Sustainability has been at the core of everything I’ve done for the last five years. Over time, I’ve started following a vegan diet, avoiding single-use plastics, and eliminating new polyester clothing from my wardrobe, amongst other measures. But it took the global pandemic (and staying in one place for the last year) for me to further reduce my carbon footprint and adopt more eco-friendly practices, which I’ll continue to implement post-pandemic.
Earth is on track to warm by 3.2˚C by 2100, which will make the planet difficult to inhabit due to rising sea levels, an increase in landslides, and other natural disasters. For me, the impetus for living more sustainably is knowing that I’m doing everything within my means to reduce my negative impact on the planet and preserve our home for future generations.
Before the pandemic, I spent five years traveling full-time, both for work and pleasure. I always avoided flying as much as possible and opted for trains, buses, and shared car rides wherever I could. But even if you’re not flying, traveling is inherently harmful to the environment. When COVID-19 hit, I was visiting my parents for six days and decided to stay put. I felt the responsible thing to do was to pause my life as a full-time traveler. I haven’t been on a plane in over a year which has, immensely yet temporarily, reduced my carbon footprint.
Since I have a proper home base for the first time in five years, I’ve been able to make more sustainable decisions in quarantine. I’m cooking daily for the first time in half a decade and am doing my best to make conscious food purchases. Fortunately, where I live, it’s less expensive to buy produce directly from farmers than at the grocery store. I source my veggies from a local organic farm that delivers boxes of produce weekly. It's an immense privilege to have access to affordable and healthy produce. But I've also found other ways to be sustainable when food shopping: If I have to go to the store for a fruit or veggie the farm didn’t have in stock, I use reusable produce bags instead of single-use plastic bags. If I forget the reusable bags, I just stick the price sticker right on the produce. I also use biodegradable grocery bags as trash bags for non-organic waste. And I get my nuts, seeds, beans, and gluten-free flours in bulk from a refill station where I take my own glass containers.
Making veggie broth has been a calming and nurturing ritual amid the chaos of the pandemic. I save my veggie scraps in the freezer throughout the week, which I then use to make the broth (after they’ve been used for the broth, I put the scraps in my neighbor’s compost pile). I’ve also found ways to be more sustainable with my alcohol consumption — when I’m drinking, I usually opt for tequila cocktails with citrus, like margaritas or palomas, and use Patrón, a brand that's dedicated to limiting their environmental impact. After, I’ll save the citrus grinds to make a cleaning solution with vinegar or I candy them for a sweet treat.
Every year I make a sustainable New Year’s resolution. Four years ago I became vegan in both my diet and lifestyle (after 11 years as a pescatarian), three years ago I swapped contacts for glasses, two years ago I stopped buying polyester clothing, last year I switched to drinking loose leaf tea instead of individual tea bags, and this year I’m going a year without buying new clothing. Living out of a suitcase for five years made it so I couldn’t own a lot of clothing, but having a closet for the last year made it easier to fall back into old unsustainable shopping habits. I’m always encountering different challenges to my green lifestyle and allowing myself that flexibility as I continue learning more about what I can do to live sustainably.
The pandemic has made me realize that although I haven’t flown this year, I’m still not carbon neutral. After months of research, I finally found a highly vetted carbon offsetting program I trust. To be carbon neutral, I have a monthly subscription with Wren which channels my offsets into projects verified by Gold Standard and Verified Carbon Standard. Based on my current lifestyle, I produced 5.84 tons of carbon in the last year. When I eventually resume flying, I'll recalculate my carbon footprint and increase my offset contribution.
Living more sustainably has many rewards for the planet, but you’ll also see many positive effects on your life. While some eco-conscious changes may require an investment upfront, such as purchasing a BPA-free reusable water bottle, in the long run, you might end up saving money by no longer buying single-use items. I’ve saved money and avoided plastic packaging by buying kitchen staples in bulk. Making your own broth out of the food scraps you have lying around is essentially free.
While the best thing is to shop locally and support small businesses in your community, there are, of course, times when all of us have to purchase items from large corporations. As consumers, we can put pressure on these corporations to make sustainable products. You’re an eco-advocate with your buying power when you make purchases from brands that are phasing out single-use plastic, source ethical manufacturing, and have measurable philanthropic programs. The onus may be on corporations to fix their pollution problem, but at an individual level, we have to attempt to make sustainable decisions for the sake of the future health of the planet.
It's easy to get caught up in the toxic notion that you, as an individual, can’t make an impactful change. If we all felt that way, change would never come. We’re responsible for being more ethical than the society we were raised in. It may be overwhelming to begin your journey into living more sustainably. Take it one step at a time like I have — focus on swapping one habit before moving onto the next. It may be easiest to start with riding your life of single-use plastic items such as bags, straws, bottles, and to-go coffee cups.
Give yourself grace as you become a more planet-friendly individual and be gentle with yourself when you deal with eco-guilt. When you’re feeling discouraged, remember your “why” — the reason you became more sustainable. Quarantine is a great opportunity to develop new eco-habits that we can keep in place post-pandemic.
Always remember, there’s no such thing as being completely sustainable, but we’re all accountable for doing our best. My green lifestyle took years to develop and is constantly improving. I’m not perfectly sustainable and that’s okay.
THE PERFECT WAY TO ENJOY PATRÓN IS RESPONSIBLY. ©2021. PATRÓN, ITS TRADE DRESS AND THE BEE LOGO ARE TRADEMARKS. HANDCRAFTED IN MEXICO. IMPORTED BY THE PATRÓN SPIRITS COMPANY, CORAL GABLES, FL. TEQUILA – 40% ALC. BY VOL.