I recently began teaching an environmental science class to college students, and one of the assignments I had given was for each student to calculate their carbon footprint.
What is the Carbon Footprint of an individual you ask? Well I'll tell you.
The concept was first introduced by Reese and Wackernagel, and is a way of mathematically determining how much amount of land if takes to support your lifestyle.
Before giving out the assignment, I decided to first complete it myself. "I'll show them an example of what it's like being green", I thought. Ha! The joke was on me. Turns out, I take up a whole lot more space that I thought. I was very disappointed in myself, and to be honest, quite embarrassed...
On average, if the amount of livable space on the Earth, was divided by the amount of individual humans living now, each person should take up 4.163 acres of land to be sustained. However, individuals in developed countries take up over 5x that amount.
To offer perspective, 1 football field is equal to 1.32 acres. This means to sustain my current lifestyle - to feed me, clothe me, bathe me, transport me from place to place, keep me fit, educated and healthy, it takes over 7 football fields of land - and I am someone who people consider environmentally friendly! So how much space are the "unfriendly" people taking up?
(If you wish to calculate your Carbon Footprint, you can download the PDF of the assignment I gave my students here.)
Well, a change in my lifestyle definitely felt needed! I began to take more notice of where I was choosing slight comfort for large consequences, or when I was just mindlessly being wasteful, and I began to make subtle yet powerful changes in my daily routines to encourage a more sustainable way of life.
Here are some of the ways I will be cutting down the amount of resources I use up regularly. You can (and should) just pick one or two of these and do your best to really stick to it and make it a habit. Even employing just one of these environmentally friendly options will make a HUGE difference in the world.
1. Use reusable bottles and mugs. This one move alone will prevent tons of plastic waste and chemicals leaking into the environment, causing serious diseases, and killing wildlife. I highly recommend getting a temperature seal bottle which holds both hot and cold liquids.
You can save money making your own coffee or tea at home, as well as not buying water. Many stores, such as Whole Foods, also offer a discount if you bring you own bottle for coffee. Therefore, if you can carry a reusable water bottle to they gym, or to work, you will not only reduce the waste you produce, but also save yourself some money.
They recently even installed these great filtered water fountains at my job, which have been popping up often lately and are such a great addition to a work place, making it even easier to stay hydrated and environmentally friendly.
At the time I filled this water bottle, the filtration system already helped eliminate waste from 6,775 plastic bottles! That's pretty great!
4. Eat less meat! This is one is definitely the hardest one for some, but replacing even one meal a day with an all vegetarian one can greatly reduce your use of resources, as well as improve your health.
If you look at the worksheet, eating beef alone is worth a lot more points toward your resource intake than any other action. To harvest animals for meat you need to grow acres of crops to feed them. They are then injected with lot of antibiotics and other medications which are later released into our oceans. Harvesting meat also contributes greatly to air pollution due to the methane emissions by cows. Cows fart - a LOT - and it is very bad for the air we all breathe.
This summer I plan to explore a lot of vegetarian options and recipes, and will most definitely share them with you!
You can find them all on the Nutrition Page of the blog.
5. Go Paperless! How much paper do we receive by mail each month? Super long credit card statements that are then a hassle to store. They kill way too many trees, and clutter your house. Today, it is so easy to view all your statements and pay your bills online online. Many companies even offer a monetary reward for opting out of their paper mail option. Once again, helping save the planet gets you some money.
10. Grow your own food. I know for many this is not an easy possibility, which is why I list it last. However, if you have even the smallest garden, plant some easy to grow herbs, or small peppers. Some may even be grown inside, and will help clear the air in your house, as well as serve as delicious, nutrient filled spices. If you have slightly more land, you can grow a small bush of cherry tomatoes and greens like kale.
I feel very fortunate to have a small garden that I love so much and take full advantage of. Gardening often serves me as a meditation practice, as well as a source of food in the summer and fall, and allows me to compost my food scoring me double green points! My garden is now in it's very first blooming stages and I am so excited to try our very first harvest of the year. Stay tuned for gardening tips and tricks, (and brags), that I will be sharing this summer.
Even if you simply choose 1 or 2 of these lifestyle changes, you will cause a major difference and help prevent a lot of waste. You will also notice a trend of saving money and have a healthier body and mind. It is very easy to start small to make a BIG difference.
I would love to hear from you! What step will you take for the environment today?