Environmental Sustainability, Time, and Money

I’ve been gradually trying to move into being more eco-friendly for a while.

Not all the environmentally friendly things are entirely cheap, easy, or things that allow you to maintain your current comforts.

I’m curious what others have done for keeping their own carbon footprint down or actively promoting environmental sustainability. If possible, let us know the impacts to your finances, time and energy, and quality of life.


I’m interested in this conversation.
The only thing I have been making new efforts to do is veer away from meat most of the time. Otherwise I feel sort of stuck with the status quo.
My status quo involves reusable menstrual products and no paper towels and water/ power savings whenever possible, etc., so the baseline is environmentalist, but I don’t know what the next step can be.


It sometime hard to pick which of two options is more environmentally friendly. For example, is a petroleum product like vegan leather a better choice than real leather which is also resource intensive and involve a lot of chemicals if commercial tanning is used? What about hunted and hide which is hometanned with traditional processes- you are killing wild animals and if everyone did it it is unsustainable.


Things I’ve done:

  • Got a used hybrid plug-in car. Cost: $21k, but probably only $6-10k more than what I would have otherwise spent on a car. And I could have gotten a cheaper kind. Generally, my gas bill dropped from $40/month to $10/month, and that’s likely to dip near 0 when my commute decreases to the point where I can get to work and back on a single charge again. Really no impact on my time or quality of life. It actually increases the time I have available because I don’t have to go to the gas station very often.
  • Switched to canvas bags. Low cost, a couple of dollars per bag, but no ROI financially. Slight impact on time, and the pangs of guilt when I forget my bags.
  • Got a smart thermostat. Up-front cost I think was $150? About a half hour of installation by myself, and I don’t consider myself very handy. I didn’t monitor my electric use very closely, and I still keep the A/C running in the summer when I’m not home to keep the basement at 75 degrees or lower for my temperature-sensitive pet. Fairly sure utility bills dipped, but I don’t have any guesses as to how much. Actually kind of increased QOL slightly, because you can regulate based on different areas at different times, meaning we can make it most comfortable in the bedroom at night and most comfortable in the living room when we’re generally home and just hanging out.
  • Replacing all old lightbulbs with LEDs. Haven’t calculated the expense, but I remember reading somewhere it more than pays for itself, so I’m not too concerned. Lower amount of household work because bulbs need to be changed less often. No QOL reduction.
  • Reducing use of paper towels and napkins with the cloth versions. I think reduced overall cost, slight increase in work.
  • Menstrual cup. Lower lifetime cost. Maybe slightly more work for cleaning. Life-changingly good in terms of quality of life.

Things I’ve considered but haven’t gotten to because of cost, up-front work, ongoing work, or perceived hit to quality-of-life. I would love thoughts, feedback, and personal experience on these.

  • Solar panels. $35k quote. Eek. Probably next year, as I’m not willing to go or stay in debt for it, but do want to do it when I’m debt-free and can pay for it in cash.
  • Buying organic, ethical meats and animal products or reducing consumption. This is what I feel the most guilt over, but also what I have difficulty swaying my partner on because it would increase costs or reduce QOL in his perception. Lately have been thinking about raising animals for meat or eggs. Partner remains unswayed due to mandatory daily upkeep requirements.
  • Removing the lawn in my yard and landscaping with native plants. This is a project I’m hoping to get well underway next week. It’s just a buttload of work and probably a fair amount of money. And I kind of want to do most of it myself. But once it’s done, should decrease maintenance work because NO MOWING and costs because LESS WATERING.
  • Recycling. This is a lazy one. Recycling costs extra here, and I don’t want to pay extra.

Yeah, this is a whole additional issue which I haven’t quite wrapped my head around. Like in theory it’s good to buy an electric car and then have solar panels which almost exclusively power that car. But so much material, energy, and labor went into building the car – how much gasoline do you have to avoid burning to make up for the environmental impact of the manufacture? With solar panels, what is the environmental impact of THAT manufacturing process and how long before that passes the threshold of having paid for its own environmental impact? It gets sooo complicated.

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I like the 3 R method- reduce, reuse, recycle.


When buying stuff, particularly clothes and furniture/home goods, I always look for a used option first. There are thrift stores just packed with good stuff in our area. Most of my clothes, apart from shoes and underthings, are second hand.

When we bought our house last year, we managed to get most of the furniture second hand as well- so far the biggest thing we’ve had to buy new was a chest freezer (Energy Star, so we do our best).

It takes longer to track down what I’m looking for sometimes, but I definitely get a thrill when, for instance, we find the exact style of bowl chair we wanted for free on the side of the road.


I have pretty regular mental screwups over this, so I am so interested in hearing what people have to say about it.

Things I do:

  • A lot less meat/seafood than previous (I eat fish/seafood maybe twice a week, and meat every two weeks or so; I do eat eggs and/or dairy daily). This definitely saves me money; my grocery bill is under $200 most months and that includes fancy cheese.
  • I walk most places. I do end up with one loooong car commute once a week, 150mi round trip which I carpool with a friend, and I may drive 5-10 miles around town during the week. This certainly saves me on gas. I need to get a bike again so that I can get rid of the in-town driving entirely (which would cost me, but also be great exercise).
  • We basically don’t heat our house. We live in California, heat is really not necessary most days. There’s a two month period where I’ll crank it to 65 because my hands can’t do 55 degrees all day. This saves us a LOT – the months where we use heat regularly add $200 to the bill.
  • Although I have housemates who use paper towels, I stick to the sponge + rag system for cleaning. Great use of old stained clothing, and cheaper too.
  • We use reusable totes, wear out/fix up our clothes, get a fair amount of stuff used, etc. The reuseable totes cost us a little money, but they’re so helpful outside of the grocery store, too. And for obvious reasons wearing out clothes past the point of fixability + getting stuff used helps.
  • I live in a big shared house. I do this mostly because it saves me so much, but it does also mean that we have a high person:appliance ratio and a decent person:sqft ratio.

Things I really want to start doing:

  • Really work on eliminating single-use plastic from my personal life. This has the biggest impact at the grocery store, because Wizard and I usually go to Trader Joe’s (it’s one of the cheaper groceries near us) and everything there is plastic plastic plastic. There’s a great little hippy grocery near us with some very good bulk bins, but it’s expensive and doesn’t have everything and whine whine whine I need to just do it, that’s it, just do it. I can probably order things in serious bulk through them for a lower price too… I should check.
  • Start figuring out ways to travel to see my parents that doesn’t involve a cross-country flight. Amtrak so far just seems… really crappy tbh. I can work remotely, but I can’t work remotely without wifi, and all intel seems to be that you cannot depend on Amtrak’s wifi. That means I’d have to take a TON of time off work to be able to visit my parents just for the travel part. That’s hard to make happen. (The cost is higher too, but not so much higher that I’d be really worried.)
  • Start sourcing our food a bit better (find a local sustainable egg source, grow at least some herbs/tomatos so that I can guarantee no pesticides/no plastics/no travel, etc). This is a combination of cost (good eggs = more expensive) and time (having to actually, you know, GARDEN).
  • Just generally want less. Reducing is the most important of the 3 Rs for a reason. This will inevitably save me money and time and thwarted desires and all sorts of other things.

I have so many FEELS about this topic. I have to leave the house in a sec so for this post I’ll be short.

My personal problem is that sustainability in many ways is an unattainable asymptote. So, no matter how much better you do, there’s always something more you could do. People who know me from my earliest MMM days know i was very gung-ho about all sorts of things. And I pretty much drove myself crazy with shame spirals because I was never doing enough OR the next step of doing more just cost too much time or money.

So I’ve had to become a lot more relaxed about it.

Gotta go but I’ll end with a controversial statement: meat is not only 100% okay, meat animals are inherently necessary in any sustainable, let alone regenerative, agricultural system.


We eat very little red meat, but I’ll get BT’s back here and say a lot of the trouble with meat is actually trouble with beef and the way it’s manufactured. What red meat we do eat we’ve hunted or bought from local hunters (venison). That makes it very,very low cost (we can hunt on our own property).

We built a house, and it’s hard to underestimate the negative impact of building on previously undeveloped land. But we built an earth sheltered house with primary passive solar heat from locally-sourced materials and all secondhand appliances (except the dishwasher my parents got us for a housewarming gift). That was high cost in a lot of ways - we could have built conventional for about half the price, but the house will stand another ~50 years without any real exterior maintenance (after that we may need to replace the 50-year metal roof). We minimized the cost by doing all the labor ourselves. We also bought 25 acres of old growth to put the house on, chose a building site based on which part had been previously logged, and put a conservation easement on the land that protects it legally for 10 years at a time (and saves us on taxes). The time cost of all this was every free moment for five years without a break.

I don’t use paper towels but do use way too many plastic zipper baggies, though I reuse those. Also plastic grocery bags.

We drive a lot of miles, and there aren’t yet any good hybrid 4WD vehicles, which we absolutely have to have if we want to get to our house. So far electric vehicles don’t seem to have the range we need, except maybe Teslas, which cost more than our house did (and wouldn’t get to it). We don’t add any new vehicles to the waste stream, though - neither of us has ever owned a new car.

We basically don’t fly. Every now and again, work sends me somewhere, but we’ve never flown for a vacation or any other non-work trip.

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I think this is the lowest hanging fruit for a lot of people, just even in the realm of straws and paper napkins and cutlery in restaurants.

I’ll also add that I think peoples’ (in general) experience across the country (the US anyway) will vary greatly as to how much awareness there is. I moved from the California Bay Area several states east. The first time we got take out it all came in styrofoam. STYROFOAM. I don’t think I had seen any “in the wild” in years. It was kind of a culture shock.


Yes! We don’t use straws/etc much, but every once in a while you go to a taqueria and they’re out of real utensils, and you don’t realize this until you’ve already gotten food that needs a utensil. And I don’t usually have utensils on my person.

The big thing for us is definitely buying food that comes in plastic – nuts and dried fruits and oats/rice in bags, our occasional frozen pizzas in cardboard + plastic wrap, etc. It adds up. (I really am wondering if I can at least get some discount prices on oats and rice at the hippy store if I just like… bring a big bucket over.)

ETA: I feel the exact same when I visit my parents. Takeout in styrofoam? Wut? And all the stores do all this double-bagging in plastic bags? Wut?

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The main thing I still do for sustainability is grow a good portion of our food. That said, I don’t really do it with sustainability in mind most of the time. It’s really more about quality for price, which is what I base a lot of our decisions on these days.

Gardening I got into originally because I got hooked on the physical labor outdoors. I got super ambitious with the size of it because of ideology, but usually would burn out by the end of the season. I’ve scaled back considerably (only my own 1/10 acre property instead of also an additional 1/8 acre) and focus more on things that grow easily, taste superior to anything I can buy, and that I enjoy growing. The specialization and continuing to advance on my learning curve has me really excited for this season. Hopefully this is the first season I don’t burn out by the end.

Chickens and rabbits I did get into for ideological reasons, both sustainability (mainly the rabbits) and humane treatment of animals (mainly the chickens). I stick with the chickens for that reason, but also because they’re super easy and the egg quality is such you literally can’t buy eggs this good. Not even at the farmers market.

Rabbits don’t save me money and they’re somewhat sustainable. I use commercial pelleted feed because I’ve always run into health problems when I try to substitute in natural forages but rabbit pellets are based on alfalfa (a perennial, if GMO and chemically controlled) and then some waste byproducts of other grains like soy hulls, wheat bran, corn distillers grains, etc. I genuinely enjoy working with them and also feel it’s important if you eat meat to be willing to participate in the whole process.

Not really sure where I’m going with all that, just had some time to share further, hopefully that’s interesting?

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I always like hearing your thoughts on sustainability, buntastic.

In terms of prior sustainability efforts that didn’t work out, I’d be curious to know what felt like the worst impact:effort/time/money ratio for you.

Does anyone have any creative ideas for how I can more sustainably get rid of my cat’s litter box waste? That’s the one area where I still use plastic bags. One thing I’ve been doing is taking home plastic bags from work, because all our produce is sent in bags and I have no control over that, but at least I can use the bags one more time before they hit the trash. I’d like to eliminate the plastic, though.

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Not sure if this was precisely the worse tradeoff, but I’m pretty sure the one I was most relieved at stopping was washing out Ziploc bags so I could reuse them. Time-consuming but more so space-consuming setting aside space for them to dry in my small kitchen.

Then there’s just the downright crazy things I did using bikes for transportation. Awesome from a physicality standpoint but crazy from just about any other perspective. The top 3 that come to mind:

  1. Biking to work in multiple snowstorms, 10 miles each way. Including one trip home that had 6+” already on the roads with snow falling sideways at like an inch per hour.

  2. Biking to work in ultra cold weather. I can’t remember if it was -40 wind chill or even colder.

  3. Taking the kids to Costco by bike. That’s 3 kids totaling 150lbs in the trailer, down a 55mph highway, 13 miles one way with several 200-300ft elevation climbs. And I bought like 100lbs worth of food to bring back. My legs were so burnt by the time I got home I could barely stand.

But also biking so much with the kids sucked up so much time and sometimes I really pushed the envelope safety wise. My middle daughter had a bad crash that thankfully ended with “only” a nasty hematoma and mild concussion and after that I began realizing just how crazy ideology had made me. Plus my wife also became increasingly vocal about how much she worried about me biking in the winter, and I also quit to be full time at home so had less of a need for solo bike transportation.


Our cat is okay with cleaning the box only every few days to a week, so I try time cleaning it to when the kitchen garbage bag is nearly full and just top the garbage bag off with the litter, then throw it out.

That makes sense! I would be okay with that in the future. Right now I live in a one bedroom and the only place for the kitty litter is right by the front door, so I put it there.

I’m convinced the most important things I can do are actually to advocate for systemic/legislative changes. So I’m a Water keeper (I give them money to do the boring legal work of enforcing the clean water act, contact electeds when they tell me to, etc), and I frequently contact my local/regional electeds about transit issues.

Otherwise, I choose the more expensive renewable-sources power plan for my electricity (costs an extra… few dollars a month? My electricity hasn’t run over $65 in this place so I don’t pay attention); I don’t have a car or kids; I buy most clothes secondhand; I use rags and reusable food containers; I buy stupidly expensive pastured meat. I don’t work too hard on recycling because I know it’s not really getting recycled atm :confused:


Completely agree with this. And while I do try to make personal efforts, (composting, recycling, used clothes, mainly just local travel, walk everywhere, avoid plastics in stores and buy in bulk, don’t go out to eat, get coffee for there when I do go, local farmers with pasture for meat and eggs, etc etc) I also realize my most important improvements I could make are related to more time and money toward policy change on a large level.

Oh yeah, we do this too. For just a few bucks more per month it works out, all our electric comes from hydro (mainly) or wind or biofuels or solar, vs any of our ‘portion’ being from coal or natural gas. Holla atcha Oregon. A huge portion of our electric is already hydro, awesome enough.

The space thing kills me on this. I just try to minimize my use, but the level of frustration it brings to my husband and I to have those little bag everywhere… ughhh. I can’t do it =(