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The Paradox of Green Living

The struggle I have with “living green” is the idea of buying in the first place.

Brady and Bundchen "eco-friendly" home. Photo by Architectural Digest.

Take the “eco-conscious”  (photvoltaic solar panels, gray water technology, etc.)  home erected by Tom Brady and Giselle Bundchen outside LA. It was featured in the October 13 edition of Architectural Digest, which notes without irony that the six bedroom, 14,000 square foot home:

“…is constructed of different types of limestone, all acid-washed for patina and texture, with a traditional mansard roof of Vermont* gray slate with zinc gutters and flashing. A winding driveway leads over a pond to a motor court paved in reclaimed cobblestones and then to a stone bridge spanning a kio-stocked moat that’s picturesque but not pompous**.”

*Vermont slate was presumably shipped across the continent to LA, because that’s what it takes to put a French chateau in Southern California

**Editor’s note: How can a koi-stocked moat not be pompous?

The home is now for sale, as the Bundchen-Brady’s are now building a new home in Boston.

Granted, this isn’t a couple that can reside in your basic gated community and live in peace. Celebrity probably does require extra space and a margin for privacy, but can a 14,000 square foot house for a family of four ever be truly eco-friendly?

Maybe the lesson is that you can have the best intentions and still get carried away to the point that your original objective is lost, and that some people have more money than sense.

The green answer  to all our questions, the one that none of us wants to hear in our ad-soaked, trend-driven, must-have little worlds, is to stop buying and just make do with what we have.

Boring! Tiresome! Ugly! Yeah, I hate it, too. I like shiny things, new stuff that will make me happier (just like the old stuff did, right?). I love the thrill of the search, the bagging it up, the mine mine mine all the way home until it is on the vanity or patio or cabinet or wherever this New Stuff is going to go.

Often the recycled aspect is just a way for me to feel sanctimonious about buying something in the first place, akin to purchasing a pardon for the sin we’re about to commit. But 

I won’t be installing a wind turbine in the yard or a solar panel on the roof. The best I can do right now are micro steps, the tiny ones I can follow every day to forestall the moment something will become trash or to talk myself out of buying something new. These are small steps that don’t cost a thing:

1. Use it once more.

One of my easiest “green” efforts is to try to use most everything one more time if at all possible. I hardly buy Solo cups anymore because Mama Goldberg’s, Newk’s, and football season stadium cups seem to last forever. True, they aren’t as pretty to look at as Solo cups stacked neatly, and I keep them stashed behind a cabinet door, but they nest well and if I throw it away once I reach my destination, I know I’ve kept it out a landfill that much longer.

Likewise, pickle and pasta sauce jars become free candle holders on the patio table, or vases for cut flowers that can be set inside a cachepot, or containers for any number of small supplies. A pimento jar is perfect for keeping hair elastics or go-to earrings separate in a designated spot inside a drawer.

2. Put some green in the routine.

Reusable bags hold more than plastic and are easier, overall, to carry. However, when I do have to use plastic bags, I always reuse them.  Likewise with the coffee thermos and water bottle.

3. Speaking of water bottles…

We are fools to pay for bottled tap water. Consider what a pain it is to buy it, tote it, and then throw away each bottle or recycle it. How is this easier than using a water fountain? Bottled water absolutely confounds me.

4. Recycle, obvious as it sounds.

As a friend is rinsing out the milk jug for the recycling, her husband asks, “Why must we live in our trash for so long until we can get it to the recycling center?”. It’s a drag to coordinate the recycling, and I have curbside service! But the wait for the recycling truck reminds me that all our trash goes somewhere, it just happens to be somewhere else. When I force the lid down on the recycling bin, I think how much paper, plastic, and aluminum we have managed to consume in just our household, and I make it a game to see if there can be less next week.

4. Stop by a yard sale.

Not to buy stuff, although there are definitely some occasional finds. There’s something about a yard sale that always reminds me that households gather stuff that is just in the way at some point. Looking at household stuff marked down to pocket change is a powerful antidote to paying retail or wanting more of it.

5. Don’t buy, invest.

One of the best ways to cheat the landfill is to buy good quality for the things that you will use over and over. This is terribly difficult when there are so many inexpensive, cute things out there that tempt you to go for price and overlook materials or workmanship. If something will last for many years (Kitchen Aid mixer) or get better with age (antiques, natural materials), then it passes the investment test.

6. Experiences over things.

I ran for my old seat as Family Birthday Coordinator a few years ago, but I did so on a new platform: Experiences instead of things. The constituents responded so well I have expanded the approach to  include Christmas and any other occasion than normally includes gifts. There is a community event literally every weekend of the year around Birmingham and most of these go begging for additional attendees. When we’re done, we have a memory and a phone pic to savor, and the moment will never wind up in forgotten at the bottom of a backpack.