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. If you haven’t read it yet, be sure to check our Part 1 of my Every Day Sustainability blog for an introduction into my sustainability journey.
We’ve chosen to own only one car for our family of four and most days this car stays parked in the garage.
I love riding my bike and walking as my primary form of transportation, even in the Michigan winter! Do you remember that childhood rush? The wind on your face. Complete freedom to explore. I get that same childlike rush most mornings when I hop on my bicycle to ride to work. I get to start my morning with exercise and community, waving and greeting my friends and neighbors along my bike route. My first grader walks to school. My husband and toddler choose to cycle or walk to most of their routine destinations, like the library and gym. Even though we’ve invested in niche and fun bikes, this approach still saves us money. Despite the hefty initial investment, my winter bike from Organic Transit paid for itself in less than two years because there is virtually no operation and maintenance costs – no car registration or insurance, and no weekly gasoline bill.
Alternatives to walking and cycling include public transportation or carpooling, depending on where you live. No carpool program in your area? Start talking with your neighbors and co-workers to see if anyone is driving in the same direction with you. Worst case scenario, you’ll get to know these people better and your connections within your community will grow.
The Global Footprint Network footprint calculator includes services, such as government assistance, roads and infrastructure, public services, and the military. While these are outside of my direct control, I know I have opportunities to influence, especially within my own community. This encourages us to run for city commission, participate in the community forums, and vote in both federal and local elections. I’m on the Sustainability Committee at my daughter’s elementary school and my husband is beginning to engage with community leaders to make our community more bike-friendly. Earth month is a great time to think about your top priorities and ways you want to get involved in your local community.
I choose not to own very many things. I know, I know…we’re all “Marie Kondo-ing” our lives right now. It’s very hip and I’m 100% on the bandwagon.
Top Right Image: consciousconsideration.org.uk
I choose to follow the buying hierarchy. I choose to spend my time caring for the things I already own. That means I’m learning to sew so I can repair my clothes when I get a hole. And my husband is fantastically awesome at home repair (it helps that he was in home construction before he started his second career as a stay at home dad). We use these opportunities to teach our kids life skills, so they can create, repair, and perform basic home maintenance too. This is also a great opportunity to engage with my community and trade goods/services.
I choose to buy used items, everything from cars and appliances to furniture and clothes. I like the durability of old things, choosing to buy solid wood furniture made several decades ago or this cast iron yard furniture I found at an antique auction last year. I like to buy from real people too, using it as an opportunity to make friends in my new community. And of course, it’s usually much cheaper to buy something used than a brand new item.
And when I’m done with something (all those things we’re jettisoning because they don’t “bring us joy), I choose to resell or donate it. You’d be surprised how often something is useful for someone else, even if you think there’s no useful life left.
Our last stop on the tour of my environmental footprint is shelter: my home.
We use LED bulbs (which pay for themselves in about two months) and a programmable thermostat. We keep our house at 65F in the winter and 75F in the summer when we’re home (closer to 55F and 85F when we’re not). We use a technique called “passive cooling” to keep our house cool in the summer. That’s a fancy term for opening the windows at night to let the coolernight air cool my house instead of running air conditioning and closing them during the day to keep the heat out.
These techniques save us money of course, but the biggest moment of impact related to your home is when you buy (or rent) a new one. This is when you choose where you want to live and what you want your life to look like. In general, smaller houses (or apartments and condos) in denser neighborhoods (think, smaller lots) and cities use less resources and have a smaller impact on the planet. Where you live in relation to where you need to be every single day (places like work, school, the gym, library and grocery store) is the most important factor of all.
I can choose to ride my bicycle to work every day because I chose to buy a house 1.6 miles from my office. My daughter can walk to her school because we chose to buy a house less than a quarter mile from the school. We can grow our own food because we have enough space and direct sun. And we can have chickens because we live in a town that allows them in their zoning code (so, back to that vague services bucket above).
We chose to live in downtown Rockford because we value the community and infrastructure that a downtown provides. Full disclosure: my home is more space than we need, the purchase price and maintenance costs are higher than if I’d chosen another, smaller home. These things make it a great example of the real-life tradeoffs we have to make with our decisions and the steps I still need to take on my sustainability journey.
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.