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On 'sustainability'

This is not a blog about sustainability, green living, or eco-conscious lifestyles. There are plenty of others available, if that is the focus you are looking for. Whilst many of the choices we make reflect practices we undertake to minimise our family’s impact on the natural environment, these are actions that we find fit with our lifestyle, and make sense for our own individual circumstances.


On sharing my original plans for this blog, a couple of close friends expressed surprise that I hadn’t set out with ‘sustainability’ as a key priority. “Everyone wants to read about that these days,” they said. “Everything you do fits in with it.”


Yes, from reading the articles I plan to post you will pick up on ideas that contribute to living in an environmentally conscious manner. Our main form of transport is a cargo bike, we used cloth nappies and elimination communication with our babies (even when we had to handwash while travelling overseas), we bring our own reusable shopping bags, coffee cups and containers for take away food*, we try to minimise the amount of plastic we buy, we eat pulses more often than meat, we compost our food and garden waste; I could go on. However, we also like to fly places, the car we do own and drive is a diesel four-wheel drive, our home is powered (and the electric bike recharged) by non-renewable sources, half the things in our pantry are still packaged in plastic (and have travelled many thousands of kilometres to get here), and, no matter how many I try, I just can’t find a bamboo toothbrush that I like.


This shouldn’t be a competition. People shouldn’t be shamed into taking on these actions, or feel guilty if they can’t. The responsibility should not be placed entirely on the individual. Unless you have unlimited time and money, or the ability and desire to completely remove yourself from society and live self-sustainably ‘off-grid’, it is going to be difficult to fulfil every one of the suggestions given for ‘individual actions to minimise your impact on the planet’.


Geographical limitations are also significant when it comes to limiting ‘food-miles’ (or online shopping), buying items in bulk or without plastic packaging, or even just knowing about the different options available when it comes to things like cloth nappies. Those in remote areas often face the (ethical and financial) dilemma of ‘is it better to buy this ecologically friendly product online from a store thousands of kilometres away, or to buy something locally available’?


Community campaigns have been successful in lobbying local councils (and state governments, in some areas) to ban plastic straws, non-biodegradable take away packaging, and so forth. Nevertheless, I feel more significant change will not come about without government and major industry prioritising environmentally sustainable practices, whether that be through legislation regarding restrictions and taxing, or by other means.


If you see a change that you would like to make in your own life, by all means, go for it. We are very happy with the choices that we’ve made, and will likely continue to take additional actions to further minimise our impact on the Earth. I do find that, in starting with something small, then adding actions in incremental steps once it becomes ‘normal’, individuals can feel empowered to question why more isn’t being done on a larger scale. Taking actions that stand out from the crowd can also prompt some interesting discussions with those in the community who want to make changes but don’t know where to start (like riding one of the only cargo bikes in the city, or even just bringing your own plates down to the food van at the beach). That said, there are those who don’t want to stand out. That’s fine, too. There are many different ways to take action, and I believe the most powerful is still through the political system.


In reviewing the policies of those you vote for, and, where you feel they don’t align with your own values, either looking for alternatives or letting your preferred party/candidate know that you think improvements could be made, and that they are important to you, I believe you can have a greater impact that just by remembering to bring your own coffee cup. Engaging politically can also allow you to positively focus the energy you may otherwise spend feeling guilty for forgetting to say you didn’t want plastic cutlery, or feeling angry when your drink is served with a straw when you had said you didn’t need one (surely, I’m not the only one to have experienced both scenarios).


As a parent of young children, it can be hard to find time to write letters, join campaigns, or take political action in a manner we may have been accustomed to previously. However, even showing your support for a campaign on social media (shares and comments, or even just ‘likes’), or sending an online message to your local member of parliament (if you know an actual letter or even an email is just not going to happen), can demonstrate that the issue is important to the electorate and something they will consider when going to the polling booth. Of course, there are many further actions you can take, volunteering for campaigns, joining parties (and policy committees) or environmental action groups, taking part in community information sessions and other events, but these vary from place to place and, again, I think it’s important to balance commitment. The guilt of not being able to ‘do it all’ is something most parents already feel on a regular basis; starting (very) small is fine, you can build from there when you feel able to.


Throughout this blog, I will be writing about actions we take as a family to minimise our impact on the natural environment. If you see something in photos or I mention something and don’t elaborate, but you want to know more, please get in touch. I am happy to write about these things, and to discuss why we’ve made the choices we’ve made and how they’re working for us, it just won’t be with the sole focus of ‘living sustainably’.


*As I write this, we are no longer able to supply our own cups and containers due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, like many, we are choosing to support our favourite local businesses, even if it does mean we are ending up with a lot of take away containers and coffee cups (even for businesses, cost and access to home-compostable/biodegradable packaging is not equal, especially if the business did not previously offer take away).

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