The following is a guest post by Nan Fischer, a Certified EcoBroker specializing in green real estate in Taos, NM. Check out her website www.nanfischer.com, and follow her on Twitter for a daily green news feed, www.twitter.com/nan_fischer. Nan writes about green building, solar energy and the environment on her blog, www.desertverde.com.
I don’t get much city exposure, but when I do, I’m amazed at how many cars and people occupy the planet. I was in a crowded mall the other day and followed that with a zany Trader Joe’s experience.
It dawned on me we will never make everyone energy- and consumption-conscious. Middle America will always want the latest fad in clothes, cars, shampoo and furniture. Manufacturers know this, and change their lines, not only in the name of creativity, but also to keep the public wanting/needing their items to keep the money flowing. This is capitalism simplified.
The consumption is horrifying. People shop for the sake of shopping.
Can we get the general public to stop buying ‘unnecessary plastic objects,’ as Nanci Griffith says about the ubiquitous Woolworth’s and its inventory in the intro to Love at the Five and Dime on One Fair Summer Evening? She talks about a gig she goes to in England. When she gets off the plane and heads towards her hotel, the cab rounds a corner, and lo and behold, there is Woolworth’s, an American icon. The sight of it made her want to stop the cab, run in and ‘fill up my suitcase with unnecessary plastic objects.’ That’s quite a statement on consumption!
Do you want to help the planet and all living species, including yourself? Stop repeating the mantra, and cut back your consumption. Here’s how.
> First, be sure you actually need an item. What do we need? Food, clothing, shelter. Don’t buy something if you don’t need it!
I used to be an impulsive shopper. A catalog would come in the mail, and I would buy something that immediately caught my eye. I’ll say 99% of the time, that item would never get used. I had to train myself to mark a catalog with what I liked, then put it aside to revisit in a few days. When I went back to it, 99% of the time, I did not need that item. I saved money, resources and my dignity. I had to learn to do this in stores, too, even second-hand stores. Find something attractive, think on it, then revisit it. Most of the time, I’d go home empty handed.
> Shop with a list, and stick to it. This helps you buy things you actually need, even food, further cutting down on impulsive shopping. For sensible food purchases, I make a menu, and shop accordingly. Little food gets wasted, money is saved, and meals are balanced.
I go yard sale-ing with a list. Yard sales are conducive to impulse shopping – so much great stuff and so cheap! Know what you need and look for it. Don’t bring home a bunch of stuff for the sake of buying used!
My eco-sin confession ~> I’m a compulsive book-buyer. My wish list on Amazon is huge with books I’ve looked at and almost bought, so I’m getting better. There have been eras, though, when my shelves were lined with interesting books I never read.
> Buy used goods. What I have always called ‘the other side of the equation’ is now called ‘embodied energy’ – the energy used to create new goods. We can calculate our carbon footprint based on our home energy bills, the food we eat and the cars we drive. The embodied energy spent in purchasing new items needs to be considered just as heavily. If we are buying used items, embodied energy is not expended.
Mother Earth’s natural process is recycling. She is constantly turning her products into new products with other uses – rocks become soil, dead trees are homes for birds, dead animals are food for other animals. We need to follow her example and recycle everything into a new use.
> Don’t buy something to upgrade to green. If you have an item that is functioning but maybe not so eco-friendly, do not replace it with the green version. Wait until it dies and needs replacing. Exceptions to this may be appliances that will cut your energy use. The new refrigerators and front-loading washing machines save enough energy to offset their manufacture in a short period of time. To buy something ‘green’ for the sake of being green, though, is contributing to the problem of consumption and ends up not being so green after all.
> Pay attention. Be aware of your purchasing habits. Research where items come from, consider the emissions of shipping and manufacture, and recycle the goods you are replacing.