Sustainable Decision Making Using a Trade-Off Mindset

How can I make a difference?

This is a question that goes through my mind often. In today’s world, there is a lot of negative news surrounding conservation, the environment, and the survival of species. Because of this, I know I am not alone in asking myself whether I can make a difference in saving the planet. So how can I, a college student, work to reduce my carbon footprint? What actions can I take to live greener? And what can I do to help the species that I know and love from Potter Park Zoo?

There are a lot of questions surrounding my own personal impact, and there is not one clear answer. However, the solution that works best for me has been to change my way of thinking to what I call a “Trade-Off Mindset.”

This mindset allows me to connect my everyday decision making to bigger picture thoughts that empower me to be more sustainable without sacrificing commodities. This way, small choices throughout the day add up and contribute to the bigger picture of slowing climate change and helping to conserve species like the black rhino – a species that is important to me, especially after seeing the new calf, Jaali, at Potter Park Zoo!

To demonstrate how this mindset functions, here are some example decisions and trade-offs that can be used throughout the day. First, one that we hear about a lot is choosing how long to shower. For many, this is an easy place to make a positive trade off. Research from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that the average shower lasts around eight minutes and uses about two gallons of water each minute. Choosing to cut down on even one minute of time saves two gallons of water each shower, adding up quickly throughout the week! Saving this water allows you to make a trade-off somewhere else in your daily routine. This could be anywhere from driving to work instead of taking public transit/walking or eating beef for dinner, both of which are carbon negative activities.

Avoiding produce bags like these is an easy way to make a sustainable choice while grocery shopping, it is more sustainable to place your produce right into your cart and wash them when you get home!

This trade-off decision process works in reverse as well. For example, let’s say you go to the grocery store and as soon as you arrive you realize you have forgotten your reusable bags at home (something that happens to me)! Since you know you now must use single use bags at the checkout, while you shop is a great time t0 make a sustainable decision as your trade-off. This includes limiting the number of items you buy this trip, purchasing products that are sustainably produced (look for a Fair Trade label on products like bananas and coffee), and not using the small plastic bags when you shop for produce. Now, even though you used single use bags at checkout, you were able to ‘balance’ out that decision by making sustainable trade-off choices while you shopped!

Avoiding produce bags like these is an easy way to make a sustainable choice while grocery shopping, it is more sustainable to place your produce right into your cart and wash them when you get home!

Integrating this trade-off mindset allows everyone to make small, eco-friendly decisions throughout the day. These add up. For me, I like to think big picture. How are these small choices I am making helping to save the earth? Am I saving the animals I care about? Reducing consumption of items like single use plastics and resources like water contribute to environmental progress like keeping plastic out of the ocean, and sustaining water from our Great Lakes. In turn, animal species such as the Magellanic penguins at Potter Park Zoo are conserved by keeping trash out of their natural habitat. Other species such as the elk at the zoo are conserved in the wild by protecting the water shed, their most valued resource.

Finally, the most important aspect of this is to do your part to slow climate change. Negative effects of climate change impact every inch of the earth and every animal that lives on it – including us! If we all make even small sustainable decisions every day, we can work to mitigate damages caused by climate change, and help conserve the penguins, elk, rhinos, and all others that exist here on earth and at Potter Park Zoo!