Navigating the Unique Challenges and Opportunities of Sustainable Living in Rural and Urban Environments
Living a more sustainable, eco-friendly life is a noble goal. You’ll cut your own carbon emissions, promote greater biodiversity in your area, and help others make the transition to low-carbon, low-waste living.
However, sustainability looks different depending on the environment you live in.
Living in an urban area means you benefit from greater access to low-carbon infrastructure like public transport and recycling plants, but may struggle to find green spaces to protect and preserve. Conversely, if you live in a village or rural town, you likely have access to plenty of green space but may struggle to find public transport that suits your schedule.
Navigating the unique challenges associated with rural or urban environments can be tricky. The key is to make the most of what you have while leading calls for greater sustainability in your community.
Urban areas are a haven for sustainable transport options. Even big cities like New York and San Fransisco have transport links designed to help people get around the city with maximum efficiency. Taking public transport can reduce carbon emissions by 45%, too, as the carbon cost is shared amongst all of the travelers on board.
Rural living can balloon your carbon use. A daily commute of 32 miles results in an average of carbon cost of 3.2 tonnes per year. That’s equivalent to 1500 fire extinguishers or 3 hot air balloons of carbon. To offset that, you’d need to plant around 150 trees every year.
However, many rural workers can reduce their carbon footprint by adopting electric cars and/or biogas. Employees in states like Texas are particularly well-positioned to benefit from the carbon-cutting benefits of electric vehicles (EVs), as the state has made recently made serious investments in renewable energy sources.
If you live in a rural area, you should consider advocating for improved transport links. Many rural and suburban areas have inadequate bus and rail services due to widespread bias against public transport. Advocating for improved links is the first step toward increased investment and improved rail links across the nation.
Modern life produces a massive amount of waste. Most of our disregarded materials end up in landfills or, worse still, at sea. Over 80,000 tonnes of plastic waste is floating around the Pacific Ocean alone, causing ecological harm and bioaccumulation in the food chain.
If you live in an urban area, you can take advantage of a range of waste management options. Recycling plants are typically easy to come by and your trash can be sorted and collected regularly. You can maximize your impact by pushing your employer to embrace better waste management, too. Encourage your employer to complete a waste management audit and push them to adopt strategies that mitigate future waste.
You may find it easier to live a zero-waste lifestyle if you live in a rural area. You can compost most of your food waste and may be able to create a circular economy in your personal life. If you’re new to growing your own produce, consider starting with easy-to-grow crops that suit your USDA plant hardiness zones.
Your home can be a major source of carbon emissions. The average American home uses 14,020 lbs of carbon every month for heating, electricity, and waste disposal.
However, urban homes are more energy efficient than their rural counterparts. Apartment buildings and flats use an average of 85.3 million British Thermal Units (Btu), compared to the 95 million Btu required for rural homes.
If you live in a rural area, you should seriously consider renovations to reduce your home’s carbon footprint. Start with small changes, like replacing appliances and composting waste materials. Budget for future big-ticket items like upgrading your home’s HVAC system or installing solar panels. These changes will lower your utility bills, reduce your emissions, and help mitigate the effects of climate change.
Sustainability-oriented community activities can help amplify your impact and promote greater biodiversity in your area. Even simple activities, like hosting community clean-ups, can protect animals and give local flora and fauna a chance to flourish.
If you live in an urban area, consider getting involved with city planning and advocacy groups. Most cities have strong climate advocacy groups that always need help from members and volunteers. Consider signing up for groups like the Sierra Club to learn more.
Many folks who live in rural areas have poor health and experience mobility issues due to the rural-health gap. Limited access to healthcare means that 14% of rural residents struggle to walk a mile, lift more than 10 lbs, or stand for 20 minutes. You can support the health and sustainability of your community by hosting events that improve wellness while protecting the local environment. Consider inclusive, sustainable community activities like:
- Open a local, organic garden and encourage folks to help with planning and maintenance
- Run food drives and collect leftover food while walking door-to-door
- Organize beach or river clean-ups
- Host outdoor environmental education classes and workshops to raise awareness
Engaging with your town is a great way to amplify your impact and take advantage of the rural community spirit. Start small and focus on building interest with community clean-ups and environmental advocacy workshops.
Living sustainably is a great way to lower your carbon footprint and minimize the amount of waste your produce. However, your environment will have a significant impact on your daily behaviors and fossil fuel use. Learn to navigate the unique challenges of urban and rural environments by joining local advocacy groups and hosting educational workshops that promote health, well-being, and ecological stewardship.