What’s In A Word?

Sustainable.

Green.

Justice.

Conservative.

Our reactions to them shows that some words contain deeper meaning than we might otherwise ascribe to them.

But, they’re just words that convey a concept or idea.

Take the word “sustainable” for instance. Its definition is “capable of being sustained.” Pretty straightforward. Nothing emotional or hidden in it.

For a person with an environmental outlook, sustainable might mean something much more. It can mean not wasteful. Not selfish. Thinking of others as well as self. Is it fair, or even possible, if everyone did it?

Imagine if every person on the planet drove their own car from place to place. A trip to the market. Over to visit a family member. Drive the kids to violin practice. It’s clear that would not be a sustainable practice for the planet in terms of oil used and pollution emitted. That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the environmental cost of infrastructure needed to support all those drivers.

I like the idea of sustainable living. It might be very hard to make all my personal choices be fair for every person alive on the planet, but I certainly can do more.

Here are a few easy things to consider if you’re interested in more sustainable living.

Dry your laundry on a line. We don’t have a clothes dryer in the house. Most of the year, including midwinter, we manage to use the outside line. Occasionally, maybe twice or three times a year this requires us to make a trip to the local laundromat. More often than not if the outside is too wet or the days too short, we have a folding rack in the house that allows us to hang clothes above the floor heater.

Ride a bike to get from place to place when you can. Riding a bike saves money, gas, wear and tear on your car and gives a person great exercise. Some trips need a car, but many can be made on a bicycle. We have a tandem that we often use for grocery shopping. With our panniers we can usually carry all we buy. If we need more space we have a bicycle trailer. Additionally, bicycles are FUN!  The feeling of freedom when riding a bike is as close to being a kid again as many of us can get.

Use Public Transit. Public transit doesn’t always work, but for regular commuting trips it can be great. $40 a month here in San Luis Obispo County gets a monthly pass good for unlimited rides. I can save $150, have free time for reading or working on the bus and leave the stress of driving to someone else. Also the congestion and pollution is greatly lessened

Reduce meat consumption. Meat requires a huge amount of input per calorie compared to a more plant based diet. Change out one or two meat meals for meat free meals. The food still tastes great and you’ll have a chance to flex your culinary muscles and improve your kitchen skills.

Consume less. Wait! Isn’t our economy based on growth? Sure is, but that isn’t sustainable. Do you really need that new car, outfit, flat screen tv, cable service? Most likely the “need” is more likely “want.” Making what you have work for you saves money as well as rewarding you with a gratifying feeling of being money and planet smart.

Buy used clothes. Ugh! Clothes that someone else has worn and discarded? Well, in our affluent society, you can find great clothes, not just “discards.” Added benefits are you’ll save a ton of money, support local thrift stores that support community needs and you’ll have fun shopping more often for less money.

Buy local, seasonal and organic foods. Food that is produced locally requires less energy to move from place to place. Those grapes and peaches that taste so good in a holiday meal mid-winter are probably from South America. Local alternatives might be a Fuyu Persimmon or Comice Pear.  They taste as good or better, were raised by a local farmer and didn’t need to travel 5000 miles to get to you.

Raise some of you own food. A garden, no matter what scale you choose, is a simple way to save money and eat a better product. Start with something easy. It can be a large pot with a tomato plant or an herb planter box, or it can be a large backyard garden. Gardens are easy and can be meditative as well. One thing we do that is easy and fun is raise chickens. We have 5 laying hens. We need a coop shelter and feeder, but after that initial effort, they are very easy to keep. We have an enclosed pen with shelter and nest boxes inside. An automatic feeder and waterer. Every day or two the eggs are brought in and every three or four days the food and water are topped off. For this effort we get great tasting eggs and occasionally a bird for the eating.  Additionally the chickens eat any scraps of leftovers and turn them into eggs.

Compost. Saving food scraps and yard waste and heaping them into a pile is a terrific way to reduce the volume of your waste. Decomposers break the waste down into usable nutrients for your garden. A simple pile in a corner of the yard works, as does a cylinder made from fencing or you can buy a pre-made unit. Less waste into the landfill and more nutrients for you plants or garden.

Sustainability is a great word. Following a sustainable path in your daily life is efficient  living at a basic level, is easy and fun, saves money and is good for the planet.

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