Since I work for the Center for Sustainable Communities, editing our weekly newsletter, my friends often ask me about the best ways to make their lives more environmentally friendly. Alas, omniscience does not come with the job and I often can’t come up with a ready answer. I can, however, give this list of general suggestions (in no particular order) that you may not have heard before for improving the sustainability of anyone’s life.
Beware of “greenwashing.” This insidious marketing practice makes products seem more environmentally friendly than they really are. One study performed last December found that 99% of 1,018 randomly selected products were guilty of this practice. For example, many companies that offer “carbon offsets” merely plant forests of invasive trees, which is not ecologically sound by any standard. Likewise, any company promoting a non-food product as “organic” should be questioned, since there are no standards for the label.
Don’t use a tray at Goudy. Believe it or not, the Willamette Valley is facing a water shortage. Trays require an enormous amount of water to wash, water that would be better used for agriculture or left in the ground to feed springs.
Remember that the three R’s are not all equal. The mantra “reduce, reuse, recycle” has been drilled into our brains for so long that I once asked my mom why Oscar the Grouch lived in a garbage can rather than a recycling bin. However, recycling is not like a medieval indulgence, a license to consume without thought. Recycling takes energy—energy to transport, to sort, and to process. It is far better to invest in reusable containers like metal water bottles.
Use a laptop. The energy demands of a desktop are extraordinarily high compared to laptops. Even a very powerful laptop can use as little as 20% of a desktop’s energy consumption. Also remember to put computers into sleep mode or turn them off when you’re done.
Eat less meat. Meat requires a much larger area of land to produce the same number of calories than vegetables; beef, for example requires more than 50 times the land than vegetables. Pork and poultry require less, but still far more than vegetables. This increases the amount of wild land lost to agriculture, raises global food prices and puts pressure on farmers in underdeveloped countries to push into sensitive habitats, and raising livestock, especially cattle, produces far more greenhouse gas emissions than growing plants.
Wear a condom—every time. No, you have not stepped into sex ed. Believe it or not, using birth control is the single biggest thing you can do to reduce your impact on the environment. Many of us will, in the next decade of our lives, decide whether or not to have a child. As the world’s population continues to rise, demands for food, travel, and consumer products rise as well. By not having biological children—choosing instead to adopt—you not only improve the life of an already-living child, you reduce your long-term impact on the environment.
Finally, if you’re interested in keeping up to date on sustainability news on campus and around the world and receiving more tips for sustainable living, sign up for Willamette University’s Sustainability Newsletter through JASON or by e-mailing me.