Balancing Living Green with Just Living

My family works hard to live a green life. I build and teach others how to build super efficient straw bale homes. We drive a car that runs on biodiesel and gets 40 mpg. We raise our own veggies, chickens (for eggs, fertilizer and meat). We buy beef from a local man who raises about 5 cows a year on his land.

My kids are reminded to turn off the lights behind them and keep the door closed when the weather is too hot or cold outside. All the stuff that anyone concerned about the environment and state of affairs might do. But how do we balance living a green life with just living a regular life and enjoying some of the things that are not considered green, but are still fun?

I immediately point to playing ice hockey. Both my kids, my wife and I love hockey. It is something that we have become very passionate about. I coach my son’s team (He is the goalie) and my wife is assistant coach for our daughter’s team (she plays forward and defense). Both teams play three times a week at a local rink and my son’s team travels up and down the west coast playing in hockey tournaments. That means a lot of driving. As I said, our car is efficient and runs on biodiesel, but nonetheless, has an impact on the World when used.

champions.JPGTrade offs. For all the fuel we use to play hockey, we work hard to make decisions that limit the use of fuel in other places. For example, we don’t go food shopping anymore unless we are going to hockey. There is a market right next to the rink so it is a perfect opportunity to shop during the same trip. After all, we need to food shop once a week or so anyway, so that makes up for one trip to the rink.

We are selling our second vehicle to further limit our carbon footprint. This way, other trips to town will be limited as well. Right now, it is far too simple to take two vehicles to town on the same day, just because we can. It is harder to have one car (we live 15 minutes outside of any town in the country) but it is more responsible. We now have to really plan our trips in, everyday! That is a trade off.

Now, how about the rink? That is a hard one because we will find ourselves skating in 30 degree weather (indoor weather that is) when it is 90 degrees outside! That seems very wasteful to me. How can anyone justify keeping a building at that temperature when it is so warm outside? This is where the issues come up for me most. The fact is that the rink provides a source of joy for my family and for others.

Should that joy be shut down when the weather heats up? One voice says yes while another says no. I have connected with the rink staff and inquired about the level of insulation in the building and it is very high. Certainly that helps. But more needs to be done. I have not been sure what until this week.

I was watching an NHL game (National Hockey League, not Natural Hydraulic Lime!) and saw a commercial about how the NHL has teamed up with Greenlife (www.greenlife.com) to do something about global warming and the impact that hockey has on it. Greenlife helps create a plan for reducing a carbon footprint and also works with companies to buy carbon offsets for those parts of their business they cannot eliminate. This inspired me to bring the concept to my own rink and see if I can convince the ownership to offset their carbon footprint. I may have an uphill fight, knowing the ownership, but it is a fight worth engaging in.

This is a long way of me saying that there are things in life that are not perfect. Even though I choose to live a green life, not everything I do is green. I am willing to live on that edge and feel the pull in both directions. That is balance. I believe that living in excess is a bad idea AND I believe that living in scarcity is also a bad idea. I choose to live in balance as much as possible inside myself, and outside myself. To me it is about remaining conscious and awake.

If I am awake to the decisions I make each day, I can be sure that they are the right ones for me. I am also willing to be wrong. In other words, if I make a decision that turns out to feel too impactful, I am okay to admit it and make a change.

I hope we all can step into a life that is awake. The fact that you are reading this blog tells me that you are already awake and looking to continuer to grow healthy change in your life. That is wonderful and I thank you for it and so does the planet and the generations to come.

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18 Responses to Balancing Living Green with Just Living

  1. Avatar
    Gintaras Thu, January 31, 2008 at 10:09 pm #

    Hi Andrew.

    It’s amazing to find out people on the other cheek of the planet live and think likewise. I also try everyday to live as green as I can.

    I bought your DVD couple of years ago and already have almost build my first building out of straw- a bathhouse. Although it’s not yet completely finished (the third coat of plaster outside) interior already is and we- my family and my friends- can’t wait until another weekend to go to our sauna. We love to cosset ourselves in it’s warmth especialy after skating on the pond I made together with my father and brother.

    I hope this spring I’ll be able to start my green home next to the bathehouse.

    Thank you for this post,
    take care,

    Gintaras
    Lithuania (Eastern Europe)

  2. Avatar
    Chip M. Fri, February 1, 2008 at 2:54 am #

    Andrew,
    Really liked your letter. “All things, but not in excess, use moderation.” The perfection of the ice rink in 90 degrees is 1. it provides what it does for you, your family, friends and neighbors. & 2. It makes us think. Should we or shouldn’t we have it. If so, what is the best way to build/maintain it to maximize results and minimize the impact. ie your one vehicle that capitilizes on many efforts at once and much more economically. When we were kids, a pickup with a jam-up stereo and king cab were great, despite that it got 8-12 mpg, (that was secondary.) Now, it may not be the most important criterea, but it is important enough for the car makers to consider it. How many pickup are produced now with such an abysmal rating??? So, my point is, from a certain perpective, everything is perfect, even if the perfection of a certain item, event or idea is just to deliver the launch pad for a better, improved(ing) idea that our kids can build on and make better.It has been said, even in today’s business world, if you’ve done something (moraly, economically & profitably)the same way for 2 years, consider how you can improve it.(If you haven’t already!) Thanks for your site and enjoy the life, with all its ups and downs, you’ve got. Still dreaming of my timberframe,strawbale house I’ll build back in the states in 4 years. I improve it in my mind all of the time as the ideas and technology keep coming at me.

  3. Avatar
    C Robb Worthington Fri, February 1, 2008 at 3:56 am #

    The fact you are even considering such issues says a lot. In my own blog I will examine sustainable living in depth and I think one of the most difficult situations to deal with is balance. As we examine our lives in detail there is always more that can be done and usually, particularly if we are already doing a lot, there is a tradeoff that is required. The fitness benefits of regular swimming against the massive energy and chemical use of the facility. The discord caused by trying to get those resistant to change to make that last little effort to use less hot water. Is there another way to accomplish the goal of the activity? Can the joy of ice hockey be found somewhere else in the summer time? Perhaps giving up ice hockey in the summer and hiking, surfing or rock climbing will put you more in touch with the seasons. It may be that it won’t end up being a sacrifice at all.

  4. Avatar
    Jo Campbell Fri, February 1, 2008 at 4:21 am #

    Hi, I completely agree that one has to find a balance. I live in a huge city (Manchester UK) and life here is very different to the one I have in Bulgaria (I aim to move there permanently in 3 yrs)I work a good 9 miles from home, the roads are not safe to cycle on ( 2 accidents whilst doing so caused by careless drivers)I work odd shifts so for safety reasons, my car in very important. Bio-diesel isn’t available and public transport is dirty, expensive and unsafe especaiily at night. I do all I can here to live as greenly as possible but my long term aim is to get out of this rat race and build my dream lifestyle in Bulgaria. I have a small house and lots of land out there and the villagers and I are embarking on a European project to protect and preserve the old ways whilst brining green technologies to remote areas. I feel I have a very “schizophrenic” existence sometimes and it hurts to be so contained in the UK, knowing what beautiful freedoms and creativity await me. In the meantime, I try to campaign for change in the UK and try not to let the idiocy of it all get me down, afterall, we have all the skills and green technology here but governments and Fat Cat energy companies don’t want us to apply it. I think they’re afraid of empowered individuals who may threaten their profit margins but with a recent price hike of 17% by some power providers, there seems little danger of that!
    One can do only what one can do but if we all do a bit, our bit, it really adds up to a lot!
    Jo

  5. Avatar
    John Michael Keba Fri, February 1, 2008 at 5:07 am #

    “Should that joy be shut down when the weather heats up?”

    You raise your own vegetables and chickens, and buy local beef. That is good. Tell me, do you have a heated greenhouse just to have homegrown tomatoes year round, or do you eat seasonally? If someone near you built a large, wasteful greenhouse operation to grown durians and other tropical fruit in your area, would you patronize him?

    There are other ways for people to have fun when the weather gets warm than hockey. Everything has its time and season. I value and enjoy your website, Andrew, but this post seems to say – “We are green until it impacts on “joy,” then we are not. Unless we can find somebody else to offset our indulgence (i.e. take up our slack, shoulder the blame for our hockey rink).

    Ever hear of sandlot baseball?

    Warmly (pun intended),
    John

  6. Avatar
    Sylvie Fri, February 1, 2008 at 5:37 am #

    Thanks for your honest and reflective post. Yes, let’s become more and more awake…. seeing what we are doing. The seeing itself causes a change….
    We are building our first strawbale structure this year, have your dvd/s….
    keep up the great work!

  7. Avatar
    Barbara Ann Wright Fri, February 1, 2008 at 7:00 am #

    I read your blog and am envious. We too would like to do diesel esp- Bio-Diesel from Restaurant grease. By collecting Restaurant grease and making it into fuel you are saving the restaurant money and saving money yourself. I don’t know if you were aware that restaurants have to pay to get their grease pots dumped now days so if we can save them 1 or 2 dumpings per month that is over a hundred dollars we are saving the restaurant. By doing a 60/40 mix of bio and regular diesel we are saving fossel fuel and making the air a little cleaner. We want to do a strawbale home this year b ut that will depend on the government and how fast they approve our VA Claim. Andrew say prayers please.

  8. Avatar
    Rosana Hart Fri, February 1, 2008 at 7:46 am #

    I agree wholeheartedly that it’s about making your life as cosncious as possible. My husband Kelly (of greenhomebuilding.com) and I are currently experimenting with living in Mexico, partly for the simpler lifestyle options. We drive our 36 mpg Jetta very little, and have minimal heating and cooling costs. OTOH, we are very far from family and this has meant some long road trips. Last summer when we got home from a long one, I found a site where you can donate to offset your miles driven (don’t have the url handy) and was astonished that only a $40 donation was suggested, thought it would be several hundred bucks!

    BTW, Andrew, as a fellow blogger, I have to say that the ContentLink plugin you are using seems irrelevant and distracting. I’m not planning to buy my weather or cow products at shopping.com! Your Google adsense ads are fine for my taste, though.

  9. Avatar
    Candy Fri, February 1, 2008 at 12:16 pm #

    Hey Andrew, thanks for your thoughts! Appreciate your
    look at balance and just the sharing of your thoughts
    to prompt me to take a look at my own! Create a great
    day for yourself! Candy

  10. Avatar
    Ginnee Fri, February 1, 2008 at 1:57 pm #

    Hi Andrew,

    We are doing our best to live a sustainable, organic, biodynamic life in Southern Costa Rica. We are starting to build Earthbag structures using tubes. Straw bales are out because we have no straw, but we have dirt and clay. With a good deal of effort we located the proper bag material and obtained it. We also have lots of rain in our part of the rainforest, about 300 inches of rain a year, so a very dry roof design is important for our living conditions and I designed our pod structures accordingly.

    In an effort to use what we have, we would be interested in hearing more about lime plasters and using pigment from our clay in lime plaster. We have blue, silver, purple, green, ochre, and red clays. This would be basically the same technique that would be used for straw, I think. Is that correct?

    All things are a trade off in life. We have 3 vehicles and live very rural, off the grid, we do our best to plan our trips to town, and take the correct vehicle that will do the job required for that mission. With gas at $4.00 a gallon, we can not afford to waste any. Fuel is important to us, we make some electricity for lights, and hope to charge electric vehicles in the future. We require 4 wheel drive vehicles because of where we live, the vehicle required to do the job is not the most efficient, so we try to use them the best we can.

    In the future ice rinks may no longer be affordable and you will switch to in-line hockey. Affordability is always a deciding factor in life. If solar panels were more affordable and available affordably in my country, I would use them as part of our sustainability plan. I think most people want to reduce their costs where possible. We become more serious about how to when we must, or when our availability and money are no longer taking care of our needs. For now I trim my electrical needs where I can, and we continue to examine how to produce more affordable power so that I can have refrigeration, and a washing machine.

    I enjoy your articles.

    Thank you,

    Ginnee

    Ginnee y Felipe Hancock
    Finca Quijote de Esperanza, SA
    Costa Rica

  11. Andrew
    Andrew Fri, February 1, 2008 at 2:41 pm #

    I am loving this “conversation” and hope it continues. I love hearing about what people are doing in their lives to live in balance. I appreciate the feedback offered me as well.

    Ginnee, yes, the clays would work just like in straw bale building although the attachment to a sand bag would have to be augmented as there is no tooth like on a straw bale for the plaster to hang on. I am not sure how that works, but imagine some type of mesh will be needed to anchor the plaster in place.

  12. Avatar
    Jeff Fri, February 1, 2008 at 3:59 pm #

    HI Andrew, I am a “Green Builder” in NH. I used your DVD as a resource for a Straw home I built. One of only a few. It was a great way to educate the locals on green alternatives. I am sure that I may look like a joke to the cookie cutter home builders. I am curently building a home for a customer as a result of my Green vision. I see all these so called “Green products” being offered. It can be difficult at times agreeing on products without over anyalizing everything. I believe with moderation anyone can make a difference without being 100% Green. Start by starting and in no time it will be the norm.

    Thanks again.

    Jeff
    Jeff@monadnockgreenbuilders.com

  13. Avatar
    Thad Fri, February 1, 2008 at 8:27 pm #

    Recently returned from Africa installing biogas digestors and solar stoves.

    Does the end goal and intent of the trip justify the patronage and monetary donation to the aviation industry?

    Not sure- but I do recognize the smallest foot print would be living on or near the equator- the villagers we worked with had very little carbon foot print once cooking with renewables.

    Good to see so many awake individuals out there doing the best they can with what they have when they have it.

  14. Avatar
    Vassil Raykov Sat, February 2, 2008 at 12:40 am #

    If anybody wants to see what is sustainable and eco friendly living go to see any village in Bulgaria or any poor country. The life is difficult and far, far away of American live.

  15. Avatar
    Ginnee Sat, February 2, 2008 at 7:36 am #

    The ecostove with oven is the stove we use,

    http://www.crest.org/discussiongroups/resources/stoves/Miranda/Ecostove/Ecostove.html

    It is a rocket stove design which refers to how the fuel is burned efficiently. They were invented at U of Tennessee. Women and children in rural areas are killing themselves because they cook on open wood fires in their homes, they have no chimneys. They would really like an oven, now they can not bake a cake, cookies, or bread and they would love to do that.

    These stoves burn hot on twigs (saving the forests), with almost no smoke. The insulation is perlite or vermiculite, either one will do, or volcanic rock (we use volcanic rock, it is what we have). In Nicaragua and Brazil they sell for about $100.00 US. The outside is sheet metal. We are building modified improved versions of the stove with the oven at our farm, for our local people.

    They are state of the art rocket stoves, sustainable stoves. They do not pollute, they use twigs for fuel, are affordable (two – three weeks pay for a low level employee).

    I know that this is getting away from strawbale construction, but I wanted to share another way to leave a smaller foot print while helping 3rd world people to live a better life. My neighobrs only have an open wood fire for cooking. This open fire is in their homes with no smoke stack.

    These stoves can help many people in the first world to cut their costs and have a stove when electricity and propane are not available. You may be interested in building your own version.

    Blessings,

    Ginnee

  16. Avatar
    Lynetta Sat, February 2, 2008 at 11:02 am #

    would the smallest carbon footprint require living on the equator? Nadir Khalili, the architect-inventor of superadobe (calearth.org) would say “no.” If you live on the equator the pull is to use refrigeration and air conditioning. He has some amazing information on centuries old “air-conditioning” and “freezers” in Iran, and suggests that places that are only warm, or only cold, must ultimately become resort areas – it takes both seasons, used properly, to enable one to live.

    what do I do? I’m sticking tons of insulation in my SF house and using ‘green’ materials as I renovate in preparation for selling. Here I raise some of my veggies and shop farmers markets for the rest, go to local farms for my meat once every 4 months or so. Of course that means I don’t often need to go to the supermarket at all.

    When I sell and relocate to Michigan next year, I’ll be building Nebraska strawbale with earthen plasters. I look forward to putting in a tiny backyard orchard for my fruit needs, and an Elliot Coleman-style four season garden. My chickens and a couple of goats should round out the rest…

    BUT: I still intend to travel in the winters, which is a carbon load from airplanes.

    So I’m very empathetic with your efforts to find balance. As we are all priced out of making decisions like ice rinks and flights, we’ll learn to cope. In the meantime I think it’s important to recognize that we need a transition stage.

  17. Avatar
    Scott M. Sun, February 3, 2008 at 7:31 am #

    Landscaping. The first thing my wife and I did when we bought our previous house was to rip out all the sod from the front of the yard and the side yard. (There wasn’t any in the back to take out, really). We planted trees and shrubs that didn’t require too much water, with a winding gravel path so you could get around them to for maintenance or to pick flowers, fruit, strawberries, etc…. That first year we even grew tomatoes and lettuce in the front yard, right off the sidewalk. This is in an urban (portland, or) environment. We don’t own that small house anymore but now when we drive by it, the front and side yard look great. Not only does it take much less water than a traditional lawn, but you don’t have to mow or edge or fertilize it. Lawns are like the ubiquitous fake shutters I see bolted onto the sides of houses everywhere, part of some idea of how a house should appear rather than how it should integrate with its environment.

    Scott.

  18. Avatar
    Guy Kalti Wed, September 22, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    All of us have to find more solutions in order to help save our planet. Good learning about this.

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