Simple living and sustainable living are not necessarily the same thing, although the terms may seem to be interchangeable for some people. That might sound like a strange opinion (hey, it’s only one of many) but the difference lies in what sustainable means, or indeed what it means to you or to me. It is a word which has suffered great abuse lately, every marketing Tom, Dick and Harriet has (ab)used the word to sell one thing or another – green-washing.

What does it mean to me? I find it hard to define clearly and succinctly but it has to do with living and using earth’s resources in a manner which does not have a negative impact on future generations or the earth herself. Ok, that was my first go and already I can see that I need to edit it to – striving to live and use resources in a manner which does not have a negative impact on future generations or the earth herself.

I have read quite a few blogs where the two terms are loosely used to mean the same thing, where there is an assumption that people in the “simple living” community (to coin an Americanism) are living sustainably. Some of them probably are but many people who are practising simple living are doing so primarily in order to reduce debt. There is absolutely nothing wrong in that, debt avoidance and debt reduction are very powerful ways to take responsibility for your life.

However it means that these people are making solely financial choices and thinking only in terms of money and how to reduce their living expenses. If this results in their buying fewer toxic chemicals to clean their houses or growing their own veg then that is a great result but the benefit is purely incidental.

Hopefully, for many of these people there will be a change of mind set as they realise that the benefits are not just financial and so begin to look at their life choices (and buying choices) not just in terms of money but in terms of the environmental impact and the impact on their children learning to be more thoughtful consumers.

Taking a little more time to think carefully about buying a product can be very empowering. There are often many things to consider. Where was it produced? How well are the workers paid? Is there a Fair Trade product available? If so can I encourage my local store to stock it instead? Are there lots of toxic chemicals in this product or were nasty things used in it’s production? Do I need it or just want it?

Not buying as much “stuff” does reduce negative impact on the environment in many ways, check out The Story of Stuff.

What does sustainable living mean for you? I’d would love to hear what you think…

Gas Guzzler

Yesterday I was sitting in my van in a carpark, writing my shopping list – boy, aren’t I organised? Anyway, there I was, minding my own business for a short while, looking about me for inspiration for the shopping, when I noticed that a SUV parked in front of me had a 6 litre engine! Wow, I thought, 6 litres, who needs that?

This is Ireland, we don’t have huge mountain ranges to cross or dangerous deserts, the vehicle didn’t even have a tow hitch so pulling large horse boxes wasn’t a good reason to have a 6litre engine.

It’s not as though I drive an electric car (yet) or even a hybrid myself, I am no transport angel with my 2.5litre diesel work van. I think that I was just a bit amazed and I admit to still being a bit amazed and confused by an engine of that capacity.

Perhaps I noticed the vehicle because I had recently read a blog post somewhere about transport and oil (sorry, can’t remember which one it was, read too many that day, if you recognise it let me know) and on reading the post an SUV driver had been offended.

He commented that drivers such as himself were an easy target and perhaps he is right but I think that if you drive to the shops in a 6litre gas guzzler that really you are not doing yourself , or the planet, any favours.

His excuse for continuing to use the big tank (suv) was that if he didn’t use it the suv would end up in a landfill (perhaps he hasn’t heard about metal recycling) or that some other person would be driving around in it. He also stated that if someone were to give him a hybrid car he would drive that – nice of him!

I reckon he could always do what we used to do with old cars in Ireland before we discovered the environment (!) – leave the car in the field and use it as a hen house…