Energy and water efficiency can be implemented into our daily lives in little and big ways. From cost-free, everyday actions to the tens of thousands of dollars well spent on replacing older, leaky windows, we can all do our part to lessen our consumption and waste—which benefits both the planet and our pocketbooks.
“Climate change is happening and in a coastal community with sea level rise and red tide, we’re going to have to all pitch in to reverse this. We have just enough time if we all start now,” says Amber Whittle, executive director of the Southface Institute and one of the speakers at this week’s two-day Environmental Design Conference at New College of Florida. Other featured event speakers include local landscaping expert David Young and award-winning local architect Michael Halflants, among other local and national home design industry and sustainability professionals.
The main barrier to getting more people on board with sustainability is the expense it can incur. Case in point: Whittle credits the booming solar energy industry with government-funded rebates that offset its cost.
As beneficial as going solar is, Whittle says that sustainability must start from the ground up. “It’s better to put your money into energy efficiency within the home before installing solar," she says. For example, add insulation and replace leaky windows first, then move on to the bigger investments.
The conference covers all that information for homeowners and builders and more, but if you can't make it, Whittle shared some easy takeaways that anyone can implement today.
Kill Your Lawn
"More than 50 percent of Sarasota County’s potable water goes toward irrigating lawns, and 10 to 12 percent of energy is used to treat water, wastewater and stormwater, that isn’t absorbed by lawns and becomes wasted runoff," Whittle says. Instead, plant drought-resistant, native landscaping that has no need for potentially harmful fertilizer, which gets into waterways and exacerbates red tide.
Turn food waste into black gold and fertilize soil with rich nutrients that would otherwise produce harmful gasses in a dump site. Don’t know where to start? Contact the local nonprofit Sunshine Community Compost for free classes and connect with a community of local composters. Don't have a garden where it can be used? Gift it!
Say 'No' to New
Many new furniture pieces are made with nonrecyclable materials and toxic elements that pollute the environment. Buy upcycled pieces from shops like Sarasota Architectural Salvage, whose owner Jesse White is among the event's speakers, or buy used. Producing new furniture means harvesting and creating new, often unsustainable materials and contributes to the fossil fuel industry and to deforestation. Buying used means new materials need not be generated.
"Minimize your plastic usage," Whittle says. Avoid buying plastic containers and jugs by using plant-based laundry sheets instead of softening liquid, for example. Buy shampoo and conditioner bars. In fact, "just about all cleaning products come in tab form and dissolve in water. Just save the old bottle and reuse it," she adds.
Use Sustainable Materials When Building
Changing out your flooring? Go with cork or fast-growing bamboo. It's just one example from a complete suite of everything from roofing to windows and doors, from Eco-Smart, a local online provider of all things green construction and home improvement. A speaker from the product line will also take the dais at the conference.
The first annual Environmental Design Conference takes place tomorrow and Friday at the Harry Sudakoff Conference Center at New College of Florida, 5845 General Dougher Pl., Sarasota. To check out the full roster and register, click here.