By Alden Wicker
So you want to live more consciously. Great! But … where do you start? Well, the options can be a bit overwhelming. You can’t just wake up on Earth Day and “live sustainably” any more than you can wake up and run the New York City Marathon. It takes training, information gathering, practice, and working your way through challenges.
But the other big thing about living sustainably is that it comes in a lot of flavors! And some of those flavors actually don’t work well together. For example, do you want to eat locally or organically? Sometimes you can do both, and sometimes that farmer’s market vendor sprayed his tomatoes this year because of a blight going around and the closest organic tomoatoes were trucked up from Florida. Maybe you want to live zero-waste, but that means you can’t drink local craft beers (the tops on bottles aren’t recyclable). OK, so you’ll get a canned craft beer. But all canned beer come in BPA-lined cans. Ewww, toxic.
See what I mean? You can’t be all things at once, and frankly, you don’t need to try. Picking even just one style is more than what most Americans do, quite honestly, and that will make your decisions a little bit easier. Or else you’ll have a mental breakdown every time you grocery shop. Here are the ten types of sustainability:
The Conscious Consumer
Your money is your vote for a better world, and you vote often. You patronize sustainable and ethical designers, you are always contributing to cool Kickstarters, and you see nothing wrong with doing all your shopping at Whole Foods. You love a good one-for-one product. You don’t have time to DIY any of your products, but that’s OK, because someone else did it for you and has some cool branding to boot.
If you were president you would: Enact a comprehensive labeling system for all products that would make your shopping easier. Sort of like USDA organic, but for everything else besides food.
Your favorite vacation spot: A luxury eco-resort
Your favorite restaurant: That hot new organic and seasonal restaurant downtown
The Local Foodie
You don’t go a week without visiting the farmer’s market and loading up. You have a stack of seasonal cookbooks up to your chest, and nothing gets you more excited than ramps in the spring. In fact, you look down on those who eat asparagus or berries out of season – those people just haven’t lived. You are always the one at the table asking the waiter where the chicken is from and whether the beef is grass fed.
If you were president you would: Abolish factory farms and subsidies for corn and oil, and redirect that money to duck eggs, asparagus, and craft breweries.
Your favorite vacation spot: A B&B on a farm in wine country
Your favorite restaurant: Any Slow Food-approved restaurant
The No-Waste Maven
Putting something in the trash gives you the hives. You carry a mason jar, fold up utensils, a straw, and reusable bag with you at all times. Trying to give you anything – a gift, promotional materials, a receipt or plastic straw – has you playing hot potato, refusing to touch it or handing it back. You DIY all your own beauty products and only buy used clothing and other items because they come without packaging.
If you were president you would: Require companies to make all products completely recyclable in a close-loop system.
Your favorite vacation spot: You haven’t found it yet, but you’re hoping there’s a resort on an island run by a traditional tribe that doesn’t use any Western products.
Your favorite restaurant: Any place that is cool with you bringing your own mason jar for refills
The Non-Toxic Obsessive
You are not getting cancer, if you have anything to do with it. You eat only organic, use all-natural beauty products, buy clothing made with organic cotton and other natural fibers, and clean your home using baking soda, vinegar, and essential oils. You also avoid eating large fish because mercury, and when you move into a new place you strip the walls and paint them with no-VOC paints. The most expensive thing you own is your mattress, which is free of flame retardants and other chemicals that usually come in mattresses.
If you were president you would: Ban all chemicals until they have been proven without a doubt to be safe.
Your favorite vacation spot: A remote island far away from pollution
Your favorite restaurant: Anything organic
The Conscious Entrepreneur
You’re going to save the world yourself! You’ve founded a company that addresses some nagging problem you had, selling an item you couldn’t find before in the sustainable or ethical version. You’ve given a TEDx talk (or hope to someday), love a good tradeshow, and know how to work a Kickstarter campaign.
If you were president you would: Abolish subsidies to oil companies and other multinationals and redirect them toward businesses like yours.
Your favorite vacation spot: San Francisco
Your favorite restaurant: Chipotle
You think the whole system is broken and needs to be thrown out. Corporations are evil, responsible for almost all environmental destruction. No, there is no “compromise” or “working together toward solutions.” Any environmental organization that colludes with a multi-national to marginally improve environmental standouts is a sellout and a turncoat. You’re probably a freegan, who dumpster dives for perfectly good thrown out food in protest of our wasteful society. You get all your clothing through swaps and bartering. You think Greenpeace has gone soft.
If you were president you would: Dismantle all corporations and hand their assets over to marginalized communities.
Your favorite vacation spot: Burning Man
Your favorite restaurant: No restaurants, just around the table with your freegan friends and what they scavenged yesterday
The Vegan/Animal Rights Advocate
Forget humans, we’re the ones that messed everything up! You’re doing it for the animals, which half of – everyone seems to not have heard – are on the brink of extinction. You don’t eat meat or animal products, you don’t wear meat or animal products, and your dog is a rescue. Your charitable dollars go to rescuing lab animals, and you would “rather go naked than wear fur.” You don’t want to lecture people but … why can’t they see your side??
If you were president you would: Abolish factory farms.
Your favorite vacation spot: A wildlife sanctuary in Asia or Africa
Your favorite restaurant: A vegan café
The Vintage and Thrift Shopper
You never buy anything new because that takes resources. You love a good swap, your favorite pastime is rummaging through the local thrift or salvage store, and your motto is, “I don’t pay retail.” Some people hang out on Twitter; you hang out on the Freecycle boards and Craigslist looking for free stuff. You have a sewing machine with which to repair clothing and you’re handy with the paint brush.
If you were president you would: Remove sales tax from used items and increase it on new items.
Your favorite vacation spot: Any town with good antiquing
Your favorite restaurant: That café that only uses vintage plates and cups
You hardly ever buy anything, but when you do, it takes months of research to find just the perfect object, which is usually handcrafted in the United States by an artisan. Then, you get rid of something else in your home to compensate. You only have 10 outfits and five pairs of shoes.
If you were president you would: Abolish advertising. Nobody needs any of that stuff.
Your favorite vacation spot: Scandinavia
Your favorite restaurant: A simple café that serves simple food
The Carbon Hater
All that other stuff is just side notes. The real problem is carbon emissions, which are heating up the Earth and freaking you out with the potential for crazier weather, climate-induced wars, and rising sea levels. Everything you do is done with an eye toward reducing your carbon emissions. You have a windmill or solar panels (or both), or you’ve signed up for wind power. You only use your bike and public transportation to get around, buy local food, and buy used (because everything that is produced emits carbon emissions).
If you were president you would: Sign the U.S. up to drastic, binding emission cuts.
Your favorite vacation spot: Nearby. You’re not getting on a plane to anywhere.
Your favorite restaurant: A carbon-neutral café
About the Author
Alden is the founder and editor-in-chief of EcoCult, covering all things sustainable in NYC and beyond, including fashion, beauty, food, and events. She’s been published in Refinery29, EcoSalon, xoJane, Well+Good, Huffington Post Green, Narratively, LearnVest, Societé Perrier, and Greatist. She also runs a blog about electronic music with her boyfriend called Under the Sound, and is a co-founder of the Ethical Writers Coalition. Check her out on Twitter at @AldenWicker and Instagram @EcoCult