Why

By Lucia · 6 minute read  

Do you often get asked why sustainable living is important to you? Or are you wanting to ask me that question as you explore EcoNotes? I have many reasons for wanting to live a more sustainable life but it can be hard to summarise!

I recently started listening to The Positively Green Podcast and something in episode 3 absolutely hit the nail on the head. I emailed presenter Kelsey Jorissen and she granted permission for me to include a transcript here.

Kelsey preceded the quote below with a quick science recap. Throw your mind back to your school days: do you remember drawing diagrams of the water cycle and learning about the amazing way in which plants provide our oxygen and we return it as carbon dioxide? How long has it been since you last stopped to consider these closed-loop cycles, which are vital in keeping the Earth’s ecosystems healthy?

What follows is the case study of a humble lamp which shows just how easy it is to disturb the balance of our own fragile ecosystem. I hope it will give you a boost on your eco journey, or serve as the light bulb moment you need to get started!

If you’d rather listen to the segment, you can find it in episode 3: “What does sustainable living even mean?” starting at 09:58.

“With the rise of convenience and efficiency, due to industrialisation, it has been easy for us as human beings to forget that we are also a part of an ecosystem. We live and breathe on the same planet as migrating monarchs and seasonal wildflowers. Nature’s law of return applies to us the same as all living creatures. Unfortunately, the majority of our economy as we know it today does not fall within the bounds of a closed-loop cycle and consequently neither do the majority of the products we purchase.

So let’s follow the story of a simple lamp to see where it takes us.

So you buy an adorable lamp that catches your eye in Walmart, you find it’s already discounted by 30% and think “ah!” you’ve hit the jackpot! To play the story out from here isn’t rocket science: you purchase the lamp, bring it home, it sits in your house doing lampy things until you decide to get another lamp because the first lamp breaks or you don’t like it any more. The old lamp gets thrown out in the garbage, sad lamp, the end.

In reality, this is only a FRACTION of the story of the lamp.

At the dawn of lamp, there were raw materials that had to be sourced. The plastic base of the lamp was derived from crude oil, shipped across a number of miles and then refined in a factory. The light bulb was produced by heating a continuous ribbon of glass that is then moved along by a conveyor belt and blown into separate bulbs. The lampshade is made of paper that, at its beginning, was raw wood that had to be harvested and transported into a factory where it was chipped, pulped, refined, and finally pressed into paper.

All these steps happen before you even pull out your credit card!

The environmental impact of oil rigging, the carbon footprint of manufacturing and transporting, the treatment of the workers involved and even the store where it was sold are all a part of the lamp’s story.

Now let’s dive into the epilogue of the lamp.

We’re at the point where you’ve decided to move onto another lamp or this lamp no longer works (let’s skip past the multiple trips that this lamp may take to Goodwill or the Salvation Army as it goes from one lamp owner to another and gets to the end of its life cycle). This final step is the biggest issue with our friend the lamp.

There is no end to its life cycle.

Our lamp will ultimately wind up in a landfill. The crude oil used to make the lamp will never return to being crude oil because that plastic will never decompose. Even if the lamp COULD decompose, most landfills do not allow for proper decomposition based on their design. Rather, landfills preserve and mummify our garbage (more on this phenomenon in a future episode).

So now our lamp is a mummy lamp and will never be able to contribute to a closed-loop cycle. Thus in buying this lamp, we have taken something from our planet that we can never return.

These unclosable cycles are happening every single second in our current economy. Although consumers are a tiny piece of the whole when it comes to unclosable cycles, guys, we drive the entire machine. Think about it!

If the demand for products that cannot contribute to closed-loop cycles just went away, companies would have to stop making them! If we all stood up and said, with our wallets, don’t make it unless it can ultimately return to where it came from and not wind up in a landfill, companies would be forced to listen or they would go out of business. By creating and producing only what we can return to the Earth, a sustainable economy would be a boon to our health, our local communities and our planet.

So ultimately, a sustainable lifestyle is one that works in tandem with closed-loop cycles so that we honour the way the earth evolved to deal with our impact.”

How can we turn Kelsey’s words into actionable steps?

Next time you feel the urge to buy something, ask yourself these questions first:

  • Do I actually need it? Because if not, is the fleeting satisfaction I’ll get from it worth the journey that item will already have made in its manufacture and distribution?
  • If I do need it, can I buy a pre-loved version of the item?
  • If that’s not possible, who are the most responsible companies I can purchase from? Try to take into account the sustainability of their materials, the treatment of their staff, the country of origin and the company’s overall ethos. (If you are shopping on the high street, the website ethicalconsumer.org can help).
  • What will happen to the item once you no longer have use for it? Try to buy something that will stand the test of time and, if possible, something that can be recycled or repurposed in the future.

Now I’ve had my eyes opened to the story behind the things I own, I find it absolutely mind-boggling to think of all the energy and resources used before a product even passes my threshold!

Changing our mindset is such an important first step in becoming more responsible consumers. The extra thought and research required for purchase is time consuming, but I see it as a small sacrifice considering it is such an important tool in slowing down climate change.

You can read more about Kelsey at greenwillowhomestead.com

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