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How I Chose to Live Sustainably

Sustainable living is an easy choice, and there are so many things one can do to start living in a way that reduces waste and the overuse of earth’s natural resources. My experiences in attempting to live a responsible lifestyle that incorporates sustainable living and reducing my carbon footprint, as well as saving energy and utility bills, have varied over the years.

Before I go into the methods I used, ranging from building a passive solar straw bale house, to organic gardening and homesteading (complete with raising small livestock), I will mention the big three…

Although there are numerous ways to live sustainably, the main three methods people think of most often includes transportation, energy consumption, and diet.

Transportation

One method I incorporated recently is to reduce my need for transportation. I designed my life to work mostly from home, and so we are down to one car in the family instead of two. This has been a very long time in coming.

I do not prefer to ride the bus because I get sick on them, so opting to carpool and run multiples errands (as opposed to one at a time) on an outing, walking and/or bicycling more, staying home instead of going out for events or movies, and utilizing a gas-saving vehicle (such as electric or a hybrid, which is our next step) are all great methods to reduce transportation costs and associated emissions that pollute our atmosphere and make the oil companies richer.

Energy Consumption

Reducing energy consumption is yet another way to practice sustainable living. In our case we went from a three-bedroom house down to a one-bedroom small coach house (think of the ‘tiny house movement’)—we now live in a mere 288 square feet. Getting rid of the burden of “stuff” has been an added blessing, as well as not having to pack and haul so many things whenever we have to move again. Living in a small space also reduces our need for heating and cooling an otherwise large space, saving energy, which helps keep the environment that much cleaner.

Although I no longer live in the passive solar straw bale house I designed and built when I lived in Nebraska, my story about sustainable living would not be complete without a closer examination of it, especially since we went from a dilapidated mobile home (one of the worst house design blunders) that had no insulation left in the walls, to a super insulated energy efficient home by building it ourselves. My dream was to build my own house. I focused on indigenous building, which is choosing construction materials that are local, available, a renewable resource (wheat straw), and inexpensive.

sharon buydens

Newspaper photo of my straw bale house

The straw bales came from the farms nearby our 2 acres of land we owned, plus we put an ad in the Thrifty Nickel newspaper to buy used lumber, windows, doors, and anything else we could get free or cheap. We dismantled someone else’s old solar heater so they let us keep the large sheets of glass to use as our south-facing windows on our house.

Since the house we built was passive solar, we utilized that design feature along with only wood heat to heat the house during winter. In summer, when it was 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) outside with 99% humidity, it was a cool and dry 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) inside thanks to the earthtubes we installed underneath the foundation. The house simply did not need to use a single BTU of energy for air conditioning between the earthtubes and the R-50 insulation value in the bale walls.

Energy consumption can also include other resources such as water. We pumped water from a well instead of buying water (a solar pump would have been ideal, but we did not get that far before we sold the house, as would have a solar water distiller for purifying the water on-site without electricity—these I have used for many years at other places I’ve lived). We saved water by building a composting toilet and greywater system. This means less toilet flushing and less wastewater that would otherwise go to a treatment plant (which takes enormous amounts of energy to clean back up) or wasted in the septic tank.

Diet

Practicing good diet practices is another way to live sustainably. How? Try growing your own garden, or get involved in a community garden. Grow organic by keeping away from pesticides, herbicides, and chemical fertilizers. Consider raising your own small livestock, or trading/bartering, or getting involved in a co-op for raw milk or natural foods. One of my desires is to have land again where I can grow a fruit and nut orchard.

In the past I have raised organic vegetables in a rather large garden, some of which were done by square foot gardening and raised bed gardening, but my favorite was straw bale gardening using 1-year old spent bales. I used manure tea for my fertilizer in those, solely, and my tomatoes and squash, in particular, loved it and grew like mad!

Vegans may want to skip this paragraph… We raised goats (for meat, except our nanny goats who were pets), sheep (these were pets only), rabbits (little meat, and the pelts were wasted since we did not get into tanning hides), ducks and chickens (for eggs and meat), a goose (for Christmas dinner), pigs (I will never do that again!), and enjoyed the experience of raising animals for the most part, but in all honesty I don’t think it paid for itself in the feed and medicine and other things we had to do to keep the animals. If we had milked the goats and made cheese, perhaps. It is a lot of work, and frankly, I would just focus on one thing and involve myself in a co-op if I had to do it again. Gardening is a much easier, and since I eat mostly vegetarian, it is also a much healthier option for the majority of our diet, and is a lot more sustainable as well.

So those are some of the experiences I have had with sustainable living. Without a doubt the energy consumption of a larger non-energy-efficient house, and multiple-vehicle transportation, and finally diet (even trips to the grocery store use energy/fuel, where gardening is usually in your backyard) are easy variables to control once you put your mind to it. The old saying: “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” still comes to mind, but it is more than that. We must take personal responsibility and make the wisest choices we can for our particular living circumstances.

There are so many choices we can make to live sustainably, and from my experience it is easiest to start with the small ones, and slowly work up to the larger goals. Lastly, I would leave you with this one question to ask yourself:

What can I do starting today to start living more sustainably?

Namaste  ~ Sharon Buydens


BIO:

Sharon Buydens is the past President (Eby-Martin, 2001) of the El Paso Solar Energy Association, and the author of the book “Passive Solar Energy House Projects: A How-To Guide” and the free ebook “DIY: How to Make a Solar Oven”.

This article was originally written (8.28.15) for and published at VillageSurrey.ca

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