Meet this month’s “Sustainability Snapshot,” the folks from Rachel Emmer, and learn more about her efforts to live sustainably:
What inspired you to adopt more sustainable practices in your life?
One chapter of my life found me in the rainforest of Central America where I was working in the natural history filmmaking world. I worked with scientists, storytellers and adventurers. The work involved looking closely – often on the micro level- at the amazing interconnections of life in one of the richest ecosystems on the planet. Yet even then, decades ago now, species were threatened with extinction and critical habitat was being destroyed. It was in the researching and telling of these stories that I grew deep in the appreciation of the delicate balance of the ecosystem we are a part of. During this time, I was living off-grid in a tree house on 1000 acres. Almost unintentionally, daily life was all about understanding and participating in nature’s closed loop systems – be it flora or fauna, my waste was another’s food, my ignorant footsteps destroyed another’s home, my choices affected another’s ability to thrive or cause to perish.
Culture shock dominated every visit back to Evergreen….I gaped at the size and scale of the homes being built, was left in the dust by the speed of traffic, transactions & news, and became paralyzed with the choices. On one return visit a trip to Evergreen Drug to buy shampoo and toothpaste took me two hours and I left the store with a pledge to just make my own.
Can you give some examples of how you practice a sustainable lifestyle at home (either related to zero waste, renewable energy, or conservation)?
More than a decade ago I took a “Nothing New” pledge on New Year’s Day – to bring nothing new into my life for one year. That year has extended til today although the rules have evolved a bit. “Nothing New” credo changed my relationship with ‘stuff’ forever.
Recently Xcel Energy built a 50MW solar farm and offered subscriptions to residents and businesses for a limited time. I was able to jump into that program and fulfilled a dream for my home to be powered by the sun even though my location is not well suited for rooftop solar. I also signed up for their Time-of-Use pricing program with variable rates for electricity depending on the time of day. About that same time I signed up for an Xcel Home Energy Squad visit where a super knowledgeable representative came to my house and replaced any remaining incandescent bulbs with LEDs, installed a programmable thermostat, exterior door weather stripping and faucet aerators. Before he left, he advised me on affordable next steps with just a quick trip to Home Depot.
A year ago my dependable, well loved, 200,000 miles Subaru had some issues requiring more service work than I was willing to put into it. I purchased a plug-in electric car. Not a hybrid… all electric. Much to my surprise I was amazed at the affordability of the used EV market here in Colorado. I had some doubts – battery range anxiety, concerns about winter performance and issues with charging station availability. Last winter’s cold and snowfall put my EV to the test and dispelled any concerns I held about an EV’s performance or my ability to adapt to the EV way of life!
My son and his young family live in Washington State so I am frequently taking advantage of inexpensive flights to hang with my grandkids. I offset my air travel and any additional carbon footprint with contributions to Colorado Carbon Fund (ColoradoCarbonFund.org), who invest in Colorado-based projects that reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions to account for the emission I make. They have a great calculator on their website to estimate personal carbon footprints.
Ultimately, I challenge myself to consider every decision I make thru the lens of sustainability and climate impact.
What do you think is the biggest roadblock for people trying to practice a sustainable lifestyle?
Our current economic system is dependent on our continuation of making unsustainable choices. Our ‘Growth at any cost’ economy relies on keeping us as rabid consumers addicted to modern conveniences while maintaining confusion and doubt about the urgency of climate change action. Normalizing sustainable thinking -and actions- will mean a leap into systems thinking. Seeing and understanding how humans fit into the planet’s fragile ecosystem and then adjusting our lifestyles in alignment with natural processes, rhythms and cycles will bring us closer to the paradigm shift needed.
In the short term at the local level we need political will to bring more sustainable options to our communities. Our elected officials need to know that we need regional composting, better electric vehicle infrastructure, measures to address single-use plastics, support of regenerative agriculture and every other sustainability issue that is near and dear to our hearts. Market forces just aren’t responsive toward to existential threats.
What have you done over the years to support the Evergreen Sustainability Alliance and sustainability in the community?
As former board member & Executive Director, helped shape vision, built two community gardens, pushed Zero Waste and supported the organization toward diligence in walking-the-sustainability-talk.
As former chair of the Jefferson County Sustainability Commission and current commission member I bring the Evergreen Sustainability Alliance into the conversation about what is being done/discussed at the county level and make sure that the Evergreen Sustainability Alliance has a seat at the table when developing county-wide initiatives. The Evergreen Sustainability Alliance was part of the stakeholder group when we developed an Energy Action Plan for the county and is considered an important partner by the commission. The Evergreen Sustainability Alliance is the voice of sustainability for unincorporated Jeffco.
Additionally, I take great joy in bringing my kitchen waste to the Evergreen Sustainability Alliance’s composting bin and love participating in that program. I appreciate the Zero Waste Refill Popup Shop and look forward filling up my quart jars this week. I especially enjoy the films the Evergreen Sustainability Alliance brings to our community. Not only do they help me to understand our world a little bit better; the films also bring together like-minded folks that comfort me in witnessing the circle of concerned neighbors getting bigger and more passionate.
What words of wisdom do you have for people just getting started on their journey toward a sustainable lifestyle?
What drives your curiosity about sustainability/Climate change? It might be health considerations for your family and children which could lead to an exploration thru food. Or it might be residential energy efficiency to make your home more comfortable. Or it could be spurred by a wonder about renewable energy options. Recycling is often thought as the gateway drug to sustainability in personal lifestyles. Give yourself time to be curious and follow your thought threads through research.
My ‘Nothing New’ pledge launched a long-held belief in the sanctity of our planet into a long-term practice and way of being. That might be a great catalyst to a lifestyle practice. Take the pledge for a pre-determined length of time and have family conversations along the way about what you’re learning and feeling about the choices you’re making related to ‘Nothing New’.
Another catalyst to sustainability awareness and practices is to check out Ecochallenge.org (formerly known as the Northwest Earth Institute). They created a series of discussion courses focusing on discovering new ways to live, work, create and consume. Ecochallenge.org also created an online way to connect your values with actions by participating in an eco-challenge event.