Ever wonder how much land it takes to support your lifestyle?

I often share with audiences the story of when I first completed an online Global Footprint questionnaire a decade ago.  I was shocked when it told me that if everyone lived like me, we’d need four planets.  Four planets.  It was a ‘light bulb moment’ that launched me on a journey to consume less – a journey that continues to this day.

Ever wonder what your footprint on the planet is?  You can find out quickly and easily, thanks to this new and updated calculator developed by the Global Footprint Network.

The downside: you may find your results a bit disconcerting.  The upside: the calculator will show where your largest impacts are, so you can zero in on what actions will make the biggest difference.

My footprint today?  According to the calculator, 2.4 planets, with the largest opportunities for improvement being travel and diet.  The journey continues.

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Grace in carpooling

August 28, 2017

Guidelines for a smooth carpooling experience

Recall August 16’s Green Ideas?  Going car-less is one of the best things we can do for the planet.  Alas, for many of us, it’s really difficult too.

But carpooling can make a huge difference in our transportation footprint.  Here are seven simple rules to make it simple, safe, economical and even fun for all:

  1. Select a convenient meeting/pick-up spot that’s central, safe and easy to get to
  2. Show up on time
  3. Make group agreements or ground rules about eating, drinking, music, chatting, phone calls etc. during the commute
  4. Keep a schedule and track driver turns
  5. Agree on a cost per trip for those without vehicles
  6. Take your turn in the uncomfortable seat
  7. Keep your car interior tidy, and take your trash with you when riding in someone else’s car

It’s not quite car-free, but carpooling is a huge step forward – so why not try it with your neighbours and colleagues?

Thanks to Lindsay Coulter, David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, for this Green Idea; a more complete list can be found here.

The Big Four

August 12, 2017

The most important ways to reduce your carbon footprint

There is much fruit on the proverbial ‘tree of sustainability solutions’.  Some of it is large fruit, some of it is small.  Some of it is high in the tree and hard to reach, some of it is low-hanging and easily picked.

Make no mistake: EVERY act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the greatest difference, it’s the large fruit we want.

Unfortunately, it’s usually not low hanging.  A study published last month concluded that the four biggest ways we can reduce our carbon footprint are:

  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Avoiding air travel
  • Living car free
  • Having smaller families

Uncomfortable?  Me too.  Those are tough.

But perhaps much solace can be taken from the fact that each of these can be chipped away at slowly.  (Even the fourth?  Yes, because large families committed to sustainability can have smaller carbon footprints than small families without such commitment; and perhaps the former can teach the latter.)

Again, to be clear: every act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the biggest difference, it’s good to know where that big difference can be made.

Inspiring words from Ray Anderson

You’ve probably never heard of Ray Anderson – but the world would be a far different place if all corporate leaders thought, and then acted, as he did.

Ray Anderson was the CEO of Interface, the world’s largest commercial carpet manufacturer.  In the summer of 1994, he had an “an epiphanal experience, a total change of mindset” about sustainability.  That began a process that has made Interface the world’s most sustainable carpet company in the world, with a plan to be net-zero in everything by 2020.

But instead of me writing about it, why not hear it straight from Ray, in this powerful video? It’s well worth the four minutes.

Then read about Interface’s progress on its Mission Zero plan here.

Toothpaste, soap and a moisturizer/fragrance

A few years ago, our family went on a four week backpacking vacation.  If you’ve ever backpacked, you know ounces count – so one of our weight-saving strategies was to limit our toiletries to one tube of toothpaste, a small bar of soap, a bit of moisturizing cream and some sunblock.  Light and simple, they suited our needs perfectly.

Akamai, a new personal care company, suggests that most of us could live on just three personal care products: toothpaste, soap (for skin and hair) and an oil spray for fragrance and moisture. So that’s all it offers.

Akamai’s motivation isn’t weight in your backpack; it’s sustainability and simplicity.  In the words of the co-founder, “Typical personal care product companies want you to consume more of their products, so they say wash your hair and body every day.  We have been led into this false sense of what is required to have healthy skin, teeth and hair.”

Plus – more products mean more chemicals, water, packaging and transportation.

So why not consider simplifying your toiletries cupboard?  Good for you, good for your wallet, good for the environment.  And, if you travel, good for your back!

Handwashing with cool water is just as good for killing bacteria

For years we’ve been taught that, when washing hands, we have to use hot water to effectively remove bacteria.  But a new study published in the Journal of Food Protection has found no difference in washing effectiveness when hands were washed in water that was 16, 26 or 38 degrees C.  (Note: for reference, 16⁰C is a bit warmer than the water coming out of your cold water tap, but it’s colder than you’d want to swim in.)

The implication: in the words of one of the study’s authors, “We are wasting energy to heat water to a level that is not necessary.”

So – something to think about the next time you wash your hands.  Cool water is much more comfortable in summer anyway!

PS: interestingly, the biggest factor in washing effectiveness was washing technique; antimicrobial soap had little effect.

Be light on the planet this vacation

Want the best vacation with the least impact on the planet?  Here are five tips:

If flying:

  • Travel as lightly as you can; every ounce that doesn’t travel with you saves fuel (and notice how baggage charges are starting to reflect that reality?)
  • Consider offsetting your air travel with carbon offsets; not perfect, but the best in the here-and-now

And whether you’re flying or not:

  • Walk, bike, paddle or use public transit as much as possible at your destination
  • If possible, choose a hotel that has a sustainability certification like Green Key, Green Seal or Green Globe (there are others too)
  • Choose local food and bevies (often much better tasting too!)

Thanks to Bullfrog Power for these tips; read more here.

Straws suck

June 6, 2017

Plastic straws? Just say no.

A plastic straw seems pretty small and innocuous.

But consider this: 500 million of them are used in just the US every day. Few are recycled; many end up in the ocean. They’re one of the top 10 pieces of trash collected in beach cleanups around the world, according to the Surfrider Association. And they’re hazardous for marine mammals, as is obvious in this video (warning: graphic) of a straw being pulled from the nostril of a sea turtle.

The Town of Tofino, BC, has launched a campaign, Straws Suck, and most of the town’s restaurants have stopped serving plastic straws. Thelastplasticstraw.org aims to get restaurants to stop serving straws, and NoStrawPlease encourages people to pledge to go without straws, and help spread the word.

In your own small way, you can help too. For most of us, straw usage is more habit than necessity – so, the next time you order a drink, why not just say no when it comes to plastic drinking straws?

Our incredible potential for keeping waste out of the landfill

This pie chart from the US EPA represents the waste profile of a typical municipality.

Waste profile

Do you notice what I notice?

  • Over a quarter of our waste is organic (food or yard trimmings), which is completely compostable
  • Another quarter is paper, which is almost entirely recyclable
  • 8% is plastics, much of which is recyclable
  • 1% is metal, which is recyclable
  • 2% is wood, which can be composted or repurposed for fuel

Add up those numbers and you can see that if we recycled, composted or otherwise diverted everything possible, we could keep at least three-quarters of our waste out of the landfill (and that’s not including glass, which is recyclable in many places).

That would greatly reduce the need for fresh resources; and vastly extend the lives of our landfills.

So – what’s in your trash bin right now?  If you’re not diverting everything you can, why not make a commitment right now?

Take a minute to imagine the potential if we all recycled and composted everything we could – then do your part to make it happen!

Ecosia and The Rainforest Site

Trees are among our best allies against climate change: they absorb carbon dioxide and lock it up as wood fibre.  In the process, they produce the oxygen we inhale and purify the air we breathe.

Not everyone has the time or place to plant a tree – but you can support trees and forests every time you browse the internet:

  • Use org as your default internet search engine, because every search helps fund the planting of trees – over 7.5 million so far!
  • Set The Rainforest Site as your web browser default home page. With a simple click, you can preserve one square meter of rainforest each day – a small amount, but last year, enough people clicked to preserve 3600 hectares of rainforest!

And, if you do happen to have the time and space, May is the perfect time to plant or transplant a tree!