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Sustainable living in the 21st century can be described as "shifting to a renewable energy-based, reuse/recycle economy with a diversified transport system." -Lester R. BrownW, founder of the Worldwatch InstituteW and Earth Policy InstituteW
Green living (or sustainable living) is a lifestyleW that attempts to reduce an individual's or society's use of the Earth's natural resourcesW and his or her own resources. In practice, it deals about practical lifestyle choices, large and small, to live inline with the Earth's carrying capacities, while maintaining (or sometimes improving) our quality of life. Besides lifestyle choices, the housing and appliances we use also has its impact on the environment. These however are explained in detail at Autonomous houses and neighbourhoods. This article only focuses on choices in lifestyle/habits. Sustainable city living then again discusses some of the areas of action specific to green living in a urban environment.
In order to make sustainable choices, it is very helpful to have solid, reliable information that tells us which behaviors are sustainable and which are unsustainable, and -more importantly-, which actions will make the greatest positive difference for us, and should be prioritized.
Practitioners of sustainable living often attempt to reduce their carbon footprint by altering methods of transportation, energy consumptionW and diet. Proponents of sustainable living aim to conduct their lives in ways that are consistent with sustainability, in natural balance and respectful of humanity's symbioticW relationship with the Earth's natural ecologyW and cycles. The practice and general philosophy of ecological living is highly interrelated with the overall principles of sustainable development.
Reducing meat consumptionEdit
The adoption of a ecologic diet (primarily diets that do not contain meat, or diets that contain little meat) decreases the impact you have on the environment considerably.
Obtaining local and seasonal foodsEdit
Also, in addition to buying local food, the food you buy is best seasonally grown. You can obtain seasonal food by buying the products which are now in season from farmers' marketsW. Seasonally grown food is grown and harvested within their suitable growing seasonW. Thus, seasonal foodW farming does not require energy intensive greenhouse production, extensive irrigation, plastic packaging and long-distance transport from importing non-regional foods, and other environmental stressors. Local, seasonal produce is typically fresher, unprocessed and argued to be more nutritious. Local produce also contains less to no chemical residues from applications required for long-distance shipping and handling.
Obtaining food from farmers in short supply chainsEdit
Conventional food distribution is additionally resource and energy exhaustive. A shorter supply chain increases efficiency and so also reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Obtaining food from organic farmersEdit
Purchasing and supporting organic products is another fundamental contribution to sustainable living. Organic farming is a rapidly emerging trend in the food industry and in the web of sustainability. According to the USDAW National Organic Standards BoardW (NOSB), organic agriculture is defined as "an ecological production management system that promotes and enhances biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. It is based on minimal use of off-farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain, or enhance ecological harmony. The primary goal of organic agriculture is to optimize the health and productivity of interdependent communities of soil life, plants, animals and people." Upon sustaining these goals, organic agriculture uses techniques such as crop rotationW, permaculture, compost, green manure and biological pest controlW. In addition, organic farming prohibits or strictly limits the use of manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, plant growth regulatorsW such as hormonesW, livestock antibioticsW, food additivesW and genetically modified organismsW. Organically farmed products include vegetables, fruit, grains, herbs, meat, dairy, eggs, fibers, and flowers. See organic certificationW for more information.
Growing your own foodEdit
In addition to local, small-scale farms, there has been a recent emergence in growing ones own food; ie using community gardens or private home gardens. With this trend, both farmers and ordinary people are becoming involved in food productionW. This helps in reducing carbon offsets even more, and also increases self-sufficiency.
Another way to become involved in growing your own food is by joining a local community-supported agriculture (CSA). A CSA consists of a community of growers and consumers who pledge to support a farming operation while equally sharing the risks and benefits of food production. CSA's usually involve a system of weekly pick-ups of locally farmed vegetables and fruits, sometimes including dairy products, meat and special food items such as baked goods. Considering the previously noted rising environmental crisis, the United States and much of the world is facing immense vulnerability to famine. Local food production ensures food security if potential transportation disruptions and climatic, economical, and sociopolitical disasters were to occur.
Food preservation and storageEdit
Preserving and storing foods reduces reliance on long-distance transported food and the market industry. Home-grown foods can be preserved and stored outside of their growing season and continually consumed throughout the year, enhancing self-sufficiency and independence from the supermarket. Food can be preserved and saved by dehydration (e.g. solar food drying, freezingW, vacuum packingW, canningW, bottlingW, picklingW and jellying.
Buying or producing one's own energyEdit
Since electricity is an expensive utility, the first step towards conservation is to design a house and lifestyle to reduce demand. Fluorescent lights, laptop computers and gas-powered refrigerators save electricity, although gas-powered refrigerators are not very efficient. There are also superefficient electric refrigerators, such as those produced by the Sun Frost company, some of which use only about half as much electricity as a mass-market energy star-rated refrigerator.
Some sustainable households may choose to produce their own renewable energy, while others may choose to purchase it through the grid from a power company that harnesses sustainable sources (also mentioned previously are the methods of metering the production and consumption of electricity in a household). Purchasing sustainable energy, however, may simply not be possible in some locations due to its limited availability. 6 out of the 50 states in the US do not offer green energy, for example. For those that do, its consumers typically buy a fixed amount or a percentage of their monthly consumption from a company of their choice and the bought green energy is fed into the entire national grid. Technically, in this case, the green energy is not being fed directly to the household that buys it. In this case, it is possible that the actual amount of green electricity that the buying household receives is a small fraction of their total incoming electricity. This may or may not depend on the amount being purchased. The purpose of buying green electricity is to support their utility’s effort in producing sustainable energy. Producing sustainable energy on an individual household or community basis is much more flexible, but can still be limited in the richness of the sources that the location may afford (some locations may not be rich in renewable energy sources while others may have an abundance of it).
Limiting our human reproductionEdit
The population size needs to be reduced to 2 billion people, in order to keep within the limits of the earth's carrying capacity. As such, the decision of not reproducing is one of the most effective actions we can take. In practice, some families will be able to propogate and some not as we are all entitled to about 0,57 children This does not mean off course that we can not have any children at all; adoption is still an option, as this does not increase the population size.
As populations and resource demands climb, waste production contributes to emissions of carbon dioxideW, leaching of hazardous materials into the soil and waterways, and methane emissions. In America alone, over the course of a decade, 500 trillion pounds of American resources will have been transformed into nonproductive wastes and gases. Thus, a crucial component of sustainable living is being waste conscious. One can do this by reducing waste, reusing commodities, and recycling.
There are a number of ways to reduce waste in sustainable living. One method is reducing paper waste, such as by taking action to cancel junk mail and move paper transactions to an online document. Another method to reduce waste is to buy in bulk, which reduces packaging materials. Preventing food waste is an alternative to organic waste compiling to create costly methane emissions. Food waste can be reintegrated into the environment through composting. Composting can be carried out at home or locally, with community composting. An additional example of how to reduce waste is being cognizant of not buying materials with limited use in excess, such as paint. Reduction aides in reducing the toxicity of waste if non-hazardous or less hazardous items are selected.
By reusing materials, one lives sustainably by not contributing to the addition of waste to landfills. Reuse saves natural resourcesW by decreasing the necessity of raw materialW extraction. Recycling, a process that breaks down used items into raw materials in order to make new materials, is a particularly useful means of contributing to the renewal of goods. Recycling incorporates three primary processes; collection and processing, manufacturing, and purchasing recycled products. An offshoot of recycling, upcycling, strives to convert a material into something of similar or greater value in its second life. By integrating measures of reusing, reducing, and recycling one can effectively reduce production of waste and use materials in a sustainable manner.
First of all, the house you buy or construct should be chosen to be in proximity to essential services such as grocery stores, schools, daycares, work, or public transit making it possible to commit to sustainable transportation choices. This already reduces your carbon offsets from transport greatly.
With the depleting fossil oil reserves, climate warmingW exacerbated by carbon emissionsW and high energy prices, the conventional automobile industryW is becoming less and less feasible to the conversation of sustainability. Revisions of urban transportW systems that foster mobility, low-cost transportation and healthier urban environments are needed. Such urban transport systems should consist of a combination of rail transportW, bus transportW, bicycle pathways and pedestrianW walkwaysW. Public transport systems such as underground rail systems and bus transit systems shift huge numbers of people away from reliance on car mobilizationW and dramatically reduce the rate of carbon emissions caused by automobile transport. CarpoolingW is another alternative for reducing oil consumption and carbon emissions by transit.
In comparison with automobiles, bicycles are a paradigm of energy efficient personal transportation. Bicycles increase mobility while alleviating congestionW, lowering airW and noise pollutionW, and increasing physical exerciseW. Most importantly, they do not emit climate-disturbing carbon dioxideW. Bike-sharing programs are beginning to boom throughout the world and are modeled in leading cities such as ParisW, AmsterdamW and LondonW. Bike-sharing programs offer kiosksW and docking stations that supply hundreds to thousands of bikes for rental throughout a city through small deposits or affordable memberships.
A recent boom has occurred in electric bikesW especially in China and other Asian countries. Electric bikes are similar to plug-in hybridW vehicles in that they are battery powered and can be plugged into the provincial electric gridW for recharging as needed. In contrast to plug-in hybrid cars, electric bikes do not directly use any fossil fuels. Adequate sustainable urban transportation is dependent upon proper city infrastructureW and planning that incorporates efficient public transit along with bicycle and pedestrian-friendly pathways.
Reducing our water useEdit
In sustainable living, one can use water more sustainably through a series of simple, everyday measures. These measures involve considering indoor home applianceW efficiency, outdoor water use, and daily water use awareness.
Reducing water use in indoor appliancesEdit
Housing and commercial buildingsW account for 12 percent of America’s freshwater withdrawals. A typical American single family home uses about 70 gallons per person per day indoors. This usage can be reduced by simple alterations in behavior and upgrades to applianceW quality.
Flush toilets account for almost 30% of residential indoor water use in the United States. Some tweaks can be applied to still reduce water consumption greatly with flush toilets. Another option is to install a type of toilet that doesn't use water at all. For example, composting toilets treat human waste through composting and dehydrationW, producing a valuable soil additive. These toilets feature a two-compartment bowl to separate urine from feces. The urine can be collected or sold as fertilizer. The feces can be dried and bagged or composted. These toilets cost scarcely more than regularly installed toilets and do not require a sewer hookup. In addition to providing valuable fertilizer, these toilets are highly sustainable because they save sewage collection and treatment, as well as lessen agricultural costs and improve topsoilW.
On average, showers are 18% of indoor water use, at 6-8 gallons per minute traditionally in America. A simple method to reduce this usage is to switch to low-flow, high-performance showerheads. These showerheads use only 1.0-1.5 gpm or less. An alternative to replacing the showerhead is to install a converter. This device arrests a running shower upon reaching the desired temperature. Solar water heaters can be used to obtain optimal water temperature, and are more sustainable because they reduce dependence on fossil fuels. To lessen excess water usage, water pipes can be insulated with pre-slit foam pipe insulation. This insulation decreases hot water generation time. A simple, straightforward method to conserve water when showering is to take shorter showers. One method to accomplish this is to turn off the water when it is not necessary (such as while lathering) and resuming the shower when water is necessary.
On average, sinks are 15% of indoor water use. There are, however, easy methods to rectify excessive water loss. Available for purchase is a screw-on aerator. This device works by combining water with air thus generating a frothy substance that has more moisture and reduces water usage by half. Additionally, there is a flip-valve available that allows flow to be turned off and back on at the previously reached temperature. Finally, a laminar flow device creates a 1.5-2.4 gpm stream of water that reduces water usage by half, but can be turned to normal water level when optimal. In addition to buying the above devices, one can live more sustainably by checking sinks for leaks, and fixing these links if they exist. According to the EPA, "A small drip from a worn faucet washer can waste 20 gallons of water per day, while larger leaks can waste hundreds of gallons": When using a sink, being more aware of water usage is a very simple way to use water more sustainably. For instance, when washing dishes by hand, it is not necessary to leave the water running for rinsing. It is more sustainable to rinse dishes simultaneously. On average, dishwashing consumes 1% of indoor water use. When using a dishwasherW, water can be conserved by only running the machine when it is completely full. Additionally, it can be set to Lowflow setting, in order to use less water per wash cycle. The enzymatic detergentsW available clean dishes more efficiently and more successfully with a smaller amount of water at a lower temperature.
On average, 23% of indoor water use is due to clothes washing. In contrast to other machines, American washing machinesW have changed little to become more sustainable. A typical washing machine has a vertical-axis design, in which clothes are agitated in a tubful of water. Horizontal-axis machines, in contrast, put less water into the bottom of the rub and rotate clothes through it. These machines are more efficient in terms of soap usage and clothing stability.
Reducing water use in the gardenEdit
Using plants suited for the regionEdit
In planning a yard and garden space, it is most sustainable to consider the plants, soil, and available water. Drought resistant shrubs, plants, and grasses require a smaller amount of water in comparison to more traditional species. Additionally, native plants (as opposed to herbaceous perennials) will use a smaller supply of water and have a heightened resistance to plant diseases of the area. XeriscapeW, a system that accounts for endemic features such as slopeW, soil typeW, and native plantW range, can reduce landscape water use by 50 – 70%, while providing habitatW space for wildlife. By planting slopes one can reduce runoffW. Grouping plants by watering needs further reduces water waste.
After planting, placing a circumference of mulch surrounding plants functions to lessen evaporationW. To do this, firmly press two to four inches of organic matter along the plant's dripline. This prevents water runoffW. When watering, consider the range of sprinklers; watering paved areas is unnecessary. Additionally, to conserve the maximum amount of water, watering should be carried out during early mornings on non-windy days in order to reduce water loss to evaporation. Drip-irrigation systems and soaker hoses are a more sustainable alternative to the traditional sprinkler system. Drip-irrigation systems employ small gaps at standard distances in a hose, leading to the slow trickle of water droplets which percolate the soil over a protracted period. These systems use 30 – 50% less water than conventional methods. Soaker hoses help to reduce water use by up to 90%. They connect to a garden hose and lay along the row of plants under a layer of mulch. A layer of organic materialW added to the soil helps to increase its absorption and water retention; previously planted areas can be covered with compost.
In caring for a lawn, there are a number of measures that can increase the sustainability of lawn maintenance techniques. A primary aspect of lawn care is watering. In order to conserve water, it is important to only water when necessary, and to deep soak when watering. Additionally, a lawn may be left to go dormant, renewing after a dry spell to its original vitality.
Reusing grey water and unfiltered roof waterEdit
Greywater systems function in sequestering used indoor water, such as laundry, bath and sink water, and filtering it for reuse. Greywater can be reused in irrigation and toilet flushing. There are two types of greywater systems: gravity fed manual systems and package systems. The manual systems do not require electricity but may require a larger yard space. The package systems require electricity but are self-contained and can be installed indoors.
A common method of water sequestrations is rainwater harvesting, which incorporates the collection and storage of rain. Primarily, the rain is obtained from a roof, and stored on the ground in catchment tanks. Water sequestration varies based on extent, cost, and complexity. A simple method involves a single barrel at the bottom of a downspout, while a more complex method involves multiple tanks. It is highly sustainable to use stored water in place of purified water for activities such as irrigation and flushing toilets. Additionally, using stored rainwater reduces the amount of runoff pollution, picked up from roofs and pavements that would normally enter streams through storm drains. The following equation can be used to estimate annual water supply:
Collection area (square feet) x Rainfall (inch/year) / 12 (inch/foot) = Cubic Feet of Water/Year
Cubic Feet/Year x 7.43 (Gallons/Cubic Foot) = Gallons/year
Note, however, this calculation does not account for losses such as evaporation or leakage.
Literature and historyEdit
The earliest milestones for the modern sustainable living movement include the books Living the Good Life (1954) by Helen and Scott NearingW and Silent SpringW (1962) by Rachel Carson. Influential books in later years include The Limits to GrowthW (1972) by Donella Meadows and the classic which popularized the idea of appropriate technology, Small is BeautifulW (1973) by E. F. Schumacher.W
Over time many of these ideas have moved from the fringe to the mainstream - at least as topics of acknowledged importance, even when action lags well behind rhetoric. Sustainability is now an important selling point in advertising (often simply greenwashing), campaigns for policy changes are going on in cities around the world, and policies to encourage sustainable lifestyles on a societal level provoke fierce debates in election campaigns.
From 1972, the United Nations has held occasional conferences focused on improving sustainability within societies. So far, these have been held in 1972W, 1992 and 2002W. In 2007 the United Nations published Sustainable Consumption and Production, Promoting Climate-Friendly Household Consumption Patterns.
For a more detailed history, see Wikipedia:Sustainable living #History.
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