Environmental Ponderings No. 4: The Journey of Materials Efficiency and Energy and Water Optimisation

Over the Festive Season, there are always many lists being generated in various printed and broadcast media, urging folk to follow 10 Green Resolutions, or 5 Recycling Tips or 10 Green Christmas Hints or some similar set of suggested behaviour changes. Most people tend to be a little irritated by them because they are ready-made tips which do not necessarily relate or connect with individuals’ circumstances, capabilities and impacts.

What we really should be doing is taking a step backwards from these end use suggestions and thinking about what we can do before we purchase the items which cause the waste. That can be difficult because many will argue that it is difficult to know where to start and what to consider.

Here are a 3 simple thought triggers to get you started on the journey of materials efficiency and energy and water optimisation (perhaps a fancy way of saying “how to be more environmentally friendly”):-

  1. Think about all the materials and substances you use during a day. Ask yourself “Where do they come from and what will happen when these items reach the end of their life?” then ask yourself, “How will these items or their waste remnants be disposed of?”
  2. Once you have done this, ask yourself a second question. “Are there alternatives that are easier/cleaner/cheaper/less polluting/smaller quantities/ less toxic?
  3. If you cannot find the answers, don’t be afraid to ask your friends, read books, search Google and other Internet sources, contact teachers or colleagues or any other source of information that you can think of.

These actions are the start of a journey. This journey will change your life and will change, as YOU change, over time. As we move through the various stages of our lives, our abilities to do things and influence the wider good within our community, changes. By understanding where we are on our individual journeys, we can continue the journey within our capacities, capabilities and understanding. This is the way in which each and every one of us can contribute to the good of our Communities, the space and environment we depend upon and live in, and improve our Society in general. (Oh and by the way, this often also saves money which is an added benefit and motivation!)

If the tasks seem overwhelming and it appears that there is just too much to do, prioritise your tasks, start small and tackle simple tasks and easy actions. Remember the answer to the legendary question, “How do you eat an elephant?….answer – One bite at a time.

The tasks discussed above are not easy. You may not have all the information that you need to answer the questions and make the judgements. You thus need to find out, explore, research and understand. Understanding is the key to sustainability of materials and sustainability of actions. If we do not understand why actions and alternative courses of action are necessary, we will never do them. To lump everyone together into a “one size fits all” solution is unlikely to work. If everyone tackles their own tasks within their own capabilities, there is a greater chance that they will continue to undertake the tasks regularly and as a part of their everyday lives.

Arend Hoogervorst is an environmental scientist with some 30 years of experience in South Africa in environmental management and sustainable development in local and central government, commerce and industry and private practice.

© Arend Hoogervorst, 2013.