More Sustainability, More Joy

Our backyard wildflower field sequesters carbon in the soil, attracts wildlife, and is a joy to behold. (Photo by Sue Barns)

By Sue Barns

When I think about it, reducing my environmental footprint is probably my longest-running hobby. From attending the first Earth Day with my mom in 1970, through joining the Recycling Coalition in my college town, to serving on the Los Alamos County Environmental Sustainability Board recently, I’ve been paying attention to this issue for 50 years! You might think that I have it all figured out by now, but to be honest, it continues to be more of a journey than an accomplishment.

My Personal Sustainable Swaps

What kinds of steps have my family and I taken to reduce our footprint? Some of the actions, like minimizing air travel, have involved some amount of sacrifice. Others involve buying “stuff”, like a hybrid car and high efficiency appliances, that have their own footprint. But, overall, I’d say that most changes we’ve made have not only reduced our impact, but improved our lives as well.

Upgrading the insulation of our home not only saves energy, but also saves money and increases comfort. Enriching the soil in our yard and planting wildflowers and native shrubs helps store carbon in the soil while providing year-round beauty and wildlife habitat. Opting for electric bikes (instead of a new car) is just plain fun! 

Identifying needs instead of wants, and reusing rather than buying new, saves time and money. Simplifying our lives has freed up time, space in our home, and cash, and helped us focus on the things that truly matter to us.

The biggest and best change we have made, for our health and that of the planet, was to our diet. A recent study shows that adopting a plant-based diet “… is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use.” 

Of all the efforts I’ve made, choosing to eliminate animal products from my family’s diet, together with reducing food waste, has saved us the most money, improved our health substantially, introduced us to wonderful new cuisines, and reduced our carbon “foodprint” by as much as 85%. A win-win-win!

Changing to a plant-based diet significantly reduced our environmental “foodprint,” improved our health, and opened up a world of exciting new tastes! Here’s some vegan dim-sum that my family enjoyed in Portland, OR. (Photo by Sue Barns)

This sort of major overhaul of our eating habits came with challenges, of course. What can we eat? How do we cook? Where will we get our protein and other nutrients? What will our family and friends think? The answer to most of these questions was just learning new habits. 

There are now abundant resources on the internet and in the library to guide the way. And so many recipes and delicious plant-based products are out there! The family and friends part has actually been easier than we expected as well. Most are very accepting, and even accommodating, of our off-normal diet. Generally, they are just curious about why and how we have changed, since most have heard of the benefits of a plant-based diet and would like to try it out for themselves and their families. I am only too happy to help them!

Reducing Your Footprint

So, how could you proceed on your own journey to reduce your environmental footprint? A good first step is to use a calculator like this one to see where your footprint is heaviest and get ideas on ways to shrink it. There are some good resources out there that can tell you what personal actions would have the most impact. Of course, you’ll want to get the whole family involved in greening your life, and here’s a terrific, practical approach to getting started with climate and nature-healing activities.

I think the best way to really make a big contribution to reducing your footprint is to find some aspect of sustainability that inspires you. Does cooking or gardening make you happy? Great! Find amazing plant-based recipes to feed your family or start growing your own food using homemade compost. How about cars or finance? Check out electric vehicles, or research ways to divest from fossil fuels and invest in more sustainable technologies. Are you an artist, musician, or writer? The world needs your talent and vision to inspire us to care about the Earth! 

Whatever your passion, the planet needs you to put it to work for nature, for future generations, and for all of us right now.

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