Living for the Long Haul: How do we live more sustainable lives? Part II – Pine and Lakes Echo Journal

PINE RIVER — In a previous column we stated that living sustainable lives is a lifelong way of living, and we introduced some attributes of sustainable living.

Here we will share more practical ideas to get started living sustainably.

A good place to start is by completing a carbon footprint calculator. These are simple, free internet programs that allow you to determine how much you are consuming and give you tips on how to live more sustainably.

The following are examples of calculators we have found useful.

The carbon footprint calculator results may be disheartening. They may tell us that, if everyone on earth lived like us, it would require four to six planets to support the human race.

But we need to be confronted with this information and to be presented with multiple ways that we can significantly reduce our impact on the earth’s resources. Many individual actions do lead to measurable collective results.

How do we begin to respond to this awareness of our overconsumption? Given that sustainable living is a lifelong endeavor, even the smallest things that we might do (like shutting off lights when we leave a room, closing our window shades at night to reduce our heating bill, etc.) make a difference.

As such, it doesn’t matter where we begin; it matters that we begin and that we are committed to continue making changes.

There are many things you can do that don’t cost anything, like turning the thermostat down at night; or when we are gone, shutting down computers and other electronic equipment when not in use.

All these actions will actually save you money in the long run. The small things do all add up.

Also, we are never “too old” to change. Most of us have kids and grandkids, which means we will have relatives for generations into the future. What we do today to become responsible citizens of the earth’s resources becomes a gift to future generations.

For those of us who try to live sustainably, “charity” is about much more than just giving money at Christmastime. It is about doing what we can to assure the well-being of future generations and of the earth itself.

For most of us, our greatest impacts on the environment are in: 1) heating/cooling our homes and businesses; 2) electrical usage; 3) travel; 4) production of waste.

There are simple and inexpensive changes we can make that have a significant impact in each area.

For help with conserving energy in heating/cooling and electrical usage in the home, a “Home Energy Guide” is available from the Minnesota Department of Commerce, (“Home Energy Guide” at It can be found online and we have copies available at Balsam Moon Preserve.

It is also helpful to keep track of monthly and yearly usage of heating fuel, electricity and water usage as a way to monitor your progress toward efficient use of resources.

Reducing travel begins with driving less. Find ways to reduce the number of trips we make (combine errands, carpool, walk or bike, hold virtual meetings, etc.) and reduce long car trips (shop locally, use public transportation, etc.).

Further, purchasing fuel-efficient automobiles and electric automobiles (more efficient than internal combustion automobiles) reduces our energy consumption. Airplane flights are an inefficient means of transportation and alternatives are important to consider whenever possible.

Finally, our landfills are overflowing with our waste. Our soil, water, air and even our bodies are becoming contaminated by our waste products.

Sustainable living demands that we significantly reduce the amount of waste we produce. Recycling is only a partial answer and has failed miserably for plastic, clothing and food waste. Nondegradable plastic is accumulating in our environment at an alarming rate and we must find ways to reduce the amount of plastic we are discarding.

Refusing to buy items packaged or packed in plastic are ways manufacturers will get the message and change their practices.

These are only a few ways we can all begin the process today to live more sustainably if we decide to do so. Once we start, we will experience the benefits for the environment and for our personal well-being.

(References to all factual information quoted provided on request and comments and questions are encouraged:

Douglas J. Weiss and Barb Mann are caretakers/directors of the nonprofit Balsam Moon Preserve in Pine River, a spiritual place of peace, sustainability and renewal.


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