What does it really mean to be green, everyone seems to have a different idea of what green is? We use the term green for everything such as buildings to drinks, home furnishings to laundry detergents, electricity to mouthwash. Let’s discuss a few definitions and then get into ways the average person can really help make their home green and eco-friendly.
In the context of ‘going green’ it implies: The need for reducing consumption, reusing and recycling products, steps that will help preserve the planet for future generations. “Going green” is a term used to describe being more environmentally conscious in all aspects of your life. The goal of “going green” is to exhibit behaviors that help reduce your overall carbon footprint, which is a measurement of all greenhouse gases we individually produce. Some people adopt this lifestyle in small steps, gradually introducing more green products and behaviors into their everyday lives. I have determined that small steps must be taken to accommodate varying degrees of acceptability within the household occupants.
Greening your home and life can be broken up into several categories with the first being external influences such as electricity, water, and governmental policies which can affect water collection and tax incentives. Building structure and maintenance would be my second category. The third category would be home consumables with the forth category of personal consumables. Food has been broken into a separate category as it can encompass building maintenance in the form of edible landscaping and also as something you’re personally consuming.
1. External Influences
External influences are relationships you have with outside companies that provide a service to you or to a member of your household. If you purchase electricity or power from your local company, do they generate the power using nuclear, coal, wind or water based energy sources. Propane, natural gas, water, heating oil, and waste management services would all fall into this category. When reviewing suppliers in this category, determine what percentage of their product is generated using green energy sources such as solar, wind, and other sustainable energy practices. Do they use energy efficient vehicles, do they adopt practices that reduce individual service calls for more efficient measures such as remote login, web conferencing. Do they practice recycling? Remember you direct their future with the dollars you spend, so spend them wisely.
2. The building structure and maintenance category is simply what materials do you purchase to build, renovate, or remodel your place of residence whether this is a physical home, recreational vehicle, travel trailer, or some other form of mobile living structure. Many people think of this as used LEED or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, which is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. But this actually means a lot more than that, this is the category that involves real discussions between couples or families about what they actually want for a living space and then to determine what products are available to then as local sustainable materials. Honest discussions must also be completed to determine if the owner has the proper skill set to do the work themselves or will they be using local craftsman to perform the work. Review materials as honestly as possible, there will always be opinions on both sides of a discussion, so make an informed decision that you feel comfortable defending. You might have to at some point. Use the LEED green building council publications as a guide but do your own research.
3. The third category is the home consumables. This would include printer paper, printer cartridges, packaging, labels, envelopes, and home cleaning products. Do you purchase products made from 100% recycled paper, do you recycle printer cartridges, and do you recycle at all? Become a savvy consumer and read every label to see what the ingredient list contains. Can you identify every ingredient or do they become so technical you have to spend time looking up the majority of the ingredients online to determine what they are? Remove chemicals from your house and your life, there are environmentally friendly cleaning products that clean windows, countertops, showers, ovens and stoves, mold, walls or even exterminate bed bugs from mattresses. There are even steam cleaning products that clean floors, carpets and do the laundry. Our goal is to drastically cut down on the number of toxins we use in our homes. Recycle, recycle, and recycle, if you do not have a formal program where you live, then call your city council and discuss the creation of a program with them.
4. Personal consumables is an area that should start with local artisans for soaps, bath gels, shampoo’s. Then move on to organic products at local stores, or consider making your own products. There are many good and simple recipes online to create your own products using plants, flowers, and seeds that comes from your own gardens. Be creative and have fun, turn this into a family project to teach the skill to other family members.
5. Food products for the majority of the American people has become a matter of convenience, it has nothing to do with nutrition. We must turn that around. Use foods that are in season and grown locally. Cook with whole foods, do not purchase anything that can be cooked in a microwave or comes in a box. Try a new vegetable, make a meatless meal one day a week. Look around your property, do you have bushes you prune every year for show or do you have bushes that produce something your family can eat. Replace your landscaping with edible landscaping. A single hardy almond tree produces 20 pounds a fruit for a family. Or better yet, replace your front lawn with a front yard garden, that way you can talk with the neighbors when you are harvesting your vegetables. Teach your children how to grow food, let them grow something as they will surely eat what they grow. Extend your harvest by learning how to can your garden harvest, dehydrating is another option. Recently the Harvest Right Home Freezer Dryer has been released, while this is the lowest cost unit available today, I still find this too expensive for most home. But it would fit the bill for a neighborhood to purchase or a food or cooking group. Another method of food preservation would be fermentation, there are many health benefits due to the fermentation process such as creating beneficial enzymes, b-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, and various strains of probiotics. Keep your family healthy and happy with healthy food, heal their bodies from the inside out.
While this is not an exhaustive list, it does provide you with a basic framework to look at your own situation and access areas of potential improvement and where you already excel. Don’t try and tackle everything at once, pick one item and master it fully, then move on to another. Remember while you make improvements, you are “going green”. Congratulations you made it.
Vince Kirchner, a certified Permaculture instructor and an Ohio State University Master Gardener, is owner of Great Lakes Permaculture, Tiffin.