Saving the Planet While Saving your Wallet

Austin Fermentation Festival – Many local eco festivals have classes on composting and reducing waste.

Reuse, Recycle or Do Without. It’s an old saying, and it’s the crossover point between saving money and saving the environment. With the three topics, we can take examples of each, and evaluate the overlap of where saving the planet can also save us money:

1. Reuse 
Before we buy new and part with any money, we should always try to reuse an item we already own, or that we can get from our community. Whether we reuse an item from our family, a friend, neighbor, or someone in a local Buy Nothing Network, it’s all part of extracting more value from an item and extending its life. As a child, I wore hand-me-down from my sister. Now that I have children of my own, I involve a larger network of neighbors and friends in the community for hand-me-downs. I volunteer with a local thrift organization, and the volume of donations that we see on a daily basis is massive.  There are too many used items to sell in the limited square footage currently available in this single organization, and so many of these donated items look close to new. Whether we reuse items from our network, or reuse our own items before buying a replacement, we should pause before buying new, and evaluate whether we can fill the need in a re-used manner. If we ask this question everyday, we can reduce so many thoughtless costs. Every throwaway item has a cost, every single-use plastic bag, plastic straw or paper cup has a cost to the environment and to our wallets, whether as a direct cost in our purchase, or as overhead in the places we shop. All of it is reflected in higher prices. The cleanup costs to society are even larger, as these items litter our public spaces, cause greater energy consumption and pollution and remain in the environment after their single use is long gone. Always choose to reuse, avoid single-use items, and question every purchase. Your wallet will thank you, along with a cleaner community.

Thrift stores have many items with years of useful life remaining, ready to be happily reused. Many times, these items are made of higher quality materials than items that can be purchased new today.

2: Recycle
Sometimes we will reach the end of the useful life of an item, and we cannot continue using it in its current form, or for its intended use. Does that mean it’s trash? Never! Even dirt has value in the garden. Some items can be recycled in the home and repurposed to a different use.  Many paper items can be composted in that garden, just as many food scraps can be fed to chickens or composted, and added back into the garden.  Stained t-shirts or old towels can be recycled into cleaning rags, just as old wool coats or sweaters can be cut down into hats or scarves.  We’ve forgotten many of the older ways of valuing our limited resources, such as the Depression Era repurposing of flour sacks into clothes and using magazines for paper dolls and similar toys.  In this era of fast fashion and constantly changing styles, it’s feels almost meditative to buy only quality fabric products from thrift stores for a few dollars, and then later repurposing that quality wool, cashmere, linen or cotton into hats or scarves, doll clothes or cleaning rags when the original item has fully completed its first useful life.  In this way, we can have a long reuse of an item, and then follow with a caring and artistic recycling of that original item into something else useful. This will keep money in your wallet, while still having all the items you need.

3. Do Without
This third strategy is also sometimes referred to as ‘Reduce’. This is the most aggressive of the three strategies, and the most underrated in our high consumption society.  The minimalism movement has brought back some of the questioning of how much is really needed to live our daily lives, and we can always build on this movement.  How many items do we need in our daily lives – how many shirts, coffees, shoes, etc. does a single person, or single family, need? The best way to save money is to not buy something in the first place, and the best way to conserve resources is to not use them at all. A Prius will use less gas per mile than an SUV, but walking or biking instead will use no gas at all. It is the most extreme, but also the most thorough and money/resource saving option.  


Whichever combination of options you use, consider the impact on both your personal finances, as well as your community.  There are very noble reasons to go green and consider your impact on the earth, as well as very personal reasons save your green and work towards financial independence. You can work towards both at once, with thoughtful questioning of your purchases.

Marching For Our Children’s Lives In Austin

We’ve been back in Austin for about two weeks and I couldn’t think of a better way to re-acclimate to our former city than participating in the March For Our Lives demonstration. It was a great turnout and we look forward to keeping the discussion going. Enough!

Things Aren’t Always Rosy In Cities

We hear a lot about cities and how much they contribute to GDP and innovation but there’s more to it than just business serendipity and hangouts for the Creative Class. Derek Thompson wrote a good piece on what’s happening in New York and what it says about larger trends.

“Urban planners and economists focused on creativity and networks have been singing the praises of the city-living since the Great Recession (or, perhaps, since forever). But local housing policy, limited family finances, and American geographical abundance—not to mention the pro-rural laws of U.S. representative government—are powerful centrifugal forces that push Americans ever-outward into suburbs with lawns, trucks, and cul de sacs. The last decade was a dream. It’s 2006, again.”

I Caught Up With An Austin Startup Providing Real-Time Transit Options

ride_scout_ride_results

Urbanites and UT students have a new way to get around asRideScout™ announced its formal launch in Austin this week. CEO Joseph Kopser and his team have built a real-time, mobile aggregator and comparison engine for ground transportation options. And with ties to the sharing economy and transit’s rising importance, they appear to be in a good spot.

Two big hooks provide the lure for the app. Its “best ride” ranking is an easy way to see pricing and estimated times. But the kicker is the breadth of options you get. Buses, transit, subways, taxis, limos, shuttles, car-sharing, and even pedicabs are included. The iPhone app has been out a month or so, and an Android version should be ready this Fall.

It’s been a quick ascent. Just last spring, RideScout was still embryonic before placing second at the HATCH Pitch Competition at last year’s SXSW. From there, Kopser and some of his West Point alums raised $350k  and started building in late July.

ridescout_ride_results_2Now it’s in a bit of a perfect storm. Cities are faced with infrastructure challenges everywhere, as traffic increases, roads are in need of repair, and urban populations continue to rise. The low-hanging fruit for many metros is to optimize what already exists. When buses or rail cars aren’t filled, those are idle resources that are funded with taxpayer dollars. That’s one of the pieces that’s caught the City of Austin’s attention.

“RideScout will push highly motivated citizens to alternative modes of transportation, helping to fill underutilized public transit capacity to keep more cars off the roads,“ said Todd Hemingson, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Development for Capital Metro.

Hemingson and other city planners have no doubt seen the light, or at least the data.
Here’s an excerpt from NextCity that pulled figures from the American Society of Civil Engineers‘ recent report. 

“Public transit ridership increased by 34 percent between 1995 and 2011, according to the American Public Transit Association, and the ASCE report states that access to transit across the country has grown by nearly 10 percent.

That’s the big upside. But here’s the other part.

“Although transit investment has also increased, “deficient and deteriorating” regional transit systems cost the national economy $90 billion in 2010.”

Until those crumbling pieces can be fixed, cities will need more innovation from the RideScouts of the world. A whole ecosystem needs to be nurtured around infrastructure. Part of it’s behavior, but as we’ve seen with other trends, unlocking data with the right technology can open up all sorts of possibilities. As Austin City Councilman Chris Riley puts it, “the default answer for transportation in Austin doesn’t have to be a personal car.”

Last week’s SXSW Interactive was a good test for the young company. Kopser struck deals with  AirBnB and some of the car-sharing companies in town and was able to refine some ideas they’ve been building on.

Gensler_installation


However those pan out, it was clear the transportation needle moved significantly. For the first time, for better or for worse, transit-oriented discussions were everywhere. Regulatory tussles, rideshare launches, and more kept things moving.

However those pan out, it was clear the transportation needle moved significantly. For the first time, for better or for worse, transit-oriented discussions were everywhere. Regulatory tussles, rideshare launches, and more kept things moving.

As SXSW ended, there were other indications they might be onto something. In SX flair, urban design firm Gensler challenged people to come up with ideas to improve the city. It solicited feedback using a physical installation (photo above) with the hashtag #designatx. What were the top things mentioned? Mass transit, traffic, and congestion issues,  things the firm described as “practical and things that could be implemented.”

“Austin has the perfect launch city mix: terrible traffic congestion and rapid population growth of technology savvy residents looking for alternatives to car ownership,” said Kopser.

Can’t argue with that.

First posted at AustinStartup.