Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Sustainable Shopping: Local Advice

I wasn't always Mr. Sustainable and still am a far cry from the perfect specimen of sustainaibility that everyone expects from my position. There was a time, I think it was centuries ago, that I didn't recycle, didn't consider carbon emissions and didn't mind that extra packaging on pretty much anything. Those days I didn't have air conditioning because no one did. I turned off the lights because we had to save the cash. Those times were different. Now it seems that subsidized utlities and gasoline provide much delight (and use) to voters and an obvious detriment to non-voting, non-demonstrating, non-political flora and fauna. If only trees could speak.

As I grew I realized that sometimes choices are taken away from us (as is the case of technology that moves faster than we can learn the intricacies of our soon-to-be-too-old smart phones) but sometimes they are easier than we might think. So began my life's calling to make small changes to make those natural things around me last just a bit longer. What did I find as I spoke to others and tried things myself?
  • That you can chose to shop with packaging as the central tenet of your shopping choices. (Hint: If you want less packaging stick with farmers' markets or local shops like Helen's at Naan Corner.)
  • You can live without plastic shopping bags at all. 
  • You can return things to stores and they'll take them happily, if only you ask. (e.g. I asked Ampang Grocers if I could buy fruit without those silly little styrofoam plates and shrink wrap. They said no, but I could return the plates to them. We've done so for years now and don't throw any away.  Helen's takes back used egg cartons so they can use them for other customers.  They also provide you with cardboard boxes if you don't have a bag.)
  • You can reduce your landfill-headed waste but not buying it to begin with (i.e. no packaging), recycling and composting. By doing all three of these my anecdotal data suggests you can reduce landfill waste by close to 80%, right here, right now. (By the way, in case you don't know, ISKL offers a composting-from-home program that you might consider if you would like. 83 families are already participating and a grand total of about 45,000 kg of compost has been kept out of the landfill. Yeay!)
  • You can purchase fruit or vegetables and ask the person weighing it to just put the price tags directly on the fruit. They'll look at you quizzically, perhaps, but by and large they will oblige. 
  • You can look at labels and see if products are sustainable, local, organic or all three. If all three, spend the extra cash.
  • You can make a point of mentioning the environment when you say "no, thank you". Often, when you say you're helping the environment, the salesperson will actually congratulate you. If you don't tell them why, no pat on the back for you and no point made to them = missed opportunity. 
  • You can find flights that are more direct, vacation closer to home or tax yourself for carbon offsets for your flights. (ISKL uses Climate Care but there are a number of good sites)
  • No one is perfect and I have no one to point the blaming finger to than myself when it comes to decisions and making better ones. Mistakes are part of the game, as are oversights.
  • It is difficult to change. It's even harder to change those around you. Perseverance is key. So is staying positive.
  • It's sort of liberating to recognize that you have such power over you daily dealings and that your choices are made for the right reasons. 

I was in an IB economics class earlier in the year and I was talking to students about making economic decisions that included critical analysis of environmental costs. After a rather heated discussion as to the nature of economy, the need for money and the reality of modern economics a student walked up to me and exclaimed, "Mr. Myers, you know? I never thought about it that way. That we should do it because it's the right thing to do. I was just thinking about the financial part of it". 

Perhaps one day that kid will grow up to make some sustainable decisions, because they are the right thing to do and, really, apart from offering some level of difficulty in that it challenges our lifestyle, perhaps he'll find that it's the foundation of becoming and being a global citizen of the 21st century. Let the future begin today. 

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