April 21, 2020

Sustainability During Challenging Times

With COVID-19 suddenly facing us, we are in for some challenging times ahead. Sure, binge-watching television shows while we are “social distancing” will not earn us medals for heroism, but we are helping society when we follow quarantine or shelter-in-place orders that may be in effect. While we do our part, we can continue to live sustainable lives that will help protect the planet, so we can enjoy it a little more when this is behind us. Here are a few tips you may find helpful.

Buy in bulk when you can. This is certainly not an endorsement to hoard consumer goods, but try to strike a balance between modestly stocking up on materials that you need while not overdoing it, allowing others to buy supplies that they may need. When you can buy in bulk, you reduce needed shopping trips, which will reduce fuel consumption, emissions, and traffic. Buying in bulk can reduce packaging density, too, reducing waste.

Clean to protect you and the planet. Single, ready-to-go wipes are all the rage, and in some places, are in short supply. While undoubtedly convenient, many substitute products work just as well but reduce waste. Use washable, reusable cloth rags with household cleansers, preferably Earth-friendly products. Many of these cleansers are available in concentrated form (just add water!), which reduces packaging. A solution of water and bleach (about 25 mL per liter of water) can be used to sanitize heavily touched surfaces. Further, hand sanitizers are great, but they are inferior to good, old-fashioned soap with respect to personal hygiene in stopping the spread of diseases. Many natural or Earth-friendly soaps exist in the marketplace that can enhance your safety while protecting the planet.

Cook and clean up efficiently. If you like to cook, you probably are finding yourself with more time to do so these days. Consider meal and recipe planning such that you can cook multiple meals (and clean up) at the same time. If you are cooking in portions that will result in leftovers, place them in reusable containers that can be used for reheating at a later time. Alternatively, you may consider splitting the portions such that you can provide your neighbor or a loved one with a ready-to-go meal (just practice social distancing when you drop it off). Finally, if you have a dishwasher, run it when you have filled it to capacity, or use a sink basin to wash dishes by hand. Both strategies will save water.

Do not forget about you. One of the important aspects of sustainability is the social dimension. Unfortunately, with a shelter-in-place order, there is not much socializing to be done, let alone opportunities to care for our community. Nevertheless, take time to focus these energies on your well-being and toward those with whom you may be sheltered.

If you are in a position where you can work from home, try to establish a regular work routine. One of the challenges in working from home is that your home loses its role as a sanctuary from other parts of your life. Before shelter-in-place, your workplace was for work, and home was home. Of course, many of us perform work duties on a regular basis in our home, often at odd hours. However, during normal times, the physical demarcation of the home allows us to escape for downtime – working from home is completed on our terms. Now, we have no choice but to merge the two.

We cannot control the physical, but we can try to revert control on the temporal. Set regular work hours that you can keep to the extent practicable. Use break times and days off to stand as a proxy for physical boundaries. Use these times to unplug, pursue your hobbies or enjoy relaxing diversions, focus on your loved ones, etc. This will keep you refreshed and allow you to focus on work when you need to while maintaining some sense of boundaries in your life.

Set up a physical work area – a desk, a portion of a table, whatever it may be – that will serve as your working base. Do what you can to make that space, no matter how small or humble, a virtual office. Occupy it during your work hours, and vacate it when the working day has ended.

If you are allowed to do so safely, try to get out of your home when you need a change of pace. Go enjoy a walk and get some fresh air. It will get your blood flowing and clear your head, enhancing your well-being.

COVID-19 is here, but sometime soon things will be under control and we can get back to normal lives. In the meantime, we need to do our part to keep ourselves and our communities safe, and if we think and act sustainably during this time, we can keep the planet a little safer, too.

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