does eco-friendly living really make a difference?

For my neighborhood newsletter, I was invited to write about the sustainable house I designed and built. It seemed a little too presumptuous to write about my own house. Instead, I started writing a list of all the “green” features that one might include in a new home or a remodel, like triple-pane windows and induction cooktops. 

Before sending off my long list of items, I began re-listening to the book Realizing The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. This got me wondering if my commitment to “green” living and choosing “green” products even matters? Maybe it is all just a distraction instead of “just being” in the world? What drives humans, how can we reach a greater state of peace in our lives, and do “green” products really make the world a better place?

When we get down to it, all living things are trying at a very base level to survive right now and then adapt enough to allow future offspring to survive. This is true of viruses, plants, animals, and people. 

For our survival, nature has created pain and pleasure to help us avoid and repeat those things that will help keep us alive and give our offspring the best chance of survival. 

With our giant brains, humans have taken these basic biological mechanisms and created a lot of layers. In our layers of complication, expensive cars and jewelry, for instance, can bring pleasure but do not directly relate to survival. They might even create conditions contrary to survival (mining the earth, increased crime, polluted air). 

In this light, are triple-pane casement windows just another layer we have invented in a convoluted web of life? Are these “green” products simply a way to increase pleasure (the temperature of my house will be more comfortable, and I will feel pride in my worthy actions) and reduce pain (financial costs and discomfort of being too hot/cold)? Is it enough that triple-pane windows will also reduce the pollutants I put in the air, and clean air contributes to my survival?

Is it enough for our choices to increase our pleasure, decrease our pain, and help ensure our survival if those choices aren’t bringing me peace today, right now? My purchase of triple-pane windows does not stop pollution, cravings and indulgences for junk food, or impatience and irritation.

Yet, buying triple-pane windows instead of double-pane windows, buying unscented products instead of those with fragrance, buying organic food instead of pesticide sprayed conventional crops, and limiting my plastic consumption still seems essential. But why and to what end? How can learning about, discussing, and choosing “green” products bring about greater peace for me and humanity right now?

On the surface, “green” products are a step in the right direction of reducing harm and ensuring our survival on earth. If I also want my choices to bring about greater peace, I must look differently at my actions and preferences. 

If I dive a little deeper, I can be present in the moment when I am presented with a choice and bring awareness to my feelings in that instance. The action might be the same, but being aware in the moment brings personal peace, even if only for a few seconds. 

For instance, when my daughter puts her dirty shoe on the entry bench, after asking her repeatedly to keep it on the floor, I can get upset and lecture her. She will take the shoe off and one day might even remember not to put the shoe on the bench. Maybe I believe that this contributes to peace because I think the goal is to keep the bench clean. I’ve created a story that we care for things in our family, and keeping the bench clean is more important than the connection and love between us. 

If the goal is to bring peace to all moments of my life, I need to ask myself how I will act, react, and make choices. I need to look at this moment with awareness. I can be aware of my frustration, pause, and ask myself how I can use this moment, the only moment I have, to model patience and kindness. Through my awareness and actions, I am modeling caring for ourselves and our things while strengthening our connection and bringing peace in the present moment.  

On a global scale, we might get upset that the only place in the universe that sustains our life is getting mucked up to the point that it is difficult to sustain our lives. We can pause and be aware of how we feel and sit with those feelings without judgment or blame. We might recognize that we are running out of time as an individual (due to age or illness) and as a species (violence, climate change, pollution). We might ask ourselves how to bring peace in this present moment through just this one action, reaction, and a choice made with awareness. 

When we can stop, create space, and ask ourselves how we can show up–without the past or future– to create a sliver of peace right now, choosing “green” is no longer another “thing” to do but a way of being present, living peace.