My partner and I want to make a lot of the same lifestyle adjustments, almost exactly in a lot of ways but often for totally different motivations. For example I don’t really care about paying a power bill, most people do it but it’s honey’s main issue with our electricity use. Does it matter because we both want solar panels in the end? I care about our next house meeting passive standards and he just wants it to be super efficient. I would like a hybrid or electric but they don’t exist for work trucks and I can’t haul and tow the things I need to without a v8. There’s nothing I can do about it but that doesn’t mean I can’t still make a difference elsewhere. Things like grocery bags, glass containers, reusable straws and composting are important but if you can’t do one of the things EVERYONE is talking about that doesn’t mean you can’t do something with an even bigger impact. So today I’m putting forward a few ways of thinking about the bigger things in life that can make a real difference for the climate.
Let me be clear I do really, really care about the environment, my carbon footprint and climate change but I do think we need to get a little more realistic on the positive changes we can make now. Changing your mindset in how you think about things almost always has a bigger impact than just buying something new. But the life I lead and that most of us lead isn’t net zero. Making choices so often seems like an all or nothing thing and this is definitely not helpful in this case. Do as much as you can do as often as you can but don’t give up entirely because this issue is just too important!
Buying a Tesla isn’t the only option
I filled up my second car today for the third time since September, I think. It made me laugh for a moment because I might be filling my Subaru less often than some people fill their hybrids. This is in no way an accomplishment for my carbon footprint by the way. As cool as electric cars are, and they are, they are not an option for everyone for lots of reasons. For some it’s cost, others charging locations or in my case what I need my car to be able to do daily. If I did buy a Tesla I would only be able to drive it to get groceries and my mom’s for supper once every two weeks and maybe one or two other outings a month. Often we do those things during a break in our workday too. So I would have to drive a big old inefficient work truck day to day. Not often but in some ways it can be carbon saving too. Me hauling materials to a remote site when we are going anyway is better than a mostly empty delivery truck making several trips out there.
Which is to say there is a lot we can do outside the obvious bandwagon or that works for us that’s still helpful. Planning your route carefully, making fewer trips out and maintaining your ride so it’s as clean burning as possible are all helpful if a Tesla can’t be in your yard. You can also walk to things and give yourself a break. It’s way more carbon neutral to just pick up groceries in the truck when it’s passing the store anyway rather than coming home to pick up a more efficient car and heading back up the road. But… we are planning on running a wire in our new house for potentially charging an electric vehicle in the future.
Would I like to have a perfectly set formal dining room as well as a more casual kitchen table? Maybe? Would having a soundproof home theatre make honey happy? Definitely! And having a space dedicated to yoga always seems to be my solution to an unused nook. Here’s the thing though arguably the biggest difference we can make in our lives is our homes. Every inch of space in your home is manufactured, shipped, purchase, shipped again, then installed, heated, cooled and conditioned for the rest of it’s existence. Ditto for all the stuff you put in it. After that it starts its journey of being shipped again.
We are currently living in a house that’s way to big for our needs. Can we afford it? Totally but I don’t need a bedroom sized pantry, a whole extra bedroom, a giant kitchen, a spacious porch room that just collects things and whatever that 100 square feet is next to the other door and the stairs. The world tells us that when it comes to our homes we should want more. Builders then give the people what they want and the average house size increases year after year. But the reality is that more has an initial foot print and then just keeps sucking up carbon after that. You get a huge downgrade in your footprint just by living in a smaller home. I certainly want to have the space I need to enjoy my home but I don’t need to build whole rooms for just visitors to use a few nights a year. Take it from me, as great as it seems to have a big house with lots of extra space all that space does is accumulate crap plus you have to clean it!
The idea of eco-minimalism or at least the name for me was introduced formally by the YouTuber (and blogger) Shelbeezie. So credit where credit is due. It is what is sounds like but it’s not zero-waste and it’s certainly not stark minimalism. Instead it starts with the idea that every single product we buy has a carbon footprint and an associated environmental impact. If you want to dig deeper you might want to watch the story of stuff. So it is a bit making do with less but it’s also buying used, anti-fast fashion, investing in quality and using and reusing things you already own. One could argue that eco-minimalism also has a role in driving demand of what products do and don’t get made.
The term zero waste was actually coined for corporations and not individuals. An eco-minimalist might not even have to goal to live zero waste. For example a zero-waster wouldn’t order take out as a rule but an eco-minimalist might bring their own containers, request no cutlery or even just reuse the containers over and over at home. They will go for glass over plastic packaging because it’s more recyclable and maybe instal a bidet. They will live a life that works for them in the most environmental way possible. They’d also be willing to put in more work to get there. For me its a bit like keeping zero waste ideas in mind but realizing that you’re never going to get to perfect.
Here’s one that I’m a big believer in and that is buying used whenever I can. We often deal with pretty high end clients and the level of consumption is crazy! We’ve seen giant stone kitchen counters ripped out right after being installed because it turns out they didn’t like the color. Lots of people buy a new car every two years no matter what. Other’s buy a new tv months after the last one because they moved the couch to a different room. Often they end up selling that stuff (or even tossing it) and if they do it’s often a crazy high end brand. But they get that they’ll never get the money it’s worth out of their designer item so it sells for pennies or maybe dimes on the dollar.
If you have time to wait you can almost always find your used item available. This does a lot more than just save money which is pretty awesome on it’s own. It prevents something from going to landfill, normalizes reusing through reselling and lowers demand for new products to be made in the first place. You should also make a point to resell your items, donate them to resellers or even list them online for free. If you’re dedicated to buying used it’s important to look down the line of what will be needed soon. Both so that you have time to find your used item and you’re not desperate when it finally breaks. Your old item will also be more likely to find a good home if it’s still working.
Stay flexible and be willing to change
We can spend a lot of time and energy resisting a relatively minor change just because it’s not the way we’ve always done something. We can even swear that the old way of doing things was so much better even though demonstrably there is no real change. We’ve seen this over the years with changes such as seatbelts, mask wearing and plastic bag bans. These things make relatively no difference in our lives and yet we fight them tooth an nail when laws change.
When shown a better option some people will steadfastly refuse to change when shown a or even complain when an old way of doing things goes away. Take the idea of bottled water for example. Sure it was a trend to drink bottled water for a time but even then it was a pretty stupid idea. Across the board drinking water from your tap has always been safe to drink, so cheap it’s almost free and drinking it on the go out of an insulated stainless bottle makes a lot more sense than a flimsy plastic bottle. Still some people buy into the idea of a whole shelf of their fridge being filled with little plastic water bottles as a status symbol. There is rarely an argument that makes sense of why someone would opt for this option yet people still do. When it comes to making changes it’s important to stay open to new ideas and ways of thinking. If someone asks you to change for the better that’s not a personal attack but rather an invitation to improve.
Making a big personal impact on climate change is rarely done by buying one or even a few new things. I would argue that buying less regularly actually accomplishes that goal. We all have to think well beyond whatever green-washed or even truly green thing is the trend of the moment and examine our own lives. I’ve brought up some changes in the way we think but of course there are many more. As Shelbi says “you can’t do all the good the world needs but the world needs all the good you can do.” What ways have you changed in an effort to help the planet? Leave it in the comments below!