Sustainability: A quick definition

“Humanity has the ability to make development sustainable- to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” – World Commission on Environment and Development

Sustainability is a term tossed around all the time; sustainable living, sustainable businesses, is this or that sustainable… Yet it is not very often that the term is closely examined. Sustainability is about living within our means, consuming enough for ourselves and also ensuring the prosper of the next generation. Sustainability is keeping the earth the beautiful and biodiverse planet that it is, coexisting with every little thing that dwells alongside us humans. Sustainability can be a lifestyle, it can describe a business, various “things” can be sustainable, but the root of sustainability is respecting the land and the sea, and leaving nothing but footprints on all your adventures.

Walkable Cities

I have spent the past few weeks studying what makes a city sustainable and pedestrian friendly. Freiburg, Germany, the city in which I have been studying, is an excellent example of a city designed with pedestrians in mind. Many streets are one way, to accommodate walkers and bicyclists, sidewalks are large, and the main square now hosts a daily farmers market where there used to be a parking lot. One key component of a sustainable city is the ability for people to either walk or bike to their destination, reducing car emissions and promoting a healthier lifestyle. 

I visited Amsterdam this past weekend, the bike capital of the world. In addition to the excess of bicyclists, the main downtown area is almost exclusively pedestrian walkways. Too many times we were walking along, only to realize that we were in the middle of the street, and yes in fact cars do drive here, although only periodically. The ease of such a walkable city not only improves the tourist experience, but also encourages a healthy, active lifestyle for those that live there. Walking is also an incredible way to get to know a new city! If we all walk, rather than drive, just a little bit more often, it can greatly decrease the amount of emissions that enter our atmosphere. Plus, it’s always nice to get a little fresh air! 

 

Happy Halloween!

Halloween is scary, and so are the effects of a changing climate! Have a fun and safe halloween, and be conscious of some of the byproducts of the holiday, such as candy wrappers, glitter, and single-use decorations.

Which is scarierA. empty candy bowl or B. all the plastic candy wrappers ending up as litter? 

-As disappointing as it is to come upon a house without any candy to offer, think about all the plastic wrappers, from the candy that was taken, ending up in nature! It is predicted that within the next few decades, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans. Don’t contribute to that statistic!

Which is worse: A. snow or B. rain while trick or treating?

-The changing climate is having impacts on natural weather events, as well as timing of the change of seasons. It may snow earlier than usual, or rain harder. Make sure to pack an umbrella (and gloves!) while walking around your neighborhood!

Which is freakier: A. Someone dressed up as a melting iceberg or B. the polar ice caps actually melting?

-An iceberg might be a bit of a bulky costume to wear for halloween, but the melting ice caps are no laughing matter. Recent research shows that once the ice starts melting, it is harder to re-form, due in part to the increasing air temperature.

Which would make you jump: A. a creepy crawly spider crawling up your leg or B. the extinction of bugs and insects? 

-Spiders are creepy!! But spiders, along with hundreds of other species of bugs and insects, are vital to the health of our ecosystems.

Question: are ghosts as real as climate change? 

-I’m not sure how you feel about ghosts, but climate change is definitely real, and just as scary as (if not scarier than) ghosts!

Sustainable Innovation and Progress

I love looking at business and economics from the viewpoint of sustainability. Oftentimes, we keep different disciplines separate, keeping business with business, isolating medicine and science, not daring to explore the combination of differing topics. However, everything is interdependent, and we need to start thinking across various subjects in order to be successful and innovative. Two of my favorite topics to combine are economics and the environment. Business is a driving force in the world, having a great impact on a day to day basis. If businesses, especially those that are well known, start to shift and make changes, others will potentially follow. This would raise awareness of environmental issues and their relevance, and spark thought and discussion, ultimately creating more solutions to work towards a more sustainable lifestyle.

According to this article, “the world will invest $90 trillion in new infrastructure” over the next decade (Adele Peters, Fast Company). What if a good portion of this funding goes towards research and development of successful business strategies, with the environment in mind? What if the business world and the science world collided, worked together, and sustainable innovation bloomed? The article discusses the potential of reward, if the money is invested conscientiously, in terms of business revenue and environmentally friendly technology. If each sector of business (food industry, natural energy, production, etc.) put some time and energy into sustainable actions, we would all be quite a bit better off. If businesses and corporations think outside the box, step outdoors, and invest some money with an environmental conscience, the economy and the earth would reap the benefits.

Happy Thoughtful Thursday!

Think about the “Three Rs”: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Simple as 1, 2, 3; there is a reason this familiar phrase starts with reduce. Ideally, one would reduce the amount of products they consume. If you can’t reduce, reuse what you have. If you can’t reuse, then recycle!

Reducing your intake of disposable materials, and reducing consumption of stuff in general, decreases the potential of trash ending up in places it shouldn’t and leads to less overall pollution.

If you must buy something, such as a plastic bag, then the second step after reduce is reuse. Take a single-use plastic bag and put it to another use. Use it to pick up after a pet, or use it instead of bubblewrap when shipping items. Or reuse the containers you had from take-out the other night for food storage some time, or use them when taking dinner to a friend. Reusing is better than recycling, because it gives the item a longer useful life, prolonging the time until it ends up in a landfill, or wherever else it might end up.

Recycling should be a “last resort”. If reducing and reusing products doesn’t work out, please recycle. Some grocery stores have plastic bag recycling receptacles where you can deposit plastic bags. Glass is very recyclable (and can be turned in for a cash refund in some states), and many plastics used in packaging can be recycled. Even some food packaging, such as bags of lettuce, can be recycled. Recycling could be the difference between a lively and lifeless ocean. In addition, recycling can reduce the amount of natural resources needed to produce new products.

As simple as this phrase is, it can be hard to be conscious of reducing, reusing, and recycling. Just give it a little more thought, every now and then!

Straws- are they really so bad?

Big news: tons of restaurants, including Starbucks, as well as some cities, are banning straws! This is a great reason to be excited, fewer straws will be entering our waterways! Many of you, I’m sure, have seen the devastating videos of sea animals with stomachs full of plastic and straws up noses. Although terrible, it turns out that straws only make up 6% of plastic pollution. Much of the plastic pollution found in the stomachs of sea animals is comprised of bottle caps and other small bits of broken down plastic. Although straws are a problem, the alternative to straws may be worse.

Starbucks is getting tons of publicity because they are ditching straws and “helping the environment”, increasing their business because consumers are elated that their daily coffee fix will soon be more environmentally friendly. However, consider the process of producing a plastic straw versus the production of the new plastic lid that Starbucks will implement. Although the new plastic will be recyclable, it uses more crude oil to produce than the smaller straws, increasing the extraction and use of fossil fuels. This creates more pollution, and has a potentially negative effect towards climate change. Many people might not recycle the lid as they should, and more plastic could end up in the oceans.

The shift from non-recyclable straws to reusable plastic is important, as it raises awareness of the issue of single-use plastic. The switch does also decrease the amount of non-reusable plastic being discarded. However, it is vital to think about the alternatives, and the possible impact on the environment.

For more information on the use of fossil fuels in the production of plastic, take a look at Surfrider Foundation’s article!

Seattle: Straw Free City

Have you ever been to Seattle? What comes to mind when you think of Seattle, WA? Surrounded by the ocean and forests, Seattle is a beautiful, outdoorsy city. Seattle also just became the first major city in the US to ban plastic straws. The ban extends over the use of plasticware in restaurants, which are no longer allowed to use or distribute plastic straws or utensils. Straws are one of the most commonly found pollutants in the sea and on beaches, and are very harmful to marine life. By banning plastic straws within the city, awareness of plastic use increases, as does discussion on topics surrounding straws and single-use plastics.

In addition, Lettuce Entertain You, a major restaurant group in Chicago, also banned straws from 120 of their locations across the city. Chicago is known for being relatively clean and green, and this is another great step in the direction towards a sustainable city.

Plastic Free July

It’s my favorite month of the year! Summer, 4th of July, my birthday, warm water for swimming, July has it all. I recently learned about a campaign called Plastic Free July, which encourages people to “choose to refuse” single-use plastic. Started several years ago in Australia, Plastic Free July promotes awareness of how much plastic we use as individuals, and how that plastic accumulates and finds its way into our waterways. In a perfect world, we would avoid single-use plastics altogether. Even if you cannot cut out plastic completely (it is hard to do!) be aware of your plastic consumption this month, so that the small changes become habits. Reduce the amount of plastic you use day-to-day, and if everyone tries a little bit, it adds up to make a great difference. So kick off this July with alternatives to plastic in mind!

4 Ways to Avoid Plastic:

  1. Bring reusable shopping bags to the store
  2. Take a reusable water bottle with you everywhere
  3. Buy plastic or glass containers to store leftover food, or to pack a snack, rather than plastic baggies
  4. Consider purchasing durable plastic or stainless steel straw

Parley- Run for the Oceans

Sort of ironic, running for the oceans, when we do just about everything except actually run when we’re in the oceans. What an amazing cause, though, and a brilliant way to raise money to protect what we love, by participating in a sport *some of us* love. Until July 8th, every mile you log with Runtastic (an app that helps track where you run), a dollar is donated by Adidas to Parley to promote education on ocean conservation. It’s a win-win situation, you get some exercise and the oceans get some funding! So get out there and run!

Sign up to Run for the Oceans

PS- here are a few of my favorite running songs:

  1. Hymn for the Weekend – Coldplay
  2. Run – Coin
  3. Turn – The Wombats
  4. Carry Me – Joywave
  5. Homemade Dynamite – Lorde
  6. Move Your Body – Sia
  7. Meteorite – Years & Years
  8. Nothing Left – Kygo
  9. For Elise – Saint Motel
  10. I’m Born to Run – American Authors

Sun-days

As the weather heats up and the sun starts to come out, the need for sunscreen becomes apparent to protect our sensitive winter skin. Most of us grab whatever sunscreen is available from the dwindling supplies of last summer, or buy whatever is featured and on sale at Target. Some might be surprised to learn that sunscreen, while great of UV protection, is terrible for the environment, especially our waterways. Sunscreen pollution adds to the degradation of coral reefs, and increases levels of chemicals in lakes and oceans. If you must use sunscreen, try to find one that is eco-friendly, and has fewer harmful chemicals (which is also better for your skin!). However, whenever possible, try to use alternative techniques to protect yourself from the sun. Here is a list of ways to avoid sunscreen, and still combat the sun’s rays, as sourced from the Environmental Working Group, an organization that  works to encourage a healthy environment and a healthy population….

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Copyright © Environmental Working Group, www.ewg.org. Reproduced with permission.