Environmental Ponderings No 8: Can I Help You to Save the Environment?

As a professional environmental advisor, I stopped using the opening line, “Can I help you to save the environment?” about 20 years ago.  Why? Mostly because very few people are altruistic enough or rich enough to magnanimously be able to “save the environment”. Even more people counter that request with the question, “What’s in it for me?”

That triggered my thinking to my current opening gambit which tends to be along the lines of, “Can I help you to save money and make more money?” Sadly, much of our life revolves around finding ways of ensuring that there are enough Rands in the bank account at the end of each month to pay the bills. Our life is driven by consumerism and a capitalist system which is driven by spending. Yes, some of us are able to be altruistic but at a cost.

Everyone loves to be told a story and if the story has some kind of practical message, it makes it even more useful. The Ngewana family live in an 5 bedroom suburban home and they were challenged to see what they could do to live more sustainably. Over a six month period, they moved from understanding their current resource usages, changing their behaviour and finally practising a more efficient and cheaper way of living. A report on their project has been produced and in these tough times, is an eye opener on what can relatively easily be achieved. The report on the project can be freely downloaded at http://mygreenhome.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/My-Green-Home-long-version-spreads.pdf  There are also other graphics and examples on the main website which will give you other thoughts and ideas. Having seen what the Ngewanas have achieved, you might want to “give it a go”. The thoughts and questions below may start you on the journey, if you haven’t already commenced it…..

Like most things in life, there is no magic formula for “being green”. Much of the success depends upon your existing lifestyle and what you are prepared to sacrifice.  Do you want to change your lifestyle? What have you got used to? Does it depend upon “stuff”? Change is an anathema to most people. Most will fight change vigorously and eventually, surrender to the new requirements. If we ponder on change, it becomes clear that it is a part of life and we are constantly subject to change. In most cases, it is a creeping, imperceptible change that we are not aware of. Sudden change comes in the form or new jobs, new houses, bereavements, retrenchments, weddings, divorces and emigration.

“Going green” is a change that requires some thinking about. Why do you want to do it?  What will you gain from it that will make you want to maintain it as a lifestyle and a philosophy? Are you prepared to invest your time and money in making the necessary physical and practical changes that will successfully make an active and noticeable difference? Can you afford to “go green”? (Yes, you will have to make an investment which will cost you and you have to commit to that investment.)

If you have reached this stage and are still positive, maybe start putting things down on paper. Take a sheet of blank paper and draw a line down the middle.  On the left side, head the column, “Positives”  and on the right column, “Negatives”. Write down all the positives and negatives of going green, based on my questions above and what you have seen from the Ngewana s’ examples.

Discussing the resulting  positives and negatives will give you an indication of the risks that you face in “going green”. Don’t be fooled into thinking that there are no risks. Facing the risks and overcoming them is part of managing change. Go forward, whatever you believe “forward” to be, and I wish you much luck and good fortune in the changes that you decide to make.

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, 2015.