For something to be truly “sustainable,” it has to be able to be maintained at a consistent level and be able to be defended for continuing at that level. Sustainable living can be defined in many ways. It means striving to create less waste and prioritizing the use of renewable resources and minimal consumption — making healthier choices for our planet and the people who live here. As anyone with even a moderate understanding of current human levels of consumption can attest, the path we’re on as a species is definitely not sustainable. From overfishing the oceans to energy use to mass consumerism, the consumption habits we have embraced are putting our environment – and our future – at stake.
“What’s happening now is not sustainable,” said Andrew Lambden, founder and CEO of Terra View Homes, a home builder renowned across Canada for building energy efficient and Net Zero homes in Guelph and surrounding Southwestern Ontario communities. “It’s too energy dependent. Behavioural changes have to happen. Living in the present, you have to realize that actions you take now can have big effects. The little incremental things can lead to bigger things. Having it in your frame of mind rather than being oblivious to it is important.”
Being a champion of green and sustainable building practices has positioned Terra View as a company that cares about the environments in which they build. Although Net Zero homes are not yet widely adopted by the general population, especially among homes built to code, Lambden says it’s about redefining what’s possible. There are small personal actions we can take in our lives and our homes that, when combined together with the actions of others, could help avert potential environmental problems in the not-too-distant future.
“If you’re working to reduce the consumption in your home a lot of it depends on what you’re starting with,” said Lambden. “It is possible to take homes to Net Zero but requires a matrix of great ideas that have to be implemented and analyzed for cost effectiveness to get there.”
Here are five personal lifestyle changes anyone can make that Lambden suggests can have a big impact in reducing consumption, saving you money, and impacting the planet in a positive way:
1) Start small, but start now. It can be as simple as changing to energy efficient light bulbs or switching to tap water from bottled water, your choice of consumer habits can make a huge difference. “The devil is in the details,” said Lambden. “The little things we do add up.” Buying less goods, being conscious of how you dispose of things, and making adjustments in your consumer patterns provide big payback.
2) Invest in brands championing sustainability and shop local. “I think that’s really important,” said Lambden. “If you can, why wouldn’t you buy things grown in Ontario. Shopping locally requires less transportation, reduces congestion, habitat loss and pollution. It also helps to create more local ownership and support local jobs and economies. I think the people of Guelph are pretty alert when it comes to buying local goods.” Lambden also suggests looking for sustainable packaging and companies committed to sustainable practices, learning about ethical fashion and eliminating use of single-use plastics.
3) Plant more seeds. Investing time in your gardens for the purpose of growing your own foods is an excellent way to transform your yard into a healthy habitat for humans and for wildlife. Think about ways you can green your plate and reduce food waste. Incorporating only native plants into your landscaping and gardens is also a great way to improve sustainability.
4) Run your home as passively as possible. That includes making decisions to install energy efficient appliances, relying on clean energy sources to reduce household energy use, switching to low VOC paints and cleaners, or choosing fresh air over non-stop air conditioning. “You can do things like adjusting your windows for daytime or nighttime use, turning your lights off, pulling blinds down, or even planting trees in a location that delivers the greatest benefit,” said Lambden. “If you can achieve a five percent improvement, it’s a big step.”
5) Be conscious of your water use. “A tremendous amount of municipal energy is used to get water into your home,” said Lambden, who spent many years serving on a local water conservation steering committee. “Every time you turn on the tap you have to think about the journey your water took. If we can reduce our water use, it’s not only good for the watershed but it’s also good for your pocketbook by reducing your water bill.”
When it comes to sustainable building practices, Lambden said builders like Terra View can also play a role. Building homes to a Net Zero or Net Zero Ready standard, using organic soils, and incorporating the best materials is one way. Encouraging home owners to embrace sustainable practices is another.
“Square footage and the size of homes is no longer the argument, it really comes down to the efficiency of the home. What is most important is how homeowners act as an occupant. The homeowners behaviour and treatment of their home has more of an impact than having a home that is a few hundred square feet larger.”