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Going Green: the Financial Gains of a Sustainable Home

There’s more value in going green than just saving the planet.

We all want to do more about reducing our carbon footprints, to live more sustainably. We try to bring our travel mugs to Starbucks. We stash reusable grocery bags in our car consoles and shoulder bags like we know we should. We rinse and recycle glass and plastic. We even recycle the centers of our toilet paper tubes. Raise your reusable water bottles to a job well done, as these are certainly positive, favorable and sustainable habits. But, we’re continually troubled, wondering whether this is actually enough. We scarcely need to look further than our own front door on a balmy February afternoon to see, first-hand, the effects of climate change and think that more does indeed need to be done.

We worry about climate change, our warming planet, clean water, fossil fuels and the horrific legacy we’re leaving our children, as much as we fret, worry and watch our retirement savings, interest rates, mutual funds and global economic conditions. It’s all inextricably tied together and, believe it or not, greening your home, whatever the motivation, has a net positive impact on your household expenses as much as the planet.

In an effort to be more sustainable ourselves, and to provide insights into the cost benefits of going green, we’re continually compiling lists of reasonable, yet life changing and affordable habits, home renovation recommendations and resource links that not only lead to a more sustainable lifestyle but will save, and in some cases earn, you money.

Setting the Sustainability Stage 

Sustainability is the balance between the environment, equity and economy. The UCLA Sustainability Committee establishes that “resources are finite, and should be used conservatively and wisely with a view to long-term priorities and consequences of the ways in which resources are used.” So, sustainability, “being green,” is both equitable and economical. It certainly applies to choices and habits made at a global level, in the world and society at large, and many corporations are finally realizing this. But going green, when considered more intimately, becomes increasingly important to our homes, our lives and the lives of our families, particularly if we consider the finite resources of our savings and net worth.

Sustainability is so much more than an environmental consideration. “Going green” fundamentally changes our approach to life. It leads us to living more wisely and equitably. In a financial sense it creates long term value, allowing us to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations, our own children, to meet their own needs. A few changes in our lives and homes now, will have a lasting positive impact on the lives of our children and our children’s children as well our budgets in the near term.

We’ll review a small handful of ideas that will help you live smarter and more sustainably for our families and the world because we’re all connected. Embracing these connections and acting on our sustainability goals, not only save resources for the future, it creates equity for all, including those less fortunate than ourselves, a key component of sustainability that also feels really good.

Our goal, with any sustainability effort, is to meet our current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The smallest decisions at home today impact our environmental and natural resources, on a global scale for everyone. It takes individual effort to make a global change. Sometimes changing our perspective and making small, incremental changes in our habits do have the greatest impact. In this article we’ll start with these small, incremental changes in the home and our habits. Changes which are easy to implement and maintain. In later articles will consider larger more substantive changes and home renovations for those looking to take additional steps. We’ll see why what we eat and how we eat or how we clean up messes gives us opportunities to feel good about our daily decision making, saves us money and lets us live more sustainably every day.  

Food Waste and Composting

The U.S. EPA estimated that, in 2019, some 66 million tons of wasted food were generated in the food retail, food service, and residential sectors. Most of this waste (about 60%) was sent to landfills. The United Nations estimates that, globally, “… approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted – 14% is lost before reaching retail, and 17% may be wasted from retail to consumer.” Clearly, food waste on a planet of 8 billion and counting is most a pressing issue. 

Washington and most other U.S. states have made remarkable strides in diverting and reducing food waste, in support of ambitious federal food waste reduction goals. Washington’s House Bill (HB 1799) aims to reduce organic waste disposal 75% by 2030 and increase the volume of edible food recovery 20% by 2025, enlisting business and municipalities with these reductions in a state-wide effort to be more sustainable. California and other states maintain similar goals. 

Managing food consumption and waste is an obvious step towards a more sustainable lifestyle, so let’s have a look at a few simple steps we can implement that will both save money and promote global equity.

Green Your Dining Routine

We’re sure your financial planner, wealth manager or accountant had a look at your dining expenses when planning and budgeting. They may have even pointed out the excess costs of Uber eats orders or dinners out and suggested cost-saving alternatives. Good news for you and your financial planner, you can consider this the first step of your revitalized sustainability routine –  dining in and meal planning. 

Dining at home has the obvious advantage of saving a ton of money. Surprisingly, dining in reduces waste and helps ensure an adequate food supply for the world’s growing global population. Consider, for just a moment, the 20 million metric tons of plastic pollution, from takeout orders, sent into the environment annually. The foodservice industry generated 12.8 million tons of food waste, across all states in 2021. Even when we’re busy, meal planning and preparation can make dining at home both pleasurable and sustainable.

Roughly $1,500 gets spent each year by a family of four on food that goes uneaten, according to the U.S. EPA. A full third of all the food in the United States goes uneaten. In an effort to combat the global challenges of food waste, the EPA has compiled some great resources to help us all reduce food waste and plan meals better. An abundance of subscription meal planning services are also readily available for busy professionals and families unable to shop consistently. We may have even tried one or two with mixed results. The debate continues, however, around the sustainability of these services over conventional grocery shopping, despite claims of supply chain efficiencies and exacting portions sizes. Many of these services still do use single serving plastic, which is a problem in the food-service industry as a whole.

Myplate.gov provides some really useful tips and guidance in making your own meal plans, creating grocery lists and storing leftovers. Whole Foods and other markets also offer the convenience of combined meal planning and grocery delivery, making this step even easier and more efficient, not to mention eliminating travel to and from the grocery store. 

You’re bound to have some leftovers from your meal planning and it’s recommended to plan for leftovers to account for those extra busy days. How you store leftovers is another easy and affordable step towards a greener and healthier kitchen. You’ll want to ditch plastic containers and plastic wraps for more environmentally friendly alternatives like glass, however. Studies continue to find that “certain chemicals in plastic can leach out of the plastic and into the food and beverages we eat. Some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems such as metabolic disorders (including obesity) and reduced fertility.” If you’re concerned about whether your old tupperware containers and plastic film wrap is recyclable, you can visit Earth911 to find recycling solutions and facilities for your specific containers. You can always upcycle your reusable plastics around the house to store errant Legos bricks or loose screws in the garage.

If you’re like many who can’t stand leftovers, composting your food waste reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps shrink your carbon footprint. Composted food waste can also be used to create valuable soil amendments, converting and returning food nutrients from our food waste back to the soil. Resources like this one from the State of California, CalRecycles, offer you tips, tricks and best practices for composting at home. Once you get used to the idea of composting, or simply diverting your egg shells, coffee grounds and vegetable peelings to your green waste bin, this step becomes really easy and can enrich your garden in ways you never thought possible.

Daily or Occasional Dietary Changes

Composting and changing the ways you dine, with meal planning, can be a truly affordable and sustainable change. Changing what you eat, however, can “slash your food bill by up to one-third,” according to a recent study by Oxford University. The study suggests that “Vegan diets were the most affordable…,” while “flexitarian diets with low amounts of meat and dairy reduced costs by 14%.” So, a simple shift to “meatless mondays,” going full vegetarian, or an occasionally plant-based diet can have as much of an impact on your carbon footprint as recycling, upcycling and installing solar panels. It’s well known that livestock production has a negative influence on greenhouse gas emissions. Beef production also continues to drive water pollution and water scarcity across the globe. This alone may provide us the urgent environmental impetus to change our current lifestyle and consumption habits, not only for the planet’s health, but also our own health and the health of our finances. Now that we’re done planning, meal prepping and eating it’s time to clean up! 

Put Down the Paper Products

While paper products are made from renewable resources, there’s still an environmental cost for producing and using them. Estimates suggest that average paper towel usage in American households is the per-person CO2 equivalent of driving 173 miles. Ditching paper towels and paper napkins is easier than ever. An abundance of cloth napkins, microfiber towels and Swedish dishcloths are available in the marketplace. If you’re crafty, you can earn extra sustainability credits upcycling those old rock show T’s into reusable nappies. What’s greener than handing a handmade cotton napkin to your house guest after a delicious, well planned vegetarian meal? Cutting up and reusing (upcycling) old T-shirts diverts cloth waste from landfills and is a terrific, and infinitely reusable, green alternative to cleaning up everyday spills.

Cut Out the Cutlery!

Reusable utensils are pretty common at home. Most of us have silverware in the house, but what about when you’re out and about or on the road? Carrying a simple set of bamboo utensils, in your satchel or backpack is as easy as carrying a reusable water bottle and will reduce, at least by a few, the 561 billion individual plastic utensils sent to landfills every year. A quick search for “reusable bamboo utensils” results in thousands of affordable options, many of which come in convenient recycled PET plastic carrying cases, giving disposable water bottles new life in the process.

Greening Your Toilet Time

In the end is the toilet paper. As Americans, we lead the planet in toilet paper consumption. Our average annual consumption of 140 rolls is twice that of someone from France or Italy. With the bulk of toilet paper being made from virgin pulp wood, our insatiable demand for toilet paper is leading to the direct degradation of forests across the U.S. and Canada. And, how many of us actually recycle that cardboard tube in the center of the roll? 

Fortunately, there are a few things we can do to create a more sustainable bathroom regimen. Reducing the demand for 100% virgin paper pulp and purchasing recycled or bamboo is one option. Installing a bidet is another. Bidets significantly reduce your toilet paper consumption and offer a distinct advantage in the event of another pandemic-related toilet paper shortage. Since the Coronavirus pandemic, bidets have become an increasingly popular addition to US homes. Italy has mandated bidets in all homes since 1975 and bidets are found in roughly 80% of Japanese households. Contemporary bidets can be readily attached to existing toilets and are installed with few or no tools. Combining recycled toilet paper with a bidet, and recycling the cardboard centers, would truly be the trifecta of sustainability in the bathroom.

Going Green is Living Green

We could list a myriad of reasons for going green and reducing the deleterious environmental impact of our short lives on this planet. Some of us do it for our children, others because it feels the right thing to do in an age of climate catastrophe. And, while every reason to go green is a valid reason, living with a greater environmental perspective, sustainably, promotes an undeniable financial benefit that enables us to use resources conservatively and wisely with a view to long-term priorities and consequences. Going green is a mindset. It’s smart living as much as it is green living. There’s real value in changing the way we live, for our offspring, certainly and now we’ve got some incentive to change our habits for the betterment of our budgets.

Sign up for our email newsletter as we explore, in the coming months, steps to further greening our homes and lifestyles. From e-bikes and home renovations to solar arrays, appliances and attire we’re exploring the options that enable a greener, more affordable lifestyle that’s sustainable for all.

The information in this article is not intended as tax, accounting, or legal advice. Read the full disclaimer here.

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