Tree Hugging, Going Carless, and a Sustainability Pledge for 2020
Chasing light as a landscape photographer, I was never sure if it was a byproduct or the cause of my photographic pursuits, but either way: I fell madly in love with the exquisite perfection of our planet, over and over, dozens of times a day. So hard it frequently took my breath away.
And as both a mother and a senior portrait photographer, I fall in love with the future generation, over and over, client by client. This generation is profoundly impressive: compassionate communicators, fighters, artists. They — YOU — are an inspiring bunch of humans.
Turns out these two loves are inextricably linked. So preserving a live-able future — on this exquisite planet — for future generations — is naturally a core value. A guiding principle.
Environmental awareness has been a driving force behind my choices for as long as I can remember. Turning down the heat, turning off lights when leaving a room, bringing my own grocery bags, etc… these things are part of me. But I always still constantly fight the feeling that I’m not doing enough.
Which brings me to one of the biggest generators of our carbon footprint as individuals. The one that is hardest for most of us to shift, and was killing me for the past few years living in a non-pedestrian friendly rental:
I know I know… you love your car. I loved my car. But hear me out on this next fact:
It’s estimated that going carless for ONE YEAR can save between 2.6 and 4.3 METRIC TONS of CO2.
(based on your car’s mileage and miles driven per year)
So, six months ago, having had enough of the crushing guilt I felt upon every turn of my car’s ignition, I made a big, kinda scary decision. I worked out a budget, made arrangements to store my car 2 hours away, and moved to a small studio in the heart of Denver where I (desperately) hoped I could commute exclusively on foot or by public transportation.
Oh, and I bought a great backpack to make this new lifestyle transition.
And now… three months have passed since I went carless.
How’s it going, you ask?
I’m in better shape, I’m saving money, and I’m immeasurably happier not battling traffic or contributing to Denver’s increasing congestion and air quality challenges. In short: I LOVE IT.
The lifestyle shift inspired me to compose my first official sustainability pledge. And here it is. My commitment, for both my small business, Merritt Portrait Studio and my own personal goals.
SUSTAINABILITY PLEDGE for 2020
I commit to the following actions to minimize my personal and business waste and carbon footprint:
- PHOTO PRODUCTS, PACKAGING & BRANDING: I’m continuing to source American made products (reducing shipping related carbon footprint), and work with the highest quality, archival materials so that your products will be one-of-a-kind heirlooms that will never end up in a landfill. I’m taking the same approach with my limited branding materials, designed to be used repeatedly, not discarded. Products are delivered in high quality reusable bags to eliminate branded waste (I’m happy to re-use bags & boxes if you don’t wish to keep yours, again, to eliminate waste and reduce consumption).
- ENERGY: In Oct 2019 I moved to a LEED GOLD certified building where my business is located inside my 500sf studio apartment, reducing both my electrical and resource demands. My appliances are low energy rated, and I pay for wind-source blocks through Xcel. I tend to light my entire space with one, led or compact flourescent light bulb at a time, and I unplug all small appliances when not in use. I also don sweaters before turning heat above 67 in the winter. I’m reluctant to use AC and will continue to opt for passive cooling first (fans, open windows at night, etc.). At least until my computer starts to sweat.
- REDUCE CONSUMPTION: I’ve avoided single use plastic bags and bottles for years by using my own refillable water bottle, choosing unpackaged produce, and always using my own reusable grocery bags (TIP: if you have trouble remembering bags, commit to carrying your groceries home without a bag if you forget yours. You’ll start to remember them in no time). I’ve reduced red meat consumption to a few times a year (mostly when I’m a guest in other people’s homes). I’m currently researching shampoo bars, non-plastic detergent options, etc., and can add links when I have recommendations. Another simple way I reduce waste: ask for coffee in “for here” ceramic at coffee shops (tastes better anyway). Buy local, buy used, donate gently used items. OH! And always, always, always buy 100% post-consumer recycled paper products, including toilet paper! It takes getting used to, butt… really.
- WATER: moving to a LEED GOLD building means I now have a low flush toilet (yay!) and a water saving, front loading washing machine. Additionally, I consolidate laundry and wash items only when necessary. I also consolidate dishes, and take shorter showers (every other day).
- TRANSPORTATION: This is the big one: for 2020 I’m attempting to go ALL IN on this pledge: TRAIN, LIGHT RAIL, BUS or FOOT. I bought a great backpack and I’m learning the routes. This also means no flying, and the plan is to stay out of gas powered passenger cars (including uber, lyft, etc.). I wasn’t sure if this would be possible living in Denver, but our public transit system is far more extensive than I realized. It’s also clean, efficient and so far has gotten me within walking distance of everywhere I need to go. I realize this is a huge commitment that not everyone can make. But I’m in a place in my life where I can commit to this, so here goes!
- SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY: A few years back I moved my banking to smaller, community banks with shared values (divestment from fossil fuels). I donate to causes that support climate initiatives, social and economic equality and the advancement of science, civil, environmental and women’s rights. I vote for candidates who demonstrate values of promoting diversity, social and economic equality, respect for science and a core belief in prioritizing our individual, social and corporate responsibility to invest in a liveable future. This requires intersectional thinking as the impacts of climate change and environmental toxicity will continue to disproportionately affect communities of color and poor people around the globe. This urgently needs to be addressed through social pressure (I’m also an avid march and rally participant), policy and funding.
- And finally…TREES! You may have heard that planting trees (by the hundreds of millions) could absorb enough CO2 to restabilize global temperatures and begin to address, if not turn around the climate crisis. While it may only be a drop in the bucket, and should not be considered a “carbon offset” measure (one mature tree absorbs approximately 48 pounds of CO2 per year…meaning it could take a lot of mature trees a long time to offset even the CO2 produced by a single car trip to the grocery store), here’s a start: I want to get my hands in the dirt and plant trees right here in Denver. This would be an action with a community benefit and potential to promote awareness. Let me know if you’d like to join me!
How will this set of sustainability initiatives effect your experience with Merritt Portrait Studio?
I’m glad you asked!
Consultations, senior portrait reveals and headshot sessions will continue to be held in amazing urban settings all over downtown Denver (high school senior portrait session locations will still be customized personalized per client).
BUT, now my business is located conveniently one block from Denver’s Union Station.
So naturally, I will be *gently* encouraging clients to meet me via public transportation.
Remember, every saved car trip equates to real CO2 not pumped into the atmosphere. That means YOU, making a difference.
And already several of my clients have opted to meet me by light rail, reducing car trips. One bite at a time.
CONFESSION TIME (and a plug for RTD).
Not so long ago I was in love with my car (sweet little ‘09 Subaru Forrester, partial zero emission vehicle) I had yet to ride Denver’s RTD Light Rail or buses. A friend had to convince me to try.
Turns out RTD is pretty great. So many things I didn’t know, like, parking at neighborhood RTD lots is free. Or that you can get almost anywhere in the city for one fare, even mixing buses and light rail. Or that you can get all the way to Frisco for $12 or Vail for $17 on Colorado’s cleverly named front range and mountain service, Bustang! I’ve found our public transportation to offer a clean, safe, smooth ride, with no yelling in Denver traffic, no dodging distracted drivers, no parking headaches and no stopping sessions to refill meters (and no parking tickets).
NOTE: I’m in no way affiliated with, paid for, or sponsored by RTD. Although you may have spotted one of my Colorado Shakespeare Festival photos on the side of the Flatiron Flyer in Boulder!
As always, thank you! I truly appreciate you and hope that together we can create a better future for our kids.
If you have other tips on living sustainably, I’d love to hear them — please leave me comments, tips, and any recommendations for great sustainable products you’ve found below.
And finally, a few resource links:
How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
Illustrations by Adam Simpson, Animations by Fraser Croall Climate change can be overwhelming. The science is complex…
And a link to Denver’s public transportation website with info on ticketing, route schedules and a trip planner (come see me at Union Station!):
Bus, rail, and light rail transit service to Denver, Boulder, and surrounding cities in Colorado. Find station…
When Jennifer Koskinen isn’t writing, she is a natural light, urban portrait photographer based in downtown Denver, Colorado. For more information please visit Merritt Portrait Studio.