Friday, December 30, 2011

Lessons from the Lessen Impact Challenge

A while back I won EcoFront’s Lessen Impact Challenge. Many of the daily and weekly challenges aligned with the lifestyle Rebekah and I have already committed to (biking to work, eating fresh foods, buying local, recycling and composting to name a few) and were easily accomplished. Naturally, meeting the challenges that were not our established habits took the most effort. My affection towards using copious amounts of paper towels, love of long hot showers, and delight of a well-lit house were things I knew I could improve (and knew I could commit to improving for a week).  What I wanted most was to see what, if I made the choice and disciplined myself, would become a lasting habit.

The easiest adjustments (saving energy with a click of a button):
  • Using a power strip to unplug multiple items:  After discovering that my stereo used 20 Watts of power while on standby mode it and the other electronics associated with it went on a power strip that is easily turned on and off.
  • Turning off my computer monitors when I leave my desk:  I don’t know how much energy they use, but judging from the heat they put off it’s a lot.
  • Unplugging laptops and phone chargers when not in use:  Once again I don’t how much energy they consume while idle, but it’s easy to unplug them and place them in a drawer.  A secondary benefit comes from the uncluttered space, which unclutters the mind.

My biggest challenges:

  • Paper towels:  It was shocking to realize how quickly and subconsciously I reached for a paper towel. My first step to recovery was admitting that I had a problem. (My name is Aaron, and I’m and addict…) The effective solution was to hide the paper towel roll and provide a cloth towel as a reasonable alternative. I can now say that I am proudly on the road to recovery.
  • Water: Oh, how I love a long hot shower…and to use the sprayer to clean out the blender…and isn't it hypnotizing to watch water swirl down the sink drain? Once again I had to admit I have an addiction (or at times I’m just plain lazy). Awareness was my key to victory here. I recognized that, despite the perceived therapeutic value, I didn't need to simply stand under the water in the shower after I’ve rinsed off. I recognized that a little water and a sponge clean better than a liter of water from the sink sprayer. We started rinsing vegetables in a container in the sink and reusing the captured water for the garden or house plants, or for rinsing dishes before placing them in the dishwasher.  I still struggle with overusing water, but I’m improving.

The lasting changes:
  • The easy adjustments: The electricity-saving adjustments became habits. Anything that has an LED or might consume energy while idle is unplugged or on a power strip and that includes the coffee maker and space heater.
  • Fixing and repurposing:  Before we bring something new into the house, however small, Rebekah and I have an honest conversation to determine if it’s something we need or simply something we want, what it will replace, and what we’ll do with the replaced item.  Also, before we throw something away we consider if it can be repaired or repurposed by us or by someone else. In most cases it can.

What the Lessen Impact Challenge highlighted most is that living a sustainable lifestyle is process, and one that you have to design by establishing written goals. When you write out your goals, it’s easier to determine which choices you make align with your goals and which don’t. By regularly making choices that align with your goals not only do you reach them, you establish the habits that will benefit you and others the rest of your life.  



  1. Great article, Aaron! You definitely hit on some very good points. We can all learn to lead a sustainable lifestyle, even if we have to take smaller steps at first, especially if we take the time to write down our goals. Writing keeps things fresh in the mind - a constant reminder. Thanks again for your insight!

    -Ann Baker

  2. Well done, Aaron. As you know, we are good at conserving water in our 'dry' cabin in Alaska!