Sustainability for Suburban Sprawl

Recently in our piece “Exploring the Power of Cities to Move the Sustainability Agenda Forward“, we outlined the potential of cities in furthering sustainability initiatives. But what happens when suburbanization cancels out the carbon savings from the dense cities that these suburbs surround?  A study from University of California Berkeley reveals that suburban areas are actually trumping cities in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 50% of all household emissions in the United States. Which makes sense. Houses and spread in suburban areas are larger than those apartments in cities, and living in a suburb usually means more commuting for work (and often other things like entertainment).

And with  an emerging middle class in countries like Brazil and China, there has already been an increase in suburban life outside big cities like Beijing, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Guangzhou (check out these houses in the “Rose Garden“, a suburb outside of Shanghai). We can’t blame the BRICS nations for following in the footsteps of the developed world,  yet we do need to be conscious of our consumption no matter where we live. For all you suburbanites, here are some easy ways to make sure that your carbon impact is minimized.

-Take more public transportation or find ways to commute more with other drivers. According to the NRDC,  if each car in the United States added 1 passenger a week, we’d cut US gas consumption by 7.7 million gallons

-Use a clothes line to dry clothes. Instead of using that dryer, hang clothes outside in the yard or inside on a movable rack close to sunny windows or the heating source. Make sure that if you’re drying clothes indoors that you hang clothes in a ventilated room to keep the moisture from staying in the air (which provides great conditions for mold or dust mites to thrive-yuck).

-Make sure your house is insulated.  Insulation keeps your house cool in the summer months and warmer during winter. Having to turn the AC or heater on less frequently of course also lets you save $$$.

-Keep the rooms that are heated (or cooled) in your house limited to the rooms that are used. Suburb houses are usually considerably larger than those one-roomed apartments in dense cities. Instead of heating or cooling the entire house, limit it to the main rooms that are most used. If it’s not entirely necessary to heat other parts of the house, you will save money and energy.

-When buying appliances and other electronics, look for energy efficient products. Energy Star certified products will allow you to save money by not using as much energy as you would with less-efficient appliances.

-Change your light bulbs. Being aware of what kind of lighting you use in the house can make an impact once again on economic and energy savings. Look for  CFL, energy-saving incandescent,and LED light bulbs. Traditional incandescent (the ones most people are familiar with) take a lot of energy to product light. For different types of bulbs, check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s site here

-Recycle your electronics.  According to the EPA, recycling one million laptops saves the energy equivalent to the electricity used by more than 3,500 U.S. homes in a year. It also prevents your electronics from becoming dangerous waste.To find out where you can recycle your electronics, visit this EPA site

6 thoughts

  1. A nice list. Thanks for compiling and sharing. Suburbs are obviously where a lot of people want to live, and if done sustainably they should be able to. I think over time the model of suburban living will change; it already is, but probably not to the degree is should yet, but Rome wasn’t built in a day so to speak. Maybe it gets to the point where some urban cores become something different than what we used to think of them as….Great topic for thought, writing and design. Thanks for the inspiration.

    1. Chris,
      You are exactly right. There is so much room for growth in suburban sustainability. Think of the resources that these communities have that they could use— not only the space (think community gardens) but also the sense of community that could spark more dialogue. It is already changing, my own neighborhood just got together to sign a petition that pushed for more park and natural areas (instead of more development). So it is happening, but I think the key thing is promote awareness and communication,(as well as some incentives like $$ savings), and the rest will follow 🙂
      Thanks so much for contributing your comment. We love when people add to our posts!!

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