My Journey Towards Sustainability

One of my resolutions this year is to live more sustainably. That encompasses a lot of things, which has made it quite frustrating at times, especially for someone who has a rather vocal inner critic. It ranges from feeling guilty for not being more aware and intentional about my actions and habits, to berating myself for them, to downright giving up and sticking my head in the sand.

But, in the last month, I’ve been more intentional about my actions. Making the changes have been difficult for me when it comes to costs; I was raised to be frugal, so it takes a lot of willpower to pay for the more expensive product or service, given that I’m currently still hemorrhaging money towards my graduate degree while being unemployed.

Despite all that, I’ve been making progress towards living my values. Here are some of the steps I’m proud to have taken:

Paying for Shipping

This doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with being eco-friendly, but I learned that free shipping externalizes the cost of the emissions from the delivery vehicles. If we stop to think about it, it makes a lot of sense. In the past, I’ve made unnecessary purchases at random times because there was an offer of free shipping. I’ve made a lot of unnecessary purchases at random times because of free shipping. That’s a lot of carbon emissions that didn’t need to be emitted.

I admit, this was painful in the beginning. After years of making sure I never paid for shipping, now I’m intentionally not adding enough items to my cart to get free shipping. It made everything cost more. But ultimately, this is a win-win: consuming less is better for the environment, and if paying for shipping makes me consume less, it’s a benefit to all (including my wallet, from not buying all the things I don’t need).

In a related vein, I’m also checking the box that says “Add $X amount to offset the carbon emissions of this purchase.” I noticed it when I was booking a flight from Copenhagen to Dublin, and it was only $1.25, so of course I need to do it. What sort of cheapskate am I to not check the box??

Reusing, Repairing, Recycling

So, I’m studying abroad in Copenhagen this summer (in a month, actually!), and I needed to bring a backpack for my laptop when biking to class. But the backpack I have is not stylish at all; I bought it years ago because it was cheap (I’ve since learned the lesson of quality over quantity). I started looking for a new, smaller backpack that would look nicer. And I didn’t really find any within my budget that I absolutely loved.

So I made the decision to just use the backpack I have. Not only is it in line with my values, but it would also be a convenient weekend bag for me to take on trips during the summer program. I wouldn’t want to bring my suitcase when all I need is a change of clothes and toiletries. I still don’t love my backpack, and I might still be embarrassed to carry it around Europe, but what the heck, the benefits outweigh the costs.

I also took a handbag in for repair! I’ve been meaning to, since it’s a perfectly usable bag except that the crossbody shoulder strap snapped off. It’s the perfect size for me to fit everything I need for a day out: water bottle, wallet, keys, phone, my travel bear, a book (though, I’m planning to bring A Game of Thrones with me, which I believe is 800 pages long and not purse-friendly). The repair costs a significant fraction of the price of the bag (or even a new bag), but I feel pretty good about choosing to make a minor repair instead of buying a new bag. I hope this opens the floodgates to me getting more things repaired; there are some shoes I absolutely loved that need resoling, but I haven’t made the effort to get them repaired.

Handbag with broken crossbody strap ring

My broken handbag

I thrifted my first two pieces this month! This has been a huge obstacle in my journey to sustainability, because I’m very particular about clothes. These are things that will be touching my body for extended periods of time. Also, the few thrift and vintage shops I’ve been to in the past have been very disheartening. I didn’t want to dig through the nasty things to find a nice item that might be contaminated by its neighbors. But I was resolved to start thrift shopping, especially since the remaining items in my wardrobe are starting to wear thin from constant use.

A pink color-blocked sweater and a black t-shirt dress

My first thrifted pieces!

I’m grateful that the first shop I went to this time around was a good experience. If it had been miserable, I don’t think I would’ve been able to continue down this path. I’m really happy with the two pieces I got! That said, I’m not going to thrift everything; I most likely will still buy new jeans and pants, and of course undergarments, socks, and sleepwear, but for the rest of my outside clothes, I’m happy to buy secondhand. Plus, it was pretty fun! As cliché as it sounds, it absolutely felt like a treasure hunt, finding something other people haven’t found, like discovering a secret no one knows about.

I’m also being more aware of recyclable items and not throwing them in the trash. I had been working on a compost pile for a bit but it failed and I’ll have to restart it when I get back from Europe.

Alternative Period Products

I’ve been using a Diva cup this year, and it’s been quite amazing. Well, it’s quite a hassle getting it in and out, but while it’s in it feels like I’m not even on my period (is that not the most amazing feeling in the world?). This last month though, I started cramping really badly, so I decided to get some reusable pads (this probably should go in the previous category) for the days when I can’t deal with the cup. I ordered some off Etsy, and was a bit hesitant because they were shipping from the UK (I paid for shipping). Afterwards, I found out that Etsy offsets all the carbon emissions caused by shipping items ordered on Etsy! That’s so awesome and definitely made my day.

Three reusable pads in pink cherry blossom and beige butterfly printed fabric

Isn’t the print just the prettiest?

Going Forward

Obviously, I’m nowhere near sustainable: I’m still flying places, I’m still eating meat (my meat reduction has been insignificant, statistically or otherwise), I’m still driving instead of taking public transportation, and let’s not get into my love of long, scalding hot showers. If I’m being honest, the habits I haven’t changed have a greater environmental impact than the ones I have changed. I’m essentially picking the low-hanging fruit. But that’s okay, because I need small wins to build momentum and not feel defeated by the enormity of what I’m trying to accomplish. That said, here are some more small things I’m working on:

  • I’ve decided to pursue impact investing as a career; it’s a combination of my past work experience and my future interest in making a difference in the world. And like a sign from the universe, I get an email from Vanguard (where I have my retirement funds) announcing an ESG fund! (ESG stands for Environmental, Social, and Governance.) There isn’t much information on the fund so far, since it barely launched a week ago, but it’ll be a good place for me to start! I’ll definitely have to research the companies in the portfolio once that information is released, but in all honesty, I’m probably going to be lazy and move some money into the fund without doing any research.
  • I tend to use public transportation when I travel outside the US, so this summer I’m planning to up that and rent a bike while I’m in Copenhagen. My accommodations are within walking distance of Copenhagen Business School (my original accommodations were a 15-minute bike ride away, hence the need for a backpack, but that just fell through and I had to find new accommodations immediately), so I won’t have to bike to class, but I would like to go buy groceries (I can’t afford to eat in Copenhagen) or go thrift shopping (I believe they’re called charity shops in Europe) or just explore the city. I’m really looking forward to that, because I love bicycling; it’s just too dangerous for me to commute like that in LA.
  • I want to bring my own containers for leftovers when I eat out, but I always forget because I don’t eat out that often, and I was raised member of the clean-plate club. I have been purchasing produce without the plastic bags (I have some mesh bags I’ve repurposed as produce bags, but when shopping for one I usually just put the produce in my basket without a bag), and using reusable grocery bags. I’m going to be cooking meals in Copenhagen (a first in my travels), so I will need to make sure I only buy things I can use up to avoid food waste. I’m pretty excited about checking out this surplus food market! It’s working to reduce food waste by selling the items that other supermarkets reject, mainly for aesthetic reasons (I’ve been guilty of judging food on aesthetic reasons – I would pick the pristine boxes and unbruised fruit).

My life feels very fulfilling right now. I’m so proud of all the effort I’m making to reduce my environmental impact in the world, and hope to make a bigger social impact in the future!

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