their part to maintain a healthy planet. Mostly the message is about marketing, but there is likely a thread of truth and obligation in each.
Can anything really be sustainable, forever? I think not and that’s not the point. Afterall, it’s a commonly held belief that our planet’s sun will burn out one day, but there is no need to conserve solar rays unless you’re storing them as energy.
Doing away with definitions, to act sustainably means to care about the health of the planet upon which we and future generations will live. “The main idea is that we must act responsibly so that the resources on the planet will be able to support many generations to come”.
When I think about sustainability, I think about getting back to nature. I think about being a kid, exploring, being outside, being amazed by so much of the natural world. Who loves nature more than a child, so we thought these ideas would be a great place for the whole family to practice sustainability together.
All you need is a place for your leftover produce and lawn clippings to break-down. It could be a simple open compost pit, a recycled barrel or a store-bought compost bin. It’s a slow process, but children will be intrigued. Over time you can ramp up the compost by adding special ingredients like coffee grounds, egg shells, earthworms and beneficial nematodes. You can get started now and improve the process over time. Added benefits of composting include a reduction of fuel required to transport the waste to a landfill and a reduction of store bought fertilizers.
Plant a garden - The more you grow the less you’ll need to buy from a grocery store. Some benefits include reducing the use fuels to distribute produce, plus you can grow without the need for pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers. Many well-known pesticides and fertilizers have had devastating impact on a wide variety of creatures including beneficial insects, bats, birds, mammals, and fish. Your chemical free garden will help prevent these harmful products from accumulating in our watersheds and oceans. What a wonderful gift it is for a child to able to get their hands dirty in healthy soil, nurture plants to life, eat them, and then return remaining plant parts to the soil. One more thing, you won’t need any of those plastic produce bags.
Use non-plastic reusable shopping and produce bags. Once your garden begins producing it will become easier to reduce the need for plastic bags. Of course, it will be difficult to grow all of the fresh fruits, vegetable and other produce that you may like to consume. Trips to the grocery store will be inevitable for most, so make sure you keep reusable bags in your car.
According to Waste Management, only 1 percent of plastic bags are returned for recycling. That means that the average family only recycles 15 bags a year; the rest end up in landfills or as litter. With this is mind it’s import to remember that we can choose to reduce or reuse when recycling isn’t an option.
Remember, there’s nothing wrong with reusing clean plastic bags.
Start a neighborhood pantry
This is the really fun part and a good way to meet neighbors and makes friends.
We have a few neighbors who garden and we often trade produce amongst each other. Since the start of the pandemic our gardens have produced bumper crops. Eventually, trading or sharing produce wasn’t enough to prevent spoiling. So, we started a neighborhood pantry to share the abundance. I have to admit, I didn’t think the little pantry would be sustainable, but the power of good deeds is amazing.
At first, it was our close neighbors who filled the pantry with squash, tomatoes, peppers, lemons, limes, apples, and you name it. A few Facebook and Nextdoor posts later and it really took off. We had kind folks from all over Huntington Beach donating produce as well as rice, lentils, baby and pet food, cereals, canned goods and, of course, macaroni and cheese.
Designing and decorating the pantry will help the children take ownership and feel pride in what they are doing. Don’t worry about making a perfect pantry. Starting out with a few cardboard boxes or maybe a repurposed cabinet would do the trick. Have fun and let the kids get creative by decorating. With any luck, the experience may help the young ones carry the sustainability torch into their future.
More Ways to Practice Sustainability…
Reduce household energy use.
Energy conservation is itself a source of energy. Choose wild energy
Kicking the fossil fuel habit is critical to saving wildlife, slowing climate change and protecting our lands and waters. If your state allows you to pick your electricity supplier, use a Green-e certified company that generates at least half its power from wind, solar and other clean sources. Also explore the options — and tax credits — for installing rooftop solar panels or solar water heating in your home. Depending on your productivity, you can even add clean power to the grid, further offsetting your carbon footprint.
A powerful way to live more sustainably is to eat locally.
Dispose with disposables.
Be water wise. Skip the bottled water. Bottled water companies try to give tap water a
bad name, even though the water from your faucet is practically free and much city water has won quality tests and taste tests against name-brand water. And the extraction of water and production of all those plastic bottles is notoriously harmful to communities and wildlife. Water conservation is also critical, especially as our growing population puts increased demand on the nation’s water sources and we face unprecedented droughts. You can conserve water by taking shorter showers, fixing leaky toilets, and choosing low-flow and low-water appliance options. Also, consider xeriscaping your yard, a landscaping technique that uses native, drought-adapted plants that require less water and maintenance over time, and provide habitat and food for birds and bees.
Rely less on your car
Changing your driving habits can dramatically reduce your carbon footprint. Walk, bike, carpool or use public transportation whenever possible. Combine errands to make fewer trips. Participate in, or start, car-free days in your community. It’s also important to keep your car in shape with regular tune-ups and tire inflations. Tune-ups can increase your fuel efficiency by 4 percent to 40 percent, and if every American kept his or her tires inflated, gas use nationwide would decrease by 2 percent.
Purchase fair trade products.
Think twice before shopping. Pay attention to labels.
Boycott products that endanger wildlife. Take extinction off your plate.
Products made from animals on the endangered species list are illegal to buy, sell, import or trade in the United States, but if a plant or animal hasn’t been listed yet, they can still be harmed for someone’s profit. Also, some products harm endangered species by threatening their habitat, from cutting down old-growth forests to using up the water that riparian species need to survive. To avoid contributing to the endangerment of wildlife, shop conscientiously and look for products made from sustainable materials like bamboo and dine at restaurants that refuse to serve imperiled species like bluefin tuna.
Meat production is one of the most environmentally destructive industries on the planet, responsible for massive amounts of water use, pollution, greenhouse gas emissions and habitat destruction. You have three chances a day to improve the health of the planet — by reducing your meat consumption you can reduce your environmental footprint. Also, nearly 40 percent of edible food in the United States goes to waste -- wasting all of the natural resources that went into producing it. Prevent food waste with smart, planned shopping and creative ways to consume what you purchase.
Green your home.
Just as keeping your car in shape improves your fuel efficiency, keeping your home in shape improves your energy efficiency. Make sure your home has adequate insulation and energy-saving windows, and use a programmable thermostat for more efficient heating and cooling — and, of course, energy-saving lightbulbs for more efficient lighting. Many states now offer incentives to help you green your home or rental at low or no cost. Call your energy provider to see if it offers free energy audits or knows of a company that does.
Choose to have a smaller family.
Use your voice and your vote.
One of the best things you can do for wildlife and the planet, today and for the future, is to get politically involved in your community and at the national level. Vote for candidates with strong environmental platforms. Urge your representatives to pass stronger policies to limit greenhouse gases, fight climate change, protect our wildlife and public lands and support access to reproductive health services.