I basically write this blog because I am really interested in how individual consumers contribute to the sustainability of the food system. I look around and see lots of problems with the way we eat but I’m not happy to glumly do nothing. I figure that if the way a consumer economy works is based on supply-and-demand then I as a consumer have to demand change. It’s part of a “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can” philosophy. However, I also believe that action by individual consumers alone isn’t going to cut it which is why I am studying a Masters in Sustainability. I want to be involved in changing the policies around food to make our food system more sustainable.
I put together this Household Sustainability Index as part of my course. Sustainability isn’t just about the environment. It’s about long-term thinking that tries to balance the needs of the environment with those of society and the economy. Focusing on outcomes in just one area usually brings about problems in the others. We see this all the time on a national level when a political obsession over GDP can bring about negative social impacts or when short term economic benefit is given priority over long term structural change for the sake of the environment. But nothing is simple. Everything is complex and interactive. We can’t ignore GDP growth because it brings goods things (like employment). Businesses do need to make money in the short term in order to be around in the future. So the field of sustainability is about looking at a “triple bottom line” of society, economy and environment. Often it involves finding ways to measure social and environmental benefit and marry that with traditional financial measurements.
I wanted to apply this approach to households. Some households are primarily concerned with their financial sustainability. They may pay careful attention to making sure income exceeds expenditure or that capital constantly accrues. Some households pay special attention to measuring their environmental impact (via carbon calculators for instance). I feel like my family has become less environmentally sustainable since moving closer to the city, but more socially sustainable. I wondered what it would look like if a family took a triple-bottom-line approach to their household and how they might measure their household sustainability. So I designed a simple to use tool for households to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of their home.
This is designed to apply to my own family, consisting of two adults and three children. It’s a list of indicators for household sustainability. A bit like a checklist of symptoms that point to a larger cause. The environmental measures may overlap slightly, however they provide checklist of sustainable habits to develop. Some of the social sustainability/well being measures are subjective and applicable to our family, but they provide good indicators for our mental well-being. I was very close to having a laundry indicator…because the length of time that clean wishing stays in a basket at the foot of my bed is a good indicator of my own mental well-beling! But that was too hard to capture. There is no reason why other families couldn’t find their own way to measure ‘spirituality’ if they don’t go to church, or ‘community’ if they live too far away from neighbours. Let me know what you think.
The Household Sustainability Index
|The Household Economy|
|A balanced budget: Does income exceed expenditure?||Yes||No|
|Savings: Are savings sufficient for unexpected expenses (generally more than $5000)?||Yes||No|
|Home ownership: Does the family own the property they live in?||Yes||No|
|Credit Card Debt: Does the credit card balance get paid off completely every month?||Yes||No|
|Long term savings: Is superannuation increasing year upon year?||Yes||No|
|Carbon emissions: Is the carbon footprint of the household less than 14 tonnes CO2e per annum (see carbonfootprint.com)?||Yes||No|
|Water use: Is household water use less than the recommended measure for 5 people in that dwelling type (see sydneywater.com.au)?||Yes||No|
|Food Waste: Are all vegetable scraps composted?||Yes||No|
|Regular Waste: Is there excess space in the garbage bin each week?||Yes||No|
|Recycling: Is the recycling bin full each week?||Yes||No|
|Family time: Does the family eat an evening meal together more than four times a week?||Yes||No|
|Travel: Does each worker spend less than 30mins on their average commute?||Yes||No|
|Spirituality: Does every member of the family attend church each week?||Yes||No|
|Leisure: Do both adults feel they have had sufficient rest time during the last week?||Yes||No|
|Community: Have both adults had meaningful interactions with neighbours during the last week?||Yes||No|
I’d love to hear how your family measures its household sustainability!
Update: I last week I had a great chat with Gavin Webber from The Greening of Gavin Blog on his podcast, and I’ve had few more thoughts on my index that I wanted to share. Firstly, one glaring omission from the ‘Wellbeing’ section is a measure for health. Gavin and I discussed the role that exercise plays in our lives and because it has so many benefits and can be incorporated into a travel routine I think it’s reasonable to replace the measure for Travel with a measure for Health. I think the question would be “Does each member of the household get the recommended minimum amount of exercise?”
What I am really hoping to communicate in the wellbeing section that we need to think more about what makes us whole people – and that probably looks different for all of us. Having spent a little time this week thinking about my previous career as a voice and dialect coach, I think there is a place for Creativity in this index too. Gavin and I didn’t discuss this specifically, but some may choose to replace a Spirituality measure with one for Creativity. Personally, I think I am more likely to replace the measure for Leisure with one for Creativity. Others might want to replace the Community measure if they have meaningful relationships with others through their creative pursuits. The well-being categories are changeable and personal and I hope our conversation get you thinking about how you measure what matters to you.
You can listen to my conversation with Gavin here: