25 Ways to Tread More Lightly on the Earth

Compiled by Malin Hansen, Denise MacDonald,

Dave Mitchell, Marieka Sax and Catherine Verral

June/July 2006

NORTH AMERICA IS HOME TO only five percent of the world�s population, but is responsible for consuming one third of all the Earth’s resources—-and seventy-five percent of those resources end up wasted.

In a perfect world, our economy and society would be structured in such a way that the most efficient and sustainable options were also the most convenient and socially acceptable. But since that isn’t always the case, we must struggle to question the path of least resistance, make visible the impact of our everyday actions, and make choices that reflect the principles we hold dear.

We hope that the following tips demonstrate that anyone can take small steps to make a big difference. (And almost all of these tips have the added bonus of saving you money in the long run!)

Power

“On a per capita basis, Canada is the largest consumer of energy in the world and the second largest producer of greenhouse gases. We use as much energy as the entire continent of Africa, home to 700 million people.”

- Drs. Last, Trouton, and Pengelly, David Suzuki Foundation

1. Turn it down, turn it off. Turn off (and unplug if possible) appliances and electrical equipment when not in use. Turn the thermostat and water heater down as low as you find comfortable. Install a programmable thermostat to use heat only when you really need it.

2. Insulate. Add extra insulation to your roof. Properly insulate doors and windows. Use blinds and drapes to insulate windows. If retrofitting, buy triple-pane windows. Place an extra layer of insulation around the hot water tank and hot water pipes to reduce heat loss.

3. Replace. Switch from standard light bulbs to highly efficient compact fluorescents. If you’re buying new, choose appliances with an Energy Smart rating (especially energy-sucking appliances like refrigerators).

4. Go solar. Hang clothes to dry on a clothes line or drying rack. Do as cats do and hang out in sunbeams to take advantage of natural lighting and passive solar heating. If you’re retrofitting, install solar panels and/or solar water heaters.

5. Redesign. Open-concept designs in the home improve air circulation and light quality. Generous south-facing windows take advantage of winter warmth and light. South-facing overhangs such as eaves and balconies provide shade in the summer without blocking the sun in the winter. Rooftop gardens insulate to reduce heat and cooling needs.

Water

THE AVERAGE CANADIAN USES 1.5 million litres of fresh water each year, while one billion people around the world lack access to safe drinking water. Because water scarcity will become a reality for more and more people, changing the way people think about their relationship with water now can avert problems in the long run. And significantly reducing your water use is far easier than you think.

1. The toilet. A standard toilet accounts for thirty percent of indoor residential water use, consuming sixteen to twenty litres of fresh water with every flush. You can save up to five litres a flush by placing a simple water-displacement device such as a plastic bottle filled with water in your toilet tank. If you�re renovating, replace your toilet with a new ultra-low volume toilet, which uses as little as six litres of water per flush. And of course, remember the “golden” rule: If it’s yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown, flush it down. This simple strategy alone can reduce your total household water use by twenty to twenty-five percent.

2. The rest of the home. Install a low-flow shower head, which saves about seventy-five litres of water for every five minutes the shower is running. Turn off taps when brushing teeth and showering. Wash dishes by hand. Repair leaky taps and pipes promptly.

3. Reuse “grey” water. Water from sinks, showers, and baths can be collected and reused to water houseplants and gardens, or even to flush toilets—-a pail or two poured directly into the toilet bowl does the trick. Similarly, rainwater can be collected from eaves to use in the garden.

4. Smarter landscaping. Reduce the size of your costly and time-consuming lawn. Switch to clover or native species that require little water and no mowing. Use yard space for other landscaping elements such as trees and gardens.

5. Boycott bottled water. Far from being “healthier” or “safer,” bottled water puts money in the pockets of large transnational corporations and creates unnecessary waste. These companies seek to profit from denying people—-especially poor people in the global South—-of a basic human right.

Waste

AN AVERAGE CANADIAN HOUSEHOLD generates about 2500 pounds of garbage each year. By reducing your consumption of goods, buying second-hand, and sorting your garbage, you can divert a significant amount of waste from our landfills each year.

1. Reduce your consumption. Avoid excessive packaging and disposable or short-lived items. Bring your own reusable shopping bag, water bottle, coffee mug, and take-out container. Avoid buying things you don’t need.

2. Reuse. Participate in the second-hand economy (garage sales, pawn shops, thrift stores). Swap clothes with friends. Liberate useful stuff from dumpsters. Whenever possible, choose durable over disposable, repair over replace, and used over new.

3. Compost. Backyard and vermicomposts (worm farming) can divert up to one quarter of your household waste from the landfill while producing valuable nutrients for your garden (or a friend’s garden).

4. Choose Fair Trade. Fair Trade supports small-scale farmers and producers around the world and ensures that people receive a fair price (and sustainable livelihood) for their labour.

5. Recycle. Many things that cannot be reused can be recycled (but buying used or not buying at all is even better).

Transportation

OUR CURRENT TRANSPORTATION system devours oil and natural gas, creates climate upheaval and loss of biodiversity, and is a catalyst for war and despair.

1. People power. Stop complaining about the rising price of a non-renewable, unsustainable fuel source, park your car, and walk, bike, rollerblade, or skateboard to work or school.

2. Mass transit. Take the bus or subway to work or school. Ask your employer to arrange a reduced-rate transit pass. Get involved in working for more convenient and better-funded transit, so that your tax dollars go towards providing accessible transportation for everyone instead of just building more roads for vehicle owners.

3. Car-sharing. Car-pool with your coworkers. Join or start a car-sharing co-op, in which cars and other vehicles are shared among members, who only have to pay for the vehicle when they really need to use it.

4. More efficient vehicle use. Properly maintain your vehicle to increase its efficiency. Don’t speed, as driving faster requires more gas. Don’t idle—-ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than turning off and restarting the engine. Use the smallest vehicle you can get away with.

5. Air travel. Air travel produces nineteen times more greenhouse gas emissions than trains and 190 times more than ships. One return Vancouver-to-Toronto flight produces 2.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person. Avoid short flights in particular, as most airline emissions occur at take-off and landing.

Food

Since food is fundamental to our basic needs and everyday lives, one of the most powerful ways to both strengthen your community and reduce your impact on the environment is through your food choices.

1. Eat less meat. A diet high in meat has hidden environmental (and health) costs, including the land, water, fertilizer, and oil required to grow and transport animal feed and habitat destruction to raise animals. (See “Skipping a Step,” p. 24.)

2. Use whole foods. Avoid prepared foods that require additional energy and resources to process, package, and transport. “Whole” or unprocessed foods are also healthier and often less expensive.

3. Eat locally produced food. Our food travels an average of 2000 kilometers before it reaches your table. Eating locally helps local farmers to earn a living, keeps money in the local economy, and decreases pollution.

4. Garden. Grow your own vegetables and fruits (in your own yard or as part of a neighborhood garden) to ensure access to fresh and healthy food while saving money and resources.

5. Choose organic. Organic foods are increasingly available at conventional as well as specialty grocery stores, and are becoming more affordable. Certified organic foods are pesticide and GMO-free, sometimes produced locally, and are often fresher and tastier. (If however, you have to choose between conventional local produce and imported big-box organic, you may be better off buying local.)

THESE ARE JUST A FEW SIMPLE WAYS that you can significantly reduce your environmental impact by making small changes to your daily routine. If you wish to learn more, there is no shortage of books and websites to consult. Here are just a few you might find useful:

  • How to Survive without a Salary: Learning how to live the conserver lifestyle by Charles Long. Warwick, 1996
  • Radical Simplicity: Small Footprints on a Finite Earth, Jim Merkel. New Society, 2003.
  • The Otesha Book: From Junk to Funk! by the Otesha Project, 2005.
  • EcoLiving: Your Guide to Sustainable Living by Regina EcoLiving, 2005.

M.H., D.M., D.M., M.S., and C.V. live in Regina and vote with their footprints.

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