No Progress? No Problem! Category Reduction Hacks

If you ever find yourself struggling to accomplish further reductions in a certain category (or in general), join the club! I’m starting a list of “hacks” for each category of daily consumption.

Gasoline/jet fuel/transportation: If you simply don’t feel able/willing to make any further reductions in your travel at this time, remember, if all else fails, carbon offsets are your friend. (Gold Standard are the ones most highly recommended by experts I trust.) They add a mere pittance to the cost of a trip, and you can also use them to offset the footprint of your everyday commute, errands, etc. With some creative hacking, you can even purchase carbon offsets to mitigate the impact of your activities in non-transportation categories.

Electricity: The best electricity-reduction workaround I know of is to spend more time outdoors. If kids or other family members are involved, you might need to bribe them. Becoming more outdoors-centered has a dual benefit: 1) You can turn the climate control in your house way down, or off, during the hours you are out; and 2) Spending time outdoors widens your temperature-tolerance envelope. One fun way to get kids to spend more time outdoors is to set up an outdoor lounge with all sorts of cool fun amenities (solar charging station? rock-climbing wall? trapeze? outdoor kitchen?); they can lounge around outside using their tablets/smartphones to their heart’s content. (Maybe let them design & build it!) And use the many resources now available to get your family interested in shared outdoor nature-based activities; here’s one great resource (Getting Kids Outside & Learning About Nature, with Dr. Jenny Lloyd Strovas). And, teach the kids how to cook outdoors! and let them plan family cookouts. They may never come back inside.

Home Oil/Gas: Same advice as for electricity above.

Garbage: Feeling stuck in this category? Give each household member their own set of 3 bins labeled Compost, Recycling, and Trash; have weekly “How Low Can You Go” contests with fabulous prizes (later bedtime? getting to choose their favorite meal one night? etc.) Another fun idea for radical reduction in your overall garbage volume: Get a worm bin, introduce the kids to the concept of scraping their plates to feed the precious worms and soil microbes.

Water: Great one for “How Low Can You Go” competitions. (If your family members aren’t into it, have a contest with some of your eco-minded friends.) Also: Build an outdoor shower and rig it so the water irrigates your yard or tubs of plants. Good one for if you just can’t get household members to take shorter showers. Make the outdoor shower really fun and attractive to use. I keep ruminating about an outdoor shower that looks like a rock waterfall grotto.

Food: The top three recommendations I hear (and try to follow to some degree) are grow your own, buy local, and eat vegan. Not everyone is willing or able to be 100% vegan or vegetarian; I myself am omnivore. Full disclosure, I even eat fast food sometimes! I find that placing super-rigid restrictions on myself in the food category tends to backfire (your mileage may vary; I’m a survivor of an eating disorder). What’s working for me is to 1) focus on “eating enough fresh fruits and vegetables” (usually homegrown, foraged, or purchased from local farmers), and 2) expand my awareness of tasty vegan foods and recipes. For meat and dairy, I source from small local farmers as much as possible. The price can be higher by a factor of six or more, but that actually helps me stay motivated to be mindful of the quantities I’m consuming — a good choice for me and for the planet. (I wouldn’t try to impose this on someone of limited means who’s shopping for a large family.) I also find that the less I try to stop myself from indulging in fast food, packaged snacks, etc., the less often I end up wanting to eat those things. USAmerican culture has some seriously pathological attitudes around food, and I can feel those attitudes losing their grip on me. Another thing that helps me reduce my food footprint is to eat with other people. An amount of something that I would eat by myself can magically become enough for two or three people when friends are around to share it. Another food footprint hack I like: When friends/neighbors are throwing away food (vegetables that have spoiled, etc.), divert it from the landfill by composting it. Helps reduce the collective food footprint (as waste is a big part of our food footprint in the USA). You can also teach others to grow an easy vegetable or two, and to forage for local wild edibles.

Consumer Goods: Honestly, there are times when even the most hardcore footprint-reducers need to buy stuff new. Sometimes it just isn’t possible to get something used or make it ourselves. When it’s an option, I buy something made locally. But it’s not always an option. If you’ve reduced all you can in this category but still want to do more, you could help other people repurpose their unwanted stuff or find new homes for it. Check out “freecycle” or “buy nothing” groups in your area. You could also set up a community freebox in your neighborhood or at your workplace, church, or school. Also: if you find yourself compulsively buying stuff you don’t need, try checking in with your inner feelings, beliefs, etc. For example, if you grew up with never having enough, you could be unconsciously continuing to act that pattern out now by wanting to have “plenty extra” of everything. Increasing your awareness of your patterns is a positive action you can take today.

And – some useful resources on reduction in general:

• Definitely check out the group Zero Waste, Zero Judgement if you haven’t already. People from all over the world sharing detailed tips for reducing consumption and waste in every conceivable category.

• You might also find it helpful to read my post Footprint isn’t everything.