The entire topic of sustainability and living in a home in the most environmentally friendly way can be overwhelming. Some of the things that contribute to the complexity of this subject include:
- a plethora of definitions of what sustainability (or any of a number of other related concepts) even means.
- a startling variety of products and techniques that are marketed as "green".
- multiple trade-offs, advantages, and disadvantages of various technologies and choices that should be considered.
So how do you get started?
It is not uncommon for someone who is in the first flush of enthusiasm for a project or a lifestyle change, such as becoming more green, to set some extremely ambitious goals for themselves. Sometimes, these goals turn out to be unrealistic for their particular situation. As often as not, the end result of this process is an individual who has made few, if any, changes that stick, and whose enthusiasm for the entire project of reforming their lifestyle may have been burned out as well.
To deal with these two issues - the multitude of options and considerations, and biting off more than you can chew - I suggest a three step process.
First: focus on one aspect of sustainability that appeals to you. This could be conserving electricity, reducing water use, using recycled materials, reducing transportation costs, improving indoor air quality, or any of a number of other goals. Pick one, and only one, to start with. You can get to other goals later. (Not too much later, I promise!)
Second: after you have identified the area you want to focus on, pick a small project or lifestyle change that will move you in the direction you want to go. Picking something small is key, because it is much more likely that you will follow through on it. For instance, if you want to reduce water use, start with installing low-flow shower heads rather than tackling the rooftop rain collection and filtration system. If you want to reduce your gasoline consumption and resultant carbon emissions, start with routinely combining errands (“trip chaining”) rather than selling the car and switching to exclusively using public transportation.
Third: after you have picked your project or lifestyle change, implement it, and then let that settle in for a bit. In particular, if you have chosen a new habit, you need to allow some time for that habit to really establish itself before taking on the next change.
When it comes to making your home more sustainable, the temptation to go down the “whole house makeover” route becomes even more intense, since many of the decisions regarding any one aspect of the home have implications with regards to other areas and systems in the home. But even (or perhaps especially) with regards to your home, it is important to keep your projects manageable. A whole house makeover might make intellectual sense in terms of evaluating all of the trade-offs and implications of various projects in a single holistic process, but it is also likely to become a project of daunting complexity and expense. Simple is generally better.
For more specific ideas on where to start with making your home and life more sustainable, you can subscribe to my e-mail newsletter. Each week, I will be presenting a tip or an idea for action that is meant to be easily implemented.
After successfully implementing the project or change you have made in your life, repeat this three step process. By starting with smaller projects, you will start to gain insight as to what larger projects or changes you might really want to take on, and which you can realistically accomplish. This process may not be as grandiose as implementing a whole-life and whole-home makeover, but the odds that you will be able to stick with it and see it through are much higher, and over time, little by little, those small changes will add up to something pretty dramatic in their own right.