How to go green as an individual.
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash
Consumption and sustainability are serious problems throughout the world. Making the problem worse is the complexity of understanding consumption and sustainability. Most Americans and citizens of other countries do not fully grasp sustainability and consumption in the most basic terms. For example, most Americans think of consumption in terms of purchasing goods, using them, and discarding them (PCSD 1999). While correct, this understanding lacks the critical and global view of consumption. The view lacks an understanding of the full magnitude of resources being used to create a product such as raw materials and natural resources. The average person would view the consumption of fast food (such as a Big Mac) for instance as the producing refuse such as paper. In the United States this is thought of from an environmental perspective. However, this view lacks the understanding that the consumption of a Big Mac on a large scale also damages ecosystems by increasing the need for cattle and land for grazing. This destroys natural resources not to mention if any plastic is used in the meal which also consumes scarce natural resources. The common understanding of consumption also ignores population.
Population and consumption in the United States are driven by complex social, economic, political, demographic, and cultural conditions. Those conditions in turn alter the impact of U.S. population and consumption on the environment, the economy, and society. Considering the entire picture at once is daunting and confusing (President’s Council On Sustainable Development).
Part of the complexity of the problem that makes the United States stand apart from the rest of the world is that consumption is a significant driving force in the United States economy. The United States consumes materials and resources at a tremendous rate due to convenience. The affluence of the United States demands increasing amounts of products that are convenient and this drives the use of natural resources.
Another important factor with the demand of products is the increasing population. For instance,
Between 1980 and 1993, per capita energy consumption in the United States fell slightly, while total energy consumption rose by 10 percent. Population growth of 32 million people, or 14 percent, during the period drove total consumption up despite the decline in per capita use (President’s Council On Sustainable Development).
As a result of the complexity of consumption based on economic, social, and cultural factors, the United States lags behind some of the countries in Europe and Asia in terms of policies and practices promoting sustainability. To bring the United States into alignment with the rest of the world, practices need to be adopted that promote sustainability and conservation at the individual level.
Understanding the global implications for sustainability provides a strategy for personal green practices. This strategy can be broken down into three areas of practice: home, work, and entertainment. By adopting practices in these three areas, one can easily go green.
Many of us don’t know where to start when we try to implement green practices at home. There are some obvious practices such as: turning off lights, appliances, and minimizing the loss of cooling or heating. These are easy green practices and they include:
1. Unplug seldom-used appliances. This can save $10 every month on the utility bill.
2. Use power strips to turn off appliances such as computers stereos, and televisions. Appliances in “standby” consume the same power as a 75 or 100 watt light bulb.
3. Set Computers to Sleep and Hibernate Enable the “sleep mode” feature on your computer. This not only saves power but will make the computer last longer which is good for the environment.
4. Take Control of Temperature Set your thermostat in winter to 68 degrees or less during the daytime, and 55 degrees before going to sleep (or when you’re away for the day).
5. During the winter, leave shades and blinds open on sunny days, but close them at night. Close shades and blinds during the summer or when the air conditioner is in use.
6. Set your refrigerator temperature at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit; your freezer should be set between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Turn Out the Lights.
8. Conserving Water not only helps conserve power but it also helps the environment.
9. Start recycling, recycling helps the environment but also cuts down on energy use by not having to use more fossil fuels for manufacturing.
While this list is great place to start there are even more sustainable approaches to going green. Many people overlook the wasteful nature of common appliances within the home. Older appliances are typically more wasteful than newer appliances. For instance, older toilets use more water than newer systems such low flow toilets. Water conservation includes reduction in use but also the use of newer technologies such as better plumbing systems that use less water. Even newer refrigerators with ice making systems waste less electricity and use less water in their operations than older refrigerators with the same features. In fact the government has made going green in this way even more enticing and affordable. Most people do not realize that the government offers a Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit in which 30% of the cost of renewable resource installation is tax deductible (President’s Council On Sustainable Development). There is also the Residential Energy Efficiency Tax Credit which is a $1,500 tax credit available for installation of energy saving equipment (President’s Council On Sustainable Development). There is also an Energy Efficient Mortgage policy which allows lenders to add up to 100% of energy efficiency improvements to an existing mortgage loan with certain restrictions (President’s Council On Sustainable Development). Purchasing new appliances and replacing older plumbing systems is a great way to save money and help the environment.
The workplace is a tough place to be green. Many of the practices in the workplace are outside of our sphere of control. However, there are ways to be green in the workplace. Sadly many companies are still very careless or uncaring about being green. If you want to be green in the workplace many practices such as turning lights off are a start. Here are some tips that you might not have considered:
1. Start a recycling program if your company doesn’t have a program in place. This will save the company money and help the company be green (Vadney).
2. Keep plants in the office because plants reduce the amount of gasses and pollutants in the office (Vadney).
3. Monitor the thermostat more closely and make sure it is set at proper levels (Vadney).
4. Stop using disposables such as paper plates and plastic ware (Vadney).
5. If there is a janitor or cleaning person make sure they are using green cleaning supplies.
6. Replace all light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) as they burn out (Anderson).
Although we do not have complete control over the work environment, we can bring practices into it and help to change the company culture to being green.
A large part of going green is really about making better choices. There are many indirect ways to conserve resources. For instance, entertainment is a large area of consumption and waste in America. Cutting back on things like going to public swimming pools or purchasing food grown from far away all helps to reduce the burden placed on natural resources. Making choices such entertaining friends at home and cooking a meal is far less wasteful than going to a restaurant. Simple practices such as carpooling when going out with friends, or not driving at all helps to conserve resources and the environment.
Are you ready to be green?
Of course you are ready to be green. The practices we have gone over provide numerous simple ways to implement conservation in many different areas of life. The real trick in going green is understanding what conservation and sustainability mean and also developing a conscious pattern of green thought. If you are conscious of your actions and the implications of those actions then being green comes down to a matter of choices.
Anderson, R. Business lessons from a radical industrialist. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010.
President’s Council On Sustainable Development. WHY CONSIDER POPULATION AND CONSUMPTION? 2014.
Vadney, Joshua. Being Green at Work — It Can Be Easy to Make a Difference! 13 August 2008.
Vincent Triola. Mon, Apr 05, 2021. Going Green Globally & Individually Retrieved from https://vincenttriola.com/blogs/ten-years-of-academic-writing/going-green-globally-individually