By Ali Manns

    SLOW (Sustainable Living Out West) Gardening
    A new column bringing greater sustainability to our westside homes and community

    If you’re just setting out on this journey it can be hard to know where to begin. In an ideal world, we might all instantly switch to eating only organic food, wearing ethically-made clothes, driving electric cars, living in solar-paneled homes, and working in world-changing jobs. But those are huge steps that come with hefty price tags and taking them all at once can be nigh impossible.

    The good news is that less dramatic actions can still be radical in their positive impact. In fact, I’d advise taking achievable, steady steps forward.  After all, like a muscle needs to be used to become strong, new habits need practice to take hold.

    What does sustainability even mean?

    Sustainability has many applications to economy and society but for now let’s focus on it in environmental terms, where it means using natural resources with an eye to earth’s capacity to regenerate them. Sounds sensible, right?

    Unfortunately, we’ve not been living within this framework for some time. ‘Overshoot Day’ marks the day each year that humanity’s demands on the planet exceed that year’s supply. As a result, we end up taking resources from our future selves – and our descendants – and in this regard Australia has a particularly bad record.

    According to World Overshoot Day, if everyone in the world lived like the average Australian, we’d already be over this year’s limit. It’s a sobering fact.

    Use what you have

    We can start by accepting the challenge to take control of what we can do at home and in our community. To keep with the journey metaphor, we can each find our ‘on ramp’ and identify lifestyle adjustments that are do-able. But in case you’re tempted to rush to purge your house and replace your existing stuff with ‘eco’ stuff, hang tight.

    Buying new things, eco or not, still places pressure on the planet, so use what you have first. Then, check to see if it can be bought locally. Could you buy it used or even borrow it?

    If the answer is ‘no’ then there are three ethics of Permaculture to help guide your purchasing decision.

    Earth Care (care of the earth and all life on it), People Care (care for the wellbeing of all people) and Fair Share (fair use of resources available to all including future generations – sound familiar?)

    If your purchase can balance all three, you can generally feel good about it. As sustainable food advocate and author Anna Lappé points out ‘Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.’

    Do what you can…

    Slowing down to apply the three ethics to everyday situations can offer lots of new creative solutions. If we go back to our sustainable living wish list from earlier, there are so many achievable substitutions for the big-ticket items. They may vary in their impact but they are starting points.

    Food: buy loose fruit and veg, choose no/less plastic packaging, buy local, avoid waste food at home, start a veggie patch or even a pot on your balcony, swap the harvest with your neighbour

    Clothing: buy less, donate/buy from Op Shops or through social media, swap with friends, mend, make your own

    Transport: walk or bike short distances and leave the car for long trips, take public transport a few days a week

    House: put on a sweater if it’s cold, take a hot-water bottle to bed, fix water leaks, pop a draught-excluder at the doorway, swap to a renewable energy supplier, improve your home’s insulation

    Job: share your skills and passions with others, demonstrate, teach, volunteer in the community.

    Whatever you choose to take on, will make a positive difference. And before long your capacity to do more will grow. Celebrate!

    When you can’t follow through on your best intentions, show self-compassion. Life has its seasons and when we face great challenges self-care becomes primary. Don’t judge, but regenerate, and return recharged. After all, this journey should be a joy-ride, not a guilt-trip!

    Ali Manns is a Permaculture Designer and Educator living in Yarraville and can be found at

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