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'The Earth has a deadline': The value of sustainability and how to incorporate it into your daily life

October 29, 2020
<p>Illustration by Genna Barner.</p>

Illustration by Genna Barner.

Climate change is real. Global warming is real. Every decision made from this day forth either helps protect the planet or adds to its demise. There are easy first steps to sustainability that every individual can follow, which can lead to a huge impact on our carbon footprint.

Robert Richardson, a professor and associate chair in the Department of Community Sustainability that branches from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, loves the Earth.

"Living sustainable comes down to a question of whether or not you care about the future and future generations,” Richardson said. “Most of us can go about doing whatever we want, and we can continue to still live our lives in relative comfort, but the impacts of climate change are already being felt."

With his PhD in environmental economics, he dove deep into the costs of pollution, along with the economic benefits of natural resources, recycling, etc. He pursued his degree partly because he's an environmentalist at heart and partly because he was a business major as an undergraduate — he wanted to marry his background and his passion.

He said he is a huge fan of national parks and has a goal of visiting every national park in the country, though they've added some to the list in recent years.

Richardson said that the sources driving the helm of climate change are our uses of energy and transportation — and not only our own driving, but corporations using trucks to deliver their products to our stores and our doors.

"If we can be aware and try to do a little bit to reduce the emissions associated with those, I think that's low hanging fruit ... not that hard to do," he said.

So, where do I start?

For Richardson, it's about practicing what you preach. And the three R's, those are key: Reduce, reuse, recycle.

Sustainability is a lifestyle that an individual conforms to by lessening use of detrimental products in an attempt to reduce their carbon footprint.

One example of sustainability that comes to mind is veganism. While that is one of the biggest and best steps an individual can take, it is not the only one.

Michael Ofei, from the Minimalist Vegan, wrote an article with nearly 120 simple tips and tricks to get on the sustainable track:

Around the house

Instead of blasting the air conditioning or the heat, try opening the windows for a breeze or putting on an extra layer of clothing. In the colder months, blankets, sweaters, cabin socks and thick sweatpants do wonders. Think like a skier. In the warmer months, shade does wonders, even indoors. If you have a basement, they are usually the chilliest areas in your home.

Other things you can do include opening your blinds and using as much natural light as possible before you switch on your light bulbs. Similarly, turn off the lights when you leave a room. Also, hand wash your clothes and hang your wet clothes on a drying line or rack instead of using a powered appliance. You can do one or the other or both!

This one might be harder to get in touch with, but embrace car-free living. Seriously. Use those legs — walk, jog, sprint or even bike to your destinations. Use rental-services or public transportation if available in your city. Take the stairs rather than the elevator.

However, if you're absolutely invested in the market for a car, try electric-powered or second-hand ones.

Grocery shopping 

Avoid plastic bags. Bring your own cloth reusable bags, jars and other containers instead. Also avoid plastic wrapped products, and go for free roam or biodegradable materials . If you take your own containers to bulk food stores, it saves you from supporting expensive commercial products and allows you a more eco-friendly way of getting a large amount of food at once.

Growing your own herbs, fruits and vegetables, even if it's just a few pots around the house, or shop for them at local farmers and outdoor markets is another way to increase sustainability. If you do the first option, use organic fertilizer! Start a compost pile with cores and peels afterwards!

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Try buying the food at the market that doesn't look perfect — the bananas lost from their bunch, the apples with the bruises, the extra squishy avocados. This way, you're helping eliminate food waste.

Your closet

Whether your wardrobe is overflowing or nearly empty, whether you're a big and trendy style person or not, stop shopping at fast fashion outlets. Instead, buy second-hand clothes when possible. Sustainable brands also work, but do your research beforehand — most companies are less transparent about their processes.

Also, it doesn't hurt to acquire basic sewing skills that you could use to patch holes and sew buttons back onto damaged clothes. If you have a bigger sewing job, either take your item to an alterations shop, transform it into something new and improved, repurpose it or donate it.

Around the office

Go paperless. Technology is the new wave for everything. That's the way society is transitioning. Ditch the paper, ditch the hard drives and servers and switch to cloud computing.

Technology and appliances

It's in the planet's best interest for you to look second-hand first. If you can't find any, look for energy-efficient appliances next. Instead of throwing your old devices in the trash or letting them collect dust in your attic, donate them to schools and other institutions or recycle them at a specific plant.

Around the kitchen

You can really get the "reuse" portion of things running. Reuse glass jars, opt for tupperware rather than plastic bags, rags instead of paper towel, metal over plastic silverware, use your dishwasher over hand washing to limit your hot water intake. Another big thing would be to try making your own cleaning products, rather than using chemicals from the store that pollute the air and are dangerous for your body.

Personal hygiene Take shorter showers and turn off the faucet when washing your face or brushing your teeth. Timers help with this. And again, reuse! Cotton pads or washcloths for taking off makeup rather than single use wipes. For those that experience menstruation, try reusable pads, special built underwear or menstrual cups when it's that time.

The biggest one would be to share products with those you live with. Whether it be toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, shaving cream, soap, etc., reduce your cart — buy bigger bottles less often, rather than smaller bottles more often.

For children

Opt for cloth diapers and reusable nursing pads. Coconut oil as diaper balm works wonders. Same as technology, try sourcing second-hand toys before going straight for the new, shiny boxed toys.

For more than 20 years, Metronome, which includes a 62-foot-wide 15-digit electronic clock that faces Union Square in Manhattan, New York used to tell the time to and from midnight. Now, it tells the time remaining, Colin Moynihan wrote for The New York Times.

Two artists, Gan Golan and Andrew Boyd, present the update as an ecologically sensitive mission, showing a critical window for action to prevent the effects of global warming from becoming irreversible.

Sustainability, factually, makes the planet a better place.

This article is part of our Housing Guide print edition. View the full issue here.


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