You can tell by the Houston heat. Summer is finally here. Beach trips, bike rides, working in the garden-life is good. But besides the obvious, summer offers 93 days worth of opportunities to finally change old habits, try new things and gradually incorporate sustainable practices into your routine. From making your own vegan ice cream to implementing a recycling program at your local pool, it’s easy to make your summer a more sustainable one. Not sure where to start? No worries. Below are six different ways the Office of Sustainability student staff team is making this summer count.
1. Eat locally. Garden assistant Alex Rogers is following the 100-mile diet this summer. By eating only things grown within a 100-mile radius of her home, Alex will support local farmers, eat healthier and reduce the travel time of her food from farm to plate. The 100-mile diet helps followers shift their thinking from global to local food consumption and lower their carbon footprints. Alex says the diet hasn’t been too difficult of a change, since our city offers a deliciously diverse range of vegetables. She also says her local farmers’ markets have supplied her with everything she needs, and although she misses Nutella, the journey has been both informative and fun.
2. Save energy. Office and team lead Nikhil Schneider recently moved into a house with four friends, and he says signing up for an energy plan made him see his electricity usage in a whole new light. “After a few weeks, we looked at our power usage and realized we’d each be spending $70 per month on electricity if we didn’t change our habits,” he says. Air conditioning is one of the biggest power users in a home, especially during Houston summers, but it’s not the only way to keep cool. Running a central A/C unit for one hour uses as much power as running a ceiling fan on high for 40 hours. “We found we could stay just as comfortable by turning our A/C up eight degrees and having more ceiling fans on,” says Nikhil. “We also made it a habit to turn up the thermostat when we leave, so the air isn’t running when no one’s home.” Lots of power companies track your usage by the hour, day and week, and let you see this information online. This lets you measure the impact of turning up your thermostat, unplugging unused electronics and turning out lights when you leave a room. Try setting power usage reduction goals with your roommates or family by implementing a few of these easy steps.
3. Start cooking from scratch. Garden assistant Guadalupe Orozco makes her own masa tortillas using homemade batter. “I never really considered it to be sustainable,” she says, “but I learned how to make my own masa, which is the batter used to make homemade tortillas.” Guadalupe says she buys the corn in bulk and makes her own tortillas. “That way, I don’t have to use prepackaged flour and eliminate unnecessary packaging waste.”
4. Ditch disposable pens. Outreach assistant Joanne Ma has shifted gears this summer to carry a fountain pen instead of a plastic one. Commonly disposed items, like pens, foster a throwaway culture that generates more than 254 million tons of municipal waste and the disposal of 1.6 billion pens each year in the United States alone. Joanne is saying no to wasteful practices by carrying a stylish wooden fountain pen to complement her bullet journal. Well-crafted objects that people use, cherish and maintain for years have an intrinsic value that cannot be quantified. Remember to look beyond “green” business labels and claims, and evaluate any available life cycle assessments before purchasing, she adds.
5. Whip up a batch of vegan ice cream. “I’m the ultimate Pinterest girl, and I love looking up recipes,” says communications assistant Elizabeth Murphy. “Pinning is actually part of my job, and I’ve found some amazing vegan recipes that are perfect for summer.” Eating a plant-based diet is not only good for your health, but it also reduces the environmental impacts of farming and saves animals. In 2016, almost anything can be made vegan-even ice cream. So if you’re feeling adventurous, give this cruelty-free frozen treat a try.
6. Start a recycling program. Clancy Nelson, the office’s waste diversion assistant, will be implementing a recycling program at Memorial Pool, where he serves as a supervisor. He is working with Waste Management and Houston Parks and Recreation to get a permanent system in place. He’s also using his truck’s mobile billboard to educate people about the vegan lifestyle. By asking drivers to honk if they’re vegan, he hopes to keep this inherently sustainable lifestyle at the forefront of people’s minds. Both Clancy’s mobile billboard and the recycling bins he’s helped implement will be seen by hundreds of swimmers daily, and he hopes they will inspire people to make a change.
For many, the summer means more downtime to develop favorite pastimes. Various sustainable practices may require some extra time, research and effort, but transforming old summer habits into sustainable ones will reap many economic, environmental and societal benefits in the short and long run. The list above is only a starting point. Everyone has different ideas of ways to be more sustainable, and inspiration can spark from anywhere. Let’s be inspired this summer.
-Office of Sustainability student staff