Sunday, 9 August 2009

Coming to Terms with Your Own Variety of Sustainability

by Melinda Briana Epler,
One Green Generation

I am writing this post on the rooftop deck of my brand new city apartment....

In the last four years, I have lived in four very distinct places, searching for sustainable living. In Los Angeles, I lived a rather unsustainable lifestyle - I working in the film industry (where electricity, goods, and resources are thrown away each day in ungodly amounts), driving thousands of miles each month, taking many medications so that I didn't die from the horrible air that made my asthma chronic.

We left that lifestyle three years ago, to live in the rural areas of Northern California wine country - it was beautiful, but we learned that trying to live self-suffiently was not necessarily personally nor environmentally sustainable. I think it can be, but it takes a particular place and a particular type of person to make that lifestyle sustainable. It was not right for me, nor my husband.

So we moved to Seattle, to a nice, old apartment in a dense area of town. We reduced our driving to nearly nil, we reduced our carbon footprint overall to nearly nil. But the building itself was old and not energy efficient, our apartment was too small, and our quality of life was not quite right. At times we felt personally unsafe in our neighborhood, and it truthfully was very loud and a bit unruly.

And so last week we moved to a new, LEED certified silver building, with super energy efficient appliances, bamboo flooring, a rooftop deck, a little balcony to grow greens and herbs, and a higher quality of life. We live in a neighborhood that has gone from light industrial parking lots and destitution, to a lively green community of people who are quite like us.

The truth is, that Matt and I could have made any of these four places sustainable. We could have found a way to live sustainably in our gritty LA apartment - we could have taken the bus or ridden our bikes everywhere - it would have meant more time spent traveling to and from each destination as well as a lot of inconvenience, but we could have made it work. We could have made it work, somehow, in our rural house in wine country - maybe by moving closer to Matt's job, and cutting down on our cost of living to make that lower rural income work. And we could have made the old 1920s apartment work, too - we could have continued living as we had, and redefined normal to make the tight, drafty apartment work for us.

But for me, sustainability is not just about reducing my carbon footprint, it is also about being personally content with my lifestyle. Sustainable living is not just simple living, not just frugal living, not just environmentally sustainable living - it is also contented living - it is allowing myself to be productive so that I can do more to change the world for the better.

As I sit on this rooftop, typing these words and watching the water-wise grasses blowing in the wind as the city bustles below, I feel content. I feel productive. I feel truly sustainable.

What variety of sustainability have you found works best for you?