For sustainability to work, it must be practiced beyond industry and corporates and be made truly accessible to everyone, writes global sustainability ambassador Emine Mehmet.
Last year, I travelled to the UK and South Africa to promote The Big Shift Sustainable Design Competition. On this trip, I met with exhibitors, design industry associations and sponsors to lay foundations for the competition. Along the way, I developed new understandings of the world, people and sustainability.
I found that fundamentally, we are all the same. We all want the same things; to feel secure, to have a home, food, an education, to have opportunities and a future. We are all patriots and love our country. We look to our government for leadership, courage and vision and to create and influence positive change for generations to come, not just for their time in office.
I believe that it is within our power as people to develop sustainability internationally. This is the vision I have for my work; to promote the use of sustainably made materials, sustainable ideas and ways of living by making it more accessible, more desirable and better understood.
I met a young woman from Zimbabwe who moved to South Africa to find work and support her family. She supported them not by sending money, but by sending food. Scarcity of food is not something we see much of in Australia – it’s a far away concept.
But the sustainability of food supplies is a very real worldwide concern not discussed often enough. Food shortages in Zimbabwe and other parts of the world are very real and are happening now.
To have a future anywhere in the world, we need to embrace sustainability and stop navel gazing at only our personal realities. In Australia, we act like we invented sustainability and it would seem we’re leading the world.
But in other parts of the world, it is ingrained in their way of life. Europe in particular does it well, where light timers and sensors and water control in public spaces is the norm; the brown paper bags and ‘bring your own shopping bag’ concept is widespread.
It is easy to be drawn into ‘the lucky country – young and resource rich’ state of mind – consideration of the future wasn’t always our first priority. Lack of public ownership of sustainable issues and reliance on our government to fix things are a clear demonstration of how disjointed the Australian public are from the issue of sustainability.
Likewise, in the UK the sustainable movement is strong, but there is still a disjoint between the practice of sustainability by industry and by the public. The message is not filtering down to the general population.
This is a problem I have observed worldwide: the experts get it, but the population doesn’t have enough access to easy information on readily available and desirable resources – like furniture, homewares, everyday household items, food and general goods, building materials, alternative energy – to attempt to live more sustainably.
Beyond governments and advocates, designers have the power to influence consumer behaviour. Sustainability won’t work unless it is practiced by everyone, not just corporates and industry. We need to talk about it on a level everyone can understand. Sustainability isn’t hard to interact with, and maintaining the environment should be desirable, even sexy.
Aspects like sustainable furniture and homewares can be incredibly beautiful. If they were given more airtime, this would be a reality for everyone.
It should be easy too! Imagine not having to think about whether something is sustainable or not. Imagine all things from a toothbrush to your lounge had to come with information about its sustainability. Where it came from, how it was made, what it was made of, who made it and what to do with it when its life is over. Wouldn’t that make things so much easier?
In South Africa, they are crying out for a sustainable solution to their electricity supply problems, something we are lucky enough not to have experienced in Australia. Many South Africans want to be sustainable, to use organic food and low toxic products, but these have been priced out of reach of most of the population.
It’s fair to say that governments are not always solution providers. They are often cash poor and hindered by laws and policies. I believe governments need to engage more heavily with large corporations and industry to make sustainable solutions accessible and affordable. The people need to take more responsibility and action when it comes to creating a sustainable future. Sustainability is about community and collaboration, this means we all share and contribute.
Emine Mehmet is a global sustainability ambassador, an ambassador of The Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife and a fellow of the Design Institute of Australia. For more information, see her website.
How Going Green Can Save A Company Money
What is going green?
Going green means to live life in a way that is environmentally friendly for an entire population. It is the conservation of energy, water, and air. Going green means using products and resources that will not contaminate or pollute the air. It means being educated and well informed about the surroundings, and how to best protect them. It means recycling products that may not be biodegradable. Companies, as well as people, that adhere to going green can help to ensure a safer life for humanity.
The first step in going green
There are actually no step by step instructions for going green. The only requirement needed is making the decision to become environmentally conscious. It takes a caring attitude, and a willingness to make the change. It has been found that companies have improved their profit margins by going green. They have saved money on many of the frivolous things they they thought were a necessity. Besides saving money, companies are operating more efficiently than before going green. Companies have become aware of their ecological responsibility by pursuing the knowledge needed to make decisions that would change lifestyles and help sustain the earth’s natural resources for present and future generations.
Making needed changes within the company
After making the decision to go green, there are several things that can be changed in the workplace. A good place to start would be conserving energy used by electrical appliances. First, turning off the computer will save over the long run. Just letting it sleep still uses energy overnight. Turn off all other appliances like coffee maker, or anything that plugs in. Pull the socket from the outlet to stop unnecessary energy loss. Appliances continue to use electricity although they are switched off, and not unplugged. Get in the habit of turning off the lights whenever you leave a room. Change to fluorescent light bulbs, and lighting throughout the building. Have any leaks sealed on the premises to avoid the escape of heat or air.
Reducing the common paper waste
Modern technologies and state of the art equipment, and tools have almost eliminated the use of paper in the office. Instead of sending out newsletters, brochures, written memos and reminders, you can now do all of these and more by technology while saving on the use of paper. Send out digital documents and emails to communicate with staff and other employees. By using this virtual bookkeeping technique, you will save a bundle on paper. When it is necessary to use paper for printing purposes or other services, choose the already recycled paper. It is smartly labeled and easy to find in any office supply store. It is called the Post Consumer Waste paper, or PCW paper. This will show that your company is dedicated to the preservation of natural resources. By using PCW paper, everyone helps to save the trees which provides and emits many important nutrients into the atmosphere.
Make money by spreading the word
Companies realize that consumers like to buy, or invest in whatever the latest trend may be. They also cater to companies that are doing great things for the quality of life of all people. People want to know that the companies that they cater to are doing their part for the environment and ecology. By going green, you can tell consumers of your experiences with helping them and communities be eco-friendly. This is a sound public relations technique to bring revenue to your brand. Boost the impact that your company makes on the environment. Go green, save and make money while essentially preserving what is normally taken for granted. The benefits of having a green company are enormous for consumers as well as the companies that engage in the process.
5 Easy Things You Can Do to Make Your Home More Sustainable
Increasing your home’s energy efficiency is one of the smartest moves you can make as a homeowner. It will lower your bills, increase the resale value of your property, and help minimize our planet’s fast-approaching climate crisis. While major home retrofits can seem daunting, there are plenty of quick and cost-effective ways to start reducing your carbon footprint today. Here are five easy projects to make your home more sustainable.
1. Weather stripping
If you’re looking to make your home more energy efficient, an energy audit is a highly recommended first step. This will reveal where your home is lacking in regards to sustainability suggests the best plan of attack.
Some form of weather stripping is nearly always advised because it is so easy and inexpensive yet can yield such transformative results. The audit will provide information about air leaks which you can couple with your own knowledge of your home’s ventilation needs to develop a strategic plan.
Make sure you choose the appropriate type of weather stripping for each location in your home. Areas that receive a lot of wear and tear, like popular doorways, are best served by slightly more expensive vinyl or metal options. Immobile cracks or infrequently opened windows can be treated with inexpensive foams or caulking. Depending on the age and quality of your home, the resulting energy savings can be as much as 20 percent.
2. Programmable thermostats
Programmable thermostats have tremendous potential to save money and minimize unnecessary energy usage. About 45 percent of a home’s energy is earmarked for heating and cooling needs with a large fraction of that wasted on unoccupied spaces. Programmable thermostats can automatically lower the heat overnight or shut off the air conditioning when you go to work.
Every degree Fahrenheit you lower the thermostat equates to 1 percent less energy use, which amounts to considerable savings over the course of a year. When used correctly, programmable thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 10 to 30 percent. Of course, the same result can be achieved by manually adjusting your thermostats to coincide with your activities, just make sure you remember to do it!
3. Low-flow water hardware
With the current focus on carbon emissions and climate change, we typically equate environmental stability to lower energy use, but fresh water shortage is an equal threat. Installing low-flow hardware for toilets and showers, particularly in drought prone areas, is an inexpensive and easy way to cut water consumption by 50 percent and save as much as $145 per year.
Older toilets use up to 6 gallons of water per flush, the equivalent of an astounding 20.1 gallons per person each day. This makes them the biggest consumer of indoor water. New low-flow toilets are standardized at 1.6 gallons per flush and can save more than 20,000 gallons a year in a 4-member household.
Similarly, low-flow shower heads can decrease water consumption by 40 percent or more while also lowering water heating bills and reducing CO2 emissions. Unlike early versions, new low-flow models are equipped with excellent pressure technology so your shower will be no less satisfying.
4. Energy efficient light bulbs
An average household dedicates about 5 percent of its energy use to lighting, but this value is dropping thanks to new lighting technology. Incandescent bulbs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. These inefficient light sources give off 90 percent of their energy as heat which is not only impractical from a lighting standpoint, but also raises energy bills even further during hot weather.
New LED and compact fluorescent options are far more efficient and longer lasting. Though the upfront costs are higher, the long term environmental and financial benefits are well worth it. Energy efficient light bulbs use as much as 80 percent less energy than traditional incandescent and last 3 to 25 times longer producing savings of about $6 per year per bulb.
5. Installing solar panels
Adding solar panels may not be the easiest, or least expensive, sustainability upgrade for your home, but it will certainly have the greatest impact on both your energy bills and your environmental footprint. Installing solar panels can run about $15,000 – $20,000 upfront, though a number of government incentives are bringing these numbers down. Alternatively, panels can also be leased for a much lower initial investment.
Once operational, a solar system saves about $600 per year over the course of its 25 to 30-year lifespan, and this figure will grow as energy prices rise. Solar installations require little to no maintenance and increase the value of your home.
From an environmental standpoint, the average five-kilowatt residential system can reduce household CO2 emissions by 15,000 pounds every year. Using your solar system to power an electric vehicle is the ultimate sustainable solution serving to reduce total CO2 emissions by as much as 70%!
These days, being environmentally responsible is the hallmark of a good global citizen and it need not require major sacrifices in regards to your lifestyle or your wallet. In fact, increasing your home’s sustainability is apt to make your residence more livable and save you money in the long run. The five projects listed here are just a few of the easy ways to reduce both your environmental footprint and your energy bills. So, give one or more of them a try; with a small budget and a little know-how, there is no reason you can’t start today.
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