Ghandi once said “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.” Ghandi believed that personal and societal transformation go hand in hand. He also struggled with the reality that one person’s actions alone aren’t enough. Social transformation takes the rigorous and persistent action by many. I must say I agree. But, big change in society starts with an individual’s actions. Whether it’s the birth of a social movement like Me Too (or #MeToo), protests like The March for Life and The Women’s March, or the act of eliminating plastic straws from consumer facing storefronts, it started with individual action. Over time these actions gained consensus with many and swept the landscape. Now, I should say that I’m not seeking to create a movement. I only share those examples because we must understand that individual action towards similar or like minded ideas have implications. Some good, some bad. This is most certainly the case when trying to create a more sustainable future.
Those who know me remember I studied sustainability in graduate school. The academics focused on the implementation of sustainability principles into companies, organizations and government agencies. However, those very principles are applicable to daily actions in our personal lives. I admit that while I do a fair amount to be responsible every day, there’s so much more I can do. So, I’m making a commitment to do better, be better. What does that mean? Well, I’m doubling down on implementing sustainability principles into my own daily actions. Before I get further into the actions I’m taking and how you can follow this journey in Instagram, it’s important to understand what sustainability is.
The definition of sustainability can vary based on who you ask. To keep it simple I define sustainability using the UN World Commission on Environment and Development’s guidelines. Sustainability is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This is with regard to the use and waste of natural resources that support environmental, social, and economic health and vitality. Sustainability as a concept presumes that resources are finite, and that they should be used wisely with a view to long-term priorities and consequences based on the way we consume them. You may have also heard the term “circular economy.” A circular economy is a regenerative system that is different to our current economic model of “take, make, dispose.” In a circular economy we minimize resource input and waste, emission, and energy leakage by slowing, closing, and narrowing energy and material loops. This is achieved through designing longer lasting products, and then maintaining, repairing, reusing, remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and upcycling those currently in circulation. That same concept can also be applied to our own personal decisions as consumers. That’s part of what I aim to achieve. I must point out that this concept is important (to me personally) because it’s estimated humans are using natural resources 1.7 times faster than can be regenerated. Or to put it more simply, we consume 1.7 Earths each year.
January marked the beginning of my journey. Implementing sustainability principles can be difficult, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the concept or steps that can be taken. So, I encourage you to follow my journey on my new Instagram profile where I’ll share tips, tricks and facts while giving a glimpse into my daily life. Some immediate choices include the following;
- Shopping local to support small business: I’ve chosen to do my grocery shopping from local farmers markets once a week. This requires that I plan ahead and am very deliberate with what I purchase. By supporting small business I’m doing two things; contributing to the economic sustainability by investing in my local community, and also sourcing items that are seasonally produced. Items that are seasonal are in higher supply and tax the Earth far less. Additionally, because these are locally sourced, it produces a smaller carbon footprint since they’re not being sourced from another country or region. Fewer “food miles” means less carbon emitting vehicles required to transport.
- No Single-use Plastic: This is harder than it seems. Most items come in or require a person to use a single-use plastic bag or container that’s not recyclable. Think about all the plastic water bottles, plastic grocery bags, packaging, takeout orders and containers, bubble wrap, plastic cups, cigarette butts, and so on. Over 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the oceans and elsewhere. So, now, I carry my own bamboo utensils, a stainless steel straw, cloth napkin, and reusable coffee cup sleeve everywhere I go. I even have reusable bags on standby in my car. But, if I don’t use these items my effort is a waste of time. Intentionality is more important in this because there are many places for missteps. Here’s the thing, it’s impossible to avoid single-use plastic, but we have to do the best we can. I think we all know the benefits of ditching the single-use bags, it’s just better for the environment. And maybe, just maybe that’s one less piece of plastic that ends up in the stomach of a whale. Yes, that actually happens.
- Adopt Zero-waste Practices: Becoming zero-waste means a lot of things. Simply put, I’ll think twice before discarding any item. I will ask the question of “can this be reused, regifted, or extended in lifespan?” For food this is easy, don’t prepare more than I intend to consume. 40% of all food is wasted in the United States, that’s a shame. But it also means being more innovative in what I prepare and if I can use portions of the food that is generally discarded. An example of this is orange peel. Normally discarded, it can be recooked into orange peel candy. Our societies culture of over-consumption is a part of this problem. By rethinking the portion sizes and how much we eat will eliminate some of the waste of these resources.
- Reduce My Carbon Footprint: Whether I order something from Amazon or drive to work I increase the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. So, wherever possible I will seek using public transportation like the bus or metro. I’ve also sought to use more ridesharing apps and carpool where available. For longer trips where a train or aircraft is necessary, I will seek opportunities to purchase carbon offsets. Lets face it, air travel is a must in this day and age, but it’s also one of the most environmentally harmful methods of travel. Whether or not you believe in climate change, reducing carbon emissions is just simply better for society. Here’s why. Let’s imagine for a second you don’t believe the Earth’s temperature is changing from man-made activity or causing ocean levels to rise. That’s fine, we can have that debate later. However, you probably believe in your own health and vitality. And we all know the carbon monoxide from your car’s exhaust is harmful. It’ll kill you. That stuff is getting pumped into the air you and I breathe. In places like Los Angeles and Beijing (China), the air quality is so compromised citizens sometimes wear face masks or they risk having chest pain and lung complications. To me the benefit is clear. We make the air quality better while minimizing our imprint on the Earth’s climate.
- Continuing My Plant-based Diet: I hardly eat meat as it is. By hardly, I mean I probably eat something with meat (or dairy) once a week, or every other week. I’ve adopted a mostly vegan diet. Personally my body just feels better, and it works best with my exercise and training schedule as an ultra-marathoner. In addition to that, plant based diets are much easier on the environment. Why you ask? Because they require fewer resources to maintain compared to land-intense agricultural products like beef and other types of animal farming. 14.5% of all greenhouse emissions are a result of animal based agriculture (i.e. methane from manure and fuel used to transport product). By adopting a plant-based diet will reduce the health risks assumed by eating meat and other processed items. Additionally, we’ll reduce the amount of land and water used and carbon emissions emitted.
Well, I hope that gives you an idea of the steps I’m taking. And while I’m adopting other practices not outlined above I hope you follow this journey. This will certainly be one that evolves through 2019 and beyond. I should also mention that this isn’t a year-long resolution or anything of the sort. This for me is just another lifestyle change as I evolve as a person. That said, I’m not perfect, so I imagine there will be great lessons learned from this change. In all, I will be sharing both my successes and failures along the way. If you have tips, suggestions or have made similar changes in your life I’d love to hear from you. In any case, whether you’re seeking tips or sharing them, don’t be a stranger.