Last time tried to ignite the discussion of what is the sustainable development – where it starts and ends (or does not end)? This time, want to go deeper on the personal level, discussing how much can we be sustainable on a small scale, you and me, today and now. The question of personal sustainable development is getting more attention, but what are the concrete actions to be made to lift up (actually not to lift, but rather to maintain and seek that it will be continuous) the sustainability.
First what comes to my mind (what do you think?) thinking about sustainability is the environment or ECOLOGY – relationship between human and nature. Here we could raise and try answering these personal questions:
- To what extent do i use the renewable energy? It is well known that gas, oil and coal is a limited resource, while sun and wind are limitless. So why not to use the unlimited resources in your daily needs? The problem of course is the cost, the difficulties to change the supplier, the bureaucracies, etc. However, lets have that as an aim and track our progress and potentially encourage or vote for the initiatives that bring us renewable energy home. My personal example – i installed the solar panels on the boat and now all the electric supply comes from sun. Furthermore, it is (a) cost efficient (invested money only on the solar panels, while operating costs – sun is free and solar panels should serve for 25 years according to guarantee), (b) time saving (i do not need anymore to fill the diesel or turn the engine on) and environment saving not only from (c) resource perspective, but also from (d) lower pollution, (e) lower noise (no need to run the engine), which leads to a more qualitative quiet time. Personal evaluation: electricity +, gas -, diesel -.
- To what extent do i sort out the garbage? It would make life more sustainable, if the things we do not need be recycled. The better we recycle at home, the easier it is for the companies to sort out and reuse the things. Personal evaluation: even though my house friend pushed me to sort out the garbage straight from the beginning, we stopped doing it due to low space on the boat availability. This is of course not an excuse and we could (and should and will) think of some creative solution, how to address the issue.
- To what extent do we throw out the food we buy? According to the statistics, 6 out of 10 UK families fail to finish all the foods on the plates and throws out 6.5kg of unwanted food each week. UK households throw away 7 million tones of food and drinks per year and more than half of it could have been eaten. Wasting this food costs £700 per year for a family with children. There are two main reasons why we throw away good food: we cook or prepare too much or we don’t use it in time. Personal evaluation: i am very conscious and try never to through away the food, but sometimes the food goes out due to fungus (keeping too long). Potential action for myself – better planning. I also often buy the food that is on sale the last day, so i have two effects here: help saving the food from throwing out and as well saving money.
- To what extent do we clean our room, the stairs, the corridor, the yard, the neighborhood, the parks, the city? Do we collect the garbage when we pass by accident or we do cleaning only on the times designed for that – like a cleaning day of the year? I always love to notice how perfectly works the following psychological effect – if the park is full of garbage, it is so easy to join the littering and feel no responsibility, since other people do that as well, and my garbage is just one of thousands, while if there is no garbage in the park – we suddenly start feeling the responsibility and discomfort, when the garbage stands out. Once the environment (whether it is your room or park nearby) is clean and cleared, there is space for something new to happen, for creativity and nice time to emerge, for somebody else to play. Personal evaluation – I do clean my home and never throw the garbage, but only recently started to participate in the voluntarily activities to clean the canal and think about the cleanness around. Cleaning spaces opens up the spaces and new possibilities that we could not think of.
- To what extent do you use sustainable transportation – walking, bike, electric scooter, motorbike, public transportation, a car or a plane? As i wrote in the previous blog post, cycling has a tremendous effect on your finances, environment, health, flexibility, speed, sightseeing and geographical orientation. The more we walk, use the manual or renewable power driven vehicles, sharing schemes, the more sustainable we are. Personal evaluation – i ride bike everywhere within 1 hour ride one way and whatever weather conditions are, use public transportation otherwise or try to hitchhike (if possible) and share the car for long distances.
- To what extent do we use the printing services or we just have an electronic version in your phone or computer?
- To what extent do we use the libraries to read the book or newspaper or do we have to have always our own copy?
As we leave the ecology field, personal sustainability becomes blurry, with unsure borders where it starts and ends. Lets think of another category ECONOMY. An old saying suggests us “take care of yourself first or you will have nothing left to give others”. Certainly this saying is not fully true, since there is always something to give to others. However, there is quite a bit of truth as well – we do need self-care in order to be better equipped to help others. As K.McBridge says: “self-care is about seeking and nurturing internal validation. It is finding the child within and giving him or her soothing comfort, reassurance, and warm, loving thoughts and wishes. It is about taking care of the internal emotional side of our being and learning self-compassion”. Being self sustainable financially enables us to satisfy personal essential needs, helps to reach self actualization (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs), family needs and then help others. Living without external funding and financial support gives us financial independence, freedom and wisdom.
- Can we live only from your past earnings without an additional job? Once your income from assets becomes higher than periodic expenses, you are fully sustainable to live without a job.
- Is our net worth (assets minus liabilities) positive? As i wrote in the previous blog, it is highly important to increase your net worth in order to be less dependent on external influence.
- Have we Increased and maximized our income? It looks a bit out of sustainable development scope at first glance, but it is not! Being productive and active gives benefits to yourself and the society. Searching for the ways how to become more efficient makes your home, your workplace, your community more efficient and thus better place to work and live. We should not think of maximizing income as stepping over other fields, such as environment, culture, or society. Maximization needs to be considered, adjusted and integrated with other factors. Having considered other elements, it is still very important to maximize income. Maximization also pushes as to do what we like, because we can do a better job at the things we enjoy more. Also, maximization pushes us to think of not only the regular job income source, but also about investments, entrepreneurship, that could add significantly higher income source at the same time benefiting many other fields and increasing sustainability.
- Have we decreased and minimized our expenses? When i mention self-care, it is not about buying a new tv set or a car to satisfy your luxury needs. All these toys or the things that are not essential can lead to lower savings, more debt, more dependance and lower sustainability. Minimizing expenses enables us to save and invest, distribute our wealth over time and better resist to crisis. Spending less brings inner and outer sustainability – learning how to be satisfied with minimal expenses can enhance creativity and appreciation of non-material things. By consuming less we naturally discourage producing new things and wasting resources.
- Enhancing the quality of our assets. Why to buy the apartment for only yourself, if you can buy an apartment and share (sub-rent) with other people ? You will win by gaining additional income and at the same time allocating more efficiently the resources. Why to buy the apartment in general, if you can rent cheaper (maybe there are already many apartments built and available to rent) and invest the savings somewhere else? Should you buy a car or drive public transportation or buy a bike? All these questions should be raised managing your assets. The best assets are those that generate some income (for instance investment in stocks or bonds brings dividends and capital returns) and the worst are those that are just increasing your debt (all luxury items and especially real estate only for yourself to satisfy the comfort). Diversification or investing in different kinds of assets (real estate, stock market, businesses) is one tool to enhance the quality.
- Optimize the liabilities. Get rid of all the debts that you pay high interest and you will live more sustainably. Otherwise – you work hard just to pay the high interest.
- To what extent do we reuse the things? Clothes, shoes, towels?
- How long do we wear or use the things – updating your clothes with every fashion coming in and throwing clothes with every tiny spot or sign of wear or hole? Buying new phone every single opportunity arises? There is no hidden irony here – sustainability should not be something painful or the things we do not want. Sustainability should be adding but not taking away. If being up to date with the latest technology is more pleasant than using the same model for 4 years, let it be so. It is less sustainable, but we should always balance, weight pluses and minuses and not go to the extremes.
- How often do you buy the things you do not need?
- How often do you give presents that are bought and hand made or already used?
Another field is the HEALTH. Can we be really sustainable if we are sick and pass the viruses to others or need so much care from others that we almost take someone’s else life time? By taking care of our health (mental and physical), we are able to be more productive, happier and help others, making a world more sustainable.
- Do we do eye exercises and little breaks between our work or other activities?
- How often do we do sports?
- Do we eat enough vegetables or are we perhaps vegetarian or pescetarian? Eating more vegetables and less meat leads not only to personal health, but also saving the animals, discouraging unhealthy mass meat production.
- Do we limit sweets and sugar intakes? It is perhaps a very happy moment to eat cookie, but eating too much in the long run causes many problems.
- Do we sleep enough and recover our mental and physical condition? We are definitely more sustainable when we are fresh and more happy.
- Do we and to what extent we smoke and drink alcohol?
There are also SOCIAL, POLITICAL and CULTURAL sustainability factors. These we might discuss later and you are all welcome to suggest your factors or in general understanding how we could be more sustainable. To wrap the whole discussion, lets touch another field. Recently my understanding was extended by a biodynamic agriculture concept that was initiated by Rudolph Steiner. Biodynamics is as someone described “organics plus” – farming, processes and resulting products are not only organic, but also treated interrelated with the whole ecosystem and even spirituality. Soil fertility mutually interacts with plant growth, livestock and spiritual dimension. Even though i can not agree and quantify with connection with the spiritual dimension, the idea of interconnection is very plausible. The same goes with any sustainable development, including personal (and urban) – there are multiple dimensions that are simultaneously influencing each other and even though one action might seem unrelated, there is still connectivity taking a look deeper and into more details.