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The Many ‘H’s of Sustainability
By Helen de la Maza   View more articles by this author
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March 25

Last time we talked about the five ‘W’s of sustainability: what, who, where, when, and why. The focus of the next few articles will be on the ‘How’ of sustainability, and luckily for us, there are many ‘hows,’ in fact, there are at least as many ‘hows’ as there are people on the planet (approaching 7 billion). And if your way doesn’t seem to be working, you can always borrow your neighbor’s or friend’s way. No matter where you are on stickKing to the path of sustainability, you’re exactly where you need to be to have a positive influence on the environment.

For those at the beginning of the path who are faced with many choices about where to start, take an action that matches who you are and is relatively simple. For instance, if you have a tendency to throw paper into a trash can because this is what is near you at home or work, convert one of those trash cans into a paper recycling bin. Put it nearer to your work space than the trash can. In just a few days, you’ll automatically be recycling paper and burning a couple calories to put something in your trash bin.  Some of you may live in a place where solicitors love to hang things on your door knob or slip advertisements in your door crack. Rather than tossing these papers, recycle them. And, most critically, do the “rubberband rescue.” If a rubberband has been stapled to the advertisement, undo the staple and throw it away, recycle the piece of paper, and rescue the rubberband!  You’ll never need to buy another one again! I’m sure you’ve heard of all the things you can start doing, so just choose one and go for it; if that one doesn’t work out well, choose another!

Some of you may be well on your way to making sustainable choices. You might be considering something more challenging because you already use the ‘pig tail’ light bulbs, recycle cans/bottles/paper, turn off the lights when they are not in use, and take short showers. Reflect on your lifestyle and jot down a few areas that you could make more sustainable choices. Now consider the pros and cons of these changes. If riding your bike to work or school instead of taking the car requires you to pedal for two hours each way, maybe that’s not the best choice! Perhaps you can stickK to buying at least 50 percent organic food at the store. Many large chain stores now offer an organic line. Take advantage of this and show them you appreciate it by voting for these organic products with your dollars. If your lifestyle includes taking care of children or pets, think about how you can help them decrease waste. If a toy breaks, can it go to the ‘hospital’ for repair rather than being thrown away? Can it be modified and used as something else? Just because a squeaker in a dog toy stops squeaking doesn’t mean it can’t squeak again (squeakers are sold separately at pet stores and online)!

If you are feeling like you’ve reached the end of the sustainability path and moving any further would require a huge expenditure of money or tremendous sacrifices, it’s time to be creative! With the knowledge you have gained making sustainable choices, you can support your friends, family and co-workers in their choices. Buy ceramic mugs or travel mugs for folks and encourage them to use these at the coffee machine, water dispenser, or the tea/coffee shop. Have you had ideas for improving the sustainability of your office? How about helping them make the choice to switch to 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper rather than using virgin paper? Encourage making two-sided copies, using two sides of the paper, and taking notes on scratch paper. Have you ever observed how long your garage door light stays on once the door has stopped moving? Mine stayed on for about five minutes; I got into the habit of waiting for the door to close, turning off the auto light, and knowing I was saving energy. When my bulb finally went out, I decided not to replace it. If you live in a new-ish home, your bathroom may be lit by a huge number of individual lights. Do you really want to see your pores that well? Unscrew 70 percent of the bulbs. Where else throughout your day do you use electricity? Subtle changes can be easy to implement and usually end up saving you money. Even if you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend on solar panels, you can still challenge yourself to make sustainable choices by setting a goal.

This article covered a smattering of ways to live a bit more lightly. We’ll continue this discussion.  And in the meantime, I won’t leave the light on for you.

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