How Can I be Sustainable in My Daily Life?
What is the Number One Thing I Can Do to be Green?
My friend, Steve Kohn, asked me that question a few months ago. As much as I love talking about all things sustainable, that question really caught me off guard. I started answering a few times, and never really landed on a good answer.
I think my first answer was, “Get rid of your car and walk, bike, and use public transit more.” After all, gas prices are out of control and there is a clear connection between tailpipe emissions and all kind of local pollutants and global warming.
I talked myself out of that answer and changed it to, “Have a more efficient home: good insulation and use the smallest amount of power that you can to heat and cool where you live.” Cooling a home uses a huge amount of electricity, which is made from coal and nuclear power (bad and worse). Heating it is just as bad in northern climates like Chicago, as burning natural gas releases carbon dioxide.
I talked a bit more and got into recycling, using less plastics, and energy efficiency, the standard green industry talk. I might have even shamelessly plugged the Verde Pad app as well as a way to be green and reduce energy usage in the home, but it still didn’t seem quite right…
I was a bit embarrassed because after a while, I couldn’t come up with a good single answer. Being sustainable involves so many different actions and behaviors, that I couldn’t answer his question without talking myself into circles.
Well, after about three months went by, I eventually landed on a single answer. I called Steve and told him that I had an single sustainable action that people should focus on, although I’m pretty sure he forgot the question.
Living in a Dense Neighborhood
The number one thing you can do to be sustainable is to live in a dense neighborhood or city. That is my final answer to the oft asked question, “How can I be sustainable in my daily life?”. It actually encompasses all of my previous answers, although it’s in contrast to the “American Way” as over the past 75 years as we have spread out farther and farther into suburban sprawl. >
People that live in dense neighborhoods do walk, bike, and public transit more frequently. Often they don’t even need a car, or can use a car share when available. They don’t even need to make the environmental choice because they care about the planet. It’s simply more of a pain to park a car, and is easier and more convenient to get errands done, since there are a plentitude of restaurants and shops close enough to walk to.
People that live in urban areas often use less power to heat and cool their home, simply because they share walls with their neighbors. I live in a condo, and my waste heat goes to my neighbors, and the best insulation you can have is a condo above you with the heat on. It also helps that real estate is tougher to come by in a city than in the suburbs, so your place tends to be smaller in size.
Another interesting point is that often recycling is easier to come by (or should be, Chicago!), and that garbage trucks don’t drive as far in routes to collect your trash. Schools and jobs are usually closer to where you live, so you need less energy to get to those places. In fact, Manhattan residents use much less energy per capita than anywhere else in the US. Makes sense since they are the densest city in America.
I love that people care about the environment and want to take steps toward protecting it, and I hope that my answers are getting better – even if it takes me a few months to arrive at an answer. And to be fair, Steve already lives in a dense urban neighborhood, so he is ahead of the curve.