Live, Act and Be Sustainable

Sustainability is arguably the buzzword of the noughties,and our growing awareness of the need for sustainabilityin all facets of life is a definite positive in thistime of uncertainty. No political campaign or governmentbody report is complete without it. It's the term ofthe present - and the future.

The recently released draft Garnaut Climate ChangeReview paper makes no bones about it - carbon dioxideemissions from fossil fuels constitute half of Australia'sglobal ecological footprint, and are the major contributorsto climate change. An emissions trading scheme - meaninghigher petrol and electricity prices to try and evenup the balance - is on the cards. Imagined visually,a global hectare is the size of a soccer field. Accordingto the Living Planet Report of 2004, Australia's ecologicalfootprint is 7.7 global hectares (gha) per person, morethan three times the average global footprint of 2.2gha, and well beyond the level of what the planet canregenerate on an annual basis - just 1.8 global hectaresper person per year.

Knowledge is power. With this in mind, I decided tocalculate my personal ecological footprint. Calculatorsare available online - those of the Environmental ProtectionAgency of Victoria are user friendly and visually enhanced,and tailored to personal, home, office, school, retailand events. My personal ecological footprint is 4.1gha per year. I'm pleased to see I'm below the Australianaverage - but I'm still a giant. According to the calculator,if everyone lived like I did, we'd need 2.3 earths tosurvive!

But knowing is one thing, doing is quite another. Actionis all important. What we do today will shape the worldof tomorrow. By all reports the world of tomorrow isin trouble, and it's up to us to save the world. Inthe words of the great Mahatma Gandhi, "Be thechange you want to see in the world." But how?Here are some practical, simple and achievable waysto live, act, and be in a sustainable way.

In the home

A government initiative called Your Home has takenthe guesswork out of greening up your living space.It contains more than 60 fact sheets for designers,builders and renovators on a diverse range of topics.Figures presented by Your Home show that the averagehousehold's energy use is responsible for over seventonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, and water and spaceheating/cooling systems together make up 63 per centof home energy use.

Review your home energy supplier. Where does your energycome from? Green Energy Watch has done the researchfor you - so check their site. Does your supplier havegreen plans you could switch to? If not, consider changingcompanies. The online Carbon Offset Guide is anotheruseful site for checking on how your supplier shapesup. Are they acting responsibly? Give your suppliersome feedback - the laws of supply and demand dictatethat the greater the demand for green energy, the swifterand more substantial will be the reaction of energysuppliers.

Protect your home against the elements by insulatingroofs, walls and floors, sealing off draughts, lettingin the winter sun and drawing the curtains at night.Position your furniture to deflect or avoid draughts.Use the Your Home fact sheets to identify which typeof heating system is best for your needs. Our bodieshave their own heating and cooling systems, so thinkbefore you act. Do you really need to put the heateror air conditioning on? Or perhaps you just need toput on a jumper, or take off a layer or two?

Australia is the driest inhabited continent in theworld, and yet we are one of the highest consumers ofwater per capita. Maximising water collection and conservingwater resources is vital. Consider installing solarheating systems and rainwater tanks - in many areas,both are eligible for government rebates.
State by state information is available on the GreenPlumbers website.

Save Water, an independent advisor on sustainable wateruse and products, recommends simple steps for waterconservation, such as fixing leaks (a leaking tap canwaste 20,000 litres of water per year), installing anenergy efficient shower head, and making sure your hotwater system thermostat is not set too high (as toppingup with cold water to regulate temperature is wasteful).Cut down on shower time by soaping up and shaving legsbefore you get under the shower. Fill the sink ratherthan leaving the tap running for tasks like shaving,washing vegetables and rinsing dishes, as this usesless water. Catch running water whilst waiting for itto warm up and use it to water plants, rinse dishesor wash fruit and vegetables. Turn the tap off whenit's not in direct use, for example when brushing yourteeth, and only use the washing machine and dishwasherwhen you have a full load.

Elsewhere, recycle what and where you can. Visit yourlocal council's website to find out what they do anddon't recycle (see In the marketplace for more on recycling).

In the garden

Flowers look good, but vegetables taste good (and theydon't look bad either). Get into growing your own produceand you'll not only give yourself the gift of a satisfyingnew hobby, you'll save money. Make the most of youroutdoor areas by growing herbs and vegetables in gardenbeds and pots. Garbage disposal units use about sixlitres of water per day, so put suitable food scrapsinto a composter or worm farm rather than down the kitchensink - the compost you'll create will be great for thegarden.

If you have a swimming pool, ensure you are not exceedingyour water allowances. Conserve the water you are allowedby reducing evaporation, a major cause of water lossfrom your pool, particularly in the early evening whenthe air cools but the water remains warm. Covering thepool lowers the water temperature, decreases evaporationand prevents debris from falling on the pool surface.By preventing sunlight from penetrating the water, youwill also reduce the quantity of chemicals needed tokeep the pool clean. Wind also contributes to evaporation,so adjust the landscape around your pool with wallsand hedges to create shelter from the wind.

Rainwater diverters attach to a downpipe and can beused to divert rainwater into your swimming pool, andare an inexpensive alternative to installing a tank.Consult a plumber about stormwater diversion - GreenPlumbers are specially trained and accredited to givethis type of advice.

In the workplace

Many workplaces have nominated environmental officersat work and sustainability policies are already underway.Does yours? In the office, switch off computers, photocopiersand lights when they're not in use, and definitely overnight.Make sure your printers do double sided printing andhave this as the default setting. Think before you print- do you really need it on paper? Make it easy for youremployees to cycle to work - install bike racks andcover. Recycle what you can. Primary industries aremajor users of water and electricity. Make sure it'sbeing done in the most eco-efficient way possible.

Implement a green purchasing policy. It's a great wayfor businesses to inject sustainability into their practice.Eco-Buy is a government funded initiative offering adviceon green purchasing to businesses Australia-wide. Theycategorise products by recycled content, greenhousefriendliness, water savings, energy efficiency, lowtoxicity and fuel efficiency, and has a searchable databaseof green products and suppliers in your area availableonline and for free.

In the marketplace

Shop with sustainability in mind and you'll save preciousresources and, ultimately, money. Eco-Buy's searchabledatabase is designed for businesses, but freely availableto all. Buy Australian made, and cut down on your meatconsumption. The average meat-rich Australian diet requirestwice as much water per person per day as an equallynutritious vegetarian diet. A meat-rich meal made withimported ingredients also emits nine times as much carbonas a vegetarian meal made with domestic ingredientsthat don't have to be hauled long distances.
When buying new appliances, shop for energy and waterefficient models. Check dishwashers and washing machinesfor a WELS (National Water Efficiency Labelling andStandards scheme) label - the more stars, the more waterefficient the product. A WELS dishwasher uses half thewater of an average model. Washing machines should havea four or more star rating, and front loaders are moreenergy efficient.

Check to see if the retailer or manufacturer offersa whitegoods recovery and recycling service.

Recycle in other areas as well - if you're buying somethingnew, what are you doing with the old? There are recyclingschemes in place for practically everything these days,from computers to clothing, furniture to eyeglasses.Donate unwanted goods to your local charity shop, orget out of the money jungle altogether and check outfreecycling, an online community of recyclers whereno money changes hands.

On the move

Get your groove on and think outside the square whenit comes to getting around. When travelling locally,take public transport, walk, or ride a bike. Look intocarpooling in your area at The Carpool - it might notbe as inconvenient as you think. Car sharing schemeslike FlexiCar and GoGet CarShare take the hassle outowning a car, and, provided you can plan ahead, areeconomical ways to access transport when you need it.

Offset your car's impact on the environment with Greenfleet,who will calculate your carbon emissions and plant greenhousegas absorbing trees on your behalf. If you're thinkingabout buying a new car, why not go green and investin one of the many types of hybrid car entering themarket. They use electricity as well as petrol (approximatelyfifty-fifty) to power the motor. Demand for the ToyotaPrius, the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Lexus 400h iscurrently exceeding supply, so get your order in now.