Sometimes we make things more complicated than they need to be.
Our ability as humans to think critically, creatively and logically has enabled us to develop solutions to unbelievably complex problems, resulting in monumental innovations. We are a society of efficiency, production and profits, which has in fact advanced our economies. But it has come at a serious cost to our planet. So, recently, there has been a renaissance–an awakening, if you will–of a return to nature.
The scientific evidence is clear that if we do not change how we manage our resources on a global scale and our individual health, that we will see the eventual demise of the human species. How devastating it would be if we knew we could steer ourselves away from an ill-fated existence and yet we sat idly by and watched it unfold.
We need to create a sustainable ecosystem that works for all life on earth. Broadly speaking, there’s a two-pronged approach to combatting climate change: reduce consumption and increase carbon sequestration. Let’s take that same set of principles and apply it to your life, so you can reduce your individual impact on the planet and improve your holistic health. It’s going to require every person making small changes in their daily lives to bring about real impact on a global scale.
We understand that it can feel overwhelming and somewhat of a daunting task to become “zero waste” and live a healthy, sustainable lifestyle when our society has been designed to increase consumption. This is why we want to talk about three simple principles to get your started on incorporating holistic health and sustainability into your life.
1. Ask Yourself “Do I really need this?”
Let’s be honest. If you’re standing in a store or shopping online and you ask yourself the question, “Do I really need this?” you’ll know the answer. Do you really need another body lotion? Or, can you use what you have left at home before purchasing a new product? There is a difference between a “must-have” item and things that are “nice-to-have.”
The point of this exercise is not to restrict yourself from things you desire. But, it does help reduce the amount of waste you produce by being cognizant of your consumption. You can also start to ask yourself, “Can I use buy the ingredients in bulk so I can remake it over time?” For example, purchasing a gallon of white vinegar to use in a multi-purpose cleaning solution will last you much longer than an individual bottle of 409. You’ll reduce the amount of plastic you purchase over time and it’s an all-natural cleaning solution.
Let’s think about other ways you can reduce your consumption in your life. Can you use less water? Could you use less electricity? Are you eating things that are making you unhealthy, such as cheetos and ice cream, that create waste in the form of trash? Can you find an alternative solution that is environmentally friendly made by a company you want to support with your dollar?
Because we have advanced so much as a society, we have created an economy where you don’t see the entire production process. The problem this creates is we have a blindness to the subsequent carbon footprint and waste that is created. Also, you’re not seeing the thirty ingredients in the cracker you’re eating because you’re not making it yourself.
Learning to ask yourself (at least) twice if you need something can help you reduce your waste, consumption and individual carbon footprint, while improving your holistic health.
2. GET OUTSIDE
Since the Industrial Revolution, our connection to nature has been severed. We are spending 90 percent of our time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And, by 2050 the UN projects that 75 percent of the population will live in urban areas. For millions of years humans evolved in concert with the natural world, not independently.
A powerful mechanism for improving your holistic health and sustainability is to connect with the natural world. There is a fantastic article by Jim Robbins in Yale’s Environment 360 publication titled Ecopsychology: How Immersion in Nature Benefits Your Health. It discusses in-depth a variety of studies finding “nature has robust effects on people’s health – physically, mentally, and emotionally.”
“Nature is not only a nice to have, but it’s a have-to-have for physical health and cognitive functioning,” according to Richard Louv, a journalist featured in the article who coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder.
When we develop an appreciation for something, we take care of it. If we restore our human connection to nature, we will look after its resources more carefully. We need to mother earth today to protect our collective future.
Returning to our two primary mechanisms for combatting climate change, getting out into nature can help you reduce your consumption of fossil fuels and increase your carbon sequestration. Walking or biking through the park to school or work instead of driving can reduce your fossil fuels consumption. You could hike or camp on the weekend nearby instead of flying to another city.
Starting a garden of any size can help you sequester carbon. Are you able to start a small garden that allows you to require less resources from the local market? Could you start composting and using the soil in your garden? Spending more time outside tending to your garden will reap substantial benefits for your health and that of the planet. Growing your own food can reduce your dependency on global food systems, increase your vitamin D intake, build healthy topsoil, and improve your connection to nature.
3. Simplicity Is King
It’s ironic how we say we want a simple solution to just about everything and yet we seek out quick fixes that are oftentimes more complex. Humans have spent billions of dollars and years of research developing chemicals, foods, and automated solutions that can often do more harm to the environment and our health than good. If we take a step back and look for simple solutions, we can oftentimes find what we’re looking for and more.
For example, therapeutic fasting–abstaining from consuming food for a predetermined period of time–can be a powerful remedy in healing the body from all sorts of ailments including cancer and diabetes. We’re not doctors, but it’s pretty safe to say that no South Beach Diet is going to do that.
When it comes to nutrition, having as few ingredients as possible makes it easier for your body to digest. The more processed your food is, the fewer nutrients it contains. It is further from the source. If you keep the ingredients simple, then you’ll be able to utilize the nutrients in energy production much better.
Organic foods–those that have not been treated with synthetic chemicals and fertilizers–are better for your health and the environment. Those chemicals pollute our waterways and are most often found on monoculture farms that actually reduce the amount of healthy topsoil on the planet.
Biodynamic and regenerative agriculture farms that use a cyclical, no-waste model for producing food can create more topsoil and sequester carbon in the soil. Unless we move our food systems towards regenerative agriculture, we only have approximately 60 years of healthy topsoil left if soil degradation continues. Then what?
The next time you go to the grocery store, pay close attention to the ingredients in whatever you’re purchasing. Whether it’s a cleaning product, a new body wash, or a jar of marinara sauce, knowing what you’re bringing home is the first step. It might surprise you to know that there are unwanted ingredients in your favorite bag of chips, so you could decide to opt for buying almonds in bulk instead.
Certifications can help you sort through all the options you have available to you as well. For food, look for the USDA organic label or the Demeter Biodynamic seal. For cleaning products, look for the EPA Safer Choice seal and make sure they are free from chemicals such as formaldehyde and phthalates. GOTS is the Global Organic Textile Standard, which ensures the “organic status of textiles from harvesting of the raw materials through environmentally friendly and socially responsible manufacturing all the way to labelling in order to provide credible assurance to the consumer.” There are many other certifications across industry that can help empower your purchase-making process.
The simplicity guideline applies to clothing as well. Natural fibers such as wool and cotton are, of course, still used in clothing. But materials such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, and other synthetic fibers–which are all forms of plastic–account for 60 percent of the material used in our clothing worldwide. They are produced from petrochemicals made from oil. And washing them contaminates our oceans with microplastic fibers, jeopardizing the entire food chain.
We also know that there are harmful, endocrine disrupting chemicals in plastics. What happens when you wear plastics for extended periods of time, such as in recycled polyester? The latest trend is clothing created from recycled plastic bottles, but few have questioned its health implications, much less researched it. There is much to be said on this topic, but we’ll save that for another article.
When it comes to purchase decisions, keeping things simple also includes considering what you already have. Can you make do with what you have? Can you make it yourself? Can you buy a reusable version, so you can cut down on your waste? Cutting the clutter in all areas of your life can also help reduce anxiety and improve your mental health.
The bottom line is this: be conscious of your decisions. Your holistic health and sustainability is at stake here, as well as the planet’s. Make the effort to reach informed decisions based on an objective truth. And together we can create a healthy future for the planet.
This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. We have to remember that we are complicated organisms. You are the best health expert for you. Pay attention to your health. And consult a medical doctor when appropriate. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.