Hi, I’m Erin. I work for Wolverine Worldwide and live in Rockford, Michigan with my husband, two kids, one dog, and five chickens. I’ve been working towards living a more sustainable life since I was 7 years old and someone gave me a book called “50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth”.
Throughout my journey, I’ve gotten to talk to lots of people about sustainability, what it means, and how we can be more mindful of our impacts. A few things stand out for me from these many conversations.
The first is that definition of sustainability is gloriously comprehensive and wide-ranging at the same time. Personal sustainability covers everything from the food we eat, our transportation choices, the way we heat our homes, the size/type of home we choose to live in, and the products we buy.
The second is the widespread recognition that sustainability is a journey. There is no perfect. It’s not something we can check off our “to do” list. And wherever you are on your journey is the right place to move forward from. It isn’t helpful to judge others on their path, this is a personal journey. It’s helpful to look around for examples and inspirations, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution for a more sustainable life. Everyone’s path looks different.
Lastly, there is a general sentiment that sustainability is hard work. Many people talk to me about how hard it is to go zero waste, live without a car, or eat a vegan diet. These people are acutely aware of the lack of mainstream infrastructure to support their sustainable lifestyle.
This last one resonates with me, but also strikes a negative cord that I’d like to reframe. I’d rather talk about how a commitment to a sustainable lifestyle is both empowering and fulfilling. Instead of saying that a sustainable lifestyle takes so much time, planning, and effort (a negative sentiment), I like to think about how it encourages me to slow down, think about what I value most, and spend the time doing those things well.
You’ve heard of sustainability’s triple bottom line – people, planet, profit – and that any good business needs to deliver on all three. I believe these same three values apply to personal life and I apply them in the following ways.
- People – I value my family and my community. I choose to improve my relationships with people, spending more time on adventure and fun with the people I love.
- Planet – I value my planet. I choose to reduce my impact and use less resources.
- Profit – I value my money and want to have the financial freedom to enjoy life. I choose to spend less.
Let’s start with planet. I use an environmental footprint calculator to measure my impacts each year. I recommend this calculator from Global Footprint Network. With this data I can see which areas of my life use the most resources and choose where I want to focus my efforts.
As you can see, my life requires 1.5 Earths to support and my overshoot day is August 30th. What do these numbers mean? It means that if everyone lived the exact same lifestyle as me, we would need 50% more resources than our Earth can provide. Compare this to the American average of 5 Earths and I’m feeling good about my progress, but I still have a long way to go to my goal of only needing one planet. And overshoot day is the day each year that I begin to use more than my fair share of resources.
Once I know my biggest areas of impact, I can make better choices in each area, delivering results for the planet while also improving my quality of life (people and profit).
Did you know?
- The average produce in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles, while local food may only travel 100 miles (or less).
- One pound of beef requires 5,000 gallons of water to produce.
- One gallon of cow’s milk requires 1,950 gallons of water.
- Conversely, one pound of Tofu requires 302 gallons of water to produce, and 290 gallons of water to produce one pound of unprocessed oats.
I love growing/raising my own food. I can’t tell you how many more conversations I have with my neighbors simply because I’m outside, working in the garden all summer. I love playing in the dirt with my kids. I love seeing the magic through their eyes as they watch seeds push through the earth in the spring and deliver their favorite foods by mid-summer.
Last spring, we hatched our own chickens. My girls sang to the eggs in the incubator, encouraging the baby chicks to peck, peck, peck their way out of their shell. And today, they love to run out to the chicken coop to collect the eggs – it’s like an Easter egg hunt every single day!
Growing my own fruits and vegetables saves us so much money. We spend something like $50 on seeds each spring and end up with hundreds of pounds of food. We get five eggs per day from our chickens at a cost of about $0.05 each in feed.
We love shopping at the farmers’ market on Saturday mornings. After the market, we like to stop at the cheese shop too. I bring my own bags/jars so I’m not creating extra waste. Talking to the local farmers and shop owners, supporting them with my money, and visiting with friends and neighbors while shopping makes me feel more connected to my community.
Lastly, food waste has a huge impact on my environmental footprint. The average American wastes 21% of the food they buy and that waste is worth a whopping $450 per person each year. Think of all the resources used on the farming, transportation, and storage… only for us to throw it away!
We try to reduce our food waste by meal planning before we go shopping, eating most of our meals at home, packing leftovers for lunch, and composting. Composting doesn’t have to be complicated – ours is a very simple “bin” constructed from old pallets – food wants to rot, so all it really needs is moisture and oxygen. As a bonus, we pull the rich, nutrient dense soil from the bottom of our compost bin each spring and spread it over our garden to help our vegetables grow.
Eating local food, more vegetables, less meat, and reducing food waste are all really great ways to lower the environmental impact of my food.
Sustainability is a journey without a destination or end and I’m constantly striving to make better choices. I love learning from and being inspired by others and would love to continue the conversation with you. Please share your ideas, goals, achievements, or thoughts in the comments below or with me @carbonfreefamily on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, and be sure to read Part 2 of my Every Day Sustainability blog.
Photography for Feature Image (at the top): James Harnois Photography, @jamesharnoisphoto