“Only within the moment of time represented by the present century has one
species—man—acquired significant power to alter the nature of his world.”
– Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
When Jan at ThanksFor2Day invited all garden bloggers to participate in a Garden Bloggers Sustainable Living Project, sharing the ways that we strive to garden and live sustainably, I thought it was such a great idea that I immediately hopped on board. Earth Day is April 22 and what better way for a gardening blogger to encourage sustainable living than to post about it? However, once I actually set out to write this post, I discovered it required a great deal of thought, and I found myself teetering on a double-edged sword. With apologies to Kermit, sometimes, it’s not easy being green.
In the province of Nova Scotia, the law requires that we separate our refuse into recyclables, compostables, and what remains as garbage. So, living in an apartment as we do, our compostables don’t make it back to the garden, but the processed materials can be purchased by the truckload or bags for a fairly reasonable price.
On a personal level, we’ve tried to implement a greener lifestyle in as many areas as we can. We’ve switched to CFL lightbulbs where practical. We pay closer attention to the amount of water we consume–not leaving the taps open while shaving, cleaning teeth, doing dishes, etc. can save hundreds of gallons of water a year. I’ve turned to greener cleaning products, when possible, using plain white vinegar for most tasks. Vinegar is a natural antibacterial/antimicrobial cleaner and deodorizer and also works extremely well on glass.
In the garden, meagre though it may be, I make a conscious effort to use plants which are attractive in blossom and colour to bees, butterflies and other pollinators. Any amendments I make to soil–whether for containers or beds–are organic, mostly in the form of sterilized manures or homemade concoctions. Pests are left to their own devices; with pets who like to sun in the shade of leafy plants, I have never used commercial insecticides or pesticides, and fortunately, have really never had to. That’s one advantage to container gardening. I would love to have a rain barrel as we get a fair bit of runoff from overhanging balconies now that we’re on the ground floor, but I have used dishwater to freshen shrubs and small trees during very dry spells. In the fall, rather than putting container soil in the compost, I spread it at the base of some of the shrubs and rosebeds on the property. It helps to discourage weed growth and adds a few nutrients to the soil.
The Other Edge of the Sword
As Superintendents of the apartment building we live in, it really isn’t easy being green. This 24-unit building was built about 35 years ago, before the term “going green” ever rolled off our environmentally friendly tongues. This large building leaves a huge carbon footprint, I’m sure.
To give credit where it’s due, the property has been well landscaped over the years, with many mature hardwoods and conifers. Along with helping to clean the air, these trees provide much needed shade during summer days when the temperatures can soar into the 30’s°C (85-90°F) for weeks on end, cutting back on cooling costs for individual tenants. They also act as windbreaks and green “snow fences” in the winter.
However, there are many not-green things that you can’t escape. For example, to keep pests and insects at a minimum, the perimeter of the building is sprayed by a professional company twice a year. I’m not sure of the chemical they use, but I will find out. We, as Superintendents, are only caretakers and caregivers to the building–we don’t control the budget.
Two large oil-fired burners provide the hot water and heat for the building. Other than encouraging tenants to use their heat wisely, there is little we can do to change this except to make sure they are cleaned and inspected regularly so that they run most efficiently. The hot water used in the laundry facilities alone is substantial.
Three long hallways, as well as stairwells and other common areas of the buildings must be kept lit for safety and security reasons. The hallway lighting is mainly fluorescent which is more efficient than regular fixtures, and new fixtures were recently installed in stairwells and lobbies, using CFL bulbs.
So, much of the greenness of the environment we live in is out of our control, and can be frustrating. Concerning cleaning, I have made a few changes. I’ve replaced the commercial cleaners which were used by the former Superintendent with things such as vinegar, whenever possible. For jobs that require a detergent, I use Green Works by Clorox which leaves a pleasantly clean smell, unlike the commercial detergents that made your eyes water.
This project post has really made me stop and think about ways we can change our carbon shoe size here at Kingsford Arms. Perhaps, in the not too distant future, managers and owners can be convinced to implement changes that will make the building greener still. Until such time, we’ll continue to make whatever small changes we can–with the hope that we can convince others to do the same. It all starts with one small step.