Sustainability is a big buzzword these days, but what exactly does it mean? Sustainability means meeting your current needs without having a negative impact on the needs of future generations. It also requires you to make environmentally-conscious choices about the way you live. It's not really plausible for most of us to have a completely sustainable home -- one that uses only nature's infinite resources with no affect on the environment around us. But fortunately, there are some measures you can take to make your home more sustainable.
The most basic thing you can do to make your yard more sustainable is to start a compost pile. All you need to get started is some brown and green. So take your dead leaves and yard trimmings and start layering. Over time, add vegetable scraps, coffee grounds and egg shells and turn it occasionally to add air. Eventually you will have beautiful, rich soil that's perfect for planting a vegetable garden -- another thing you can do to create a more sustainable home. Kick it up a notch and add edible plants to your landscape. While you're at it, lose the grass and xeriscape your yard with drought-tolerant plant varieties. Less watering equals greater sustainability. You can also plant deciduous shade trees around your home to help with air conditioning bills. When they lose their leaves in the winter, they'll let in more light.
In the reduce, reuse, recycle triangle, recycling is actually the least desirable action item. Of course, it's much better than adding trash to a landfill, but reusing items that still have some life in them is a much better move for the environment. For example, you can repair broken tools and furniture instead of throwing them away. It's amazing what you can do with a roll of duct tape. Baggies, paper and plastic bags, envelopes and file folders are all items that are easy to store for reuse and usually have a much longer life cycle than most people actually take advantage of. Printer paper has two sides, so save a stack to use for printing drafts and archival documents. Grocery items often come in a type of plastic that many cities don't recycle. Rather than tossing these containers in the trash, they can be used to store any number of household items.
Recycling and reusing are great practices, but reducing your impact to begin with is the best practice. Avoid buying paper plates and cups and choose compact fluorescents over regular incandescent light bulbs because they last longer and use less energy. Fixing leaky pipes can save thousands of gallons of water, while weather stripping windows can save energy and reduce your heating and cooling bill. Installing low-flow toilets and showerheads is an investment that will save you money over time and will start saving water immediately.
Your choices as a consumer greatly affect the sustainability of your home. Using rechargeable batteries limits the waste of items that often can't be recycled. Buying paper products made with recycled content continues the chain of sustainability. Better yet, lose the paper towels and use a washable cloth. Biodegradable trash bags and cups are made of corn that dissolves over time, adding one less type of plastic to our landfills. And energy saver appliances, such as front-loading washers and dryers and efficient dishwashers save you money over time.
There are many natural cleaners on the market these days, some of which still have synthetic fragrances that end up in our water supply. Fortunately, you can make great, environmentally safe cleaners out of household items. The acid in white vinegar makes it naturally capable of killing mold and bacteria; you can use it to clean mirrors and windows. Baking soda is also great for deodorizing. Lemon juice is another bacteria battler and sodium borate, aka borax, is a multi-purpose cleaner that's useful for scrubbing walls and floors.
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- "An Introduction To Indoor Air Quality." Epa.gov, 2010. http://www.epa.gov/iaq/voc.html
- Glennon, Robert. "Our Water Supply, Down the Drain." Washingtonpost.com, Aug. 23, 2009. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/21/AR2009082101773.html
- Lawrence, Vincent. "Composting for beginners." Plowhearth.com, 2010. http://www.plowhearth.com/magazine/compost_how_to.asp
- "Non-Toxic Home Cleaning." Eartheasy.com, 2010. http://eartheasy.com/live_nontoxic_solutions.htm
- "Sustainability at home: a toolkit." Naturalstep.org, 2010. http://www.naturalstep.org/sites/all/files/HouseholdGuidebook_EVersion.pdf
- "Thirty Ways To Get Sustainable - At Home." In Context, Issue 35, Page 22, Spring 1993. http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC35/30ways.htm
- "What is sustainability?" epa.gov, 2010. http://www.epa.gov/sustainability/basicinfo.htm#sustainability