How to Live Sustainably in Comfort

How to Live Sustainably in Comfort
It’s 2020 and the start of a new decade. We are seemingly paralyzed by the thought of climate change and unable to take any real action towards solving the inevitable. Because the climate crisis is finally becoming top of mind and we are all realizing that action must be taken soon, I’ve decided to start a database with articles and links to help us as consumers and game changers to start living sustainably without having to make a huge investment, just a desire to make a positive impact on Earth.

Even if we as a population completely switched over to renewable energy and recycled everything, the truth is, it's still not enough to have a real effect on slowing climate change. We need to reduce our overall consumption of everything. However, it is a misconception that consuming less means giving up the comforts of running water or heated homes to live in a cave. It's also not unreasonable to feel helpless trying to cut emissions while still driving to work so you can keep a roof over your head. But it is possible to live sustainably in comfort and focusing on reducing waste is a really great place to start. Over the last 8 years, I’ve tried to build a lifestyle and business with this as my main goal. Starting now, I will write an article each month with the tips and tricks I have acquired over the years of sustaining a comfortable lifestyle that does not exceed the maximum human footprint allowable to maintain a healthy planet. I hope that I can help you do the same.

I’ve built a career around waste reduction. My business specializes in recycled, upcycled and repurposed items diverting thousands of pounds of material from landfills. Landfills do not decompose and eventually toxic pollution from them seeps into surrounding soil and groundwater. Landfills also produce dangerous methane gas. Sadly, there are over 10,000 landfill sites across Canada and we produce more garbage per capita than any other country on earth. Waste reduction must include all forms and not be limited to just solids but liquid and gases too. We must reduce all of it.

At home, I try to repair stuff first before buying new. If I can't repair an item I look for used items in good condition. For example, Kijiji, WINS and other second hand shops can be great places to find used furniture or clothing. So many items are available in brand new condition yet at affordable prices. It may not be new but it will be new to you and that’s pretty much the same thing. Just recently, I replaced a broken zipper on my down jacket. This was a much cheaper option that buying a new one. With a broken zipper, that jacket could not be donated and would most likely have ended up in the garbage. I just extended its usefulness by years.

Same as my shop, I also reuse as much as possible. Instead of buying new tupperware, I reuse glass jars and plastic food containers. I bring cloth bags to the grocery store for buying bulk produce. I make an effort to choose items with the least amount of packaging and when I see items over-packaged I always let management know that I won’t buy those items. Many restaurants will offer discounts if you provide your own take-out containers. Incentives like this will likely increase once the nation wide single-use plastic ban comes into effect. I maintain compost and recycling bins in my bathroom and kitchen and hang dry most of my laundry. If you must use a dryer, put dryer balls in the load to shorten drying time. There are now also a lot more places to purchase bulk, refillable zero-waste products ranging from home cleaning to body care. Depending upon which neighbourhood you live in check out Canary in Kensington, The Apothecary in Inglewood, Without Co in Mission or Nude Market in Victoria Park which just moved into my shop!

This past year, I have been experimenting with a plant based diet sourcing as much local produced food as possible. Not only is local safer and fresher but a plant based diet can produce a lot less waste than animal intensive farming. Plus, local produced goods don’t travel as far so transportation pollution is greatly diminished. I cook large meals at home so I can take the leftovers with me to work for lunch the next day. Sometimes, I can stretch the meal over several days so I don’t have to cook at all. If you can’t find fresh, locally produced fruits or vegetables in season, frozen are a great option. It’s also very easy to preserve fruits in the summer for use during the winter. Canned fruits are a tasty treat when you can’t find any in season. Some fruits and vegetables last for months in the fridge. I’m still eating carrots from my garden that I harvested last November.

In the garden, I use hand tools instead of power tools wherever possible. A grotesque amount of oil and gas is leaked in non-point spills in backyards filling up mowers or snow blowers. The EPA (Environmental protection Agency) estimates at least 17 million gallons of gasoline are spilled annually just filling lawn mowers in the USA. That is a staggering amount of pollution that could easily be eliminated simply by switching to hand tools. You could even go one step further and eliminate grass lawns all together. Plant native species or food varieties instead. Take advantage of tool lending libraries like the one in Bridgeland. In the future, I hope to see tool lending libraries and repair cafes hosted in every community centre in Calgary. It should be standard.

Although, I do have a car, I rarely drive it. I walk or ride my bicycle to most destinations. Not only are these modes the most economical but they keep me fit and healthy and do not pollute the air. For longer distances I take public transit. I use my car only as a last resort or to travel long distances such as travel to other cities. A few years ago, I invested in a cargo bicycle and this bike has proven to be invaluable. I use it for both work and pleasure. Last year, my summer vacation was a bicycle camping trip on my cargo bike!

I live close to work. You can really shorten the amount you commute by simply living closer to work. It's also helpful to choose a community with lots of amenities within walking distance. This means you might have to live in a smaller home in order to afford a place in a more convenient location. But living in a smaller home also decreases your footprint and it is much more economical to maintain over the long term. I grew up on a rural hobby farm but, since moving to Calgary, I have always lived in the inner city. I have found that a smaller home is worth the convenience of having everything located close by. I never have to worry about getting stuck in traffic or paying for parking.

To further reduce my impact on the environment, I am careful when choosing what type of recreation I participate in and where. I try to live within the seasons. For example, I enjoy swimming in the river in the summer and take advantage of outdoor skating rinks in the winter. When my daughter was younger, we chose activities close to home or carpooled with other families.

Which charities you choose to support also make a difference. I donate to local charities that make a direct impact on individuals in my community and I also give preference to those that are very clear about what the money I am donating is spent on. One of my favourite charities is Two Wheel View. This organization, located in Sunalta, teaches disadvantaged children how to repair bicycles. The children receive their own bicycle when they complete the program. This charity relies on cash and bicycle donations to operate, but in return, it helps disadvantaged children learn valuable skills while recycling and making use of active transportation. All things that I support.

Check back next month when I go into even more detail about how to live sustainably in comfort. Every month this year I’ll go in depth and explore topics such as local economics, food, transportation, housing, recreation, gardening, vacationing, clothing, community, gift giving and charities.

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