Whenever Catherine Elliott talks to audiences across the state about sustainable living, she offers a two-part scenario to drive home her message.
She asks people to take their job income and subtract the costs associated with working, such as childcare, travel and work clothes. That’s their real wage.
Then she asks them how they take that money and shop.
“If I buy an item that costs $80 and I’m making $8 an hour, I have to work 10 hours to pay for it,” says Elliott, a University of Maine Cooperative Extension professor and founding member of the National Network for Sustainable Living Education (NNSLE). “Is it worth it? The answer might be yes, and it might be no. It might be, maybe I’ll think about it.”
And what happens if they buy this item on credit? In essence, they’re paying for it with hours not yet lived.
And that, Elliott says, is a sort of aha moment — the point at which there begins to be an understanding of what it means to live sustainably.
Essentially, the practice of sustainable living is a reconsideration of what we think we know — a re-evaluation of how the choices we make in our daily lives affect the environment, economy and society, both universally and at a local level.
The key to succeeding at sustainable living, says Elliott, is to make the best possible decisions for where we are in our lives.
“It’s not that every decision has to be the most sustainable decision, but that it’s a conscious, intentional decision,” Elliott says. “It’s thinking about your options given the reality of your situation.”