Tuesday, 22 September 2009

10 Steps We Take To Live Sustainably In The City

Ellis on our apartment's rooftop deck

By Melinda Briana Epler, 

A few weeks ago, I was asked what my husband and I do to reduce our impact on the earth in the city (thanks to Chookie for asking).  Let me start by telling you all that three years ago, we lived in the middle of Los Angeles and thought we couldn't live sustainably in the city.  We believed that so steadfastly, that we moved to the country and lived on a vineyard outside of a little rural town, where we grew most of our own food and made nearly everything from scratch.

We loved it.  At first.  We became healthier, we relaxed after a stressful few years in the film industry, I started writing, and we watched the sun set and the stars rise nearly every night.

But slowly different realities began to set in:  we didn't quite fit into our town no matter how hard we tried.  Worse, we couldn't find work that paid enough to live on.  Worse still, we couldn't get anywhere without driving very long distances.  And worst of all, it turned out the vineyard we lived on (and just about every farm in the US) heavily sprays pesticides several times per year - our cat nearly died, and I'll guess we took a couple months off our own lives.  Our carefully cultivated organic garden was not really organic, it turned out.

While we learned a great deal, we realized that for us, back to the land was not the answer to sustainable living.  So we began to search:  across the world, we sought a place where we could live sustainably.  And it was a tough search, because sustainable now meant economically, socially, personally, and environmentally sustainable.  

After researching for several weeks, we settled on Seattle.   The Emerald City has made major changes to become a greener place to live, focusing on walkability, public transportation, recycling, community gardens, green spaces, community building, and much more.  Seattle will also fare fairly well as the climate begins to change.  We also chose to live not just anywhere in Seattle, but the densest area of Seattle, so that we could live almost completely without a car.  

Here are the most important steps we take to live sustainably in the city:
  1. Walk.  If you can't walk, Bike.  If you can't Bike, take Public Transportation.  If you can't take Public Transportation, Carpool.  If you can't Carpool, don't go.  Or at least think twice about it.
  2. Stop watching television.  Cruel, isn't it?  I know, but listen:  not only does the television suck up a lot of electricity, but it also sucks up a lot of your time.  That's time you could spend gardening, cooking, cleaning, or talking and laughing.
  3. Eat fresh, local foods.  You can find them in your garden, the farmer's market, a local farm, a CSA, a local co-op, a natural foods store, or a local grocery store - but the more you eat fresh, local foods, the less packaging you use, the less refrigeration you need, the less gas is used transporting your food, and the better the flavors and vitamins within the foods.
  4. When not in use, turn it off.  That goes for water, lights, computers, televisions - you name it, if you aren't using it, turn it off.  It's amazing how much money you can save this way, let alone resources.
  5. Take advantage of thrift stores.  Suss out the best ones in your area - you just might be amazed at what you'll find!  I wear nice, fashionable office clothing and about half my wardrobe came from thrift stores.  Including some nice pairs of shoes!  You can also find some household items this way, and even decent furniture.
  6. De-complicate.  There is no reason to have twenty different cleaners in your cupboard, when vinegar mixed with water can do just about everything.  And if vinegar doesn't work, try baking soda, hydrogen peroxide, or good old soap!  Cheaper, easier, and better for the environment too.
  7. De-stuff.  Stop buying stuff because society says you need it.  Instead, do without or buy it conscientiously - buy something that will last.  And by the same token, go through your cupboards and closets and garage and start to give away stuff you don't need.  Someone else probably does need it, and right now it's probably unnecessarily complicating your life in little ways.
  8. Become a part of your community.  It's an amazing feeling when the small world around you is somehow tied to you, and you are tied to it.  When you're connected to your neighborhood you create an informal barter system by learning and sharing both things and ideas.  You can also work to improve the neighborhood together, and become a unified voice in political campaigns.  There are a number of ways becoming a part of your community can reduce your negative impact and increase your happiness.
  9. Compost and recycle.  Of course, right?  It's amazing how little garbage we have each month because just about all our waste can be reused in one way or another.  If you don't have regular recycling pick-up, collect your recycling in your garage and take it to a local recycling center - almost every city has one.  And composting is easy in your own backyard or under the kitchen sink!
  10. Plan ahead.  Plan ahead for the holidays by making things to give.  Plan ahead for work by making your lunch in the morning.  Plan ahead for tougher economic times by putting a bit of money away.  Plan ahead for the winter by canning, freezing, or drying foods in the summer.  Plan ahead when you're buying an appliance or a piece of furniture - make sure it will last a long time and work in different locations.  Plan ahead on your trip to work or your trip across country, so you don't have to buy anything at the last minute.  Plan ahead when you go to the grocery store - plan your meals, or at least write a list before you go - so you know what you need later in the week.  Plan ahead.
I hope this helps some of you.  Most of these things are probably no different than what you all do in the country or in suburbia to live more sustainably.  

Please add your most important steps to living sustainably in the comments!