Credit: Evan Gatehouse

How to go sustainable in 4 steps

I’m guessing you might wonder what a picture of me ziptreking in Whistler has to do with frugal sustainable living. Aside from the fact that I wanted to show off how super brave I am (and just how gorgeous our natural landscape is), the picture reminds me of a light bulb moment that happened while I was hurtling across Fitzsimmons Creek. Actually, it happened on either side of the creek—while I was hurtling across, my mind didn’t wander much.

One challenge with frugal sustainability tends to be the frugal part. We’ve been so conditioned to look at value according to monetary measures that sorting out whether to buy a local, organic potato (for example) for as much as twice the cost as an imported, non-organic one seems like a no-brainer when you’re on a budget.

But when we look at the cost of that potato beyond dollars, when you break it down in terms of the well-being of the farmer who grew it, the soil that supported it and the children who get to inherit a planet that grew one too many cheap potatoes, we realize purchase price is just one of the factors that should be taken into account.

Which brings me back to Ziptrek…

Aside from providing a really cool experience, Ziptrek Inc. is also an inspirational company. And between being challenged by my seven-year-old to try ziplining backwards and then upside down, I learned that Ziptrek is a successfully sustainable company because they have a plan.

Their framework is based on The Natural Step. And, as our guides explained the four components, I realized that this was exactly what I needed in my life:

To become successfully sustainable, I need to stop puzzling over every potato purchase, shopping trip and outing, and develop a plan that takes everything into account and defines sustainability.

But whereas companies that are on the road to sustainability get to consult with experts to sort this out, I have yet to encounter a sustainability expert who works with families. I’ve been exposed to variety of versions of sustainable living: the 100-mile diet, eating organic, reducing your carbon footprint or buying nothing new. But these were short-term experiments and not a defining framework for becoming a sustainable family. Heck, I’m not even sure what a sustainable family is…

But while I’m trying to sort out my own plan, I’ve decided to look harder at The Natural Step because it’s incredibly simple, it makes a heck of a lot of sense and it seems to be working for Ziptrek:

The four principles of sustainability

To become a sustainable society we must:

1. Eliminate our contribution to the progressive build-up of substances extracted from the earth’s crust (for example, heavy metals and fossil fuels);

2. Eliminate our contribution to the progressive build-up of chemicals and compounds produced by society (for example, dioxins, PCBs and DDT);

3. Eliminate our contribution to the progressive physical degradation and destruction of nature and natural processes (for example, over harvesting forests and paving over critical wildlife habitat); and

4. Eliminate our contribution to conditions that undermine people’s capacity to meet their basic human needs (for example, unsafe working conditions and not enough pay to live on).

My goal now is to play around with the four principles a bit and see how I can work them into my life. I’m really curious where other people are finding inspiration and direction though.

Have you come across a company, book or idea that helped you take the next step (or made you want to take the next step) toward a greener you?

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