My Habits for Reducing Environmental Impact

The recent National Climate Assessment Report is sobering. Let us hope these calculations are wrong, and the near future on Earth is not a dire as predicted. We follow an evidence-based approach to investing, and one cannot read this report and not find evidence that things are headed in the wrong direction. Some of our clients prefer to invest in our ESG strategy, the Portland Portfolio, spearheaded by Joey Fishman. Josh wrote about the launch of our ESG strategies here.

I have never considered myself an environmentalist. I love swimming in clean lakes, fishing in healthy oceans, and skiing above 10,000 feet in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. I also love flying in planes and driving cars to get to these places. When I go to the polls, climate change doesn’t even make the list of issues that determine my vote. Over the past decade though, I have changed a few things in my life that make a difference on my tiny impact on the Earth. And when I think about how these small changes can add up to major impact if adopted broadly, I feel compelled to share my experiences.

Other than anxiety amount the amount of garbage I produce (and how much that means we produce in aggregate), I came to none of these life changes from an environmentalist mind set. If you told me 10 years ago I would do these things, I would call you crazy. But in truth, none of these things are difficult or inconvenient. They simply require a willingness to break from societal norms and the habits we have developed since the mid 20th century.

  1. Eat Mostly Vegetarian – After 10 years practicing yoga and hearing the first tenant of the yogic lifestyle is ahimsa, which means non-harming, I decided to adopt a vegetarian diet. Non-harming applies to much more than diet, but eating animals is a pretty much the opposite of ahimsa. I was always a cheating vegetarian and have slacked even more since my son was born two years ago. But I found it surprisingly easy to eat 90-95% of my meals meat free, and that adds up to many pounds of meat over the course of a year. I find the “protein” question hilarious. Most of the largest and strongest mammals on Earth are herbivores. Fruits, vegetables, and grains have a wider variety of tastes than meat. Try limiting meat to one meal a day. It’s not that hard.
  2. Eliminating Paper Towels – Early in our marriage, my husband balked at the price of paper towels, and we started using rags. We extended this to cloth napkins, which create a far more superior dining experience. Seven years later, I have no idea how corporations convinced us that we needed this product. Rags are better at cleaning messes and absorb more water. I do one load of laundry for this per week. Go buy yourself some cheap cloth napkins on Amazon.
  3. Shunning Anti-Perspirant – A breast cancer physician spoke at a New Orleans Junior League several years ago. Her message was frightening. She said 1 out of 3 of us would get breast cancer during our lifetime, but the good news is we will not die from it! She discussed the research on all the things that may or may not increase the risk of breast cancer, but the only thing she personally does not use is anti-perspirant. I think half of the women in that room switched to regular deodorant that night, myself included.
  4. Composting – I admit, I would not be doing this if I still lived in the city. My husband built and maintains our compost bin, so all I have to do is throw my food scraps in there. It is shocking how much food waste we create on a daily basis; avocado skins, banana peels, eggshells, coffee grinds. Instead of going to the landfill, this waste creates fantastic fuel for our garden.
  5. Cloth Diapers – This is another shocker for me. When I was pregnant, I watched a lot of Youtube videos about all things baby and stumbled upon modern cloth diapers. It made sense to me, especially when I calculated that a child will wear about 3,000 diapers in the first year alone. There’s no way around changing diapers, and a couple extra loads of laundry didn’t seem like a big deal to me. It saved me hundreds of dollars, too.

I’ve been thinking about other changes I hope to make in the coming years. I never knew how much water I used until we bought our house. The average American household uses 80-100 gallons per day. We have a rain barrel project in the works for outdoor watering, and I’m going to look in to water efficient toilets. I’ve heard the water efficient washing machines don’t clean as well. I’ve been riding the shared city bikes to meetings downtown and enjoy it. I live too far (for my comfort) to start biking to work, but I’d like to bike more and drive less. I would love to switch to natural household cleaning products and personal care products, but that is a difficult work in progress. The insane amount of packaging we use for everything astounds me. Far down my list of home improvement projects is the addition of solar panels. Hopefully when I get around to that the price is much lower.

So there you have it. Now you can tell me how weird I am for doing all of these things, but there’s nothing that would make me go back to the old ways. I think 200 years from now people studying us will find so many of our habits perplexing. The rate at which we use and dispose of things is unsustainable. It’s going to take a major societal shift to change our behavior. So keep on laughing about those plastic straw bans.

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