First Steps to Creating a Sustainable HomePosted by Whole Earth | 04.06.2022
First Steps to Creating a Sustainable Home
Wondering what you can do to live more sustainably? We have some book suggestions to get you started plus a few DIY cleaning product recipes to try.
As the news about climate change becomes ever more insistent, many of us wonder what we, as individuals, can do. The problem seems so large and pervasive that surely any actions we might take would be too small to be of any real benefit. But despite this, many of us are working to make a sustainable life for ourselves and our loved ones. So where to begin?
How do we reduce our carbon footprint, work towards zero waste, become more self-reliant for food, and keep our home and clothing clean without resorting to chemicals that can be harmful to us and the planet? We're happy to say that Whole Earth has books that can help us take those first steps!
The Climate Diet - 50 Simple Ways to Trim Your Carbon Footprint by Paul Greenberg
What can we do to reduce carbon emissions that are contributing to the warming of the planet? If you're looking for a succinct list, this is your book. And if you're already closely monitoring your carbon footprint, it may be an excellent book to share with someone who wants to learn more. Individual chapters look into Eating and Drinking, Making Families, Staying Home, Leaving Home, Saving and Spending, and advocacy in Fighting and Winning. Each section begins with the easiest actions to take and works toward those that may prove more difficult. The book is filled with facts. Some are surprising like the food that delivers the most nutrients with the least absolute emissions is the humble carrot. Some facts we might never have associated with a carbon footprint. Others may be more difficult to face. But if we are going to meet today's challenges so we can pass on a livable planet to our children and grandchildren, we need start somewhere. The Climate Diet is a good choice.
The Sustainable(ish) Guide to Green Parenting by Jen Gale
The Sustainable(ish) Guide to Green Parenting is a book about changing habits and creating a new sustainable(ish) normal at home with our families. Many of the changes suggested are simple ones that were everyday habits for people of our grandparents' generation. And though they are simple, they may not necessarily be easy today. We are daily bombarded with products offering us convenience, but many come at a cost to the planet. As parents, we begin to take a longer view and want to do our part to secure a livable future for our children, their children and generations to come. As a family, compromise will play an important role in getting everyone more or less on board with each change. Accept the fact that it probably won't be a perfectly green home. But rejoice that progress is being made, can continue, and even grow. The Sustainable(ish) Guide to Green Parenting is a British book so some of the word usages may seem strange and some of the products suggested aren't available here. But, the internet can be your interpreter to tell you that a crisp is a potato chip, and it can help you find similar products that are available in the U.S.
101 Ways to Go Zero Waste by Kathryn Kellogg
So what exactly is zero waste? According to Kathryn Kellogg, the goal of zero waste is "to send nothing to a landfill. Reduce what we need, reuse as much as we can, send little as possible to be recycled, and compost what's left." In short, zero waste focuses on not creating trash. Our linear economy takes resources from the Earth, transforms them into products which are used, then thrown into the trash and eventually a landfill. Zero waste is moving toward a circular economy where resources are returned to the system for reuse and trash is no more. In 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste, Kellogg has suggestions for reducing waste in the kitchen and cooking, for bathroom products and personal care, and cleaning products made with DIY recipes that will cut down on packaging and save money. She encourages us to expand our understanding of the things we bring into our homes. They have a life beyond the time spent with us. Who made them, where, and with what resources? How did they come to us? And when we have finished with them, hopefully wearing them out, where do they go next? Do they become part of the circular economy, are they buried in a landfill, or heading out to sea? This book contains many ideas that can be easily adapted to help make our homes more sustainable and on the way to zero waste.
The Heirloom Gardener: Traditional Plants and Skills for the Modern World by John Forti
Looking for inspiration to create a more sustainable life? The Heirloom Gardener: Traditional Plants and Skills for the Modern World by John Forti is an appreciation of the gardening knowledge and skills of past generations. It's an A to Z compendium that begins with Angelica and ends with Zucchini. In between Forti includes brief essays on each topic including individual herbs, flowers and trees, garden and kitchen craft, ethnobotany, seasonality, old ways, foraging and so much more. These short essays convey tantalizing bits of information and encourage further exploration and practical application at home. Forti says, "This book is about building upon a sense of place to promote health, happiness, and common ground, whether it be your own backyard homestead, farmstead or community. I offer it as a garden historian's pathway to remembering the joys and lessons that pre-industrial technologies and heirloom garden crafts can offer if we choose to adapt them to foster a more sustainable future." Think of The Heirloom Gardener as a bouquet of possibilities. Choose one or several topics and go forth to learn the old ways.
Ferment: A Guide to the Ancient Art of Culturing Foods by Holly Davis and Fermenting: Pickles, Kimchi, Kefir, Kombucha, Sourdough, Yogurt, Cheese and More! by Wardee Harmon
Fermented foods are found on tables around the world and many have been adopted into American cuisine. Of sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory tastes, fermented foods fall into the sour category. Think pickles or sourdough bread. Fermented foods have been made at home for generations. However, many of us do not have a family member to share techniques and safety measures so we turn to books to learn. Please remember to use your best judgement when making and eating fermented foods. While the benefits of probiotics are generally assumed these days, these authors are not medical authorities. If you have questions or concerns, please ask your doctor.
Ferment: A Guide to the Ancient Art of Culturing Foods by Holly Davis is a beautiful book full of inspiring ideas and recipes. She introduces us to the science and techniques of fermentation, with a particular emphasis on cleanliness. The book is then divided into sections: Activate, Capture, Steep, Infuse, Leaven, Incubate, and Cure. The recipes are simple and the instructions easy to follow. The recipes range from the Creamiest Oat and Rye Porridge to assorted Fruit Shrubs, Clotted Cream to Kombucha Champagne, Classic Kimchi and much more.
Fermenting: Pickles, Kimchi, Kefir, Kombucha, Sourdough, Yogurt, Cheese and More! by Wardee Harmon is an updated version of the well-regarded The Complete Idiot's Guide to Fermenting Foods. While the book cannot hold a candle to the beauty of Ferment, it too is filled with useful information and recipes. Starting with Fermentation Basics, Harmon then moves on the chapters on Vegetables, Fruits, Condiments, Nonalcoholic Beverages, Alcoholic Beverages, Beans, Grains, Noncheese Cultured Dairy, Simple Cheeses and Meats and Fishes. Fermenting also includes a small glossary and a Great Resources section with books, websites and sources for cultures and supplies.
Clean Green: Tips and Recipes for a Naturally Clean, More Sustainable Home by Jen Chillingsworth
Clean Green is a small book jam packed with information. Jen Chillingsworth shares her daily, weekly and seasonal cleaning regimens. For example, if you are among those of us who make the bed first thing in the morning, she suggests leaving it unmade for an hour so it can air out. She provides a survey of green cleaning tools and ingredients and then provides recipes for cleaning in the kitchen, bath and laundry. She's careful to warn against the use of some ingredients on porous stone or granite surfaces as well as cautioning against the combination of some common household cleaners. This is a British book but American terminology, when needed, and measurements are included in parentheses. There's also a short section on essential oils and how to blend them to add a pleasant scent to your green cleaning creations.
Homemade Cleaning Product Recipes
At Whole Earth, we work with some crafty DIY folks. Whole Earthling Rani's pandemic projects included learning to make homemade cleaning products. As she says, they're not difficult to make, supplies are easy to get and are super cheap when you consider how many uses you get out of each one. So here are a few of Rani's recipes and notes for homemade cleaning products.
Gentle Surface Scrub
*For pots & pans, tile grout, counters/sinks.
¾ cup baking soda
¼ cup liquid Castille soap (Dr. Bronner's)
1 tablespoon hydrogen peroxide
5-10 drops essential oils
Combine in a bowl and mix well to form a thick paste. Store in an airtight container for up to three months. Let tough grime sit under the paste for an even deeper clean.
Granite & Marble Cleaner
¼ cup rubbing alcohol
1 ½ cups water
½ teaspoon liquid Castile soap
10 drops essential oils
Combine in a mixing bowl. Transfer mixture into a spray bottle.
1 cup washing soda
1 cup baking soda
¼ cup citric acid
1 cup kosher salt
5 drops essential oils
1 cup water
Combine all the ingredient except the water into a bowl and mix well. Add water gently, stirring constantly to avoid too much reaction. The mixture WILL bubble, just keep stirring. Mix until combined. The mixture should be somewhat thin, but still able to hold its shape.
There are many ways to form your tabs. You can use a silicone mold, ice cube trays, or even just a cookie scoop. Just make sure whatever mold you use will fit in your dishwasher detergent compartment. Spoon the mixture into your mold and allow it to air dry. If using a scoop, turn the tabs out onto a piece of parchment paper and allow them to air dry.
**The scoop method where the tabs are exposed to air will allow them to dry more quickly. If you are using the mold method, you may need to let them sit overnight to stiffen up. If they are still a little soft when you turn them out, it’s okay – just let them air dry outside of the mold for a bit.
Window & Glass Cleaner
2 tablespoons rubbing alcohol
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 1/2 cups warm water
3-5 drops essential oils
Combine all the ingredients in a 16 oz spray bottle. Spray on windows & wipe clean with cloth or newspaper. Shake well & often during use as the cornstarch will settle.
Laundry Detergent (powder)
2 cups washing soda
2 cups baking soda
2 cups borax
1 bar grated Castille soap (Dr. Bronner's or soap of choice)
~20 drops essential oils
Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly in a container. Use a measuring spoon or cup to add to your laundry as you would any dry detergent. Add between 3 tablespoons – ¼ cup per load of laundry depending on size. You can be conservative with this soap.
** A Note on Essential Oils.
Any of these recipes can be made fragrance free simply by omitting the essential oils. You are also welcome to add more or less, depending on your preferences.
For laundry, we prefer calming scents like lavender.
For dish cleaning products, citrus scents are nice and refreshing.
For surface cleaners you can try essential oils with antibacterial properties, like peppermint, lemongrass or eucalyptus.