Contrary to the notion given off by highly commercialised marketing gimmicks, sustainable living need not cost an arm and a leg. Rather, sustainable living should at the least save us money. The basis of sustainable living is rooted in simplicity and thoughtfulness. In that sense therefore, low income people are in a better position to live sustainably than their more affluent counterparts. Yet, economically and technologically advanced societies with their talk of hybrid cars and nuclear energy would have us believe that drastic adjustments need to be made in the way we live in order to contribute towards a healthier planet. Lessons from our past will attest otherwise.
Let me take you down memory lane to confirm my declaration that lessons in simplicity, thoughtfulness and ultimately sustainable living are found thereof. How many of us remember the days when simply forgetting to switch off your bedroom light or letting the water tap drip would result in serious ramification at the hands of parents? Do we remember the days when every trip to the grocer was made with a recyclable shopping basket or plastic bag? I remember watering the garden only during the early hours of the morning albeit under heavy protest. I also remember the times when the whole family would travel to school, work or church in a single car despite the availability of another vehicle.
These and more actions which were practiced in the past vividly capture the foundations of sustainable living, which incorporate 3 basic principles which are: Reduce, Reuse/Recycle and Save. If we observe these lessons and apply them to our lives today, we will be on our way to a sustainable life.
We should begin to consider carpooling to work or to school. If our day involves sitting on a desk or in a class/lecture room, sharing a family car or a friend‘s car is a good way to reduce our carbon footprint (amount of carbon dioxide that we are directly or indirectly responsible for producing and emitting into the earth's atmosphere). Besides, with rising fuel prices and parking costs, it is going to save us a lot of money anyway.
Carpooling may help to improve our interpersonal relationships as well. This drive time can become family time or a time to catch up with friends thereby bringing us closer together. For those of us who drive everywhere including the market or grocery store (which is only 2km away), walking or cycling as alternatives to driving will not only save on greenhouse gas emissions but will contribute to a healthy lifestyle.
We can start to purchase more eco friendly products. Eco friendly products are those which have the least impact on the environment. Back in the day, it was natural to buy eco friendly products although we didn’t necessarily consider this to be a service to the planet. We saved money through buying local produce. What we did not realise is that we were also reducing our carbon footprint by reducing “food miles”. Foreign products don’t only cost more but travel much longer distances to reach us thereby using up more energy and emitting more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
While we strive daily to save money, many of us do not make the connection between resources and finances, forgetting that electric bills and water bills make up a significant portion of monthly expenses. Just because these resources and expenses are necessary, that does not mean they cannot be cut back, or utilised more thoughtfully and effectively. Often times, we act in a wasteful manner, simply out of habit. But habits can be broken.
Saving water and electricity are simple tasks that will not only help promote sustainable living and protect the environment, they can also help reduce our household expenses. We should cut the habit of leaving the water running when brushing our teeth, cleaning dishes, or washing our cars. By simply filling the sink halfway with water, then adding soap, we ensure that no water is lost unnecessarily during dishwashing. When we wash our cars, we could use buckets and turn the hosepipe off. Being conscious of when we choose to water our lawn or garden is also helpful. We should avoid watering during the heat of the day. Watering in the early morning or evening hours is more efficient. Taking showers for shorter periods or using buckets also ensures that we save water.
Thousands of gallons of water are wasted each year, simply because people are too lazy to turn off the tap when doing daily tasks. The beauty of our situation in Zimbabwe is that most of us will find these changes simple to make considering our perennial water shortages. In most cases, we may have already been forced into these sustainable life changes anyway.
Through simple and thoughtful acts like turning the lights off if we are not in the room or taking full advantage of natural light whenever possible by opening curtains during the day, we reduce our energy use and costs. We should always turn off appliances when not in use. Turning off the T.V, radio and computer and avoiding leaving the phone on the charger over night will significantly reduce the electricity that we use daily.
However, considering the excessive power cuts experienced in Zimbabwe, most of us are usually excited at the opportunity to maximize the few hours that we do have power by switching on every appliance imaginable even those which we do not need. We should try by all means to desist from this behavior. It increases the pressure on our meager energy resources thereby leading to more power cuts and higher electricity bills.
Some of us have clothes which we do not need any more. Instead of throwing these away and generating more waste, give them away. Charitable organisations enable us to freely give away those items which we no longer need or want. Someone can reuse them. Giving items away will reduce the amount of waste we generate and also give us a sense of well being. Using recyclable carrier bags or shopping baskets will also help to reduce the amounts of excess plastic we generate. This will also save us money since plastic bags are now for sale in grocery stores.
Apart from reducing, recycling and saving, we can also take decisive action to restore our natural environment and our planet’s ability to sustain life. One of the most important acts we can engage in is tree planting. The value of trees to our lives can never be overemphasised. While planting a tree is a simple exercise, its value to our lives is immeasurable.
Trees are the major removers of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They are therefore one of the most potent weapons against global warming and climate change. Trees also contribute immensely to our health and well being. They remove gaseous pollutants from the atmosphere and produce vital oxygen. Trees clean our water, preserve our soils and cool our environment. The importance of trees is so vast that it would require an entire article. However, in the mean time, why not plant a tree as a symbol of remembering important events in our lives such as birthdays, anniversaries and as a local funeral company would have it, in memory of a departed loved one.
Let us teach one another the simple tips on how to “save” the environment. One person or one generation alone cannot do it. This task needs as many people contributing as possible. Therefore, let us continue the culture of sustainable living through simple acts of thoughtfulness. This will augment and redevelop the basis for a culture that will live for generations to come.