Grow Green: 10 Tips for Personal Sustainability in Trying Economic Times


Alan Greenspan is calling it “a credit tsunami” that policymakers did not expect. The smart ones who converted to a green lifestyle long ago are well-equipped for riding that ominous wave. Many of us are still figuring out how to sink or swim.

Like the wronged woman in an old movie, the spastic stock market has slapped us across the face, leaving an ugly mark. My sister, a single mom, says her portfolio has shrunk by some 40%. Poof. Gone. Next comes a rise in lay-offs and unemployment, threats to retirement funds, and increased job insecurity. Greenspan tells us home prices must stabilize for the crisis to end. Until then, we are struggling to adjust.

“Green” may be in short supply, but going green makes good cents. Here are 10 tips to stay sustainable:

-File away your credit cards for emergency use only

Let’s face it, spending is addictive, and having the plastic conveniently on-hand has made it too easy for all of us to overspend. Are you really living within your means? If we had to rely on cash, we would be forced to do what our parents and grandparents did in the days without ATM’s. Budget! Yes, it’s time for Plan B. Buy quality products that will last, pay your bills, eat out less. Meantime, consolidate to one major card, close high interest accounts, shred unnecessary department store cards, store just one card for emergencies. You’ll feel greener…and lighter.

-Be empowered with reduced energy and power

We are draining our resources, both environmental and financial, when we crank out the air and heat, run our washers and dryers around the clock, insist upon front lawns and sprinklers, drive cars to work instead of taking mass transit and burn the lights in our rooms. Instead, wear a favorite sweater or use eco-friendly area heaters or fans. Did you know that weather-stripping can cut heat bills in half? Air-dry your towels and reuse them; wash clothes only if they smell or are dirty and avoid hot water cycles; Replace grass with organic veggie gardens or zero-scape plants and wild grasses; Walk, bike, or take the train, and carpool your kids to school and parties. It’s all simple green sense.

-Try Bucking Big Bill Stress

A positive attitude is critical for greening your life but that’s pretty tricky when you’re shouldering big debt, including hefty home loans. Talk to your lender or whoever has purchased your loan and see if you can refinance or reduce the balance. They may be willing to negotiate a reduced amount or interest rate. Or, try to pay off a loan with a bad rate by borrowing what’s owed from a different source at a much better rate. In addition to banks, corporations like department stores and even credit card agencies are often willing to offer a settlement for the debt you owe, especially if it means they can close your file. You can read about the pros and cons of paying off loans in a report by AARP.

- Support Female Workers Any Way You Can

According to a recent report by the Joint Economic Committee of the Senate, women are the most vulnerable to job loss during this kind of economic downturn. This is threatening to households as basic living expenses continue to rise. Many feel compelled to eliminate luxuries which can include the female house cleaner, dog walker, yoga teacher, tutor, childcare provider, or even a home nurse. Reduce services if you must but try not to cut them out all together. Spreading the wealth, especially during hard times, is an eco-friendly concept. Rent The Grapes of Wrath and see for yourself.

-Stop Patronizing Businesses That Gouge

Airlines do it with fares, extra luggage and food; Restaurants do it with exorbitant wine prices which accompany $40 entrees; and don’t get me started on gas. Back in 2005, as Hurricane Rita approached, Texas businesses were issued stern warnings not to gouge consumers during a disaster. We must now send out our own warnings, the way they did in Montgomery by boycotting the buses. Those bus companies felt the impact of Rosa Parks and started to listen. Well, the winds are blowing, and until prices are in line with our green lifestyles, stay off the planes. Fill your car rarely; shop for organic food at farmers’ markets or local green groceries or grow your own; eat out less; frequent thrift shops, consignment shops and yard sales; purchase from green retailers. I love Trader Joe’s cause I can really save there. (We just need to encourage the chain to reduce its over- packaging of food.)

-Rebound from a Job Loss By Finding a Niche

eHow suggests that even when cash is scarce, there is money to be made by using skills that people need. Among them, grow your own food to sell at stores, farmers markets or even to neighbors (mine love our artichokes!). Learn how to be a handyman or handywoman by repairing leaky roofs, mending fences, hanging artwork, painting a room. Offer childcare services in your home, rent out a room, teach knitting to kids. Check with area schools to see if they are hiring specialists for enrichment programs (i.e. writing, art instruction, poetry, math, music or video production). You can even start a sustainable green business like Spencer Brown did with Earth Friendly Moving, which offers reusable green cartons for home and office moves.

-It is Better to Give Than to Receive During the Holidays

Food bank donations are needed now more than ever with food prices soaring. The San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center says it is seeing a much higher demand for food from the families that it serves, and that parental stress is related to this demand. Lean more about how to donate food at Feed America.

With so much hunger and poverty, don’t strap yourself further by running out and buying meaningless toys your kids don’t need. Give gifts of the heart to both loved ones and the community. Print out an amazing photo you took and make a frame; bake organic Christmas cookies and package them in a reusable container; buy one quality gift instead of numerous cheap ones. (By the way, for cookies, you will find fun ideas at Christmas Cookies on the web.) Decorate with what you already own, or trade with another family. And give what you can of your time and charity to the growing needy on our streets and in shelters.

-Avoid Planning Lavish Events

Will your toddler remember the birthday party more if you spend $600 on entertainment and decor? Does the Bat Mitzvah with the high price D.J. and $20,000 in food stations help honor the cultural milestone more than a lovely lunch at the temple? From lavish fundraisers to weddings that break the bank, doing it up big is more ego than eco. Haven’t we learned that less is more? Don’t we all feel better when warmth and good taste supercede extravagance and waste? Keep things simple and work within your means. Don’t strive to impress others at the risk of yet another financial setback. The web is well stocked with sites to guide you on planning green events. For fundraisers, check out and for other eco gatherings, visit Special Events. And, remember that with kids a special birthday camp-out in the backyard in a tent costs very little but goes a long way as an investment in the memory bank.

-Close Non-Commercial Offices

When do you realize it’s time to give the landlord notice? When the monthly rent is too high? When you have a suitable space at home to work? When you have a suitable space at a colleague’s home to work? Don’t be afraid to call it quits. Donate and recycle what you cannot take with you from your office or storage unit and absorb the rest.  It’s painful, I know. I’m closing my own beautiful space away from home, but we all have priorities during these shaky times. I pray some day someone will give me a plush space with a computer for writing clever copy. Until then, the basement office will have to suffice. Many of us are in fields that allow us to work from home (writing, law, accounting, massage, consulting). Just one tip, keep the pantry shelves spare. It’s too easy to run upstairs for a cookie in between stories. For tips on supplies for forging a green office in your extra room, check out My Green Office.

-Make Love, Not War

Whatever our party affiliations, we need to ask what $12 billion a month could buy in terms of food, shelter, disease research, medical treatment, alternative fuels and security around the world. Instead, that’s how much we are spending on the war in Iraq, according to the estimates of the Washington Post which figures that all told, the tab will reach $3 trillion. I believe every American should watch the documentary Iraq for Sale exposing corporations like Blackwater, CACI, Titan and Halliburton. They’re reaping a profit while our economy, planet, and good name are seriously wounded in battle. Global issues can seem daunting; so look for simple ways to increase love in your own life. Kiss and hug your partner, your spouse, your children, your mother. Our first call to arms: All You Need is Love. Giving love is good for the planet and good for you.

All green beings know that in the garden that is Earth, we reap what we sow. Let’s work together to grow, green.

Image: shoothead

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.