Minimalism: Sustainable Efforts for an Individual
Minimalism. This best describes the way I’ve lived the last year and a half. Moving from Cape Town to Los Angeles to Hong Kong. Apartment sharing with friends, political unrest, and a global pandemic. This has forced me to rethink what items I view as important and worth taking with me. Needing more quietness to focus, I recently took advantage of the low hotel prices in Hong Kong, and I moved into one. I thought I traveled light, but as you know hotels don’t exactly offer yards of cupboard space. So I was forced to travel lighter (which means I donated a third of my next to nothing wardrobe to the less fortunate). This got me thinking. How much is enough? How much do we need to live comfortably?
When we started Rihochem, my brother and I decided that sustainability would be the cornerstone of our brand identity. It was also coincidental that I was forced to live with less consumer goods (due to space constraints), which in turn has led to a more sustainable life. You may think, just because I don’t have a lot of stuff, doesn’t mean I’m living sustainably. However, accordingly The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), that’s exactly what it means. If you have or buy less consumer goods, you live a more sustainable life. A life that is better for the environment. I remember during a student exchange to Boston, asking a friend if he and his wife were thinking about having kids, to which he responded “having kids is bad for the environment”. I thought that was wild, but could be true. Also a discussion for another day. Back to the UN SDGs.
Each month, the UN SDG‘s posts a goal of the month. The goal for August 2020 is Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production. This is quite a coincidence given my current lean (six sigma) lifestyle. The UN SDGs classified consumption into three different metric, namely; material, food, and water.
According to the UN SDGs the “global material footprint, an indicator of the pressure put on the environment to support economic growth and to satisfy the material needs of people, grew by 17,4% in 2017 as compared to 2010”. That’s a staggering statistic considering the population growth from 2010 to 2017 was approximately 8,5%. In short, we are buying and using more than what we need. So what I’m saying is, I have had a lot of clothes prior to me leaving South Africa, and I gave good clothes away to the needy (because I had to, not because I wanted to to be honest), and I can truthfully say living off less than a quarter of my previous wardrobe is not any different or as difficult as I thought.
The grocery retail company I used to work for had a stock keeping unit (SKU) principal we would work with for certain product categories. If you introduced a new SKU into the category, an old one had to go. There was an SKU limit to certain categories. Therefore, use the same principal for your wardrobe. And for your pantry for that matter, which takes me to food waste.
When I looked at food waste, I found that 13.8% of wasted food occurs during harvesting and transport, let alone what we throw into the trash. This also accounts for US$400 billion loss annually. According to the World Food Program 821 million people do not eat enough food every day. That is approximately 10.8% of the global population. That means, we are looking at roughly 20% of all food produced annually, is wasted. To add to that, about 11% of the world's population does not have access to adequate drinking water. That’s very sad. I wish I could single-handedly do something about that. I can’t. But together we can.
Let’s start with food. The way to help reduce your food waste is simple, be thoughtful about what and how much you buy. A yoga instructor friend of mine has mastered this art (not because he’s a yoga instructor, that’s just a classic coincidence). He says he always chooses a sustainable option whenever purchasing food. Which means he knows the food’s source, and does not support mass produced, chemically enhanced produce where he can help it. Also, he doesn’t purchase more food than needed, he never throws food away, and says the only plastic he uses is on his household appliances. Simple, but effective.
In terms of water waste, I lived in Cape Town, South Africa in January to May 2018. Cape Town was to be the first city in the world to run out of water. As in, you open the tap, and no water comes out. So here’s a pro water saving tip. Two minute showers are possible. Believe me. The point is, turn your taps off. Think where you can save. If you save water, other people get water. It’s simple.
So to answer my two earlier questions: How much is enough? How much do we need to live comfortably? It varies from person to person. For me, at the end of my early adulthood; very little. Minimal. I encourage you to figure out how much is enough. Life becomes less cluttered and a lot easier. Obviously there’s an ego portion where people buy stuff to impress other people they don’t even know or like. But that’s a discussion for another day.