Happy Earth Day! I had a hard time deciding what to write about today because it feels like such an important one. As you all have probably – hopefully – figured out by now, I’m a little bit obsessed with living a sustainable life (hey, it’s even the name of this blog). Because of that, I started to put some really serious pressure on myself to write some fabulous, profound post today about the environment.

Really, though, my goal is less about celebrating Earth Day on one particular day and more about living all three hundred sixty five days a year that way. I’m sometimes nowhere near perfect and a good ways from truly being zero waste, but it’s an intention that I practice daily. So, with that in mind, I decided to reach out and ask my readers what was on their mind in terms of the environment and what questions they had of me. Not the same as a live “Ask Me Anything,” but a static form of the same idea. Here are their questions.

CHERRY blossoms this spring
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Ask Me Anything (Environmental) On Earth Day

1. Do you use carbon offsets when you travel? – The Frugal Engineers

I do, though not as much as I should. I reserve our rental cars through Costco and they make it easy as an add on right at the time of reservation. While it doesn’t make a huge difference on the environmental impact of our travel, it’s definitely a start. If airlines had a simple click to add option, I’d do it there as well. Thank you for asking this – I’m going to be more intentional about this going forward.

While not the exact question asked here, the bigger part that gets way overlooked in terms of the sustainable part of travel is the mode of transport to begin with. While we can all buy carbon offsets each time we fly somewhere, the fact of the matter is we should all be flying less. This isn’t a popular opinion, especially in the personal finance space where a ton of travel hacking occurs, myself included, but airplane travel is simply a huge use of natural resources.

The airline industry is focused on changing this and is doing a lot better as time goes on, but planes use a ton of fuel, and that fuel is burned well up into the atmosphere, which has almost double the warming effect the same amount would down on the ground. This might be a bit of a detour from the original question about carbon offsets, but to be honest, they are a drop in the bucket compared to reducing the amount of large scale travel we do. Just one fewer flight a year will do a heck of a lot more than buy offsets for every trip you do take.

Obviously, not traveling at all is not a great option either, as we all have loved ones who don’t live near us, and even Skype or FaceTime is nothing compared to some quality in person time. And then there are all the other reasons that travel is important in regards to empathy and understanding for people and places that are different than us. And there is nothing like seeing something in real life as compared to a screen. I don’t have a great answer here, but ultimately, we need to be just as mindful with the way that we travel as we do with our spending and every other part of our lives.

Apparently this is a good week for this question, because a Google search landed me on this recent Seattle Times article, which dives a bit deeper on this exact topic. If you’re looking for some more tips to travel a bit more sustainably, I thought this was a good quick read. And if you travel via Airbnb (or really travel overnight at all), I’ve previously written up some tips on how to travel more sustainably with Airbnb.

On the top of Mount Washington. Sometimes there’s no substitute for actually being there.

2. Do you have a favorite resource for how to landscape in an eco friendly way? We have a lot of trees that make it hard to grow grass and I don’t know where to start. – Meagan L

Are you set on growing traditional turf grass? There are actually some great alternative ground covers that are slow growing / don’t need to be mowed, and there are a number of them that do well in the shade. We haven’t gone this route in the front yard yet as my focus has thus far been on the edibles in my raised beds, but it’s something we’ve looked into from time to time. At the point we do make the switch, I’m personally leaning toward Creeping Thyme. Super low maintenance, still looks grass-like, and reasonably shade-tolerant, though it does need well drained soil (so we wouldn’t plant it in our backyard).

In terms of other landscaping, my number one recommendation would be to find a blogger from your local area because gardening tips can vary quite a bit depending on your location, as I learned the hard way when my first attempt at gardening in South Carolina ended with all moldy, dead plants. Regardless of where you live, though, look into pest deterrent plants, as there are many options that do a great job without adding any pesticides into your yard (marigolds, garlic, and a whole host of others, including ones that repel mosquitoes). There are also a number of DIY natural pest repellents that I’ve heard can work well, though I’ve never used them before myself beyond a simple soap spray (which does work).

Clearly I don’t put any effort into my lawn – but someday.

3. Electric cars – is there really a benefit besides relocating the pollution? – Stop Ironing Shirts

Compared to gasoline powered vehicles, electric cars can be a great alternative. I definitely wouldn’t say that they are “relocating” pollution; even when you take into consideration the large environmental impact of the electric vehicle’s battery, they still come out ahead in the long run. While I currently drive a Toyota Camry hybrid with just shy of 100,000 miles and have no plans to replace it for quite some time, I do expect that my next vehicle will be fully electric, unless by that point I can get away with not owning one at all.

And that really is where my sticking point is with electric vehicles. My biggest concern is that we will get so focused on the opportunities that electric vehicles will create, especially coupled with rideshare options and self driving cars, that we will ignore the fact that single occupant vehicles are simply less efficient than mass transit. Just like with travel, we would do better to live more locally and reduce our overall powered travel. A trip with an electric vehicle is absolutely better, especially if it is powered by renewable energy (much of our electricity in the United States is still backed by coal and other fossil fuels, so charging an electric vehicle with electricity produced that way isn’t great either).

However, there is still a large upfront cost with the creation of the electric vehicle, even before you take into consideration consumables like tires, windshield wipers and fluid, etc. And then those vehicles drive on oil-based roads just like gasoline and diesel vehicles, wearing them down just the same. While electric vehicles are a better alternative, we really need to start looking more toward options that don’t involve single passengers and nonrenewable resources. And of course, single occupant vehicles of any type still add to the awful congestion that many of our cities have to deal with, Seattle included.

4. Are there any online bloggers or influencers that you follow in the environment/green space? – Millennial Boss

The very first bloggers I started following in the environment/green space are both garden bloggers: One Hundred Dollars A Month and Northwest Edible Life, though they’ve written about a whole host of other related topics, from frugality and handmade projects to emergency preparedness. Another blogger I’ve read for a long time is The Non Consumer Advocate, who was actually the inspiration for the start of my Friday’s Frugal Five series more than a year and a half ago

More recently, my favorites are mostly over on Instagram, namely: Zero Waste Cutie, Chris Istace, The Green Spouse, The Smallist, and of course, Zero Waste Home, though so much of what she does feels so out of reach, even to me. Even so, there is a lot of good in those who push the envelope, because they show what’s possible. I definitely need a balance of following along with what feels possible and what doesn’t, for the extreme pulls the rest of us along in the right direction.

And then within the personal finance space, Frugasaurus has a great blogroll of frugal and sustainable bloggers, to which I would have to add Frugalwoods, who has been writing about frugality and sustainability as long as she has been blogging.

5. How do you keep motivated or not feel defeated by the lack of people on board with environmental efforts? I sometimes feel like such a drop in the ocean and wish people would just get with it. – Kristy H

I’ll just start by saying that I definitely have those days. For perspective, I first read the book Cradle to Cradle back in high school, and it had a profound effect on me then. Reading it then, I was impacted by how serious the environmental stressors were on our Earth then, and I was convinced that things would have to shift soon due to the dire situation we would be in if we didn’t act.

The book was published on Earth Day 2002, seventeen years ago, and it is still uncomfortably relevant today. I had initially wondered about my plan to go into the environmental science field because I thought it would be possible it would be an “outdated” field well before I would be done with my working career. Clearly, I was young and naive, because we aren’t doing much better since then. Sustainability is still a buzzword and not a way of life.

Ultimately, though, I still remain an optimist, albeit pretty cynical as well about how public sentiment won’t change nearly fast enough. And so, instead of looking out at the macro level very often, I try and stick to the things I can change. I may not be able to change the entire building industry and convince big developers to build to LEED Platinum standards and beyond, but I can lead our company to continue to pushing the envelope with each new project.

I may not be able to change policy at a national or global level when it comes to water use, but I can go on a financial independence podcast and talk about toilets and convince a number of people to replace their plumbing fixtures with low flow versions to reduce their water bills. And I can live my life – and write this blog – like it matters. Because it does.

Will what we do in small ways be enough to change the tide? Alone, no. But enough public sentiment, enough change, enough people voting, both for politicians and their wallets, will perhaps be enough to make the change that we vitally need to combat climate change before it is too late.

The little things include walking to work when I can instead of taking my car. 

Does it feel sometimes that we might already be too late? Is climate change already causing irrevocable damage to our planet? Yes, but I refuse to put my head in the sand and escape to my own out of the way homestead, as much as the though occasionally crosses my mind. As long as I can change things, as long as I have hope for this planet, I will continue living and writing and talking like it matters.

6. What can we do on an individual level that can help push for social change? – Frugality and Freedom

Like I wrote above, the biggest thing we can do is keep talking and acting like it is vitally important to all of us, because it is. For some of us, it might be writing and calling our elected officials and showing up when it matters. It might be simply living in a way that can be an inspiration for others. It might be volunteering for boards and commissions in your local community, like me, in order to impact change at the local level. It might be working at a larger national or global level.

The biggest thing I would say here is to be active and be aware and not give up. While it’s important to be informed, reading too much about sustainability and the environment can be crushingly disappointing sometimes, I have to believe we do have a chance to change things.

Be informed, be aware, use your voice, but also stay hopeful. Our planet and those who live on it are resilient, and I have to hope that we will make it through this latest hurdle. And hopefully we can start to move in a real way to salvage what it still possible. Be realistic, but look to the best outcomes we have. It’s not over yet. As was described with the climate report just last month: there is still time but the window is closing fast.

What did you think about this “ask me anything” post? Is this something you’d be interested in me doing again in the future? Any other environmental/sustainability related questions you have that aren’t answered here? 

34 thoughts on “Tread Lightly Q&A On Earth Day

  1. Great post! I loved the “Ask Me Anything” format. I learned several things I didn’t already know. Also, I just looked up the Cradle to Cradle book and added it to my TBR list. It sounds really interesting!

    1. Saw that pop up when I went to add another book to my Goodreads list! It’s a quick read but well worth it.

  2. Love this: “I can live my life – and write this blog – like it matters. Because it does.”

    Thanks for sharing these responses and for being an ever-optimistic voice encouraging the FI community to think greener.

    1. The optimism is hard sometimes, but I figure it’s better than the alternative 🙂

  3. Great post. It’s interesting regarding electrical vehicles. They are not exactly “zero emission” but they are certainly better than gasoline cars. The one thing to consider is how much pollution is produced while manufacturing the battery, especially when you consider how some minerals are mined and the ethics behind the mining. And you’re right, now all electricity in the world is powered by renewable energy (luckily in BC it is for the most part). So I do question whether you come out ahead or not… maybe slightly? A far better solution is to create great and efficient public transportation, so we can get more cars off the road.

    1. Yeah, the “zero emission” stickers on electric cars drive me a bit nuts. And absolutely agree that great, efficient public transportation is a much better solution than everyone continuing to drive single occupancy vehicles.

  4. AMAs are always interesting, so definitely consider doing them in the future. Reading this post got my anxiety up… But when it comes to climate change, that’s probably a good thing. It’ll help keep me more mindful of my consumption.

    1. I’d say sorry for the anxiety producing, but it’s definitely what I’m feeling most days. There’s a definite balance between stressing out about it and facing it head on so you are doing something to change things.

  5. Thank you for putting this together. I know the feeling of trying to turn a huge ship around when working in the sustainable building industry. It can get tiring seeing so much reluctance from stakeholders. I like to celebrate the little wins, like a property manager getting excited about saving a bunch of energy with a heat recovery wheel, even if they don’t understand how you works. Do you go to Greenbuild?

    1. Oh I don’t think I realized you were in sustainable building as well! And no I’ve never been.

  6. The impacts of flying really are pretty tremendous. I will check out that article you linked to, but yeah, I think we may need to buy an offset for our upcoming trip to Europe, if only to try to mitigate the damage a bit.

    Our yard is similarly a mess and I really should get rid of the grass in the front yard, at least. We live on a cul-de-sac so I’d need to chat with the neighbors about them doing the same in our weird, angled yards.

    1. Offsets aren’t perfect, but they are definitely something.

      I’d look up alternatives for your area as far as landscaping goes, because you’ll want to pay attention to water use.

  7. Happy Earth Day! We’ve been thinking of alternatives to turf grass and I need to look into that groundcover link. Old trees are nice landscaping but my eyes are getting too distracted by the weeds sprouting up from the bare patches.

    1. If you do pick one, let me know how it does! Hopefully we will get on that as well in this next year.

  8. I love this kind of post! It’s a great way to cover a lot of ground. Throughout my academic career, most of my coursework and research was focused on the environmental impact of meat consumption as one of the primary drivers of climate change. I was a vegetarian for 8 years but for a variety of health reasons, I cannot sustain that in the long term. When it comes to food, do you make any swaps in your life to be more environmentally friendly? I’d love to know how you approach that.

    1. You read Bethany’s guest post on why she went vegan, right? The biggest food swap is probably to eat as locally as possible – out of our garden as much as we can, and then putting a premium on local options.

  9. Let’s keep that environmental awareness and responsibility going Angela, it is our duty to protect the natural world we call home. We must inspire and lead by example that being mindful of our environmental footprint is one of the most important things we can do. Then by mixing in personal finance with a focus on simple living, sustainability and breaking free of the consumerist rat race we will be so much better off, but financial and spiritually at one with ourselves and the places we call home.

    Also, thanks so much for the shoutout, it means a lot.

    1. I definitely had a lot of fun writing this post (well… fun, and anxiety thinking about things as well, but that’s par for the course). And I couldn’t include a list of Instagram accounts without including yours!

  10. Happy Earth Day! I really enjoyed this post, especially as you tackled some of these questions on a deeper level. My 22 year old daughter & I were just having a conversation last week about whether or not it makes an impact to purchases offsets for airline travel.

    1. Well, this was perfect timing then! Please always send me a message if you have other questions for me 🙂

  11. Just getting caught up on your blog this week and I absolutely love this post. It’s not a popular opinion, but I’m so glad you said it, air travel just trashes the planet. I LOVE to travel but we are trying to be much more intentional about it. I haven’t been able to do it yet but I envision extended 2-3 week vacations in one place can take the place of a few vacations spread out in different places, but not that easy to get 2-3 week at a time. I’m with you on the electric car/driving front as well as making other sustainable choices. We do our best to lead by example and often there are 4 total kids walking up the hill to school (2 are in the same family), so it saves 3 car trips each time. I wish more ppl did it, but it used to be just my daughter and me, so multiplying by 3 now triples the benefit. On occasion, a pre-schooler whose school is across the street from the kids’ school joins us, so that is 4x. We have certain family members (*ahem, in-laws) who only drink bottled water so when we host a gathering they bring their own because we absolutely will not supply bottled water. No way it would go over well if the partner or I questioned their choice, but my daughter noticed and innocently questioned why they bring bottles and drink bottled water. If anything, I hope it made them think about their choice and since it wasn’t a judgmental comment, they hopefully didn’t get emotional about it.

    I’m hopeful that our movement gains more momentum and pushes the planet away from the tipping point. The only behavior I can control is my own, so I focus on what I can do and invite as many ppl along as possible.

    1. And I love that your blog invites a lot of people to come along too! I meant to include that thought in the 1st comment.

    2. How far away is the walk to school if so few do it? I’m not sure why, but our neighborhood it seems like a lot of kiddos walk to school, which is awesome.

      And the bottled water thing… definitely one of my biggest pet peeves. Tap water all the way for us and our guests 😉

  12. Well, my kiddo goes to the Spanish Immersion magnet school which is .8 miles door to gate, but it’s a steep uphill hike (It’s pretty physically demanding!). Many of the kids in the neighborhood go to the local school which is a 1.25-1.5 mile mostly flat walk (one short hill) just depending on where you live. My daughter went to Transitional Kinder there and we used to ride the tandem bike over there back in the day about 30% of the time. There are times when the kids from the other school walk and we like to think we have been a positive influence on that happening more frequently. Here’s the issue with both schools: some parents work jobs where they have to be places at specific hours so they are in a rush to get the kiddo dropped and get to the office. For example, one family are both teachers, they drop the kids at 7:45 am at before school care before they head to their schools (school starts at 9 am). I didn’t get super serious about the hiking back and forth to school until she was in 3rd grade and I was still working long stressful job type hours so I can empathize with the thought of walking being a bit overwhelming. It is really hard to make that transition to maybe shifting your work hours or figuring out that walk can be your cardio workout for the day if you go fast. 🙂 I had to have a big shift of my mindset.

    1. Yeah, the time issue will be the only thing that will have me picking up the kiddo in my car once he’s in school. Hopefully not most days though.

  13. Well done! I think you’re totally right in that you have to bring this down to the individual level, as looking at it from the macro can surely be depressing 😞

    I do hope we start to turn things around and trend in the right direction again, it’s too important not to focus on this!

    1. The macro can be seriously depressing. And I do still keep hoping that *this new disaster* will finally be enough to turn the tide. Still waiting though.

  14. Thanks for this great post. Question for you – how do you approach investing with an environmental and socially responsible mindset? Are there any specific mutual/index funds you recommend? More and more I am feeling that if I want to create a sustainable future for my children and do what I can to consume mindfully, I must also consider where my investment dollars are going and how that aligns with my values.

    1. For starters, a big part of our portfolio is in sustainable real estate, but I’m now also starting to dabble in the ESG funds with vanguard (US and International), but I haven’t done a ton of research on this. TriplebottomlineFI.com might be a good one to ask that question for a more detailed answer!

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