In Part I, I explored how health and sustainability were deeply intertwined. In Indigenous cultures across the land we now call Canada, stewardship of the land is integral to health. Throughout this article, I will consider the individual ways we impact our environment, as well as which businesses are beginning to put the environment first.
Why Does It Matter?
Why should you care about the environment? Does it really matter if you use a straw one time? How big of a difference does it make if you accidentally recycle the wrong kind of plastic?
Unfortunately, many people do not think their choices matter. Countless individuals in North America choose not to make sustainable choices because they think they are isolated. Instead, they choose to disenfranchise themselves from their own decisions.
What we do DOES matter! Grassroots organizations in Canada, the United States, and across the world are making active differences in the environment. Moreover, every time we recycle or choose the sustainable choice, we are paving the way to a greener future.
On the other hand, why does a sustainable future matter?
As you will read in many of my other articles, the environments we live in impact our mental health. If you are prone to sensory overload, you can change your environment to make it less overwhelming. Moreover, our indoor air quality and the walkability of our neighborhoods deeply impact our physical health.
Similarly, our environment matters on the macro scale. As plastics fill the ocean and pollutants fill the air, our home is being damaged. Our health suffers. By protecting the earth, we are protecting our health. And our futures.
The Connection Between Health and Sustainability
You may not believe me when I say that pollution affects our health.
If that is the case, let me take the time to explain several case studies around pollution and health.
Firstly, the Alberta oil sands and well known throughout the world. In fact, other than the Calgary Stampede, it’s what puts Alberta on the map!
But not necessarily for good reasons.
Many of Alberta’s oil fields are along the Athabascan river. The presence of oil sands has shown an increase in hydrocarbon pollution in the lakes and rivers of the area since 1967. This is impacting the ecosystems of those lakes, as well as the health of residents. In fact, the village of Fort Chipewyan have reported startling higher numbers of cancer cases than would be expected.
While preliminary findings insist there is no cause for alarm, we must also acknowledge Canada’s history of ignoring the concerns of the Indigenous peoples.
Likewise, the Inuit in northern Quebec are being exposed to more and more contaminants in their traditional foods. This is being passed onto breastfeeding infants, who are at risk of negative effects. While country foods are contaminated, many Inuit prefer them over store-bought meals due to the nutritional imbalance caused by sugary, processed foods in the grocery store.
Let’s look internationally!
In Kiribati, an isolated island, their land is being submerged by rising sea levels. A diminishing supply of fresh water and farmland is damaging their food supply. Their very homes will be submerged in a matter of decades.
I had the privilege of listening to Anote Tong, former president of Kiribati, speak about this reality when he received the Calgary Peace Prize in 2019. He was an amazing speaker, who brought the immediacy of climate change to our landlocked city.
The impact does not end there. Climate change and pollution have been linked to extreme weather patterns, increased forest fires, and animal extinction. There is no doubt that it is happening, and there is no doubt that humans impact how rapidly it progresses.
Health and Sustainability on an Individual Level
What can we do? Is there any point in trying to stop the impact?
There is, and while many of the suggestions I have collected below are not new, that does not mean they aren’t true.
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Every time we buy something packaged in plastic, we pollute the environment. Many types of plastic cannot be recycled, and no plastic can decompose. We should actively be reducing the amount of plastic we use, whether in drinking straws, grocery bags, pre-packaged foods, or even bathroom products!
- Decrease your water intake
If you haven’t heard, water is important. Humans, and many animals, need fresh water to survive. However, much of our fresh water supply is becoming polluted or over-used. Turning off taps when we brush our teeth or wash dishes, and buying soap in the form of a bar rather than in a bottle are small ways we can make a difference.
- Prioritize renewable alternatives
Do you have the ability to install solar panels in your home? Can you afford a hybrid car? You’re not alone if you cannot. Renewable energy is still expensive and inaccessible. On the other hand, “renewable” alternatives like reusable bags, silicone baking mats, or a water bottle you re-fill are all renewable resources in their own way! Can you take the bus, walk, or bike instead of driving a car?
Corporate Impact on Health and Sustainability
If every single person in the world followed the above steps, there would be a small impact. But I would not be doing anyone justice if I did not acknowledge the true enemies of the climate crisis.
Large corporations have infinitely more of an impact on the environment than individuals. While our individual choices matter, turning off the water when brushing our teeth is not equal to the copious amounts of water used by golf courses.
Transnational corporations have the money and resources to implement these changes much more than an individual.
I could rant at the likes of Amazon for hours, but instead, I want to focus on the companies that are working to make a difference in the environment.
- Ikea: Ikea is ensuring they are selling sustainable and ethical products in their stores. Moreover, they are converting their stores to rely on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels.
- Lego: Lego has been making big strides in improving sustainability throughout their company! Sustainable packaging, bricks, and the chance to donate unwanted Legos to children keep plastic out of the ocean.
I also want to pay homage to the countless small companies that are rising in response to the sustainable movement! I have used many of these products myself, and highly recommend you check them out!
- Life Unpacked specializes in low-waste bathroom products. Their safety razor is a sustainable alternative to your average razor, and the blades themselves are incredibly affordable!
- Abeego was a relatively recent purchase for me. Their reusable beeswax food wraps replace cellophane and some Tupperware containers in the kitchen! They are flexible, fold well, and ensure food stays fresh. I was amazed by how well this product worked! AND THE WRAPS SMELL LIKE HONEY!
- Villages Calgary is a local store that sells ethically sourced coffee, handwoven baskets, and much more. They support women and families across the world and sell truly gorgeous items.
- Causebox is a subscription box similar to Fab Fit Fun. Like Villages Calgary, their focus is on ethically sourced, sustainable materials. I purchased my first subscription, and I am SO EXCITED because I know I will use every item!
- Cheekbone Beauty is a Canadian, Indigenous cosmetic brand. The pigments they sell are beautiful and they come highly recommended. They provide ethical and sustainable products with minimal packaging. Until May 7, 2021, ONLY, you can use the code SUSTAIN2021 to shop for their products with an exclusive discount!
- Knix is an underwear brand that sells leakproof underwear to replace tampons and pads. I am a huge fan of the breathability of their products, and the body positivity that they showcase throughout their website.
These six brands are amazing businesses that I feel GOOD buying from. I highly recommend you check them out!
Health and Sustainability: A First Step
Health and sustainability matter. The way we exist in the world matters. The products we consume matter.
Sustainability is a stepping stone to ensuring high quality health for all, and each choice we make leads us in that direction.
If you enjoyed this article, please subscribe! If you have not read Part I of this installment, you can read it here!