USC experts show how you can help the planet


Solving the myriad environmental problems facing our planet? It requires some of the greatest minds in the world. But become eco-minimalist and be part of the solution? It’s easy.

“It’s a way to reduce the environmental impact of our individual choices,” said Jill Sohm, associate professor of environmental studies and director of the environmental studies program at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “It’s focused on reducing environmental impact by making your life easier and buying less.”

The word “eco-minimalism” started as an architectural design term has turned into a movement. USC experts have offered suggestions to help you be part of that solution.

Living an Eco-Friendly Life: Start with the Plate

A natural first stop to making changes is diet, said Robert Vos, associate professor and director of graduate studies at USC Dornsife’s Institute of Space Science and co-author of SDG 12: Sustainable Consumption and Production: A Breakthrough Challenge for the 21st Century. “It’s a choice we make many times a day,” Vos said. “A diet that is, in general, more vegetarian will have less impact on the environment than a diet with meat.”

According to Audra Isadora Bardsley, a lecturer in the environmental studies program at USC Dornsife, the consumption of meat and dairy imposes a tax on the environment. “Animal products tend to be particularly water and energy intensive to produce, with conventional feedlot beef being the main offender,” she said. “We actually dedicate more land in the United States to growing food to feed animals than food to feed people.”

Eco-minimalists don’t have to give up meat. “Even opting for plant-based milk over dairy milk, or replacing multiple meals a week with meatless alternatives, can have a substantial climate impact,” Bardsley said.

A lot of waste comes from buying food in bulk that ends up being thrown away.

Andonian Lottaincoming student fall 2022

Lotta Andonian is shopping at farmers markets. Andonian, a student entering the fall 2022 Master of Science in Nutrition, Health, and Longevity program at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, is drawn to the heirloom products offered by local farmers. Organic foods, Andonian notes, can be more expensive, but she sees benefits in buying them. “A lot of waste comes from buying food in bulk that ends up being thrown away,” she said.

About 30% of food at the consumer and retail level is wasted, Bardsley said, citing a US Department of Agriculture estimate.

To better understand food waste at USC, in 2019, Bardsley students conducted a detailed two-day plate waste audit in the Parkside Dining Hall.

“Beef was 6% of the waste by mass but was 43% of the water wasted when we looked at resource conversions and the water it would have taken to produce the beef that was not consumed,” said Bardsley said.

This wasted water amounted to over 82,000 gallons, enough to supply the average California resident for over 2½ years.

A suggestion from Andonian: learn to cook, “even if it’s just simple things”. “You’re less likely to buy Brussels sprouts if you don’t know what to do with them,” she said.

Andonian sees cooking as an adventurous eco-minimalist stage. “You get to see all these new vegetables and different cuisines with vegetarian options, like Indian cuisine or Ethiopian cuisine,” she said.

Cooking for yourself has myriad benefits, including reducing expenses, establishing healthier habits and, of course, helping the planet. Look for progress rather than perfection, advises Andonian. “As you include more eco-minimalist habits and learn what works for you, they become second nature,” she said. “Then you can add new habits to those, creating a different way of life.”

Influencing the food industry

While majoring in business economics at UCLA, Andonian was a member of E3, the UCLA chapter of the California Student Sustainability Coalition, and chaired the Sustainable Food Campaign. Chocolate and coffee sourcing – including the cultivation and direct and fair trade movements – came into Andonian’s sights.

Noting that vegan friends and those with gluten issues had limited dessert options, Andonian created organic, vegan chocolate nut butter cups. A new business, Eat Chic Chocolates, was born (although it has since closed due to COVID). Using ethically sourced ingredients was key to his business.

“It created a market and economic incentives for dedicated organic farmers and growers to produce ethically, care for the environment and pay their workers decent wages,” Andonian said.

Lead or walk towards change

In the United States, nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 came from transportation, according to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Light-duty driven vehicles are responsible for 58% of global warming greenhouse gas emissions.

How can you solve this problem? Walk, bike or use public transportation, suggested Vos of USC’s Spatial Sciences Institute. Drive less, he said, and consider “what kind of car one might drive”.

Eco-minimalists can have an even greater impact by making their voices heard. “Corporations are responsible for the vast majority of emissions, which means they must do their fair share to mitigate the sustainability challenges we currently face,” said Sohm, associate professor of environmental studies. “Hold them accountable, asking them both, and our governments, to move to a more sustainable system.”

Simple ways to do it: Email your local government officials and vote for politicians who work for sustainability.

Start with ecological gestures at home

Living space enters the equation of eco-minimalism, especially when it comes to energy consumption. “That may be even more important than transportation choices,” Vos said.

Look at everything in your home, big and small, that consumes energy, whether it’s light bulbs or appliances, recommends Vos. “Aim for appliances that use less power, like those rated Energy Star,” he said. These appliances meet strict energy efficiency criteria set by the EPA and the US Department of Energy.

Caution should be exercised when dealing with products advertised as green.

Robert VosUSC Dornsife Institute of Space Science

But don’t be fooled by the “eco-friendly” label, Vos said. Be aware of ‘greenwashing’, a form of marketing that falsely implies that a product may be good for the environment.

“Caution should be exercised when it comes to products advertised as green,” Vos said. “There are questions to ask, including: Does the manufacturer have a fully developed sustainability program? Does it have good metrics for its supply chains and how much energy is used both to make the product materials and for the product itself? »

Delay Instant Gratification — and Buy Smart

The pandemic has changed the way the world shops, moving commerce further online. Is it better or worse than driving to the store? “Wanting something delivered to your doorstep quickly increases your footprint,” Vos said. “If the items are delivered by plane rather than by container ship, their impact on the environment is higher.”

The aforementioned EPA report breaks down the impact of greenhouse gas emissions by mode of transportation. Medium and heavy trucks contribute 24%, aircraft 10%, and ships and rail 2% each. Passenger vehicles, with their 58% share of greenhouse gas emissions, facilitate the “last mile,” or final leg, of a delivery.

The problem is compounded by when consumer products must be returned. “Reverse logistics is a big, big mess,” Vos said. “And often when items are returned, they are disposed of, leading to good circular reuse in reverse supply chains.”

Consider the lifecycle and environmental footprint of a cotton t-shirt, Bardsley said.

“The energy required begins with the use of agricultural equipment to plant seeds, the synthesis/distribution/application of pesticides used to protect the crop from insects, the harvesting and processing of cotton, the transport of compressed staple fiber , spinning the fiber, weaving it into fabric, shipping it. to a clothing manufacturer, sewing the fabric into garments and bringing the shirt to the point of sale,” she said.

“Considering this, it’s clear that the impact of the items we buy extends far beyond what we hold in our hands.”

To become more mindful while shopping, check out resources from the EPA, Better Cotton, Forest Stewardship Council, and Marine Stewardship Council, all entities that certify companies with sustainable commodity systems and worthy footprints. of confidence.

When choosing between product A or product B, perhaps the question should be: do you need one or the other?

Robert VosUSC Dornsife Institute of Space Science

Shopping at second-hand or thrift stores is one way to save. Perhaps an equally important point from Vos: “When choosing between product A or product B, the question should perhaps be, do you need one or the other?”

Also consider why non-durable products may be cheaper. “Items may be made in countries where workers receive very low wages or [are] created with materials like plastic that are derived from or depend on fossil fuels, which are subsidized,” Sohm said. “Essentially, we’re not paying the true cost of cheap goods.”


In the end, eco-minimalism comes down to consuming less. Can switching from milk to nut milk change the world?

“Lots of people making small changes together can have a big impact,” Sohm said. “And making sustainable choices is empowering in a world where it can feel like we don’t have much control.”

More stories on: Earth Week, Environment, Sustainability


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