With a large percentage of the professional services sector working from home during the pandemic, spending behaviors have changed significantly. This new reality has its own set of challenges that shouldn’t be downplayed, but there’s no doubt that it’s a privileged position. Not everyone has the luxury of secure employment, let alone the option to work from home. But all of us have the power to improve our ecological impact by focusing on sustainability at home — getting creative and taking good care of what we already have.
If we take a moment to think about our impact on the environment, we can learn a lot by tracing our spending history. While it’s easy to blame our environmental woes on large corporations, individual consumers help to keep those industries alive. As a certified B Corporation with an emphasis on culture and community, we vote with our dollars every day. The choices we make, the companies we support, and the behaviors we perpetuate are all connected to the health of the planet.
“Being eco-wise is about celebrating creation, being good stewards with what we’re given, and passing on those values to the next generation”, says Tsh Oxenreider of The Art of Simple.
Reduce Your Spending
The single best thing we can do for the planet is to reduce our spending. It takes significant resources for products to be manufactured, packaged, transported, and sold. With every purchase we make, we’re using natural resources and increasing our carbon footprint. When we’re done using these products, they will likely end up in the ocean, in the air, or in our favorite out-of-sight, out-of-mind place — a landfill. So here are some ideas on spending less to improve your sustainability at home:
1) Swap Instead of Buying New
Many people who find themselves working from home may not have the resources to create a comfortable home office. While the kitchen table, coffee table, or countertop worked for a while, not having an ergonomic work space takes its toll over time.
What do you need that someone in your network has? And what do you have that someone else can use? This could be tech: a laptop, keyboard, mouse, computer monitor, scanner, or charging cable. Or it could be other office equipment like a desk, chair, monitor stand, file cabinet, or lamp.
Many donation sites are currently closed or at capacity, so swapping items within your network allows you to declutter your space and helps others get what they need without having to buy new. Reach out to your networks to express your needs and offer up the items you’re looking to donate. At Boly:Welch, we’re working on creating an internal spreadsheet where people can add what they need and offer up what they don’t.
2) Shop Your Closet
The shift to working from home has eliminated some of the pressure we feel to add to our wardrobes. Since we’re not getting together in person, business casual has taken on a new meaning.
In an ideal scenario, we would invest in fewer but higher quality items that last longer and provide more value. On the flip side of this is fast fashion: inexpensive, low quality clothes and accessories that provide minimal value and have a short lifespan. Interested in taking a closer look at your closet’s impact on the planet? Take this quiz!
3) Evaluate Home Energy Use (and reduce bills!)
We’ve all heard these tips before. The good news is they’re easy to do, and when we commit to being more mindful about them, they make a huge impact.
- Adjust the thermostat
- Unplug what you’re not using: countertop appliances, tech, tools
- Put computers in sleep mode when you walk away
- Take shorter showers and flush the toilet less frequently
- Wash clothes less often, use cold water, and hang dry if you can
- Check the temperature levels of your fridge and freezer
- Turn off lights you’re not using
- Lower the temperature on your hot water heater
- Use cloth instead of paper to clean – repurpose old towels and t-shirts
- Sign up for paperless billing (and opt out of receiving unsolicited mail!)
Focus Your Spending
Where you spend is nearly as important as how much you spend. We know that cost can be prohibitive in some of these examples. A lot of people are struggling, especially now. But we can all make changes — big or small — to decrease our impact on the natural environment. Here are some ideas on how to focus your spending to improve sustainability at home:
1) Food Consumption & Waste
Shop local whenever possible. Farmer’s markets are a wonderful way to support your local economy and to eat fresh. If this option doesn’t work with your budget but you have some time to give, consider volunteering at a community garden. With some sweat equity, you’ll have all the fresh produce you can handle.
At the grocery store, something to pay attention to is where your produce was grown. Is that lemon coming from Australia or California? Same with other staple items. The less distance your food had to travel, the lower the environmental impact and the fresher it will be.
What about food waste? There’s startling info out there about how much food is wasted in America. Couple that with the number of folks experiencing food insecurity and it’s obvious that we need to make some changes. One way to reduce food waste in your own household is to create a weekly meal plan.
Arranging the fridge for efficiency is another helpful tool — use a first-in, first-out method where older items are at the front of the fridge and are easier to access. What about food that’s about to go bad? Feed the Children suggests that “there are lots of uses for food that’s past its prime, whether it’s French toast and grilled cheese sandwiches for bread that’s going stale, using wilted veggies in soups or stews, or blending overripe fruit in smoothies.”
2) Options for Renewable Energy
Did you know you can reduce the carbon footprint associated with your electricity use by signing up for renewable energy? For a few extra dollars a month, PGE has an option called Green Future and Pacific Power has a program called Blue Sky where you transfer some or all of your electricity use to renewable sources. There are additional options through these energy providers where you can donate a few dollars a month to help restore and preserve native fish habitats throughout Oregon. Check out the work being done by The Freshwater Trust, the beneficiary of Pacific Power’s habitat program. What else is Portland doing to go green? By 2030, the city will generate or purchase 100% of all electricity for city operations from renewable resources.
3) Support Sustainability Efforts through Donations
What are the environmental causes that speak to you? Where in your budget can you shift a few dollars a month? Here are a few inspiring non-profits in Oregon doing work in environmental protection, education, conservation, and restoration:
- Friends of Trees — Planting trees and native shrubs (840,000 and counting) in neighborhoods, parks, and natural areas throughout the Pacific Northwest since 1989.
- Oregon Wild — Working to protect and restore Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife, and waters as an enduring legacy for future generations.
- Washed Ashore — Building and exhibiting aesthetically powerful art to educate a global audience about plastic pollution in the ocean and waterways, and to spark positive changes in consumer habits.
- Freshwater Trust — Developing tools and programs to accelerate the pace and scale of freshwater restoration.
- Portland Audubon — Protecting natural habitats, rehabilitating wildlife, and educating & inspiring people of all ages to explore and connect with the natural world, helping to build a sustainable future for all life.