September 30, 2013
By Roland Wall, Academy Senior Director of Environmental Initiatives
“Urban sustainability" is an important concept in managing human and natural resources, and the Academy holds monthly forums that examine ways for cities to promote healthy environments and economies. With more than 50 percent of the U.S. population, including many of our members, living in suburban areas, we must also ask how people can live more sustainably outside the city.
Suburbs often have lower density populations and development, “sprawl,” absence of commercial districts, and high automobile use. As a result, suburbs are often neglected in discussions of sustainability or are criticized for negative ecological impacts. But demographics, building patterns, and relationships to city centers vary among communities. Below we list just a few ways you can live more sustainably in your suburban home.
Connect to your place. A short walk is a way to experience nature up close. Even congested regions can have parkland and walking trails. Use online maps and resources to better understand your landscape and environment.
Get to know your local food landscape. Proximity to rural areas brings opportunities to buy food from local growers and better connect with your food sources.
Learn about your watershed. Everything that can be carried by stormwater ultimately ends up in a stream or river. Storm drains lead to waterways that may also provide drinking water. Impervious surfaces like driveways do not absorb water and are a key cause of stormwater runoff. Alterations may improve property values, particularly as water utilities begin to consider this factor in billing.
Take responsibility for your environment. Suburban homeowners often can use gardening, rain barrels, and green landscaping to reduce their environmental impacts.
Conserve home energy use. Weatherizing and insulation alone can have enormous effects on your ecological footprint. Your finances and local ordinances may enable you to explore more sophisticated steps, such as home solar panels or geothermal wells.
Think sustainably. Whether you are in an urban high-rise, a forest cabin, or a cul-de-sac, sustainability is primarily a state of mind. Use common sense—recycle, use energy-efficient appliances, reduce miles driven, and conserve and re-use water. Your environment will thank you.
This article has been adapted from the summer 2013 issue of Academy Frontiers.