What does it mean to live responsibly? It means living with a minimal impact—including using fewer natural resources, reducing waste, and considering the quality of life that future generations will experience when making your own lifestyle decisions.
You can start off by measuring your ecological footprint, an estimate of the amount of land needed to support you given the choices you make in life. The average American uses more resources than available. How do you measure up?
While lots of behaviors affect the size of your ecological footprint, three biggies stand out. If you want the biggest bang for your buck (or time), try changing these three things:
- Your residence. You can “green” your home in a lot of ways. Increasing energy efficiency, using recycled and reclaimed materials, and landscaping naturally are three examples. Browse these websites and you’re sure to find a wealth of information. In our neck of the woods, we have an Oklahoma chapter of the US Green Building Council doing great things. Wanna go all the way? Get your home LEED certified.
- Your transportation. We all hate filling up at the pump. The cost, the smell, the guilty conscience … so cut back and ride your bike. Take the bus. Or walk — it’s great exercise! When you drive, try to combine errands in a single trip, carpool and buy a fuel efficient car (a hybrid is a good bet—just make sure to check the mpgs).
- Your food. Love food? Don’t we all. And so does the earth, especially when it’s locally-grown, sustainably raised or produced and organic. Look at reducing the amount of meat you eat because it takes a lot more natural resources (especially water) to produce meat than veggies. While you’re at it, buy locally grown. Not only is it fresher, it’s much more earth-friendly. Consider the fact that the average food item you buy at the supermarket has traveled 1,500 miles to reach your plate — that’s a lot of carbon emissions. When you buy locally, whether through farmers markets, the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, the Urban Agrarian, the Oklahoma Farm to Fork Market, or Made In Oklahoma products at your supermarket, you’re supporting Oklahoma’s economy and eating fresher and healthier. And don’t forget that your own garden is the A+ of locally-grown food. Organic foods are produced without the use of pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, hormones, unnecessary antibiotics, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Studies show organic food is more nutrient-rich, and there’s no question that it is more friendly to all the little critters on the planet (by friendlier we mean that it doesn’t end their lives with a torturous, pesticide-induced death). It also doesn’t put these chemicals into our blood, which can cause all sorts of ill effects.
Already changed your home, your transportation, and your food, and you still want to do more? You’re our hero! Here are some other ideas.
- Advocate. Start changing the community. Advocacy sounds a little intimidating, but it just means calling up your community’s leaders and telling them what you’d like to see happen. And telling your friends. And family. Everyone you know, basically. Then get out there and start helping people do it. We’ve found that large groups of people tend to take the path of least resistance, which is the path of greatest convenience. If our community’s infrastructure is designed so that it’s easy to recycle, bike to the post office, or buy local foods at the neighborhood farmers market, then more people will do so. It’s up to us. Here at Sustainable OKC, we’d love to work with you—just drop us a line.
- Stay informed. We love our website, but, we confess, other sources of information on sustainability and environmental responsibility do exist. For environmental news and commentary, a comprehensive favorite is Grist. A list of books and other resources recommended by subscribers to the Sustainable OKC and OSN email lists is also available.
- Be mindful of how you use things and the waste you produce. Remember the “three Rs” from elementary school? Reduce, reuse, recycle? Ring a bell? (If you remember the “three Rs” from adulthood, you’re showing your age.) There’s a reason that “reduce” is first; if you want to avoid wastefulness, the best thing you can do is to not buy things you don’t need in the first place. Make an effort to avoid disposables. It takes precious resources to produce them, precious space to dispose of them, and precious cash to pay for something you’re going to throw away immediately. Kind of a no-brainer. Then make sure you recycle your metal, glass, paper, and plastic. OKC makes it so easy for us; we can throw all recyclables into a cute little blue bin, and the city picks it up curbside. Compost your food and lawn waste, worth its weight in gold as fertilizer for your garden and flowerbeds. Worm composting (that just sounds fun, doesn’t it?) is an easy way to compost food scraps for people who have limited space. Regular composting is great for those who have more material or don’t like worms.
- Live simply. Voluntary simplicity is a growing movement of people who have decided to slow down, buy less, and enjoy life more. You’ll find many other resources on the web and at your local library about this beautiful philosophy.