Implementing sustainable practices at home is tricky, but the increased time we spend there now is an incentive, writes Jason Osborne
It’s interesting that caring for the environment is such a contentious issue in many Catholic circles these days – although I think it’s often the condescending manner in which the message is sometimes communicated that people find off-putting. I’ve met few people, if any, who think the environment is something we have a right to plunder and destroy to our heart’s content.
As is so often the way, the path forward lies in calm conversation and rational dissection of the issue. Caring for our immediate environment is a good thing, because if we all did it, it’d solve many problems the created world currently faces, such as unprecedented levels of pollution and resource consumption (so much of which go to waste).
On a spiritual level it should be of concern to us, because the attitudes we take often shape our hearts. Put very simply, if we buy a lot, go through a lot and consume a lot at a faster and faster rate (as we seem to be doing), it should come as no surprise if we start to approach the created world with ever-greater ingratitude and indifference.
As such, if for no other reason than the spiritual fruits, a more sustainable and minimalistic approach to living is something to consider implementing in our lives, in our own homes, to whatever degree we can manage. And there is no better opportunity, with the vast majority of us still confined to our homes and localities most of the time.
It doesn’t have to be about buying more expensive alternatives or taking on inconvenient habits – it can be as simple as changing an attitude. With the remainder of this article, I’ll go through some simple habits and tips that will make big changes to both God’s creation and our hearts.
A simple step that makes a big difference – and that many people homed in on very early in the pandemic – is buying locally, or ‘Buy Irish’, as the slogan puts it.
This works on a number of levels. It supports the local community and the economy, which is a key step in fostering a healthier local environment. People can only worry about the environment after they’ve put food on the table for their family, so choosing to shop in your region or to order from Irish businesses around the country does play a role in enabling healthier communities, right down to the individual employees small and medium Irish enterprises are responsible for.
On a larger scale, relegating your purchasing habits to your area or our island cuts down on our contribution to the vast transport networks that circumscribe the globe. Planes, trains and ships are responsible for moving the world’s goods to and fro, and by shopping here, you reduce the effect you’re having.
A common objection to this is that Ireland is such a small country – particularly when placed in comparison to the US and China – surely it doesn’t matter what we do in the grand scheme of things? There’s some truth to this in terms of our material contribution, but as I said above, this is where attitude comes in (and the concomitant spiritual fruits).
Justbuyirish.com is a useful directory of 864 Irish producers who deliver right to your door”
If everyone adopted the attitude that their contribution didn’t matter, we’d very quickly end up in a disastrous situation. God created a community; a vibrant, interdependent world. Even if our physical contribution is but a footnote, the spiritual sign is equally important and equally real.
Justbuyirish.com is a useful directory of 864 Irish producers who deliver right to your door. Covering books, food, alcohol, home products, arts and crafts, tea, coffee and more, this directory is very useful if you do choose to search for local sources for your needs and desires.
Turn off your electronics
Perhaps a reminder more than anything, but a timely one when more of our time is spent at home than ever before. Many of us fall into the habit of switching on the tv, radio or laptop and leaving them streaming shows out into the house as we bustle about.
Or because so much of my time is spent in and around my house these days, when I leave my room, I’m much more likely to leave the lamp on, knowing I’ll be “in the area” and so won’t be long.
It’s important to remember that the same rules apply now as before – if we’re not actively using it, we should turn it off. Whether it’s the heat as we enter into what is hopefully a beautiful summer, or whether it’s the omnipresent electronics, if we don’t need it, don’t use it.
Invest in green technology if you can
Many of the people around our estate have been using the past year to invest in their homes more than usual. The home-improvement sentiment must have been shared by many around the country, as some of the first places opened up upon the relaxation of the first lockdown last year were garden centres.
If you’re in a position to do so, why not make some of those improvements green? Grants are available for some of these – solar panels for instance. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) offer support to all owners of dwellings built and occupied before 2011, where SEAI haven’t previously provided support for solar systems at that address.
Perhaps more suitable for the Irish climate than solar panels is insulation. Homes without insulation take longer to heat up, using more fuel in the process, and take longer to cool down. Getting the house properly insulated saves money in the long run.
Alternatively, grants are available for both private and commercial electric vehicles, as well as towards the purchase and installation of charging points for them. Money is tight at the moment, but if you’re in a position to make changes, it is something to consider.
Not all change for the greener need be so lofty, however – a compost bin, window boxes, LED lightbulbs, and bicycles are all relatively simple things to bring into home life and each moves you towards a more sustainable way of life.
Store and donate rather than dump
There’s been a big push in recent years in an attempt to help people see just how much they throw away, from food, to clothes, to furniture.
In recent months, I’ve taken to storing more food than ever before. Whereas once I’d have thrown it away, if a slight amount is left over from a meal or a takeaway, I store it in the fridge and finish it off the next day or add something else to it for a more rounded meal.
In the realm of clothes and other household items, donation is the way to go – to family members, friends, or charity shops. It’s an environmentally conscious move, but also a powerful antidote to the “throwaway” attitude that Pope Francis speaks of so regularly, teaching us to value what we have a little more. It also helps us to see that even if we have no more use for something, someone else might.
These are a few simple steps, but some of them have changed my own attitudes for the better throughout the past year. While there are more spiritually immanent issues than our treatment of the environment (our treatment of our closest loved ones for one), it is an issue that we can’t afford to neglect. If we don’t address it now, when?