Trees: Nature’s Cure-All

I recently went for a hike with a friend of mine in woods local to where I live. We like to get out and among the trees once and a while. We got lost, sort of, which was quite a feat since the woods are only about three square miles. The trails are fairly well maintained, though the map I was using on All Trails, was a little off. But regardless of our fumbling around the swampy woods, I was still in a fairly upbeat mood.

Trees, They’re Important

This is normally a situation that would lead to frustration. But the weather was pleasant, the company was good, and I was enjoying the outdoors. I’ve been doing some reading on how trees and forests affect our moods, and it may not only have been the company and quality of the weather that was altering my mood.

There have been many studies that suggest that spending time in and around forests and trees are excellent for our physical and mental wellbeing. The flora in our cities and neighborhoods is equally as important as well, for filtering the pollutants that are being emitted by the buildings and vehicles we use daily.

In the following, I’ll be going over some of the benefits that trees provide us with and why they are so important to maintaining a sustainable future for generations to come. Most of the information from this article was taken from four articles, which I will be posting links to at the end of this piece. So let’s start with our mental health and general mood.

Trees & Our Mental Health

There has been mounting research that suggests that walking in nature, specifically around trees, may improve our moods by lowering levels of anxiety, depression and overall stress. Trees have also been shown to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children as well. This is quite the feat for these gentle giants.

The reason for these benefit still isn’t entirely clear to scientists. But the results continue to point towards spending time in nature leads to overall healthier mental wellbeing. And it doesn’t take long for the effects to settle in. All the more reason to take a hike in some local woods or go to a local park to enjoy the greenery.

Physical Health

Being surrounded by trees also heightens our physical well being as well as emotional. The leaves from trees filter out pollution particles that affect our lungs and breathing. Mostly, they filter the particles that are emitted from vehicles emissions, or the burning of fossil fuels.

Breathing

This is especially important in cities. Not only is this where a fair amount of the concentration of vehicles are located, but also the trees best scrub the air that is within 100 feet of where they stand. Trees that scrub our air, work by way of the leaves, needles and the thousands of tiny pores on each. These pores take in the pollutants that would otherwise affect our lungs and breathing, holding them harmlessly in their body and leaves.

So the more trees that are located in neighborhoods where more vulnerable populations live, the greater the health benefits could be. Unfortunately, neighborhoods in a lower socioeconomic status are most devoid of the much needed greenery while being most tightly packed together. A catch 22 for sure.

Heart Health

Walking around trees has also shown to improve heart health. In this article by Greater Good, They talk about how walking in nature, specifically around trees as opposed to walking in cities, lowers cortisol levels, blood pressure, pulse rate, lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system and helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. According to the article, all of these are markers of greater cardiovascular health. And an overall healthier heart.

And All the Things

It isn’t clear as to why time spent around trees helps to improve health, but the data all points to spending time with trees makes a difference for the positive. There is also evidence that shows that being around trees also leads to better birth outcomes and a reduced risk of diabetes. The health benefits seem to be all encompassing. All the more reason to spend some more time in your favorite park or forest.

The health benefits of being in forests has made such an impact, that countries such as Japan and Korea have been championing forest bathing therapy. This practice is much as it sounds. The person will mindfully spend time in the forest, taking in the sensory experiences that the forest has to offer and receiving all the health benefits as well.

And if all of these benefits weren’t enough, taking in the company of trees also has been shown to improve immune system function as well as prolong life expectancy. And again, the reasons for this aren’t quite clear. There’s a theory that it may be related to aromatic compounds that trees release, but further research still needs to be done to provide an answer with some certainty.

Carbon Sequestering

It’s no surprise that trees help to sequester CO2, one of the major greenhouse gasses leading to the current climate crisis, but the rate at which they do is compelling. First, how they sequester carbon is worth understanding, so we understand why destroying trees, or even why only planting new trees without conserving the ones we have is dangerous.

Trees work to sequester carbon by taking it in from the atmosphere and using sunlight and water to turn it into wood. It’s here where the carbon is sequestered for the life of the tree. When the tree dies, is cut, burned or decomposes, the carbon is released back into the environment. This is why planting new trees isn’t the only solution to our Co2 problem.

It takes decades for a young tree to meet the carbon sequestering power of older trees. One tree mentioned in an article by WBUR 90.9 Boston, says that it has sequestered 22,049 pounds of CO2. That’s equivalent to 1,100 gallons of gasoline. This is something that modern science is still having issues reproducing and why preserving the trees we already have is so important.

Getting Involved & How to Help

So with all these health benefits that trees provide for us, the question remains, what can we be doing to help save the forests and trees that are so healing? There are plenty of organizations that are out there doing good work in this area. Volunteering time or donating money to these organizations are a few ways to help. Below I’ll be listing a few of the organizations. Hopefully you’ll find something that matches your lifestyle and personality.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that advocates for not only our environment, but also social justice movements. One of their initiatives is to conserve 30% of public lands in the United states by 2030. Currently, only 12% of public lands are protected from being developed. By drilling for oil or monocultures like soy or wheat.

Conserving these lands will help to keep the old growth forests that have already done so much in sequestering tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Developing these lands would most definitely be a major blow to climate change for the worse.

And on a positive note, if these lands are protected, then there’s a chance that these public lands could be transformed into public parks. To be enjoyed by generations of people and woodland animals to come. Sequestering C02 and building new places to enjoy the outdoors seems like a win win. The Sierra Club has a lot of projects that they are working on. So if this one sparks your interest, head on over to their site and check out what they are working on.

The Nature Conservancy

This organization is dedicated to protecting our lands and waters from being developed as well. One of the ways they are doing this is by carbon markets. Essentially, carbon markets work by paying a landowner who may have had plans to clear cut a section of their land for a use that would be detrimental to the environment, to keep the trees on the land intact. This way, the land is protected against being developed and the carbon remains sequestered.

They are also engaged in helping to keep the biodiversity of our planet from collapsing by way of species extinction. By protecting the habitats that these species live in, they are working towards keeping the safety of them ensured. So saving the land and habitats of plants and animals will help to ensure their survival and hopefully they will thrive far into the future.

Rainforest Action Network

This organization also helps to conserve land but by focusing on the companies that are profiting off of the destruction of the environment. One of their initiatives is to call for a stop to burning the rainforests to grow food crops to be sold at market.

Farmers in the Amazonian Rainforest have been burning large parcels of land to produce foods for the Agricultural industry for a long time. The downside to this, asides from the carbon being released into the atmosphere, is that the land is not very fertile, and the destruction of the forest is taking away what has been called the lungs of the planet, from scrubbing the air we breathe. If companies like this aren’t stopped, the consequences could be dire.

It’s Not too Late

You can still get involved and help to do your part. These organizations have places on their sites where you can lend a hand. Maybe donating money is more your speed. Or maybe you want to march in the next protest that aligns with your worldview. Whatever your motivation or preferred method, make sure you get out there and make a difference. There’s a lot of work to be done. And there’s no better time like the present to help. The planet needs us. Be the change you want to see in the world. Peace, and thanks for reading : )

Greater Good Magazine

US News

WBUR

The Nature Conservancy

Healing Forest

Other reading to consider: Sustainable Clothing

Image Credits: “Forest” by CECAR – Climate and Ecosystems Change Adaptation R is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 11/6/22

Environmental Self-Audit: Assessing How Green Your Habits are

I’ve been posting a lot about emotional topics lately, so I thought that I’d make this one a little less heavy. I’ve been wanting to do a home audit to see how green my habits are. Something that’s been in that back of my mind for a while. So I thought I’d check out some methods, do some research and let you guys know what I came up with. Here’s what I’ve found.

First Thing’s First, This is Not an Energy Audit

The first thing I found was, there are not a lot of people in this field, doing this work. My first search yielded results mostly from Canada. And one company from Illinois. This makes me a little sad, knowing that there aren’t more people doing this type of work. With environmental concerns only getting more acute, it seems as though there should be a glut of these types of companies and services, doing this type of work.

Sadly, this isn’t the case. The sites I found mostly focused on the energy that is being used in the “house envelope”. This basically means any system that is working in your house, plumbing, electrical, HVAC systems to name a few, that are all working in conjunction with one another and in a closed space, i.e. the home. Like an envelope. So an audit basically adds up to an assessment of how efficiently these closed systems are working.

I’m not sure how well a self audit would work for assessing the workings of more technical systems in your home, such as HVAC for example, but for habits you keep in your day to day household upkeep and routines, you can easily see if things could use a change for the greener. So in the rest of this post I’ll be looking at some ways to make our life style, a little greener.

Green Habits

When it comes to thinking and acting a little greener in our homes, there are quite a few areas we can focus on. Anything from routines in the home to habits we maintain that we can shift to a more green version. Let’s take a look at some of the habits I’ve been keeping to help inspire you to keep your home and daily routine as green as possible : )

Composting

Composting is a great way to help keep food waste out of landfills or incinerators and keep the food cycle green. And don’t worry, even if you don’t have a garden, composting is still an option. Even if you’re living in a city, or a place without green space.

The first way, if you have the space and a garden, is to use a bin composting system. With this system, you can purchase a bin, or convert a container such as an old plastic garbage bin, into a composter. For this system to work there needs to be air circulation (punch holes in your bin), water and an absence of light. This is the ideal environment for bacteria growth that converts food waste into useable soil. You can also use a three bin system, where you place the beginnings of your compost in the first bin and move it to the second halfway, to promote quicker bacteria growth. Finally the third bin is for the finished compost. The green way to deal with plant-based food waste.

And if you don’t have land or use for compost, there are companies picking up people’s food waste to compost it for commercial uses. The company that’s local to my area is Black Earth Composting. They provide you with a small container and pick up your food waste in the same ways the town picks up your trash and recycling once a week. You can then get a voucher for compost from a local nursery, or donate it to one of the projects they are working with. Less waste, more delicious foods. Win, win.

Where’s the Meat?

Another way to produce less waste and be more green is, go vegan. Or maybe eat less meat if you’re not wanting to make the switch. This graph from “Climate Central” shows not only how many more resources are used by the production of livestock for consumption, but also the amount of greenhouse gasses that are produced in the process.

If you’re not ready to make the plunge into going completely meatless, think about eating less meat during the course of your week as a green alternative. Try adding a meatless Monday to your week. Every little bit helps. If you need some inspiration, head over to my Community page where you’ll find a link to “The Minimalist Baker’s” website. There, Dana has loads of tasty, mostly meat free recipes where you will surely find something suited to your taste. Start by typing in your favorite ingredient and see what comes up.

Be a Man by Challenging Tradition

In this article, “The Good Trade” explains the link between our traditional views of what it means to be a man and how they run counter to the ideas of what it means to be an activist for the planet. They explain how certain types of socially created norms can seem unrelated to the current climate crisis, but may share a connection. This is called intersectional environmentalism, and one of the examples is toxic masculinity.

It basically says, that caring for the environment is seen as feminine. And therefore rejected by those who value the tenets of toxic masculinity. Among these tenets are dominance and competitiveness. Caring for the environment and “environmental stewardship is nurturing and cooperative. It’s inherently at odds with internalized, problematic perceptions of masculinity and feminine” writes Zach Thomas of “The Good Trade”.

This makes a lot of sense to me, as a product of the 80’s. My young mind was molded to the shape of thinking that “real men” take what they want, use violence to get it, and anything that was seen as feminine in a man was considered “gay”. It took me a long time to come to terms with these harmful lessons. And it wasn’t all my caregivers fault. They were trapped in the same type of narrow thinking that had been perpetuated by society.

And though I recognize that it wasn’t their faults entirely, they could have come to terms with how they were teaching this type of violence and therefore perpetuating it. They could have formed their own ideas and opinions based on the information they were receiving. But it takes strength to break from social norms.

It takes a lot of willpower, to break the bindings to what we’ve been taught. The lessons that are harmful to ourselves, others and our environment. But it’s possible. Never give up hope, and be persistent in questioning if what you’re thinking and how you’re feeling, may have been shaped by those unhealthy lessons growing up.

Carry a Water Bottle

This one is especially pointed. I’m not sure where the need to keep bottled water on hand came from. This article from “The World Counts”, suggests that it comes from a fear of drinking contaminated tap water. I’m not sure where this fear first took root, but another concerning fact the article brings up is, “An estimate 1,500 plastic bottles end up as waste in landfills or thrown in the ocean every second”.

This blows my mind. And all the more reason to take action. If you drink water, or plan on doing so (which you def should, here’s an article about the benefits of staying hydrated), carry a water bottle. I don’t believe I’ve ever been in a place or situation, where I was in civilization, where it was unsafe to drink the tap water.

Ironically, there are chemicals that can leach into the water you’re drinking from disposable plastic bottles. If you’re looking for an alternative, I like Hydro Flask for their design and ability to keep their contents hot or cold for longer than conventional, plastic bottles. They’re also made from steel. So you’re bypassing most plastics while you’re filling up your bottle. Win, win. Or get one from your local thrift shop. You’ll be recycling and saving resources!

Take Public Transportation or Walk/Ride a Bike

With so many cars on the road, this one is a no brainer. I’m not suggesting that you sell your car. Only to take a closer look at your driving patterns. Where are you going and how often? What’s the nature of the trips you’re taking? Is there another way to get to where you need to be without hopping in the car? Do you work or go to school in an area that has a robust transit system? Maybe instead of taking your own vehicle, you could share a ride with thousands of others, and do your part to lower greenhouse gasses.

Not to mention that commutes can be ideal times to catch up on your favorite podcasts or reading. Writing if that’s something you’re in the habit of, or meditating. Something I did on my way into work when I worked in Cambridge.

Owning a car is a necessity for most people though. For example, if you have children you may need to drop them off at school in the mornings, or pick them up in the afternoon or bring them to various activities. Also, grocery shopping can be difficult if you don’t have a way to bring your groceries home. So you’ll need to rely on your car for certain things for sure.

Getting Around Without a Car

I don’t have a car, and still manage to get all the things done on my list. I walk to work or when I worked further away, I took public transit which was very reliable. When I go grocery shopping, I take public transit to the store, and take a Lyft home. Of course, I only need to take care of myself. If I had a family that relied on me, I would most likely find another way to provide for them. This is where a car would come in handy. What I’m suggesting is, that we think of different ways to get our needs met when it comes to transportation.

If you live close to a commuter rail station, or subway or bus stop, consider taking them to your workplace instead of driving. Or maybe carpooling with a co-worker who lives close to you. This will help you to save on gas, while using a service that is already running or share a ride with someone who is going your way. Reducing your carbon footprint even further. Do you live close enough to walk or ride a bike? Consider these carbon neutral ways of greening your commute time.

Donate Time or Resources

Are you an avid hiker? Do you use the beach frequently? These are great hobbies or activities to cultivate and ways to relax and destress. But there won’t be many places left for our enjoyment with the ways things are heading. What can we do about it? Find a place to volunteer or donate to, that are in line with your interests and hobbies.

If you enjoy going to the beach, why not join an organization that is cleaning the surf at your favorite oasis. Can’t find one? Start one. Organize your friends and family, maybe some coworkers as well. Throw a party on the beach you’re cleaning, but spend some time cleaning the beach first. Then you can all enjoy the the fruits of your labor while cooking out together.

The same idea can work for a particular park or reservation you enjoy hiking. In both cases, it may be best to get in touch with those who are in charge of the maintenance of the area you plan on cleaning. There may be efforts already taken in that direction.

If you’re short on time but have resources to donate, try finding an organization or charity that is in line with the type of activities and activism you enjoy. I’ve donated to 4Ocean, and the Appalachian Mountain Club in the past. If you’re looking for ideas on where to donate time or resources, this post from “The Good Trade” has a bunch of ideas on where to get started. Also, check your local community Facebook page. Or your city or town’s website. There could be something happening locally that you can get involved with. Taking some of the pressure off you to organize something new.

Get Involved

To sum up our current environmental situation, as an old co-worker of mine used to say, “it’s no easy”. And as another co-worker used to say, “that’s how it be sometimes.” I quote these people not to make light of the situation we’re in, but to bring a shared sense of struggle and hope. We’re not in this alone. It’s important to remember those who have helped pave the way and have already done good work. The people who have lifted our spirits when we felt totally overwhelmed by a situation, like the one we’re in now. Or those who have given us the wisdom to help get us through a project when we feel depleted, while there’s still more work to be done.

I’ll be looking into green, house assessments in the future and if you have any insights I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. What are your green habits? But for right now, there is loads of work that needs to be done. Find something that sparks your interest and get involved in some way. Even if it’s something small to start. At least it’s a start. You’ll also feel better about being part of the solution. And connecting with like minded people along the way. Maybe making some new friends to boot. So get out there and lend a hand at making the world a little more green. You and the environment will be glad you did. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “A poem behind my green living room…!!! Un poème derrière mon salon vert…!!!” by Denis Collette…!!! is licensed under

      CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Feeling Lost & Without Direction: What to Do When You’re Feeling a Little Homeless

Feeling a bit lost is something I’ve recently come to terms with and something that has deep roots in my personal history. I won’t go over the details of how I came to this realization, but my life experiences and my personal history paved the way for my circumstances. And I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling as though I’ve lost my direction from time to time. In this post I’ll be sharing my experience, in hopes that it will help to light the way back for anyone who may feel a little lost as well. So let’s start in the beginning with some beliefs forged early on.

Our Childhood Informs Our Future, Feeling Lost & Without Direction

This began for me at an early age. I wrote about it some in my post on “Why am I Pushing Myself so Hard“. About the trauma I experienced and the sense of loss and feeling lost, without direction. I was eight when things began to fall apart for me. My family had turned their backs on me collectively, leaving me to fend for myself. This, all under the veil of, “becoming a man”. Something that carried great weight, not only my family, but the culture as well.

This is where feeling lost and without direction and a home, began to take shape for me. I didn’t feel welcomed or loved anymore by anyone from that day on. Without a place where you feel welcome, a sense of belonging, then you really get the feeling that you don’t have a place to call home. I didn’t have the words for it at such an early age, but this was how I felt. Homeless and without a sense of belonging or direction.

Moving On & Letting Go

Bad things happen. I’ve come to terms with this to the best of my ability. From this recognition, I’ve realized that once I made the decision to accept the difficult things and that have happened to me and feeling lost along the way, then I can start to find direction. How to not only make up for the ways I cultivated being, in reaction to those situations and experiences, but also to heal from and move forward and find direction in my life.

The Buddha said it best when talking about anger and resentment, “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. This is so true from my experience. I was holding onto a lot of anger and resentment. As well as blame and pain. But all that did for me was to help me cultivate a greater sense of self-righteousness and unhealthy habits. These were not the best tools to survive life with.

One of my mantras in my early twenties was, “bridges are for burning”. As you’ve probably guessed, things did not go well for me with this mentality. I found myself alone, feeling lost and with few friends and no stable connections to anybody. There were reasons for my armoring beyond my understanding at the time, but as the saying goes, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. And I definitely did not know. The journey was almost always trying. Difficult to say the least. But there are other ways of being and different tools we can use to navigate life with. To feel a little more at home.

Ways of Feeling More at Home

These tools or resources, help to bring me a sense of comfort and ease. Direction to my chaotic life. In the following, I’ll be sharing some of the tools I’ve cultivated, to help bring me a sense of direction. As well as a feeling of being at home.

Yoga

I’ve been practicing yoga regularly for about five years. Yoga has helped to bring me back into my body after dissociating from it for such a long time. This was due to all the abuse and neglect I experienced. I could comfortably be in my body while feeling difficult sensations that brought dis-ease. And there were a lot of difficult, uneasy moments for sure. But the longer I stayed, the better I became at being comfortable in the sensations, the dis-ease.

I was dissociated from my body for a very long time. So it took a lot of staying in order to feel as though I were comfortable just taking up space. If you have difficulty staying in, and cultivating ease in the moment, yoga may be the key to helping you be more present.

Meditation

This one was helpful in many ways. First, it helped me to listen inwardly. There was a whole world happening inside of me that I was completely oblivious to. Tara Brach makes reference to a saying in the meditation community that’s rung a bell with me. The saying goes, “sit, stay, heal”. I like this saying because, as with yoga, the longer you stay with the difficult thoughts and emotions that arise, the easier it becomes to navigate them.

As a friend of mine had said, when talking about a mutual friend who feels like they’re in a cycle of ups and downs, “what they don’t understand is, that feelings become easier to manage the more you allow yourself to feel them”. For me, I don’t think it would have been possible to separate the voice that was beating me up, from the voice of reason and better judgement without being patient with myself and my feeling. This was difficult and took time to recover from feeling lost, but it’s totally doable.

Cooking

Cooking has been a source of grounding for me. The smells while the onion and garlic are frying. The steam that rises from the pots of boiling liquids. It all comes together through my senses to make my house feel more like a home. I batch cook, but also have one night a week where I cook a self-care dinner. The latter is where I take my time and enjoy the process of watching it all come together. Sure it’s nice to order out every once and awhile, but the feeling of everything coming together holds a real sense of feeling connected to the act of nourishing myself. Here’s my Insta if you want to see what I’ve been cooking.

Friends & Family

Friends and family are important too. If it’s only you doing these things, it can feel lonely. And the point of these tools is to feel a greater sense of belonging and connection. Sure, first with yourself, but also with others as well. I’ve recently begun cooking with my family one night a week. This is a chance for us to connect. Also to get to know each other a little better each time while bringing a sense of collaboration. Of working on something together. And food tastes better when you have people to share it with : )

But the connections we’re building are what’s most important when we get together for family dinner nights. For me, I never had that type of bonding. So building something new, even though it’s a little late, has helped to fill some of that void that has been there inside of me from an early age. It also has a similar feeling as to when we gather for holidays and special occasions. It’s having something special to look forward to during the week. However small.

We share bits of wisdom we’ve collected in life. Stories from our past and in the process, we’re building a sense of belonging. A sense of being a family. And this is where feeling at home really begins to take shape. The stories and the shared experience is where these bonds lay. These are the moments we take with us into our futures, that help to create a feeling of homecoming when we experience them.

Writing

Writing for me has been a way to explore my ideas, thoughts and feelings that I’ve had about my past, present and future. This blog has helped me to go through some of the parts of my life that I had been too scared to look at before.

Journaling, as well, has been an incredible resource. It has been a place where I can plan what my future looks like. By exploring plans I have and things I want to accomplish. It’s a place to visit the past in a safe way. By writing down my thoughts and feels about what I’ve experienced. And also a way to stay in the present while revisiting these times. It’s helped to pave the way home from my days of feeling lost and helpless, on my own.

By writing down my budget, todo list and my other day to day tasks that need my attention, while I’m living my life. I’ve written about journaling before on this blog, but if you haven’t yet, check out bullet journaling. This is a unique way to bring the various threads of your life together in one place.

Finding Time to Relax

This is an important one. For me, I have so many things, responsibilities and people to catch up with, that finding time for myself is in short supply. I usually find some time in the evenings, before I go to bed. For me, relaxing looks like me burning some candles, listen to mellow music, reading a book, while sipping on a cup of herbal tea to help unwind from the day. Feeling at ease and making the time to relax is so important to our overall health and mental well-being. Yet it’s something that, at least I overlook. Or it’s the first thing to get tossed out when we have loads of responsibility to manage.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here is a perfect time to practice some self-care and order something out. Watch something mindless and just be with yourself or someone you’re close to and just be. We put so much responsibility on ourselves to accomplish so much in the day to day, that we never really stop to ask ourselves, “why”? “Why am I pushing myself so hard?” Taking the time you need to feel your best also shows you that you respect yourself and your time. It also brings you a sense of self-worth as well. And a little bit of this type of care goes a long way.

So try to make a plan to relax a little everyday. Maybe there’s a park you enjoy that you can go to when you take a lunch break. Or do as I do and take an hour or so before you go to bed and set up a calming routine to help you decompress from the day. Tailor it to your own needs and likes and make it a place or routine you enjoy coming home to.

It’s Your Life, Go Live It

I feel like this gets overlooked so often, and that is kind of amazing to me. We get so wrapped up in wanting to be as productive as possible, for others and ourselves, that we forget to take the time to slow down and find out, not just what we need, but what we want. What feels good. Also how to best feel comfortable in our own bodies and minds.

What are some of your long term goals? Things that you want for yourself that will bring you a sense of joy and happiness. Is traveling a passion of yours? Write down a plan to visit some place you’ve wanted to go visit. Even if you never make it, the act of planning can really bring a sense of curiosity and excitement for finding new places to explore. As Adrienne says, from Yoga With Adrienne, “find what feels good”, and do that. Because life becomes a chore when it is filled with a bunch of checkboxes we need to accomplish. There’s more to life than what’s on your todo list.

And when you begin to tend to these areas of your life that may have been neglected for ages, here is where the sense of direction comes to fruition. You now have a direction of what your working towards. Not just working yourself to the death. So find the things that bring you peace. They will help to make you feel more at home with yourself and with others. What are your resources, your go-tos for taking care of yourself? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “lost (perdu)” by PATRICE OUELLET is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Updated: 11/1/22

Green New Deal: What Are We Planning to do With Our Resources?

The Green New Deal is something that’s been in the works and the news for a while now. So I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I don’t really know what the proposal is all about. Seeing how part of the mission of my blog is based on environmental advocacy and sustainability, I feel I should at least be abreast on some of the major talking points. I’ve heard it being spoken about in brief news clips. But haven’t done any real digging to find out what it’s all about. So for the past week I’ve been looking for news articles to get a feel for what it entails and maybe find ways I’m able to support it on an individual level.

Green New Deal Scope & Design

What I’ve found is, that the plan itself is pretty ambitious. The scope of which the Green New Deal may cover, according to this article from The Intercept, may be anywhere from agriculture, plans for relocating coastal populations from flood zones, ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain. A universal basic income, wildfire management, transportation upgrades and trade policy. And this is only a portion of what it may contain.

Also, according to this article from Vox, the Green New Deal is a take on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal from the 1930’s. The Green New Deal also covers going carbon neutral in the time frame of ten years. To providing careers, livable wages and pensions to families in the lower income bracket. Closing some of the gaps in the entrenched wealth divide between social classes in the states.

Why The Green New Deal Makes Sense

This was something that was a bit confusing to me at first. But as I continued to read, I realized that most likely the people who would be most incapable of switching to renewable sources, would be those who are having trouble finding these resources to begin with. I.e. lower income and vulnerable populations.

If you’re having trouble paying for the electric bill already, then there’s a good chance that you won’t be able to find alternative sources of energy. Such as installing solar panels on your existing house or apartment building. If you already have the means, then switching to a renewable source shouldn’t be an issue.

And furthermore, the Green New Deal isn’t a set of laws or legislation. It’s a large scale plan to invest in renewable energy sources. Decarbonizing our economy and infrastructure while making society a more fair and just one. The plan makes a lot of sense. But as I said above, it’s ambitious. It can be a little overwhelming for a person on the individual level to feel as though they are having an impact.

How Can an Individual Make a Difference?

If you don’t have the time to write congress, protest or knock on doors to gain support, what can an individual do to help the goals of the Green New Deal? The scope of this expansive proposal is large. So in an attempt to help the average person feel as though they can be doing their part to help, I’ll be listing some ideas on how we can make a difference on an individual level. Ones that are in line with the goals of the Green New Deal.

Electric Co.

The first, and probably most pertinent one is, our current energy consumption. One way of changing this is to ask your electric company to switch your power supplier to a company that provides energy from a renewable source.

For example, I live in Massachusetts. So I would need to call National Grid, who purchases power from varying sources throughout the state and ask them to purchase my power from a renewable company. Such as one who uses wind or solar as their main harvesting methods. The energy all travels through the same grid. So there’s no need to upgrade anything in your delivery system.

This has the effect of increasing demand for energy that is provided from renewable sources. And since we live in a capitalist economy, we are voting for cleaner energy with our dollars when we switch to sources such as wind or solar.

Buying Local & Growing Your Own

Buying local is another option. As is growing your own food if you have a green thumb. Some of the focus of the Green New Deal is around trade policy. This may include aspects such as shipping packaged produce from remote parts of the world. While most companies have their logistics down to a science, i.e. filling their shipping containers to maximum capacity for best fuel optimization, buying local produce supports local farms. These farms most likely have fair wages for workers and ethically grown produce. You’ll also be investing money into your own community.

And you can’t get much more local than growing your own! Whether it’s in your backyard, a community plot or in containers scattered around your apartment. Growing your own veggies is most definitely a satisfying and tasty endeavor. You’ll also be eating your produce when it’s at peak ripeness. This means that you will be getting most all of the nutrients your veggies have to offer. So not only will it be better for the environment via food miles, but you’ll also be eating healthier as well.

Finances & the Environment

Unfortunately there isn’t much we’re able to do when it comes to livable wages for workers. But there are some things we can do when it comes to how we choose to spend our dollars. There are credit cards that are marketing themselves as environmentally friendly by offsetting the carbon footprint your purchase has when you swipe your card.

While this is a step in a greener direction, and any attempt to help reduce the carbon being released into the atmosphere is a welcome one, it’s not as clean as it sounds. As Sara Rathner from “The Nerd Wallet” put it, most banks that are issuing these cards are more than likely investing heavily in fossil fuels. Our safest bet when deciding to make a purchase is, deciding if we really need to make the purchase.

This makes a lot of sense. But the reality is, we will sometimes need to make a purchase using a credit card. And in my opinion it’s better to do so with a company that is actively trying to offset the carbon footprint. By making a donation to an organization that is doing green works. Alternatively, we can also look to donate to a charity of our choice. And if we look to shop as locally as possible, we may develop healthier purchasing habits along the way. We’re also waning ourselves off of instant shipping that has become so commonplace.

Transportation & the Environment

Speaking of shipping, transportation is another place where we can make an impact. One of the aspects of the Green New Deal is updating and expanding high-speed light rail for travel needs. This can be approached from a few directions.

Light Rail

First, from a recreational perspective. I live just outside of Boston Mass.. We have a light rail system that is reliable. But we also have trains and buses that connect Boston to other parts of New England and the East Coast. So if you’d like to leave Boston for the weekend you have options. There’s no need to pack yourself and stuff into your car for the trip.

For example, I don’t own a car. But I’d like to take a long weekend in Portland Maine. To go to some of my favorite places and just enjoy coastal Maine for a few days. There’s a tea house, Dobra Tea, that has a few locations up and down the eastern seaboard. The one in Portland Maine and Burlington Vermont are two of my favorite places to visit and a must on my trip.

Luckily there is a train line that runs from Boston’s North Station, that stops in Portland. It’s called the Downeastern. So if I’m feeling like taking a weekend trip, I can hop on a train and be there in a few hours.

Busse, Commuter Rail & Trains

Second, if I want to head south of Boston, I can easily head to South Station which has trains and buses which will bring me to all points south. I believe they go as far South as D.C.. So If you’re looking to get out of your city for a few days, it’d be worth it to check to see what your local travel options are first. That way you won’t have to deal with weekend traffic or other road trip hassles.

If you live in a city that has reliable public transit, commuting via commuter rail, train (more commonly known as the subway) or busses are all great options to help reduce some of your carbon footprint. I take the commuter rail and bus/train to get to work now. Sure the commute may be a little longer, but it gives me a chance to ease into my day. I check emails, do some research for articles I’m writing and just to relax for the first portion of my morning.

Also it costs less to take public transit that it would to drive into work everyday. You save on gas as well as wear and tear on your vehicle. If you go carless and take a Lyft or Uber when you need a ride, your transportation budget becomes exponentially cheaper. As you don’t have a car payment or insurance payment to figure in.

Of course these options are mostly only available to people living in a city with established public transportation. But it’s worth your time to look into if you’re thinking of making a switch to something a little greener.

Other Options

There are also other small shifts you can make in your daily routine that will help you to do your part that are in line with the Green New Deal. As we all know, planting trees is still one of the best ways to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, state rep. and a major spokeswoman for the Green New Deal is planting a rooftop garden. She plans to fill it with greens to help promote the cause. But if you don’t have a rooftop to turn into a garden, there are other options available to you.

For example, there are websites like Ecosia. Ecosia is a search engine that uses its profits to plant trees in parts of the world that need them most. They boast, every time you search, Ecosia generates income from ad revenue that they then use to plant trees. This is a great way to take something you do every day and turn it into something helpful for the environment.

Donating Directly to the Cause of your Choice

Alternatively, you can also donate directly to projects and organizations that are doing the type of work that aligns with your personal preferences. This list from Green Dreamer has 34 different types of groups and organizations that are doing sustainable work. They range anywhere from ocean conservation, to social justice. Green Dreamer is community supported. Which means they independently cover green topics without special interests from large agricultural or oil companies.

Are there organizations that you’ve heard of and always wanted to donate to? Or find out more about their work? For me, I’ve historically been drawn to groups that take care of our resources. Such as our oceans and mountains. A few of the organizations I donate to are, 4 Oceans, The Sierra Club and Oxfam.

4 Oceans

Well, I don’t actually donate to 4 Oceans. They are a certified B corporation that prides themselves on pulling a pound of trash from the ocean for every purchase made. So every time you buy something from them, you donate to their trash collection cause. They have single use plastic alternatives for purchase, but what I’ve gotten in the past are bracelets made from recycled plastic pulled from the ocean. I usually buy them as gifts for people who may be difficult to buy for. This way you and the person receiving the gift can feel good about doing something to help keep our oceans a little cleaner.

The Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is an organization that focuses on protecting our environment from pollution and maintains trails and green spaces. Be it from helping to make the switch from coal power plants to renewable sources. Or to protecting our national parks. The Sierra Club is doing work to help us continue to enjoy the great outdoors. They are also a place where environmental protection meets social justice. By advocating for groups that work with vulnerable populations.

Oxfam International

Oxfam international is an organization that aims to help bring an end to world poverty. They do this by advocating for communities that are experiencing conditions that are near or at poverty levels. They help to train, bring in necessary technologies to, as well as help communities grow nutritious foods. Also to gain access to clean water, land and access to fair wages. They do a lot to look after the welfare of the communities they work with too. They help by providing care for communities experiencing conflict or reeling from a disaster.

Get Involved

These three organizations and the list of causes above are only the tip of the iceberg. When it comes to organizations that are out there making a difference, there are many. There are sure to be plenty of people doing the work you would like to be a part of. All you need to do is get out there and look for them. Who knows what you may find. It can be overwhelming, to think of all the areas that needs our attention. Just remember to take it slow, one step at a time.

Also it’s helpful to realize that it took us a while to get into this mess, it may take a while to get ourselves out. So instead of beating ourselves up for not being as green as humanly possible, let’s take an honest look at where we are. Ask, what have we gotten ourselves into and make steps, however small, to get ourselves out from where we are. And don’t give up! It won’t be easy, that’s for sure. But it’s possible. We only need to be diligent in our efforts and work faithfully towards our goals. Peace : ) and thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Normandy Pasture” by Bold Frontiers is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 9/30/22

Sustainable Clothing: Is it Better to Buy Cotton, or Recycled Polyester?

I was looking for a new hooded sweatshirt a few days ago when I realized I only have two that aren’t exercise clothing. One being two sizes too large for me and the other I use almost every day. It’ll only be a matter of time before the one I wear everyday becomes threadbare. And The other is comically large on me. So I usually only wear it around the house. So in search of a new sweatshirt, I went to the website of a company I’ve bought from in the past, Mexicalli Blues, and was looking through their products in search of a new, sustainable sweatshirt.

Reading The Clothing Labels

I like the the companies clothing. The style as well as the simplicity of them. So the next step was to look at the materials label. The company prides itself on being sustainable so I figured I’d have nothing to worry about. But when I checked the labels, it said that they were made with recycled materials. I knew this meant polyester to some degree. This made me wonder what the ramifications are of using plastic in clothing. Even if it’s from recycled sources as the main material component.

My instinct is that using plastics to any degree, including clothing, perpetuates the cycle and need to rely on petrochemical materials. The idea of having more plastic floating around in one form or another is unsettling to me. I’m not saying that all plastics are inherently bad. I appreciate that plastics have been used to change many people’s lives for the better. But it seems to me that we first need to get our collective plastic consumption under control before we think about expanding its use into more aspects of our day to day lives.

Being More Mindful of Clothing Materials & the Environment

As far as my clothing goes, I’d like to lean towards more natural fibers. Fibers such as cotton and wool. I know that at least with cotton, the material will eventually decompose. And more than likely in my lifetime. And a quick Google search tells me that wool will decompose in six months under ideal conditions. But plastic however will stay around for some time, breaking down further into smaller pieces. This causes all sorts of environmental hazards.

Consequences for Our Oceans

Both small and large aquatic animals mistake plastics for food. Certain whales for instance, have been found with many pounds of plastic waste in their stomach. But one of the reasons that plastic clothing in particular is such an environmental threat is, that when washed the fabric degrades, releasing hundreds of thousands of microfibers into the aquatic environment. There they are consumed by marine life.

Fresh and saltwater animals alike consume them, as the waste makes its way into our waters and up the food chain. As Lisa Messinger from The Guardian put it in her article, “How your clothes are poisoning our oceans and food supply“, when a professor cut open a fish from the great lakes, they found thousands of microfibers weaving their way in and around the gastrointestinal tract of the freshwater dweller. No bueno.

This is concerning to say the least. According to Greenpeace, 30% of plastic pollution could be caused from microfibers. In this article by Green Peace, “what are microfibers and why are our clothes polluting the oceans?“, they explain that, “Europe and Central Asia alone dump the equivalent of 54 plastic bags worth of microplastics per person per week into the oceans.” More disheartening news. And the older the garment is, the more fibers it releases, according to a study paid for by Patagonia.

The more I continued to read about the effects of microfibers on the environment, the more I realized that there wasn’t really an option. If I want to live a more sustainable life style, I need to stop buying clothing made from synthetic materials.

Priorities, Standards & the Companies Embodying Them

With all this new information swimming around in my mind, I was left with my new plan, to buy more sustainable clothing. Though unfortunately I also was left without much direction. The brand I was originally looking to for my new sweatshirt had a bullet point under the specs that said it was made from, “bluesign approved materials“. This caught my eye and could possibly be some of the direction I was looking for. So I headed over to their website to see what they are about.

bluesign

From what I was able to gather, the Swiss Company is an independent resource. Their focus is on advocating for better working conditions for employees and a more sustainable way of producing goods during every aspect of their production. A noble cause indeed. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that a product is 100% sustainable. After all, the sweatshirt I was looking at that was bluesign approved was made with 60% recycled polyester.

That’s not to say that the company isn’t doing important work. Just because I’ve set my standard at wanting to purchase natural materials for clothing, doesn’t mean it’s the most important one by any means. Also, this made me think that maybe my standards are too lofty. bluesign also focuses on working with companies to reduce the amounts and toxicity of the chemicals the company uses. As well as focusing on the human element of the industry. Such as fair wages and safe working conditions for employees. All important aspects to investigate and consider when purchasing from a company.

Certified B Corp.

The next group of businesses I stumbled across in my search for sustainable clothing was Certified B Corporations. Another company focused on the ethical production of goods and their effects on workers rights, consumers rights and the environmental impact of the products companies produces.

This reminds me of a business I go to who solely employed homeless persons. I’ve often heard in the past that all the homeless really need to do is to get a job. Though I imagine it would be difficult for a number of reasons for a homeless person to complete an interview successfully, let alone maintain the tasks we take for granted in keeping a job! From finding clean clothes and a place to shower, to printing out a resume. Also, not having a stable mailing address or reliable transportation. The homeless person has a mountain of obstacles to overcome!

So from the perspective of protecting employee rights, I can understand and appreciate the work that is being done from B certified corporations. But as far as clothing and B Corps. goes, they have a blog, where in one post they explore a few companies in the fashion industry and how they are making a difference. One of the companies, Bombas, is mentioned as donating a pair of socks to homeless shelters for every pair sold. This is a stellar way to give back to the community. One of the most requested items at homeless shelters are socks. Win, win.

The one area that wasn’t clear however, was the research they did and the numbers they used to score each company. There was general information about what the practices they are evaluating were, but they did not go into detail on the information they used to evaluate the practices. Upon further reading, they explained that these evaluations were taken by the corporations themselves. Self-evaluations.

Does this mean that a company is giving itself an assessment of how they perform in each category? Or is there a disinterested third party that is evaluating the company and its results? I’d like to believe that these companies are honest and accountable for their actions, but with so much ambiguity it would be nice to know for sure who’s doing the evaluating.

B Lab

B Lab is another company that evaluates corporations on a spectrum of concerns. A Wikipedia article explains that B Lab is a company that gives out certifications to companies that meet a certain standard of “transparency, accountability, sustainability and performance”. But again, how B Lab comes up with the standards that they grade these companies with is not totally clear.

From what I understand of the B certification, it is something that a willing company takes as a self assessment. Evaluating their performance using B Lab’s standards and creates a plan around where they find weaknesses in their company. This is definitely better than not doing anything. And it’s comforting to know that there are corporations out there that are willing to take a look at their practices and to make a change for the better. I only wish that B Lab was more transparent with their evaluation methods.

Green Stars Project

There are few places that I could find that gave ethical reviews on companies in general. Reviews of clothing companies were few and far between. There was however one website that showed some promise. The Green Stars Project. This is a project that empowers people to write reviews of and rate different companies using a system based on criteria that covers topics from fair working wages to the environmental impact. It takes into consideration the company’s use of our resources, to the ethical treatment of animals, to how the company impacts the community. The list is only limited to the knowledge that individuals feel is important to their ethical standards.

The only downside to this is that it relies on individuals to write these reviews in the review section of a particular item. It’s decentralized. This is good because it’s coming directly from the consumer and their knowledge base. But from what I understand of the system, there is no way to search for products by their Green Star rating. So if I was looking for an ethically sourced piece of clothing, I would have to do the research to find the company and product. Then write a review or hope that there was one already written.

Better World Shopper

The Green Stars Project does however have a resources page where they list a few sites that do have lists of companies that have done some research on ethical businesses. One of the sites listed is Better World Shopper. Here you are able to search companies by category and grade. I found some clothing companies that are listed by grade and could easily tell which companies are more ethically focused than others.

Even with the grading system, if you are looking to replace synthetics with natural fibers as I am, you still need to read the labels. But it’s nice knowing that there are people out there doing the work and looking for ethically and socially responsible companies. Also that we have a place to at least start our search for better buying choices.

Fairtrade Certification

The Fairtrade certification means that the business is working to sustain the safe working conditions of the employee. Also that the company is protecting the environment. Also, helping to pay sustainable wages for workers as well as community development funding, according to their website. This is a huge step forward in helping to reduce not only the environmental impact of a company, but also the fair treatment of the employees and workers rights while building healthier communities.

Pact

There are some companies that do hit a lot of the marks as far as making sustainable clothing goes. One company, and the one I’m probably going to buy my sweatshirt from, is Pact. This company provides a wide variety of organic cotton and sustainable clothing. They are environmentally conscious of the production of their clothing by using sustainable materials as well as organic fabrics, while focusing on the well-being of their employees. They also work closely with the Fairtrade certified organization.

Positive Resources From the Community

And finally, in this article published by The Good Trade, they cover 35 different companies that have ethical and sustainable practices! This was an exciting find. To think that there are so many companies that are willing to put the effort into making sustainable products and work towards the betterment of workers and the environment. Knowing there are more options when looking for sustainable ways to fill your wardrobe, it feels like there is less of a burden knowing we are helping to lessen our impact in purchasing clothing.

Minding Your Budget & Longevity

I will add that some of these clothing lines can get pretty pricey. One of the clothing companies I mentioned above, Nudies Jean Co, has jeans that range from $185 to $400. That’s a lot of money for a pair of jeans no matter how you look at it. But according to The Food Diary, they last longer than other brands of jeans. Kezia said that her husband’s pair of jeans have lasted four years now and they are still going strong. The website also has a repair service. So if there’s been some damage done to your jeans, you can fix them up instead of throwing them away. So the lifespan of the garment is something to consider when looking at the price tag as well as the production methods.

Start a Sinking Fund

Something that has helped me along the way, with purchasing clothing on a budget, is to establish a sinking fund for new clothing purchases. I don’t buy clothing often. So when I need something it’s usually small, like a package of socks or underwear. But if you need to replace a winter coat, or a pair of boots, this can get expensive.

A sinking fund is a good way to have a certain amount of cash on hand in case you need to replace items in your wardrobe. If you’re not familiar with the term, a sinking fund is where you set up a savings for a specific item. In this case it would be clothing. And you contribute a set amount of money each week, pay period or month to the fund. This way you have what you need, when you need it. And you don’t have to scramble to find $300 dollars to purchase a new winter jacket that you may have lost on the slopes.

I contribute $25 dollars a pay period to mine and I’ve decided to cap my fund at $400. This way I won’t look at my fund one day and realize I’ve amassed thousands of dollars into something that doesn’t require that much money! This way I can replace the most expensive article of clothing in my wardrobe while still feeling confident that I can take care of my basics when I need them.

Establishing & Standing by My Values When Buying Clothing

So in the end, some companies that use microfibers that are polluting our oceans may still be leading the way in other areas of sustainability. It may come down to what your personal preferences are for buying and supporting sustainable clothing. For me it’s buying organic cotton or wool when I have a choice, and recycled fibers if it’s something that requires them. Something like a raincoat or winter boots.

Also, knowing that I’m supporting workers rights, and lessening the environmental impact my clothes are having is something that I can feel good about supporting. Knowing that I’m not just pushing off the problems of today onto the next generation helps me to rest a little easier. And with communities like The Green Star Project, it’s exciting to think that there could be an independent source and knowledge base coming together to create a more ethical way to purchase clothing.

It’s also nice knowing that companies such as B Certified Corporations, bluesign and Fairtrade are out there, putting the work in to help lead the way in helping companies produce their goods in a more sustainable way. While also letting consumers know which companies are doing the work. I’ll be linking some of these companies in my community page for those who are looking to make their wardrobe a little greener. And I’d love to hear about the companies you’ve found that are doing good work as well.

Priorities & Personal Standards

Some of the companies that I’ve come across in my search for ethical and sound businesses are very specific in what they offer. For example there are many companies that focus on socks and underwear solely. So when I came across this post by Whole Body Diary, on sustainable clothing lines, I was excited that there are more people out there searching for ethical ways to purchase a variety of clothing.

Whole Body Diary brings up a good point and one that I am struggling with. Many of the companies she lists on her blog are not 100% sustainable. This brings me back to my original question, is it better to buy cotton or recycled plastic? But as Kezia. from Whole Body Diary explains, not every company is going to hit every sustainable mark. Some may focus on organic cotton, like Nudies Jean company, while others help the larger community. Companies such as Bombas, who I’ve mentioned above.

The Take away? Our search for sustainable isn’t going to be a perfect one. But if we choose to search for companies that are trying to make a difference on some level, we’re supporting the larger whole of the mission. To buy from and support more sustainable businesses. This is where I leave you good reader, and as always, peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Nature’s Coatrack” by m01229 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Updated: 9/14/2022

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