It’s Not Easy Being Green: A Different Perspective

“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

Personally Speaking

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.

Twenty-four families consume a lot of electricity–the fact that tenants pay their own power bills helps to cut down on its usage, but that only goes so far.

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.

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12 thoughts on “It’s Not Easy Being Green: A Different Perspective

  1. Wow, Nancy, so much of what you write about is my situation also. We too, live in a Condo/apartment, and it’s not easy to control more than your own living space. I have always been green as far as non use of pesticides, and cleaners go. Vinegar is one of the best cleaners around. And so is Red Thyme oil, or Tea Tree Oil.

    We water only with a wand, carefully, but we can’t compost around here. We do have a recycling program, it’s limited, but we utilize it as much as we can.

    Our building is old, over 30 years old, and very chilly, and hot in the summer. But we have lots of landscaping that does help. Very little grass, and the gardeners are green.

    So we all do what we can, some do less, some do more.

    Great post, and very informative.

    Jen

  2. Dear Nancy,
    Wow. Lots of thought and effort really paid off, allowing a much clearer picture of what you deal with on a day to day basis. There definitely are 2 sides to the coin and/or 2 edges to the sword, and being ‘green’ can be approached in so many ways. Until there are new systems for energy & water usage we all will have to live in a situation where we ‘waste’ some. However, everything you CAN do, that is within YOUR ability, is what counts. Your post is enlightening and reminds me to get out the vinegar! I have been leaning toward more ‘simple’ cleaning supplies, too…and it’s amazing how versatile vinegar really is! What I really find interesting in your area is that you separate compostables from recyclables. It’s fantastic, especially for people who don’t have private land to do much composting. And how great it is that the processed material can be purchased for use in yards, etc. Now that’s a win-win situation! Nancy, thank you for taking the time to come up with this lovely piece and for participating in this project/giveaway. I hope your weather is cheery and allowing for some good times outdoors;-) Jan

  3. You dsserve a lot of credit for all you’re doing Nancy! Living in an apartment may limit some of what you can do. On the other hand, you have a wonderful opportunity as the building superintendents, going beyond what you can do in your own home and making a building that’s also home to many other families as green as you can. Kudos!

  4. This is a terrific post, Nancy. I’m awestruck that you’re extending your green thinking beyond your own doors and to the building you live in, which is wonderful, though it has to be hugely challenging as well.

    You bring up the garbage laws, which I have a beef with. My problem with governments getting involved in sustainable living measures is that they go after ordinary people like you and me, whilst letting big companies get away with all kinds of huge insults to the environment. And there are too many clueless people working in the Environment Department in this province, uneducated but hired because they were someone’s buddy, and not able to see beyond their little shuttered views of the world. THAT gets exasperating. In fact, I get so annoyed by the preachy commercials done by Halifax’s green police (you know the ones I mean) that I want to go through a drivethrough, buy some junk food, eat it in my car and throw the trash out the window. :-) Of course, now someone will read this and think I do….;-)

    ========

    Shh, I won’t tell anyone. :) I hear you on the other issues you mentioned.

  5. This is a very thoughtful post, Nancy. You are so right that there are areas out of our control when it comes to trying to go “green.” I feel like the habits I have adopted are such small steps, yet there is a limit to what I can do. I live in a rural area, so I have to drive my car for most activities. Our state and county in particular does not have a very user-friendly recycling system, so it’s up to each individual to be responsible there, and it’s not always easy. Like you, I would love to have a rainbarrel, but again those are rather expensive. And I agree with you about the cleaners–something I forgot to add in my post–vinegar is a great, not to mention less expensive, alternative for many cleaning jobs. I think the bottom line is that if all of us do what we CAN, it will go a long way towards helping the environment.

  6. That’s a good point about the things that keep an apartment building up and running – and safe, like the hallway lights. Good for you for doing every little bit you can though – that’s the most important thing!!

  7. Nancy, You’ve written an excellent post and shown delightful photos I must add…I agree that if we all did our share it could go a long way to making changes in the environment. We live in the suburbs of nashville…A few years ago the city implimented a recycling pick up program that is threatened because the city hasn’t enough money to pay for it. I know that most of my neighbors will not trouble themselves to haul the recycling to the centers…Sigh. I wish I believed that folks around here cared, but they don’t seem to want to change their lifestyles at all. Not a happy note to end on~~so sorry, I’ve been especially frustrated about Tennessee politics for the last several months. gail

  8. Nancy, you’re making an effort, and goodness knows how many chemicals you’ve kept out of the land and groundwater by making a simple change in the cleaning products for the entire apartment complex. Bravo to you! Every little bit helps.

  9. Nancy, i also use vinegar for a lot of my cleaning chores. I have also heard it can be used as an herbicide on obnoxious weeds. I think half of the battle is making people aware of environmentally friendly choices. Many people will choose green products if they are available. I am noticing more eco-friendly products at garden centers and even big box stores. So progress is being made.

  10. Great post Nancy! You can tell how thoughtful you were putting it together. Sounds like you’re doing a lot of good things. Such a good challenge Jan put together. I’m glad she’s getting a good response.

  11. Hi Nancy,
    When people write or tell about how they try to live “green” it helps all of us. We learn new ideas that we may never have thought of before. For instance changing our cleaning products. I don’t think that I will ever use a cleaning product without thinking about how it may harm our planet. We all are in this together and every little bit helps.
    Balisha

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