Can Financial Independence Actually Reduce Your Carbon Footprint?
For those of you who’ve read my book (and if you haven’t, picture me finger-wagging you right now, go read it!) you’ll know that I am BIG on sustainability. Not so much that I use my bathwater to run my dishwasher or live off the grid of anything like that, but more so being conscious of my consumption. We’ve gotten way too comfortable with the luxuries of modern-day living, that we lose sight of the fact that there are almost 8 billion of us on this precious planet of ours, and it's the only one we've got. 8 billion people who need water, food, shelter, etc. Even worse for us in this beautiful country of the USA. According to the Global Footprint Network, we would need 5, yes 5 planet Earth's worth of resources if everyone lives as we do in America, and that analysis was in 2008! Even worse, America is the #1 trash-producing country in the world. Not a 1st place ribbon I’d want to wear proudly, let alone multiple years in a row. That’s part of the reason I was motivated to start a zero-waste side hustle.
This post is not meant to shame you. Or me, or anyone else for that matter. You’re here because you want to reach financial independence, otherwise, I’d assume you’d rather be laying out by the pool watching reality TV or something (no judgment). Well, I’m here to encourage us, as amazing Americans, that we can do better. Even for all of our flaws, there’s really no other country I’d rather call home. We have a lot to be proud of! (Except the trash problem).
Aside from the posts in my book about sustainability and zero waste, one of my favorite books that I’ve talked about is Your Money or Your Life. This book fundamentally helped me reshape what I buy and the reason why I buy it. There are many videos, blogs, etc that you may like, that help you create a Zero-Waste Kitchen or align with the practices of Minimalism.
Honestly, it just comes down to intentionality and knowing that our consumption has impacts. Making small changes to our consumption can not only reduce our carbon footprint, but it can also align our spending in a way the accelerates the journey to financial independence.
For example, when you ditch buying plastic water bottles and sugary drinks at the convenience store, that’s not only money and plastic saved but your time as well. Keep that reusable water bottle in your backpack or go bag, and you’ll save so much time not diverting on your route to stop at a convenience store, deciding what you want, and then waiting in line to pay. Moving to a walkable/bikeable or transit-oriented neighborhood cuts down on gas, maintenance, and insurance, while getting rid of a car entirely can save substantially more. Buying clothes from a second-hand store or clothing exchange is much cheaper than buying new, and some places even let you donate your old clothes for credits! Talk about a closed-loop system. You keep your unappealing clothes out of the landfill and save even more money by giving clothes a second life. Or at least, try buying quality staples you’ll use often from companies like Patagonia that use recycled materials or offset their carbon emissions.
For travel, consider using companies that offset your carbon emissions or offer a carbon-neutral trip, such as Delta Airlines or Lyft. While it may not save you money directly, it will hopefully make you more mindful of the cost of your travel, so you travel less. Or, if you must travel, at least you’re doing the least amount of travel and cutting your emissions.
If you must own a car, check out which hybrid and electric cars have the best rebates and incentives. That way, you are investing in spending less on gas, and also bringing down the cost of the car itself. Be sure to check out your state’s specific rebates as these do change regularly.
If you’re able to downsize, not only are you going to reduce your rent/mortgage, but also your utilities. Less space to heat/cool, combined with less water if you have less landscaping, will be a boon to your monthly finances.
As far as investing your money, you can even potentially earn better returns by investing in funds aligned with ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) standards.
If you grow your own produce, or pack your own lunch, there is a ton of savings, since food is usually one of the top spending categories after housing and transportation. Maybe gardening or cooking, you find a knack for certain foods or dishes, and that prevents you from doing a not-so-FI-friendly activity such as shopping online or bar-hopping. Even better, score a reusable container for lunch and some solid cutlery so you stop spending on disposable bags and utensils.
Once you are FI, the ability to reduce your carbon footprint expands even more. No more commute to the office or job site. No more rushing to grab a quick overpriced and over-packaged lunch during your 30 minutes of intra-day freedom. You have more time to comparison shop, when you actually do need something. You become more conscious as to what you need to buy, and invest in experiences you enjoy instead. You have more time, so maybe biking to the store instead of driving doesn’t sound so bad. You have more time to garden and cook. Maybe you’ll even take up sewing! (Ok I know, I’m going overboard, I’ll stop :)) The point is, Financial Independence gives you time, and time paves the way for self-reflection, mindfulness, and conscious consumption. You can start today with the tips above, and if I missed some glaring ones, post them in the comments below! You’d be surprised how many areas of your life you can go green, and yes I’m gonna say it, save green as well.