What is Sustainability?
In the charter for the UCLA Sustainability Committee, sustainability is defined as: “the integration of environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come. The practice of sustainability recognizes how these issues are interconnected and require a systems approach and an acknowledgment of complexity.” (“What is Sustainability?”)
To fully understand what sustainability means for you and your housing needs, one must first understand its components. Ex: What is your carbon footprint? How energy is created? and what does it mean to be on or “off the grid?”
What is a carbon footprint?
A carbon footprint is the amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and greenhouse gas that is released into the atmosphere from your chosen actions (such as driving, leaving the lights on, running an A/C unit, etc). Micheal Mann, of Britannica, defines Greenhouse Gas as “any gas that has the property of absorbing infrared radiation (net heat energy) emitted from Earth’s surface and reradiating it back to Earth’s surface”.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines the largest contributors to greenhouse gases as follows: Transportation (28%), Electricity (27%), Industry (22%), Commercial & Residential (12%), and Agriculture (10%). EPA also states the following;
Transportation: “Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation primarily come from burning fossil fuel for our cars, trucks, ships, trains, and planes. Over 90 percent of the fuel used for transportation is petroleum-based, which includes primarily gasoline and diesel”
Electricity: “Approximately 63 percent of our electricity comes from burning fossil fuels, mostly coal and natural gas”
Industry: “Greenhouse gas emissions from industry primarily come from burning fossil fuels for energy, as well as greenhouse gas emissions from certain chemical reactions necessary to produce goods from raw materials”
Commercial & Residential: “Greenhouse gas emissions from businesses and homes arise primarily from fossil fuels burned for heat, the use of certain products that contain greenhouse gases, and the handling of waste”
Agriculture: “Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture come from livestock such as cows, agricultural soils, and rice production” (“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions”)
What is a Fossil Fuel?
Fossil fuels are naturally occurring elements such as coal, oil, and natural gas that are extracted/mined to be used in the production of energy.
How do fossil fuels become energy?
To turn coal, oil, or natural gas into a form of energy it needs to be burned, the steam created from this burning then drives the turbine to generate electricity or power your car. (This steam is carbon being released into the atmosphere, which in turn contributes to your carbon footprint)
How do you get fossil fuels?
Coal, oil, and natural gas are not naturally occurring in all parts of the world. Coal is mined in areas like Wyoming, China, and Australia. Natural gas is extracted from states like Texas and Pennsylvania, as well as Russia and many countries within the middle east. While Oil is mainly extracted from Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Texas/the Gulf Coast. For many countries, these sources need to be shipped long distances, using the very fossil fuels they are transporting. Creating a vicious cycle of greenhouse gas emissions.
With the majority of the electricity worldwide coming from the burning of fossil fuels (63%) many are turning to more sustainable methods of renewable energy, such as solar, hydro, and wind power. These methods of energy permit a significantly lower carbon footprint, with the contributing factors being the manufacturing, installation, disposal of solar panels, wind turbines, etc.
In order to significantly reduce our carbon footprint as a species, we can begin evolving our energy sources and lifestyles to ones that are more sustainable long term.
On-grid? Off-Grid? What do these mean?
To answer this question in short, when you are on the grid, you are connected to the city/town’s utilities Ex: electrical, water, sewer, gas. This means you pay utilities every month. Whereas when you are off the grid, you are fully self-sustaining and can provide all of your own energy & water sources.
Now of course this sounds much more simple than it actually is in reality. Why doesn’t everyone just become fully self-sustaining? We have solar, public water sources, and composting toilets … What else does one need?
Many make the argument for becoming self-sustaining is that while you have a higher upfront cost, you will theoretically end up saving money in the long run. While this is true in some instances it is, unfortunately, not always the case.
Solar and other sources of renewable energy are continually evolving and progressing every day, oftentimes, leaving your system outdated within the matter of a couple of years. Financially, solar can cost a substantial amount to set up a system that will be able to fully support your house’s energy intake (even tiny houses). Due to this, many individuals will opt for a smaller solar system, using both solar and on-grid electrical power. (Much like a Prius, using stored electricity when available (solar) and gas the remaining of the time (grid).
Many people feel the desire to do better and become more sustainable, but can’t financially afford to do so. Until a public sustainable source of energy is available to utilize, your small decisions are what make a difference. We can make an impact by having a conscious effort to lessen your carbon footprint, following LEED building standards, living smaller, using more efficient appliances, and by watching your utility usage. Small decisions like these in combination with living smaller, do in fact have a big impact on reducing your carbon footprint.
Tiny Houses & Sustinability
Tiny houses can bring a lot to the table in regards to sustainability. Due to tiny houses being substantially smaller than traditional homes, they have a smaller area to heat and/or cool. Meaning, it takes less time and energy to create a comfortable temperature, directly decreasing your carbon footprint. Apart from the actual size of tiny houses, the quality and choice of construction is an important factor when thinking about sustainability. New construction is oftentimes valued for its aesthetic appeal, while in reality, the real value behind newer construction is the efficiency it provides. At B&B Micro Manufacturing, every house that leaves our shop is done to the highest degree of quality and craftsmanship. Our training and quality control experts make sure sills, windows, and doors are properly sealed, your floors, walls, and roofs are thoroughly insulated, and energy-efficient appliances are installed. Tiny houses allow for peace of mind knowing that you are taking an active approach to sustainability. Contact us now to start your own tiny house journey!
“Carbon Footprint”. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/carbon%20footprint
“Electricity 101”. Just Energy. https://justenergy.com/learning-center/electricity/
“Fossil Fuel”. Merriam-Webster. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fossil%20fuel
Mann, Micheal. “Greenhouse Gas”. Britannica. 03.19.2019. https://www.britannica.com/science/greenhouse-gas
“Natural Gas Explained”. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 10.21.2020. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/natural-gas/where-our-natural-gas-comes-from.php
“Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions”. United States Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/sources-greenhouse-gas-emissions
Staff. “Where in the World is Oil Found?”. Reference. 03.29.2020. https://www.reference.com/science/world-oil-found-a8a1616a5cfe765e
“The 10 Biggest Coal Mines in the World”. Mining Technology. 01.03.2020. https://www.mining-technology.com/features/feature-the-10-biggest-coal-mines-in-the-world/
“What is Sustainability?”. UCLA. https://www.sustain.ucla.edu/what-is-sustainability/
“Where Does Our Electricity Come From?”. World Nuclear Association. https://www.world-nuclear.org/nuclear-essentials/where-does-our-electricity-come-from.aspx
“Where Does Natural Gas Come From?”. The Natural Gas Solution. http://naturalgassolution.org/natural-gas-come/
Xia, Vincent. “100% Renewables Doesn’t Equal Zero-Carbon Energy, and the DIfference is Growing”. Stanford University. 05.04.2019 https://energy.stanford.edu/news/100-renewables-doesn-t-equal-zero-carbon-energy-and-difference-growing