Seems like everywhere we turn, we hear about how our beloved planet Earth is falling apart. Global warming, threatened wildlife, polluted oceans, natural disasters, deforestation and fresh water depletion is just the start of a longer list of issues we’re facing as a society.
If you’ve ever thought “what can I do, in my little part of the world, to make things better?” we have a few answers for you, especially when it comes to your home life, your financial investments and the ways you can encourage businesses and local government to be more sustainable too.
Recently, the editors at Make it Better Media Group had a lively discussion with three eco thought leaders: Nathan Kipnis from Kipnis Architecture and Planning, Patrick Costello from Green River Financial Services and Andrea Densham from Shedd Aquarium. During the chat, the trio discussed everything from resilient homes, to investing in companies with “green” missions to supporting conservation and reducing plastic use.
Going Green in Your Home Environment
Chicago architect Nathan Kipnis believes creating resilience in buildings and living sustainability are wholly interconnected. Resiliency refers to design with an intention of being able to respond to stress or environmental disturbances such as floods, high winds, wildfires, and more.
Interestingly enough, we can all learn lessons in resiliency from the saltbox houses commonly built in New England around 250 years ago. Homes back then were built long before electricity and power, with of sustainable features including operable windows and shutters to control the natural light and ventilation, asymmetrical roofs designed to keep snow from accumulating, and natural cold storage on the North-facing side of the house. Back then, the whole house was heated with a chimney in the middle and all the materials to build it came from only five to 10 miles around.
Today’s sustainable and resilient homes have captured some of those same centuries-old concepts and melded them with modern design, technology and innovation.
Three ways to have a more resilient home:
Steer towards resilient design and construction. Building a home from the ground up gives you the opportunity to start fresh and infuse both sustainability and wellness into your home. You can design a home that is all-electric, uses solar panels, incorporates more natural daylight, and has natural ventilation sources to let fresh air and healthy microbes in. With careful planning, you can also work in sustainable features into a home renovation project. Plus, it’s more possible than ever to own a net zero home—which is a home that both generates and uses its own electricity.
Embrace passive survivability. Passive survivability means building a home so that it functions without a lot of power going into it, and therefore can remain operational during power outages, droughts and other natural or man-made disasters. There are a number of ways to do this, ranging from tighter insulation to installing battery back-up systems tied to solar panels. But one doesn’t have to sacrifice design in order to have a house that is low carbon – a beautiful home can be one that is also sustainable, and vice versa.
Make sure your home also fits your lifestyle. With a big shift towards remote working, many people need space to be able to work at home. You can create spaces just for work at home, but also with dual functionality, such as a room that serves as both a home office and a bedroom.
The desire for sustainability is creating a big shift in the architectural world, Kipnis points out. “The reuse aspect (of a home) is the new big thing. We’re also now seeing materials (in buildings) that are carbon sequestering, which now pull the carbon out and locking it in the building, from wood to concrete.”
Going Green with Your Wallet
Patrick Costello, a Marin-based financial advisor that works with clients to help them align their investment strategies with their personal ethics and values, says “there is no Planet B. Humanity has been in a sweet spot with our planet for thousands of years climate-wise, but we need to move to mitigation and adaptation.”
Translation: as a society, we are moving away from fossil fuels to renewable clean energy. The current presidential administration has already issued a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than half by the year 2030.
Most people underestimate how their investments can positively impact the climate. One study found that even a 500,000 fund that is divested from investments in fossil fuel companies can have a greater impact on the climate than individual activities people can do, such as avoiding plane flights, buying food in sustainable packaging and using climate-friendly transportation.
Three ways to become a “green” investor:
First, put most of your money into mutual funds managed by fund families instead of buying individual stocks. The average fund contains between 25 to 100 stocks, so it’s spread out and less volatile.
Use sites like FossilFreeFunds to look up existing funds to determine if that fund contains fossil free investments or not, as well as the fund’s performance.
Don’t assume that an ESG branded fund is really a good one. Just because a fund is labeled as ESG credentiales (which stands for environment, social and governance) doesn’t mean it’s sustainably friendly. Some ESG funds are “greenwashed,” misleading investors to believe they are more sustainable than they actually are. Take a look at what the funds hold in terms of stocks and consult with your financial advisor.
Your dollars can make a difference, according to Costello. “If you invest with a fund managed by a fund family that is committed to sustainability, they can aggregate your interests as owners and approach big companies, like Starbucks, and get them to use packaging that doesn’t involve plastic or is reusable. That’s an additional benefit to investing in funds that are managed by sustainable fund families.”
Going Green All Around You
Andrea Densham, a senior director of policy for the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, sends a reminder that we are currently in a “moment in time” to act together to enact change. Densham points out that we need enough safe and protected places for the aquatic wildlife in our waters, as well as a sustainable future for our world now and for generations to come.
Densham and her team at Shedd meets with policy holders regularly to present science-based solutions, but “we also need the help of our society to enact changes. Now is the time to think about what we can all do within our local municipalities, with business owners and with youth who are on the forefront of civic engagement.”
Three ways to create impact on a community level:
Commit to moving towards “reuse.” One of the important steps of reuse is figure out a way to move away from single-use plastic. Unfortunately, not all plastic is recyclable, and even if it is, we often don’t recycle it well. Plastic goods are made out of petroleum and is a carbon heavy process.
Encourage businesses you work for and those you patronize to move towards reuse. If and when they do, acknowledge and thank them for doing it. The same goes for your local municipalities.
Ask your local municipalities and businesses to stop using pesticides and nutrient pollutants. Pesticides can get into water sources, like lakes and waterways, which are harmful to both wildlife as well as humans. Ask these entities to switch to more nature-based and regenerative solutions instead.
“Each of these things are business decisions as well as individual decisions,” says Densham, “but any business, municipality or NGO can make better decisions on products to use, so I encourage individuals to think through that lens.”
How to Help
For more ways to support local businesses, go here.
For more on Marin:
- 16 Impactful and Influential Eco-Warriors Making a Difference for the Environment in 2021
- Green River Sustainable Financial Services: The Wisdom of Sustainable Investing is No Mirage
- Creating an Iconic National Park in San Francisco: The Women Building the Presidio Tunnel Tops
Donna Berry Glass is a freelance writer in Marin County who writes mostly about family and kid-oriented topics. When she’s not writing, she enjoys spending time with her family exploring the natural beauty of Marin, snuggling with her Cavalier King Charles spaniel while reading a good book or whipping up something delicious in her space-challenged kitchen. Donna is a supporter of the California Academy of Sciences, a world class science museum and research institution, and the Institute on Aging which provides much needed services to seniors and disabled individuals.