Given an unlimited budget and lots of spare time, most of us would love to live more sustainably. Drive a Tesla electric car to minimize my fossil fuel dependence? Sure! Eat only at restaurants that source their food locally? No problem. Grow my own vegetables? I’ve heard it’s super therapeutic!
But that’s not life. We’ve all got budgets and time constraints.
Fortunately, making a significant change in your own impact on the planet is becoming easier and more affordable every year. Here are five examples of ways to live more sustainably that are becoming more affordable and accessible:
1. Personal alternative energy
The price of home solar panels has dropped dramatically in the last five years. With the help of federal tax credits that return 30 percent of the upfront cost to the homeowner, and some state tax credits, some homeowners can get a full solar system for less than $10,000, meaning a payback time of about five years. And in some areas, homeowners can lease solar panels for no upfront cost, and the monthly payment will still cost less than their current electric bill. Learn more here.
2. Eat local
The local food movement has become mainstream, which is good for everyone who doesn’t live in Vermont or a trendy California city, where those trends started. More and more restaurants all over the country are working to source their food locally whenever possible, reducing the amount of fossil fuels used to transport food. Farmers markets are popping up in inner cities again, like the Westown farmers market on Wednesdays in Milwaukee, and many farmers operate Community Supported Agriculture groups that supply fresh produce off their farms to members within a certain radius. Scroll through the local farmer's market directory here.
3. Public transportation is expanding
Cities long thought to be too car-dependent to support public transportation are once again investing in streetcars, after dismantling their systems almost 100 years ago. Cincinnati is moving forward with a comprehensive downtown streetcar system, and Milwaukee plans to install a downtown streetcar loop and then grow the system further. Learn more about Milwaukee’s streetcar efforts here. And the bike share craze has hit almost every mid-sized city in the country, or will in the next five years, allowing anyone with a credit card to cheaply rent bikes for short crosstown trips as an alternative to driving or the bus. In fact, Rock the Green is partnering with Bublr for bike share. Both options allow conscientious consumers more alternatives to driving their own car, especially inside cities, where fuel economy plummets and air pollution pools.
4. Food waste
While developed nations’ relationship with food still produces an alarming amount of waste, one simple tool can help mitigate the impact of that food waste. Garbage disposals, like the ones made by InSinkErator in Racine, can divert a large amount of food waste from landfills if homes and commercial kitchens use them to grind up food scraps, bones and other unused organic materials. In Milwaukee, those particles pass into the local sewer system, where the water is treated and the organic material can be harvested to create an organic nitrogen fertilizer called Milorganite, rather than dumping the sludge into a landfill. A typical garbage disposal costs between $50 and $100 and can be installed in almost any sink. Learn more here.
5. The sharing economy
The sharing economy gets a lot of press for the negative impact it has on established businesses. Uber disrupted the taxi industry, and AirBnB is shrinking demand for hotel rooms. But for those hoping to reduce their environmental footprint, the sharing economy provides another affordable option. Whether it’s driving a Zipcar, ordering a dress from Rent the Runway, or joining equipment lending co-ops, using anything that someone already owns rather than buying new are all ways to reduce the demand for consumer goods and the resources used to produce them.