Skip to content Skip to main navigation

Lifestyle

Get RSM on your side at tax time.

Living more sustainably – one step at a time

By Emily Morris - 8 October 2014 13

island-stock-020914

I know about the importance of limiting our impact on the earth.  I worry about what will be left for my children and grandchildren if we continue to take from the planet without regard for our greater impact.  I recycle.  I switch off lights when we’re not in the room and try not to waste water.  I know it’s not enough.

With a daughter who is quite a severe asthmatic I am also becoming wary of cleaning products and cosmetics high in chemicals (I also figure that if I used something without chemicals I could get the kids to help!). But where do I start?

I caught up with local author and blogger, Kirsten McCulloch, to find out where to start when you want to make an impact, but know you can’t do everything right, right now.

Where did you start?  What were the first changes you made in your life?

I guess one of the first changes I made was to consciously start using less electricity – it’s not very hard to do when you’re just starting, just things like turning off lights when you leave a room and turning off appliances at the power point, instead of leaving them on standby, can save quite a bit of power.

And then the other thing I started doing early was trying to grow some of my own fruits and vegetables, and doing it moreorless organically.

But I think like so many people, I didn’t sit down and say, “wow, I need to go green!”  It was just a gradual process – actually, I should say it is a gradual process – of becoming more and more aware. So when I started growing vegetables, I wanted to rebuild the soil and not put poisons into the earth, but I was more conscious of a desire to do for myself than worried about the fuel associated with transporting food. That came later.

What is your greatest nemesis?

Consumerism!  Or rather, consuming is something I find all too easy to do! I think it’s not money that’s the root of all evil, but consumerism and its flipside, desire (which marketing departments cleverly feed in us).  But for all I am very conscious of that, it doesn’t stop me wanting. It doesn’t stop me feeling as though that next purchase will be the one that will make me happy, be it of a book or a chocolate or a new piece of furniture or a garden tool.

What is the easiest way for one person or family to make an impact?

Choose something that matters to you, and do it.

And ideally make it something that will also benefit you or your family immediately. That makes it so much easier to keep going. And that is how you will make an impact. By doing something, and keeping on with it.

One good motivator is money – can you save money by making this change? What will your family do with that money (see my number one tip below)?

Another good motivator is health (yours or your children’s). There are over 80,000 chemicals approved for use in Australia, accessed through regular off the shelf products like shampoo, laundry powder, plastics and clothes. Over 75% of them have not been tested for human or environmental safety. Over 75%! And here’s a really startling statistic: one in three personal care products contains at least one ingredient classified as a possible human carcinogen*.

One in three personal care products! That’s things like toothpaste, sunscreen, bubble bath, body lotion, even lip balm.

So one really easy thing to do is to stop buying and using products with nasty chemicals in them. You can start by downloading my free non-toxic cleaning tips & recipes, to learn to clean without the nasties. You’ll save money this way too. But you don’t HAVE to make your own. You can also buy quality, non-toxic products. Don’t be fooled by the “green-washing” of common supermarket brands though!

What are you top tips to making the change?

My number one tip is to find a personal benefit to changing. One of the best ways to effect change on a population level is to put a price on something. It’s amazing, for instance, how petrol use goes down as the price rises.

So putting a price on it can also help you as a family. For instance, if you walk to the shops once a week, or switch to taking the bus to work three times a week, how much can you save? And what will you then do with that money? You can ask the same questions about the money you save by growing your own food or saving electricity. If you decide as a family what you will do with the savings, and then maybe graph your process so everyone can see, that can really help you make lasting changes.

Another tip is to make a game of it. Games usually involve scoring, and the easiest way to score can again be looking at how much you can save, or you can also effect fines. Leave a light on, put a coin in the jar.  But you can also do something like a monthly challenge “Right kids, this month the challenge is saving electricity. For every 5% we reduce the electricity use this month compared to the same time last year (which your bill will usually show) we’ll [insert your favourite non-energy intensive family thing to do here – maybe go to a local movie theatre or go out for a picnic].”

My third tip, but an important one – don’t try to go it alone! Find a community group you can be part of, join an online community, join a blog challenge even. But get support. If you can do it in person, that is usually going to be the most helpful, but any form of community is better than none. It’s amazing how effective it is to have other people around you, all trying to achieve the same things you are.

Last tip, but probably the most important of all – Just Do Stuff! That is the name of a book by the originator of the Transition Towns concept, Rob Hopkins, and I love it. Just do SOMETHING. It hardly matters what it is, just get started, and go from there. You can’t do it all at once. You probably won’t do the MOST effective thing first. Doesn’t matter. Just do something, and you will be making a difference.

If you want to start slow, how do you assess the best and most sustainable changes to make?

Go back to the my last tip above. Seriously, just DO stuff. It will be so much more effective than doing nothing.

But okay, another option is to get some help. In Canberra you can call ACT Smart for free advice on how to make your home more energy efficient, borrow a Home Energy Action Kit from the library to conduct a home audit or pay for an in-home energy efficiency assessment. That only looks at energy, but that is often an easy way to start, especially if saving money is also a motivating factor for you.

Again, the most important thing? Just do stuff. Make a change, see how it goes. Make another one. Talk to people about what you’re doing. Get support. And just do stuff.

*US Environmental Working Group, 2003, quoted in Sarah Lantz, Chemical Free Kids, 2nd Edition, 2012, p.106

Kirsten McCulloch is an Australian freelance writer passionate about living a more sustainable, healthy life, for herself, her family and the planet. She is the author of Less Toxic Living: How to Reduce Your Exposure to Toxic Chemicals – an Introduction for Families and writes about non-toxic living and other aspects of a healthy home at SustainableSuburbia.net. You can get the PDF of her book for free at lesstoxicliving.net, and download her free non-toxic cleaning printables here. Kirsten is also an Independent Norwex Consultant, which means she is focussed on improving quality of life, by radically reducing the chemicals in our homes.

What’s Your opinion?


Post a comment
Please login to post your comments, or connect with
13 Responses to
Living more sustainably – one step at a time
TFarquahar 5:01 am 05 Nov 14

I have to laugh. Seriously. I am not a climate change sceptic. Recently I saw an article in the CT written by a well meaning young chap named Louis Klee. Louis is a student of Philosophy at the ANU, a climate change warrior and a member of the group ANU Fossil Free. I really think we need more people like Louis. I did notice one particularly concerning thing about him though. His publicity shot depicted him with a mop of brown hair that magically stood up all by itself. It was unruly, yet styled. A devil may care attitude hair do that would require much styling product. Last time I checked, the production of hair styling products is not environmentally friendly. So in the pursuit of personal appearance our intrepid, young climate warrior activist is publicly demonstrating that some issues are more important than others. Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe Louis is a big fan of the movie “There’s something about Mary” and has a constant source of environmentally friendly styling products always close at hand, so to speak.

Maya123 1:09 pm 26 Oct 14

jcitizen said :

Maya123 said :

One of the best ways to help the environment is to keep your family small. People can live as ‘environmentally’ as they can, but it comes to nothing if the population keeps rising.

No , one of the best ways to help the environment is to confine your cat.

This is akin to a religious campaign for you isn’t it. Using the environment is a modern campaign against cats. Hundreds of years ago you would have been saying they are the devil’s helpers and need to be destroyed. Your mindset is old; only the way of delivery changes.
PS. For the umpteenth time, I don’t have a cat to confine, but you already know this don’t you. Stick to the cat forum with this. Your comments are tiresomely extremist enough there without finding every opportunity to espouse your extremism. But then I guess if you didn’t have this you would have extreme religion. Same mindset.

jcitizen 10:14 am 26 Oct 14

Maya123 said :

One of the best ways to help the environment is to keep your family small. People can live as ‘environmentally’ as they can, but it comes to nothing if the population keeps rising.

No, you are preaching that people should have smaller families, yet you argue that cats should not be confined.

jcitizen 10:12 am 26 Oct 14

Maya123 said :

One of the best ways to help the environment is to keep your family small. People can live as ‘environmentally’ as they can, but it comes to nothing if the population keeps rising.

No , one of the best ways to help the environment is to confine your cat.

Antagonist 10:04 am 13 Oct 14

dungfungus said :

Antagonist said :

Maya123 said :

One of the best ways to help the environment is to keep your family small. People can live as ‘environmentally’ as they can, but it comes to nothing if the population keeps rising.

Australia’s population growth through births and deaths is negative (decreasing). Our population growth is driven 100% by immigration. To achieve this we need to close our doors to everyone – both legal and illegal arrivals. How do you think that would go down with the general public?

The general public would be OK with that.
It’s “big business” that would scream.
While most of the unskilled migrants (mainly humanitarian and asylum seekers) will be on welfare forever, they are nevertheless consumers and users of services.

If by ‘general public’ you mean Jacquie Lambie, then yes they would be OK with that. But the reality is very different to that found on Planet Dungers 🙂

The problem is much greater than simply population control. Population growth is biggest in underdeveloped countries – but the greatest consumers are those in very well developed countries like ours. We are the 10% that consume 90% of the resources. Population control will not address this problem.

dungfungus 3:19 pm 12 Oct 14

Antagonist said :

Maya123 said :

One of the best ways to help the environment is to keep your family small. People can live as ‘environmentally’ as they can, but it comes to nothing if the population keeps rising.

Australia’s population growth through births and deaths is negative (decreasing). Our population growth is driven 100% by immigration. To achieve this we need to close our doors to everyone – both legal and illegal arrivals. How do you think that would go down with the general public?

The general public would be OK with that.
It’s “big business” that would scream.
While most of the unskilled migrants (mainly humanitarian and asylum seekers) will be on welfare forever, they are nevertheless consumers and users of services.

Antagonist 2:13 pm 12 Oct 14

Maya123 said :

One of the best ways to help the environment is to keep your family small. People can live as ‘environmentally’ as they can, but it comes to nothing if the population keeps rising.

Australia’s population growth through births and deaths is negative (decreasing). Our population growth is driven 100% by immigration. To achieve this we need to close our doors to everyone – both legal and illegal arrivals. How do you think that would go down with the general public?

dungfungus 12:41 pm 12 Oct 14

Maya123 said :

One of the best ways to help the environment is to keep your family small. People can live as ‘environmentally’ as they can, but it comes to nothing if the population keeps rising.

I totally agree and if we could control population it would also eliminate man-made climate change if indeed it actually exists.
You do realize that you are attacking the cultural rights of certain groups (as well as affecting their baby-bonus entitlements) so be prepared to be called a racist.

wildturkeycanoe 8:29 am 12 Oct 14

“Leave a light on, put a coin in the jar. But you can also do something like a monthly challenge “Right kids, this month the challenge is saving electricity. For every 5% we reduce the electricity use this month compared to the same time last year (which your bill will usually show) we’ll [insert your favourite non-energy intensive family thing to do here – maybe go to a local movie theatre or go out for a picnic].”

5% of our last quarterly bill would be around $35. A night out at the movies will be double that, so effectively all this saving is only costing you money. An 8watt CFL light if running for 8 hours a day will only cost you $3.50 to run every day for a year. If you are concerned about it being left on for an hour or so every day, that would be a saving of about 43 cents for the entire 12 months.
Our TV, PVR, DVD player etc, on standby for approximately 8 hours a day only cost $35 a year to run. For $35, I am quite happy to not have to reach behind into the tangle of cables and turn on the power point every day, reset the clock on the DVD, wait for the software updates from the Tbox and for everything to boot uo again. Same goes for our PC/modem. Turning them off is not just an inconvenience but then you lose your wi-fi connectivity for the tablets and phones, have to wait for it all to boot up etc. and the updates to antivirus will not occur until you try to check your emails and clog up your first morning experience with slow connection. Again, another $30 a year I’d rather spend instead of putting up with these issues.
E10 petrol, another world saving invention, doesn’t work well at all. All it does is make my vehicle cough and splutter, use more fuel and get less mileage. 95 to 97 octane fuel is much better for the car and is actually cheaper when you factor in how much you use vs cost.

Carcinogens – “One in three personal care products! That’s things like toothpaste, sunscreen, bubble bath, body lotion, even lip balm.” Cancer causing or not, personal care products aren’t exactly like 64 page exercise books in that they aren’t all pretty much the same. Some sunscreens work, others leave you burnt [cancer causing?], some leave skin irritations and others are brilliant for 8 hours or more. Toothpaste is a personal choice, there are only so many that provide pain prevention technology or don’t burn your tongue and deodorants are another particular buy that you simply won’t change for the sake of the environment.
Some people can and will try to make these changes but unfortunately many people can’t afford to. Man’s pursuit of making money has used the environment as another excuse to bump up the prices of anything that is supposedly good for it/us. It’s called opportunism and greed, we are the victims of it. Anything that is sensationalized in the media as a big problem will become something we all must spend our money fixing – the environment, healthcare, the budget, the war against terror. Bigger problems face the world but these are the money makers.

Maya123 11:49 pm 11 Oct 14

One of the best ways to help the environment is to keep your family small. People can live as ‘environmentally’ as they can, but it comes to nothing if the population keeps rising.

dungfungus 9:54 pm 11 Oct 14

farnarkler said :

Here’s a start; why don’t we have a 10c bottle recycling plan like they do in South Australia? Kids there must be making a fortune collecting cans and bottles.

Are you serious? No Canberra kid is going to stoop to retrieve an empty bottle or can.
The guys at the recycling plant would do OK though as they would have a better idea of how hard it is to earn money.

farnarkler 6:13 pm 11 Oct 14

Here’s a start; why don’t we have a 10c bottle recycling plan like they do in South Australia? Kids there must be making a fortune collecting cans and bottles.

dungfungus 10:52 am 11 Oct 14

I don’t find any fault with what you have proposed but unless everyone in the world does it the change will be negligible.
It’s a bit like Labor’s carbon tax – well meaning but totally useless in the aggregate.
Canberran’s generally pride themselves as being the best educated and most articulate people in Australia (I am not one of that group) but they are sadly silent in supporting you.
Clearly, the priorities are where to get the best coffee or kebab.

Related Articles

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Top
Copyright © 2017 Riot ACT Holdings Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.
www.the-riotact.com | www.b2bmagazine.com.au | www.thisiscanberra.com

Search across the site