…without spending a cent!

“A way to meaningfully reduce my carbon footprint without investing a single penny?  Sounds impossible!”

But it’s not.  And it’s no more complicated than three simple words:

Just… slow… down!

Here’s the deal.

Transportation generates about a quarter of Canada’s emissions, and a lot of those emissions come out of the tailpipes of the cars, trucks and SUVs we drive.  (It’s not helped by the fact that Canadians drive the very least efficient vehicles in the world.)  So it’s a huge part of our footprint.

True, we need to be able to get around.  But our driving habits have an enormous impact on the amount of fuel we burn and the amount of emissions we produce (not to mention how much we spend on gas).

And the one single driving habit that can probably save us the most?  Just slowing down a little.  According to Natural Resources Canada, vehicles are most fuel efficient at 80 KM per hour or less; and slowing down from 120 KM per hour to 100 results in a 20% fuel saving.  20% savings, just by slowing down a little!!  (That’s why the Dutch government recently lowered highway speed limits.)

Slow Down

So why not try it the next time you’re behind the wheel?  Good for your wallet, good for the planet!  And check out additional tips for squeezing more kilometers out of your fuel dollar here.

Why not go for ten or less bags of trash this year?

Two weeks ago I shared that our family had met our goal of generating less than 10 bags of trash in 2019.  (For the record: our accomplishment is humbled by that of longstanding subscribers Don & Heather Ross, who are routinely down to three bags a year – amazing!)

Some readers wondered how we did it, so I’m pleased to share what I think were the seven keys to our success:

  1. Choosing less packaging: limiting trash has become one of our guiding principles when we shop: we’ve gotten into the habit of purposely avoiding heavily packaged products and instead choosing products with little to no packaging and/or fully recyclable packaging. It’s meant the odd sacrifice, but we’re okay with that; our purchase decisions are one of the best ways we can influence the market.  I believe our strategy of ‘reducing trash at source’ was probably the biggest single factor that helped us achieve our goal.
  2. No single-use plastic bags, ever: it’s meant a few walks back to the car, but we’re now comfortably in the habit of using alternatives that include reusable produce bags or collapsible boxes (no endorsement intended).
  3. No disposable coffee cups, ever: that means I skip that coffee if I’ve forgotten my mug. The upside: I now remember my mug.
  4. No disposable cutlery: alas, still working on this one as I sometimes still forget my spork (no endorsement intended).
  5. Using reusable containers: for packed lunches, or even for restaurant leftovers
  6. Composting: organics make up a big part of household waste, so diverting them to a compost heap greatly reduces trash. A bonus: you end up with fertilizer for next year’s garden. Another bonus: your remaining trash is less smelly and less attractive to pests.  (Unsure about composting?  Here’s a simple guide, and you can find nice compost pails (no endorsement intended) online or at your local hardware store.)
  7. Recycling rigorously: our recycling systems are far from ideal (the carbon footprint of collection; the challenges of dealing with a mish-mash of mixed materials; dubious offshore ‘processing’), but recycling is still better than trashing.

Upon rereading the above seven points, I’m struck by how they all seem to have one common ingredient: the word habit, which is about making changes so that the right thing to do becomes the new norm.

Reducing Waste

So – why not try a ten bag challenge in your family – or a three bag challenge if you’re hardcore?  And please let me know if you have any tips or secrets to add to the above list!

(Read a far longer list of tips here.  For a deeper dive on eliminating waste: Cradle to Cradle, one of the best books ever on the subject; summary of its principles here.)

What’s your 2020 sustainability goal?

If you’re a long-term subscriber, you may remember this pledge I made a year ago in a Green Ideas about making sustainability resolutions for 2019:

My 2019 resolution?  I’m aiming for three, all stretch goals:

  1. That my family will generate no more than 10 bags of trash this year
  2. That my family will be carbon neutral for our electricity and transportation by 2022
  3. To present 50 free climate change presentations to schools and non-profits this year

Setting and writing down goals has never been a strength for me, so making such a public commitment was a big stretch.  But it’s led to a surprising result:

  1. We produced 9.5 bags of trash last year
  2. We’re in negotiations with a solar panel installer, and hoping for installation in 2020. In the interim, we’re buying green power and green biofuel from Bullfrog Power (no affiliation other than being a customer).
  3. My 50th presentation took place December 10

I guess there really is something to be said about setting – and then writing down – goals.  (In my case, I’m not sure if my motivation came from having a focus or from fear of public failure…)

So – let’s do it again.  First, what are your sustainability goals for 2020?  The more specific, the better – here are some suggestions:

  • To recycle everything you can, every time, without excuse
  • To start composting at home, work or school
  • To waste less of everything, especially food
  • To eat vegetarian at least __ times per week
  • To grow a vegetable garden this summer
  • To buy less stuff
  • To stop using drive-throughs and never idle more than 30 seconds, even in winter
  • To examine how you get around (without excuses), and to resolve to do better by driving less, carpooling, getting a more efficient vehicle and/or taking transit
  • To call or write your elected leaders (at all levels) at least __ times this year
  • To join Al Gore in Las Vegas March 8-10 for a life-changing Climate Leadership training program
  • Or something else, small or big

My 2020 resolutions?  Well, since my three stretch goals worked okay last year, I’ll renew all three (please just hit reply and let me know if you’re interested in one of those 50 free climate change presentations for schools and non-profits) – and add three more:

  1. To work to establish a Sustainability Committee in my neighbourhood, so we can work together toward solutions that will benefit us all
  2. To attend at least six Fridays for the Future climate strikes (totally out of my comfort zone, but I’ve come to believe that sometimes you’ve just got to show up)
  3. To contact my elected representatives at provincial and federal levels at least quarterly to suggest policies and advocate for climate action

I’d love to hear your 2020 sustainability resolutions – and I’ll keep you posted on my progress on mine.  Happy – and sustainable – 2020!

2020 Goals