August 26-31 is World Water Week. For me, this week was a training week. I had the good fortune to be in Santa Barbara at an IIQTC training program working on my Level 2 Tai Chi practice leader certification. I’ll share more on Tai Chi, stress management and wellness some other time (probably when One Planet Wellness is ready to launch). For now, I’d like to talk about water, greening up our daily lives and how something as simple as a spatula can help save the world.
I’ll start with a confession. I’ve worked in social finance forever, so my social consciousness is fairly high. I am not, however, much of an environmental crusader. I’ve got the S and G in ESG, not so much the E. For a long time, I rationalized my behavior with the notion that we can each only do so much. Working on economic development with focus and intent would therefore be a higher use of my particular skills than trying to go green. Mostly I work with financial institutions, which aren’t big polluters, so I figured getting them to put ESG policies in place was a good enough goal.
Over time, I came to appreciate that you can’t achieve sustainable improvement in socio-economic well-being if you ignore the environment. For example, let’s say we create a brand new covered marketplace for local food and craft street vendors to sell their wares. If we over look waste disposal, water use and so forth, we risk creating an economic “success” that’s an environmental disaster.
What to do? For me, the key was to start small. I am not very eco-conscious. I rent, so I can’t install solar water heaters, compost my waste or collect rainwater. My building recycles, so that was about the extent of what I was doing for the environment. I felt bad about that, but at the same time, my day job is about saving the world so maybe it was ok that on my own time I wasn’t doing much to make the planet a better place.
I decided to try making some small changes to see if my conscience would stop nagging. I live just over the DC line in Maryland, but when DC enacted a 5 cent bag tax (bring your own or pay up), I decided it was time to give up plastic bags. I didn’t think this would actually make much of a difference, but at least I was doing something positive for the environment. At the end of a year, I realized that I had eliminated a phenomenal amount of plastic bags from my life and a corresponding number of trips to drop those plastic bags off for recycling. Fantastic. Little things do make a difference, so now what?
Truth be told, my biggest green issue is water. Here in the US – at least coastal big city US – we take it for granted that when we turn on the tap, water that’s safe to drink will flow endlessly. It’s not like that for much of the world. I remember a friend telling about turning the faucet on in Guyana and having half of a frog land in the basin. You can believe that thereafter she boiled every bit of water used in food prep. I’ve also worked in places where there was no faucet. You want water, you grab a container and go get it from a central well. And there are plenty of people living in places where getting water means walking several kilometers in each direction, each day. Think about how access to water changes our daily routines and allows us to be more productive!
I stopped taking long showers – even though I’m a water sign and I LOVE taking long showers. I turn off the water while I’m lathering up face and hands in the morning. This turned out to have a dual benefit. Apparently my former water-wasting technique also used too much soap. I’m happy to report that my soap budget has decreased alongside my water use.
One thing was really bugging me though. How do I reduce – or at least justify in my own mind – the amount of water it takes to clean food containers for recycling? We do recycle in Montgomery County, but do we recycle enough to make all that water use worthwhile? I honestly don’t know. But last night while making dinner, I had a revelation.
Instead of grabbing a spoon to get the last bit of tomato sauce out of the bottom of the bottle, I grabbed a flexible spatula and removed all the sauce from the walls of the bottle as well as the bottom. Then I applied my ‘clean for recycling’ methodology of adding one drop of soap and filling the bottle half way, putting the lid on and shaking vigorously. Pre-spatula, I’d have to rinse the bottle once or twice before getting to this step. Post spatula, I had eliminated two rinsings and lots of running water, yet still had a clean bottle to put in the recycling bin.
So my spatula reduces water use which is a good thing for the planet, but it has one other benefit too. Cleaning bowls and bottles with the spatula before putting them in the sink decreases food waste. Since we waste an appalling 40 % of food produced in the US, this is another small but worthwhile lifestyle change. My spatula wielding prowess netted me another 1/4 cup of tomato sauce. Nothing to write home about in and of itself, but we’re talking 13 cups of tomato sauce over the course of a year, and that’s just one food item.
Every tiny change we make in our lifestyles contributes to the well-being of our planet and the sustainability of our natural resources.We can all find small changes that don’t hurt to make but do contribute to the greater good. Buy a spatula and see for yourself 🙂
Lauren A. Burnhill aka @LaurenOPV