Sustainability is a hot topic raising concern not only on the environment but also everyone’s social and financial well-being and moral obligations to make the world a better place. Many companies nowadays integrate social and environmental responsibility in their business practices not only out of idealism, but knowing that doing so can lead to higher profits. In fact, being sustainable is not only beneficial to companies, but also to individuals. One thing that I have realized since I started living in The Netherlands is that being sustainable requires a strong commitment despite being challenging. As a reward, being sustainable saves you money, helps develop you as a person, and keeps the world surrounding you to be more beautiful and habitable. On the other side, the effect of being unsustainable is the irreversible pain on the environment and people and the ultimatum that it gives on our existence. Therefore, we should start to practice being sustainable as early as now – save the planet by saving your pocket. Based on my observations and experiences living in the Netherlands, below are the top ten sustainable practices.
Ten sustainability practices to save the planet and your pocket
1. Have less kids.
Many of us who are trying to live more sustainable, including myself until recently, overlook the painful truth that children are the number one contributor to unsustainability on this planet. On a bigger scale, population growth leads to competition for the limited resources this planet can provide including water, food, air, and space among others. Imagine if the current 7.7 billion population on earth would double in 50 years, while the current resources are not even sufficient to feed the whole world?
On a household scale, having children is very expensive. For instance, the total basic cost of raising a child until age 18 is $260,000 (Nerdwallet). This could still vary depending on the place, gender, and luxury of kids. Raising a child in America costs on average $230,000 (Business Insider), while in UK is approximately $283,000 until age 21 (The Guardian). Also, raising boys is cheaper than raising girls.
Here in the Netherlands, many parents balance having children and being sustainable by limiting themselves to two children. This means that the population does not grow – the two kids are the next generation of two parents.
2. Educate your children to live consciously and sustainably.
By properly educating your children, you shape a generation of people that will take care of the future world. And this all starts at home, therefore, try to stimulate your children at young age to be responsible and to do things on their own. For example, potty training the kids at an early age can save a lot of costly and environmentally taxing diapers. In addition, teaching kids proper waste separation and recycling at a young age contributes to reducing pollution. By teaching sustainability at a young age, sustainable practices and awareness will come natural at a later age.
3. Consume less meat and/or be vegetarian.
It is interesting to know that the Netherlands has many vegetarians compared to other countries in the world. In fact, about one out of 10 Dutch is vegetarian, while two out of five consume less meat (Dutchnews). But how is being vegetarian related to sustainability? This is related to the consumption of resources. For instance, eating 100 grams beef steak requires approximately 1 kilo of soybeans to feed the cows. In other words, that 1 kilo of soybeans could have fed 10 vegetarians each eating a 100 grams of tofu instead of one person eating 100 grams beef steak. Eating cows is considered the most unsustainable since it requires 10x the amount of resources to produce cow meat. Next to cow, eating pigs and chickens are a factor of 6 and 4 respectively, in terms of resource loss.
4. Re-use products (Circular economy and sustainability).
Minimizing waste and maximizing the use of resources is the economic principle of circular economy (TNO.nl). This concept is nowadays becoming a popular focus of study in universities and in many companies. Actually, it is already being practice both in developing and developed countries. In developing countries, poverty pushes people to be more creative in recycling products. It is not uncommon to see people use coca cola bottles as plant pots or container for vinegar, gasoline, or diesel. In normal households, people used pots of coffee as container for coffee, sugar, and salt. For Europeans, the circular economy extends beyond recycling of products and instead focusses on transforming raw materials into new products. Product transformation is mostly applied at the company level, while sharing and recyling is gaining more popularity at an individual level. For instance, it is common to see old baby clothes, books, or toys being re-circulated in neighborhoods. On one hand, many moms save their pockets by using second hand clothing and items, while on the other hand some moms enjoy the sharing and helping of their fellow mothers.
5. Use solar panels and geo-thermal heating (heat from the earth crust/underground).
The initial investments in renewable energies, such as solar panels and geo-thermal heating, are huge. However, from a sustainability and financial point of view they are very lucrative. Investment in solar and geo-thermal heating is often recovered within a period of 6-10 years, which beats any bank or investment interest rates and provides one of the easiest solutions to cut back on monthly spendings. In addition, other municipalities (at least in the case of the Netherlands) provides subsidy for households that go green making sustainability a lucrative choice. More importantly, switching to solar energy and geo-thermal heating provides one of the easiest way to reduce the of irreplaceable energy sources such as fossil and nuclear energy.
6. Use a hybrid or full electric car to achieve sustainability in transportation.
Electric cars are powered by batteries, which can be charged using renewable energies. It is expensive to buy these cars in the short-term, but the long-term benefits can be easily realized. For instance, electric cars are exempted from road taxes. The cost of running a car is lower since there is no costs of fuel and there are many charging stations available. Charging electric cars costs €2.64 euros, which can run for 66-88 kms (EVbox.com) The costs of fuel for a normal car that run for 88 kms is approximately €14 (Numbeo). Indeed a big saving for your pocket!
7. Use bicycles when commuting.
Bicycles are the primary mode of transportation for most people in the Netherlands. For slightly longer trips, some people use electric bicycles or scooters to commute. This is definitely more sustainable than using cars, especially those run by gasoline and diesels which emit harmful chemicals in the environment. Biking does not only help the environment, but also your pocket.
8. Plant your own fruits and vegetables in the garden.
Gardening in the Netherlands is not only meant for aesthetics and flowering plants and trees, but also for fruits, vegetables, and herbs. It is common to see strawberries, grapes, courgette, pumpkin, eggplant, and other vegetables in a Dutch house. By having your own source of fruits and vegetables, you don’t need to buy imported and non-locally produced products which have been transported from far away. In short, having your own source of food can save you money.
In addition, having vegetables in the garden is a great way to teach kids the value of food and to help them to appreciate vegetables at a young age. No kid refuses to eat courgette when he watered and nurtured the plant for weeks.
9. Be practical.
This may sound simple but many people fail to achieve sustainability at practical level. Turning off lights and water when you do not use them, opening curtains to allow more light in the house, putting layer of extra clothing instead of turning on the heating are just some of the practical ways to reduce waste and to save money in your pocket.
10. Have a voice and vote on sustainability issues.
If you want to make big changes on how our world is being treated, communicate your ideals to other people and demand the best course of action from those who are in authority. Do not simply ignore and do nothing. Vote for political party or organizations that do not only push through their political agenda but parties that are willing to stand for their ideals. Vote whom you believe will bring the biggest impact and will balance the planet, people, and profit.
Want to know deeper other sustainability practices? Check out the following blogs: