Having looked at what we eat, wear and how we get around, we wrap up sustainable consumption with our living spaces. In the next posts, we will move beyond consumption to consider sustainable work and production, as well as community and nation-level systems. But first let’s consider all the choices we make around our living spaces: from what kind of home we have to all the ways we use it and make it comfortable for life.
Apartments are more sustainable than single family houses. In buildings with 5 or more units, apartments use nearly half as much energy than houses, on average. Apartments tend to be smaller and to share walls with neighboring units, which reduces energy loss in heating and cooling. Apartments also tend to be clustered near mass transit or within walking distance of basic needs, which helps reduce the unsustainable car travel we covered last time.
It’s not sustainable to keep our homes at the ideal temperature year-round. We are becoming more accustomed to climate controlled environments and the outside climate is becoming less and less habitable as a result. Air conditioners and electric fans account for 20% of global electricity use, and this is expected to triple by 2050. The demand for cooling creates a feedback loop: as it creates emissions that warm the planet, the demand for cooling increases.
This doesn’t mean we have to sweat through hot summer nights or shiver through the cold winter. But we should expand the range of temperature that we consider “comfortable” as much as we can, and use blankets or fans to reduce our reliance on the thermostat. Please don’t make yourself suffer, but do experiment with the upper and lower ranges of comfortable temperature and remember to turn off the systems when you leave your home.
We can use more renewable sources for home electricity. If you own your home, you can explore installing solar panels, which often pay for themselves in energy bill reduction. With the advances to battery technology, they can provide power throughout the night as well. Even as a renter, you can use a utility company like Arcadia Power and Clean Choice Energy (in the U.S.) to work with your local utility to purchase electricity from renewable suppliers.
Make use of your local recycling as much as possible…but not too much. I’m sure you’ve heard of the benefits of recycling, but many do not know the dangers of aspirational recycling. Unintentionally throwing trash in with recyclables ends up doing more harm than good. It ends up in the landfill along with other recyclables around it that it contaminates. So check your local guidelines and if you aren’t sure it’s recyclable, it’s better to throw it out.
Composting food scraps cuts down on waste significantly. At least in the U.S., 60% of our landfills are full of organic matter. Although normally biodegradable in a compost bin, this waste won’t break down the same way in a landfill. Without a good flow of oxygen, organic waste releases methane as it decomposes, a greenhouse gas 72% more powerful than CO2. Paul Hawken, the author of Drawdown, lists ending food waste as one of the top 10 ways for us to help reverse global warming.
These are the big, important steps to take, but there are a ton of smaller important steps that add up to big change overall as well.
Use solar chargers to power up your devices
Cut down on water use by switching your shower head, taking shorter showers, and putting 1-2 full water bottles in your toilet tank (to reduce the size of each flush). To learn more about your water usage, calculate your Water Footprint
Upgrade your windows - heat gain and loss through windows amounts to 25-30% of residential energy use.
Install energy saving curtains to reduce heat exchange by 25%, and keep them closed during the winter nights and summer days.
Replace light bulbs with LED or CFL bulbs.
Use smart power strips to cut power to devices in standby mode, which can account for 5-10% of home energy use and 1% of global emissions.
Always wash clothes on cold (with modern detergent they get just as clean) and line-dry as much as you can (you can fluff for a few minutes in the dryer to get the same feel).
Add a microplastic filter to your washing machine to keep the equivalent of 52 bags of plastic out of our rivers and oceans. You can have one filter your tap water too.
Have fun with these, and remember not to overwhelm yourself. Add a few things to your routine that feel doable and as you can, add more. We want a better standard of living for the future and for us now, and that includes your mental health.
About the author:
Recovering lawyer, training to be a meditation teacher. Anxiety used to define me. Now I am devoted to bringing peace to the people and communities that continue to suffer from it.