I wanted to contribute to the recently approved Green Sanctuary program at UUCNH. In the kickoff meeting for Green Sanctuary I volunteered to do the weekly green living idea. People would send me green living ideas. I would write them up and put one in the newsletter each week. It seemed straightforward enough.
I was about to learn what I didn’t know. Green living isn’t straightforward. It isn’t simple. It is very personal.
I wrote a draft of the first green living idea on dishwashing. I sent it out to the Green Sanctuary Team for comments. I received many great comments back resulting in a much better article. One of the comments was to be sure to include a reference to a quantification of the benefits.
That drove me to do more research on the ideas. As I learned more, I came to the realization that an idea that is green for one person is not necessarily green for another. The environment has different priorities in different places and for different people. An idea that consumes less resources for one person may consume more for another. How do I pick a good one?
I kept reading, but time was running out. I needed to get the next green living idea done. I had an idea I thought was straightforward. I even had a firm reference recommending it from energystar.gov. I was confident; this was a good idea for almost everyone.
The idea originally started as “wash clothes in cold water” as stated on energystar.gov, since 90% of the energy used is for heating the water. But, when I sent the write-up out for review, comments came back with concerns about sanitation. Oh NO! In the name of green, was I making a recommendation that would risk people’s well-being? I certainly didn’t want to do that. Should I go back to square one and find another idea? I tried.
- You might think cloth diapers are greener. But, if there is a shortage of water and plenty of landfill area, disposable may be the better choice.
- You might think reusable cotton napkins are greener than paper. But, for restaurants that must wash, dry and iron napkins for every use, using paper instead reduces emissions by over 60%.
- You might think using a ceramic mug is greener than using disposable cups. But, production of the ceramic mug consumes more energy than producing the disposables for the number of times the mug would likely be used in its lifetime.
When I ask myself if a suggestion is a good green living idea, I keep coming back to the same answer. It depends.
It depends on what is most important to you. Do you want to minimize landfill usage, or climate change, or water pollution, or … etc. Do you want to help reverse the damage? Is the cost ($$, time, sanitation, etc.) worth the benefit? What are the tradeoffs?
As with the wash in cold water idea, every idea needs to be considered in context. For a hospital, washing laundry in cold water doesn’t work. For a laundromat, cold water is concerning since the debris from many people are in that washer. For home, many times it is fine, but not always. Maybe sanitation is a high priority to you and you would rather save energy in another way. We all use resources and create pollution. It is up to us to use them sparingly for what is important to us and make tradeoffs based on our values.
To me, green living is continually learning about the impacts of your choices on the environment, considering alternatives to minimize your impact, and making conscious choices based on your priorities and environmental goals.
The weekly green living idea will hopefully increase your knowledge and present some alternatives. It is then up to you to make the choices that are best for your vision of green living, doing your best, in your circumstances and in your time.
– Connie Hester, Green Sanctuary Team Member