Go Back to the Future for Sustainable Living Ideas
By Paul Minnick
Solar panels, ENERGY STAR appliances and dual pane windows are just a few of the things that may first come to your mind when you begin to think of ways to be more environmentally friendly around the house. Although these are great options, they are not always in everyone’s budget. So, our mission today will be to take a trip back to the future to find inexpensive yet effective ways to reduce environmental strain. There is no need to go too far back in time to find some great ideas—we can simply journey back to my childhood where I had the pleasure of seeing my 1940s-era grandparents live in a sustainable way long before it was the “hip” thing to do. Below are some painless and economical ways to propel you back to the future.
Grow your own food. Although farming started in Neolithic times, one of my earliest experiences with gardening was with my grandfather. In his era it was victory gardens that the public was asked to grow in order to help take the strain off of food production during WWII. Today we face a different problem, and starting a garden in your own yard is a great way to reduce your ecological footprint. It does not matter if you have an acre or just a small patio—gardening can be a fun, relaxing way to help reduce fossil fuel and harmful pesticide use. The task may seem a bit daunting for those just starting out gardening but this journey is well worth taking. Joining a community garden is a good way to get your feet wet and make friends who garden and can steer you the in the right direction. Whether you chose to start big or start small, growing you own food is a cheap way from the past to be more environmentally kind.
Hubert Morley c. 1945
Install a clothesline. If you really want to find a great way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save money and conserve energy, look no further than my grandmother’s backyard of yesteryear. I can picture the scene like it was yesterday—grandma using “nature’s dryer” to clean up my soiled clothes after a long day of helping grandpa in the garden. Installing a clothesline is an inexpensive and easy way to cut nature a break. In hot climates it is an ideal way to dry clothes while not further heating up your house. Conversely, in cold temperatures and in apartments a drying rack is a fantastic alternative. Once your clothesline is up and running you can ditch the dryer sheets and get that “outdoor fresh” scent the way Mother Nature intended.
Upcycle. If my grandfather was still around today he would have stared back at you blankly if you used the word upcycle, having no clue what it meant. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as the “reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.” However, he was an upcycling mastermind and it could be seen all around the house. Old wine boxes turned into planter boxes, coffee cans into bird feeders and busted chairs into wind chimes, and these are just a few of the things he fashioned from old “junk.” These types of projects are endless and only limited by your imagination. Ideas such as turning empty toilet paper rolls, yogurt cups or egg cartoons in to seed starters for your new garden is an easy place to start. Reflective old CDs turned into bird scaring devices, plastic knives used to label those freshly planted herbs and old linens to keep those tomatoes warm on a frosty night are just a few simple upcycling ideas.
J. Wirtheim Communication Design
Growing your own food, installing a clothesline and upcycling are just a few things done in the past that can be replicated today to be more sustainable. But don’t stop there—in today’s world our access to ideas is greater than ever and there are endless ways to reduce stress on the planet. Now that we are back from the future it’s time to put on those overalls and gardening gloves so we can make my (and our) grandparents proud.
Paul Minnick is an Urban Planning and Sustainability student at Arizona State University. Paul is also the President of The Gardens at ASU and a member of the Scottsdale Community Garden Club. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.