Going green can overwhelm because it challenges our entire way of living. Obstacles seem insurmountable when you live in an urban society that doesn’t prioritize sustainability. The laundry list of “green actions” is so long that we never act on anything. The journey is so vast that we never bother to make the first step.
- Eat 100% organic.
- Live completely gasoline-free.
- Avoid all product packaging.
- Recycle everything: plastic, styrofoam, electronics.
- Only buy used, never new.
Challenging, but just the tip of the iceberg.
My green quest started with a multitude of challenging goals. I wanted to buy 100% organic. I only wanted to support local food. I always wanted to get to the farm by bicycle, not car. I wanted to avoid all packaging, both paper and plastic. I wanted stop shopping. If I needed electronics, I would only buy used. Recycling had to become a rule, even for difficult materials like styrofoam and plastic. Leftover organic scraps would be composted, not thrown in landfills. Our clothes would dry by natural sunlight, not by laundry machine. Lastly, I wanted to do this all on budget, without interfering with work and school. I quickly got stressed and overwhelmed, so I settled for achieving just a few, individual goals.
Individual decisions actually make an impact. Even the humblest of beginnings is something to celebrate. Each little change, consistently practiced, can make a dramatic difference. You could start by making the small commitment to recycle all paper waste like newspapers and junk mail. Be persistent, and within ten years you could recycle 1000 pounds (500 kg) of paper (1). That’s a powerful impact for such a modest investment.
There are plenty of tiny decisions you can commit to:
- Turn off your lights when they’re not in use. You can save 36.5 kilowatt-hours of energy and $5.48 in cash each year per lamp (2). That could mean more than $50 each year for a large house.
- Use the fan instead of the air conditioner and save 300 kilowatt-hours of energy and $45 in bills each year (3). If you rely heavily on AC, this one decision could save you more than $100 each year.
- Walk instead of driving for short trips and save 15 gallons of gas and $45 per year (4).
- Hang dry your clothes and save $193 worth of energy per year (5).
Tiny decisions involving tiny effort can save significant money. You don’t need to do everything at once: just pick a few goals, make a commitment, and stick to it.
Just begin. Start today, one step at a time. Try to avoid excuses or justifications. Celebrate your milestones and little victories. Each decision seems small, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. After a few weeks, your decisions will cement into habits. Once they become second-nature, take on a few more goals and keep moving. Someday, you’ll look back and be amazed at just how far you’ve come.
What are some small steps you can start today?
- The average person uses about 50kg (110 lbs) of paper per year. Over the course of 10 years, you can save about 10 trees, 5 thousand gallons of water, 1 barrel of oil, and 2.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity. See wikipedia for how I got my estimates: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paper_recycling#Recycling_facts_and_figures
- Suppose you have a lamp that uses of 100 watts of power. If you can save 1 hour a day, 365 days per year, for 10 years, you can save 365 kilowatt-hours and $54.75 if you pay 15 cents per kilowatt-hour. See Michael BlueJay’s excellent electricity tutorial pages: http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/cost.html
- A medium sized-AC unit uses 1000 watts of energy. If it’s left on 5 hours a day, 60 days per year, you will use 300 kilowatt-hours of energy and rack up $45 in bills at $0.15 / kilowatt-hour.
- Assuming each short trip uses about 0.2 gallons of gas, and that you make 75 short trips per year, yields 15 gallons of gasoline per year and $45 at $3/gallon.
- Michael BlueJay estimates between $0.31 and $0.49 per load of laundry, depending on whether your machine runs on gas or electricity: http://michaelbluejay.com/electricity/dryers.html