Stop. Just be efficient. Please.
Let’s have a heart to heart, you and I.
Sorry. This is going to be a bit of a long one. But, let’s get into it. For starters, this isn’t about “going green,” because these days that just means too many things. Instead, this is just about being efficient. Doing the best you can. Because we can’t really ask for more than that, can we?
When it comes to sustainability, we’ve made monetary pleas. And yes, we realized that wasn’t the right plea to make. Money works to make logical conclusions, but it’s not good for supplying emotional drive.
Then, we made humanitarian pleas. We said sustainability would save the planet. We said it would lead to a better world. And sure, that worked. It got you excited. Maybe for two seconds. Maybe even two days. But, that doesn’t cut it. It’s the same kind of boost you get from a New Year’s resolution (and we know how often those are kept).
So, what can we do? How can we encourage you (and ourselves) to not just choose efficiency, but also STAY efficient?
I think the answer lies in, well, providing answers. Or, more rightly, solutions. The only way anyone will continually pursue sustainability is if they aren’t just made to feel the reasons why, and acknowledge the truth of the reasons why. They also need to be given the tools to just DO it.
So first, my hope is to make you care. Then, my hope is to make you connect that emotion with rationale by giving you a logical argument. Because yes, I still think pointing out the savings opportunities is important. And then, I’m going to leave you with just a few simple ideas to get you started.
On board? If not, I suppose you can go read an article that’ll make you feel good without asking anything of you. But, if like me you want to do something but have trouble getting motivated, then I encourage you to hold on for the ride.
This isn’t about whether you believe climate change is a huge problem or a minor issue. It’s not even about whether you believe humans are largely responsible or not. Because I think we can all agree on at least one thing.
We aren’t taking the best care of our home. Earth.
I’m not going to go into all the hard science about what’s happening to the planet. I’ll let much smarter people do the talking. Besides, you’re probably already sitting in a camp and have plenty of evidence to back you. You’ve heard it all. Instead, let’s just look at a few cases of where we are as a species.
First of all, we waste a lot. The average consumer creates 4.3 pounds of waste a day. That’s 1,570 pounds a year. In the U.S., 55% of the total generated trash ends up in landfills.
We waste in other ways, too. In the U.S. in 2015, the average American used 10,812 kWh. That’s spending anywhere from $1081-$2703 a year. Just on electricity. Now, how much of that exactly is pure waste would be a case-by-case basis. But, a Lawrence Livermore National study found that the U.S. might waste as much as 86% of the energy it takes in. Although, that’s very technical waste.
What about around the world? We’re currently looking at a Global Food Crisis. Prices for food continue to increase due to several factors (rising fuel prices, poor weather, shifts in production). Not to mention the fact that current farming practices are degrading our soil, which leaves the future of farming looking pretty bleak. At least, if we continue along our current track.
Ok. Now we’ve got a look at the situation. And, again, this is purposefully very narrowed. But, it’s still pretty bad, without even getting into any kind of discussion of climate change and how much clean water is left and all that.
So. What now?
Obviously, if you’re a consumer, you play a part in each of these fields. You generate waste. You use electricity (most likely on the grid). And, you buy food. This isn’t meant to be a jab. A “look, this is all your fault.” In fact, this is almost good news. If you’re involved in all these fields, it means what you do has an impact. It means that if you decide to change the way you live, consume, and create, your changes have a chance at impacting the world for the better.
Now, I’m not claiming that one person can change the globe. But, I am claiming that if every person changed a little bit of what they did, that we could. We could waste less. We could be more efficient. Things could start looking up.
That’s why I’m not proposing that you go green. After all, that’s a little vague. Instead, I’m just proposing that we try to be efficient. And by that I mean doing our best to do a little more to waste a little less. Waste less resources, and yes, even waste less time. Because, in the end, if we try even a little, all of us together, then we really could change the world.
But, like I said, this isn’t just about emotions. This isn’t just about “I’m going to save the world!” But, I mean, yes. You could.
No, this is about something else, too. If you’re wasting less, then chances are you’ll be saving, too. Yes, I’m bringing it back up again. Savings. But, I’m hoping that if you’re still tracking with me at this point, you’re already convinced. This’ll just be the cherry on top.
Okay. Before I talked about how much the average American household used, about 10,812 kWh. Let’s say that’s $1621 a year (based on $.15 per kWh). Now, let’s say you pursued efficiency measures that saved you just 10%. I say “just” because I think if you saw how much energy you used, you’d really save a lot more. But let’s say 10%. That’s about $162 savings a year. Now that’s a nice little lump sum.
Let’s get into some nitty-gritty numbers. The average American family spends $1,700 on clothing annually. Now, what if you bought the majority of your clothing used? I’m going to be generous and say that would save you half of what you’d otherwise spend. That’s savings of $850 a year.
Ok, but now let’s talk resources. Let’s say a t-shirt costs $15. At $15, you’d have to buy 113 a year to spend $1,700. It takes about 700 gallons of water to make one t-shirt. If you’re buying $1,700 in just t-shirts a year, that’s 192,100 gallons of water used in production. And that’s just one family. So, if you bought the majority of your clothing used annually, that’d be saving 96,050 gallons of water in production. And we really should be doing more to protect our finite resources.
We’ve only talked electricity and clothes (okay, t-shirts), and you’re already saving over $1k a year. Now, think about if you were being more efficient in every area of your life? Think how much you could save monetarily. And, how much you could stop wasting in resources.
And now here’s the part that never comes soon enough. While I’ve still got you driven by the part you can play, and excited about the savings you could see, let’s talk about the action steps you can actually take. This is by no means any kind of exhaustive list. It’s just a few ideas to get you started, and keep you thinking. Hopefully, for more than a few days.
On the topic of waste, a lot of what we throw out that goes into landfills could be composted. AKA, not wasted. Take your biodegradables and turn them into soil for your yard. Or maybe even a little garden that can profit you in the future. Here’s a nice little site on what you can turn into healthy compost. And here’s a list of slightly odder things that, yes, can also turn into compost, not trash.
Unplugging unused items
Okay, yes, I did argue that this wasn’t a huge deal in another article. But, it is a step in the right direction. And, if you’re targeting appliances with screens or standby power modes, this step will actually make a difference. And, it’s easy. If it’s not in use, turn it off, and unplug it. Reap some kind of benefit.
Eat local foods
So, this one can be a bit difficult. And a bit expensive. But, it really is worth it. When you buy local food, you’re cutting down on the resources used to get food from further away to your location. This is an action step that really matters when we all choose to take it together. Here’s just one resource (among many) on eating sustainably.
Donate old items
Don’t want some piece of clothing, or some product that’s still perfectly good? Donate it to a homeless shelter, free store, or thrift store. Generate less waste, and help someone else.
Carpool and save gas
Carpooling will help you save on gas, and make new friends at work. Of course, this really only works if you live near people you work with. Just a thought.
But, on the topic of driving, try planning your routes for the day, even the week. Think of times where you can combine trips so you spend less time driving aimlessly and wasting gas. Maybe you can even cut out a few driving trips.
Invest in energy monitoring technology
If you’ve been around here long enough, then you knew this was coming. Yes. The energy management plug. Well, lets get this over with.
Just think about it. If you could actually see how much energy you used every day, every moment, it would encourage you to do something about it. Especially if you knew not just how much you were using, but how much of it was unnecessary. And if you were given tips personalized to your case on how you could be more efficient. I’ll say no more. Just… think about it.
If you made it all the way through this article: congratulations! And thank you! I hope this will make a difference in your life. And I hope you pursue efficiency longer than you pursued that New Year’s resolution to hit the gym every week (you know who you are).
Forget about all the weird jargon. Just be efficient. Please.