The Value of Walkability

Transportation is a huge part of the equation of sustainability.  It’s an issue that hits home.  Considering both financials and the environment, what is it worth to be able to get around without a car?

First the financials.  These days Americans drive on average 13,476 miles each year. Assuming a cost of $0.55 per mile driven (IRS mileage rate — a AAA study showed costs ranging from $0.38 to $0.98), the cost of that driving habit is $7412 each year, or $618 each month.   Making the commitment to get around by walking or biking, means that $7412 saved each year can be put to other things.  Like solar panels!

Now the atmospheric impact.  Each gallon of gasoline burned produces at least 14 pounds of CO2.  Those 13,476 average miles driven, in an average 22 MPG fuel-efficient car means 5.21 tons of carbon dioxide is contributed by each driver to atmospheric greenhouse gases.  Getting rid of one car and going with a walking or biking lifestyle, would reduce the disproportionate environmental impact of an American of 16.9 tons/year by almost one third, and bring it more in line with the impact of a European.

Of course it helps to live in an area where its walkable.   For any residence you may be considering renting or buying, you can get a walkability rating from Walkscore.com.  The website looks for common destinations, like grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants, parks, libraries, etc. and gives a rating from 0 to 100 on how many of these are less than one mile away — or ideally less than a quarter mile away — with 0 being totally car dependant, and 100 being the most walkable with everything one needs in life a short walk away.  According to Walkscore.com, Seattle overall is the 6th most walkable city in the US, with an average walk score of 74, meaning “very walkable — most errands can be accomplished on foot”.

If the cost savings and environmental benefits aren’t already enough, several organizations are offering incentives to people willing to get rid of one car for at least a year in a “One Less Car Challenge” in Seattle.  It’s a cold-turkey approach which may be intimidating for most people.  In my own life, I got into the mode of walking and biking for transportation gradually.  It took re-thinking my expectations, habits, timing, and clothing.  It’s a great way to stay fit, have contemplation time, and feel connected to the community.  I put a high quality-of-life value on walkability!

What Does “Green” Really Mean?

We hear this term “green” in so many advertisements and communications.  It seems everyone is being encouraged to be more “green”.  But what does “green” really mean?  I think of being green as making conscious choices to do what seems to have less impact on natural systems than the standard practices of the day.  It means taking steps to use less energy, burn less oil and coal, send less garbage to the municipal landfill, and cause less loss of wildlife habitat, and using resources at a sustainable rate.  When it comes to house construction and remodeling, it can also mean using fewer toxic materials which might affect indoor air quality.  To “green” (using it as a verb), means to consciously weigh each of these factors when considering every element of a house.

In the spirit of a environmental science project, I will try to “green” every element of my house:  interior finishes, electrical use, space heating, water heating, refrigeration, cooking, water and waste water, food production, solid waste, landscaping, wildlife habitat.

Another different but common use of the term “green” relates to economics.  Green is the color of money.  The environment and the economy have an inherent relationship.  So another element of sustainability in the Green My Bungalow project is financial.  Whatever “green” improvements are made, they also need to make financial sense.  But in the spirit of going green, I’ll need to also think outside the box of conventional wisdom in financial justification.  I will apply long-term, systemic, sustainable thinking to the financial side of the equation.  I have to beleive that if it makes sense for the sustainability of the natural environment, it must also make sense financially, one way or another.