Protecting the environment can seem like a near impossible task at the best of times but it doesn’t have to be that way. Every step toward creating a healthier more sustainable planet counts, but only if they are actually taken.
The great thing is that with a few simple ideas, it’s easy to not only take steps to protect the environment but also to save money, access services for free, forge new friendships, improve our health, and strengthen communities at the same time.
Jonathon Walsh outlines 7 ways we can do it quickly, easily and cheaply.
RE-THINK HOW MONEY IS USED: TIME BANKING
Let’s face it: the core of economics revolves around people handing over round pieces of metal and bits of paper (with pictures on them) to others. It’s farcical, and yet the only reason our currency-based economies actually continue to function is because enough of us unquestioningly buy into the concept. But is money really necessary for societies to function? Could services be provided and products exchanged without the metal and bank notes? Of course, in fact, for much of human history, they were, and, perhaps surprisingly, still are.
Time Banking is one way this can occur, and it is both simple and effective.
People who join a time bank list the skills and services they can offer. For every hour they spend providing these services to other members, for example pruning a neighbor’s hedge, they earn one Hour, a tradable unit. These units can then be redeemed for other services within the time bank community, such as having windows cleaned, children minded, or engine tuned.
Time bank members – who could potentially live anywhere, especially if online services are being provided – can provide and receive services from any other members; reciprocation is not necessary and all labor is valued equally.
This concept could be easily set up and expanded throughout a street, club or community group, and with enough individuals participating, each member will be able to utilize key services for far less – or even no – cost. This will automatically allow those who may not normally be able to fully participate in a community for financial or other reasons to contribute and play more active roles by exchanging, for example, house cleaning services for a car wash.
Time banking has the triple benefit of encouraging more individual involvement, cutting costs, and rapidly strengthening relationships within communities. The system potentially allows everyone in a neighborhood to exchange their talents and time if they have the latter, and still utilize benefits if they don’t: in fact, if a person has no time to spend working in a time bank system, their partner or children could do so and acquire time bank hours for the ‘time-poor’ person.
A more structured, localized version of time banks could be set up by apartment block tenants or people in the same street, block or suburb and could incorporate a broader range of services that are typically provided by local or central governments such as pensioner, child care, and transportation services.
These communities, often known as ‘communes’ or ‘intentional communities’, could be promoted as financially solvent cooperative communities of professionals and their families who have a common goal of living as independently as possible – using minimal money.
This system truly comes into its own if, for example, government funding for a local school is cut; the teachers within an intentional community could still work, providing and using services with other members in lieu of paying and payment.
GO DIY! What’s the best way to start time banking? Try enlisting a few friends and neighbors who will commit to exchange 1-2 services over the next few weeks, then discuss how it went and tweak as desired.
RECYCLING/SHARING: WHAT GOES AROUND COMES AROUND / DAY TRADING
Instead of dumping our junk, why not find a way to pass it on to someone who needs it?
Instead of buying new, why not borrow or buy second hand?
Can unwanted children’s books and toys be given away to new homes? Would it be better to borrow toys, say via a toy library, than buy them new?
All these methods save money and reduce the burden on the environment.
Better still, how about abandoning the “this is mine” mentality and simply…sharing?
Instead of buying a paint stripper or power sander that you may only use once in a decade, why not gain agreement from other home handymen in your street or apartment to have a range of tools, machines and equipment stored on pre-determined properties and each borrow them when required?
An updated equipment list could be kept on a website, and if new equipment is required, split the cost. This co-owning, co-sharing strategy could be used for children’s toys, camping equipment, bicycles, cars, trailers, boats and more. This idea alone could save thousands of dollars, not to mention reduce consumption and waste, and equipment deemed excess to requirements could be sold to create cash for other purposes. The key is to keep products in use and out of landfills.
Co-housing is another smart way to share resources. This concept revolves around people living in private homes but using shared facilities that may include kitchens, dining areas, laundries, child care facilities, offices, exercise facilities and other recreational areas. Co-housing communities may be owned and managed by residents who would also share activities, for example cleaning, cooking, dining, gardening and child care and make decisions by consensus. This concept would be a natural fit with a time bank or intentional community.
Another smart method to reduce waste and protect the environment is bartering.
As opposed to the resource-sharing mentioned above, this age-old practice can and has been modernized to assist both individuals and businesses to exchange new or used products and services in a way that is either cheaper than standard retail or free, and that helps keep products out of landfills.
In economic downturns and other times of financial stress, bartering can be a godsend for people and companies that still need resources but may not be able to afford to pay for them. Bartering has the following advantages, among others –
1. Convert excess or unwanted goods into another’s resource.
2. Help people and businesses acquire and dispose of items and equipment in a more environmentally-friendly way.
3. Aid people and businesses to hold onto cash reserves for other more important purposes.
Web-based bartering and business exchanges are other ways that individuals and companies are exchanging goods and services and saving money, in fact, bartering can be a valuable sales strategy – bartering sites can bring new buyers and sellers together and subsequently create entirely new customer bases.
GROW YOUR GROCERIES
Food and water are, of course, essential for life. Most people pay for these, but there is a way that virtually anyone can get huge amounts of both – for near negligible cost in the long term.
If a person has access to a car park-sized area of unused land, they have the potential to substantially boost their self-sufficiency by transitioning from food consumer to producer in one season.
Using a 3×5 m garden patch, this writer has grown 3,000+ tomatoes, 60 lettuces, 180 cucumbers and large quantities of other vegetables that have fed his and other families over 2 years.
By combining a few food-growing basics with a lot of ingenuity, it can be both easy and fun to not simply grow food on the flat but also upwards via vertical farming: on walls, balconies, fences, and more.
Not only is it possible to convert sunlit walls and fences into mini farms quickly, easily and cheaply by building chain gardens and fence gardens, it’s fairly easy to transform empty rooftops into thriving food sources using raised gardens, pots and planter boxes. All this and more are possible, easy, and surprisingly cheap.
Many food growing guides are available, such as this Urban Farming Guide, showing the basics of how to grow healthy, delicious food in the city – minus harmful chemicals.
Growing food in urban environments has multiple benefits not just for the farmer, but for the planet.
Budding urban farmers can quickly improve their diets and nutrient intakes, cut down the amount of chemicals they consume, help reduce ‘food miles’, utilize (free) rain water, significantly improve their food self-sufficiency, and – very importantly – increase survival chances if a major disaster strikes.
In fact, growing food on site – either at the home or worksite – can change dynamics to such a degree that instead of people venturing to the supermarket where they have to actually pay for food containing chemicals and toxins that will harm their bodies, they can simply go up or outside to their own gardens and pick healthy no-spray food for free.
For those who want even greater resource independence, rain water harvesting and more comprehensive sustainability strategies should both be considered. This Sustainability Pack, for example, shows 25 ways that people can start boosting self-sufficiency – within days – by growing kilograms of healthy, no-spray food and capturing thousands of liters of rainwater on site.
The scope of sustainable food production is only limited by our ideas, and there is no shortage of those: Here is how a food-based sustainability program changed the way students at a school in Tokyo, Japan, obtained vegetables, and here are 15 strategies to produce food and feed our future.
RE-DEFINE ‘GROWTH’ AND PROMOTE INNOVATION
Economic growth always creates more environmentally-damaging waste. The greater the growth, the greater the waste. Can this link be re-engineered in any way? One way to do so is to promote what is called the triple bottom line, or TBL. TBL considers business growth as being more than the creation of profits and shareholder value, and incorporates the 3Ps: people, planet and profits into accounting requirements to support sustainability goals.
Another idea is to link business profits to environmental support. Local and central governments could pump, for example, 5% of tax revenues into initiatives that support, protect and restore the environment so that funds for environmental protection are tied directly to economic growth.
This ‘environmental tithing’ could easily be put in place by businesses, which could leverage their environmental support to generate impacting PR.
GO DIY! Here’s a how-to guide to creating a CSR program that channels funds to environmental, community and charitable organizations while helping businesses sell more.
At a political level, one – if not, the – fundamental challenge in this area is to unshackle the diametrically opposing concepts of politicians’ appetites for endless economic growth and the desire of citizens for clean air, water and healthy food.
This conflict has been bared for all to see in the U.S. in recent years where Republicans have tried to squash pro-environment legislation by claiming it will affect economic growth. So far, they have been successful and effectively shut down serious debate, however, unless or until this conflict is overcome and politicians can be shown – using any workable logic – that voting for pro-environment legislation is ultimately good for the environment and their own futures, their actions may well lead to the shutting down of much of life on this planet. As European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso underlined at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2014, “Climate action is central for the future of our planet.”
The critical goal of this debate must be to convince politicians that they urgently need to broaden their focus from not simply boosting economic growth but doing so in a way that takes the environment into consideration, since unbridled growth based on finite resources will eventually, obviously, lead to environmental collapse, perhaps within our lifetimes.
DOWNSIZE: DON’T BUY GREEN, JUST BUY LESS
The more possessions we have, the more painful downsizing is likely to be. Thankfully, the converse also holds. By downsizing our lives and possessions – ideally not by throwing unwanted possessions out but by giving them away and/or bartering items – we can not only shrink our environmental footprints but also reduce the amount of rubbish entering landfills and the volume of resources required to manufacture new products in the first place. It’s a win-win situation all round.
Do we really need more junk? Modern society bombards us with reasons to buy piles of stuff that will eventually be junked. A smart idea to follow is: Don’t buy green, just buy less. By buying less, we will have more space, more time (less possessions to tidy and clean), more money, and the Earth won’t have to take yet another pile of junk that is likely to poison and pollute.
Mental re-programming can make the process easier, in particular, coming to realize and understand that each and every one of us is not a standalone entity like a boat on the ocean; we are, in fact, all part of the ocean, and every action we take has an effect whether we see
or notice it or not. The article ‘Environmental Degradation and the Self’ summarizes this concept very eloquently.
As can be seen, being kinder to the planet is in all of our interests. Working towards building a sustainable future means we may actually have one, and the great thing is there are many, many steps we can take to make this dream a reality.
In more and more towns and cities around the planet there is a groundswell of citizens who are not waiting for their elected representatives to take action to help the planet. These motivated individuals are taking power into their own hands, stepping up to the plate, and making moves to change the world.
We can all make a difference. What will you do?
Author: Jonathon Walsh