My mouse hovered over the "Confirm Order" button as I glanced back at the order total: $112.02 with shipping. I took another look at the item description, reading it over and over as if waiting for a voice to start reassuring me that this is what I needed.
The pressure between my finger and the mouse increased. Should I press it? Will I regret spending this money? How will I justify this purchase when I do my monthly expense report?
Relaxing my finger, I looked up from the laptop and stared at the trees outside. What would be the sustainable choice? What would be the responsible choice?
If I replicated my choice across all seven billion people on the planet and then amplified those seven billion choices by several generations, would I be left with something sustainable or something that contributed to an unsustainable future?
Looking at it from that perspective, the answer was obvious: Spending a hundred dollars to purchase minimalist running shoes that required special materials and special machinery to create simply wasn't sustainable.
That's when I remembered reading about sandals called huaraches, often made from old car tires and used by the indigenous people of northern Mexico, the Tarahumara, who run hundreds of miles a week.
A few Internet searches later and I was placing a new order, this time for a small square sheet of rubber and two pieces of string: a huaraches kit for building my own pair of minimalist running sandals. The order total with shipping? $26.32.
Not only was this choice more sustainable but now I would learn how to make my own shoes. If they needed to be repaired, I would know how to repair them. If I wanted to take the design and actually use old car tires (or the soles in an old pair of shoes), I would have the skills to do so.
I'm not suggesting we toss out our shoes and start wearing huaraches -- that wouldn't be sustainable. We should maintain and reuse what we already have; generating waste in attempt to be more sustainable just doesn't make sense.
By using and reusing what we already have instead of purchasing new, we're simultaneously helping ourselves and the planet by solving our problem and removing waste from the environment.
Traveling through India on a budget of $250 a month and living with one backpack has taught me to value and appreciate the potential every item has for being reused. Comfort and aesthetics seem much less important now than they did just a few years ago.
When I stayed on the beach in India and discovered the sand was too hot to walk barefoot, I didn't run out and buy a new pair of sandals. Instead, I spent five minutes scavenging the beach for a matching pair that I could reuse (city-dwelling Indians often try swimming in the ocean with sandals, leaving upper parts of some beaches littered with lost footwear).
(Two weeks later, standing at the top of a windy hill overlooking the Indian ocean, I recorded the preamble to this post, a short video sharing my thoughts around the need to be sustainable .)
It seems that thinking sustainable comes more naturally when we aim to live frugally, but we definitely need to go a step beyond frugality. Much like voting for poverty, our buying choices, no matter how frugal, can also be a vote for an unsustainable future.
We need to educate ourselves and learn where materials come from and where they go. We need to learn about the food we're eating and what it does to our bodies. We need to constantly reevaluate our lifestyle and question whether what we're doing can be sustained.
We need to think sustainable. We need to scrutinize every choice and every decision we make and ask ourselves if what we're doing is sustainable for ourselves, for the planet, and for the future of humanity.
This was quite an eye opener Raam. As someone who loves shoes I’m not sure that I would have made the sustainable choice. What that leaves me with is an opportunity to look at my life to get clear on all the areas where I can make more sustainable choices and implement those. It’s not about being perfect and minimalist everywhere but taking a good look at my own life and choosing more consciously, more powerfully more often!
Sandi, I couldn’t agree more with what you said about sustainability not being about perfection or minimalism but rather about making more conscious, thoughtful, and informed choices and decisions. Taking a few extra moments to contemplate my decision and ask whether there was a more sustainable option was such an easy exercise and I’m going to work on making that a habit for each and every buying decision I make.
Thanks for talking about this, Raam! It can often be tough to think sustainable, because we might not know what exactly that means. The real key is not perfectionism, though, but the intention to make more conscious choices with respect to sustainability and the planet. Intention isn’t everything, but it’s a starting point, and can lead to true wisdom and conscious decision-making. Sustainable thinking is really the key that will guide us out of our troubles. Nature has the answers, we need only ask the right questions.
Great point about nature having the answers, Lynn! It’s incredible how renewable and sustainable nature is when left alone and how much it can teach us if we only listen. There is so much wisdom there!
Thought provoking article, Raam. Living frugally, implementing green lifestyle and recycling and ‘upcycling’ is a motto of my life that I now encourage my 5-year old child to follow as well. Before tossing anything into the bin, we give second thought and third thought to reuse it creatively. This mindset of “how can we reuse it and make it better” cultivates lot of imagination and independent thinking as well – in adults and in children.
Rashmie, thank you for sharing that! Cultivating imagination is so important for children and adults alike — what better way to cultivate it than to imagine how we can reuse things? I love that!
I was hoping to see them on you when you came to Tampa 🙂 I only took my VFF’s and some cheapo flippy-floppys on our trip. Working to move toward even more barefoot-style. Of course it’s easier here than someplace snowy.
I like the idea of building my own minimalist shoes out of what’s already there. The sustainability issue is tough because as long as they are being produced in such numbers already, they are there to use. We could probably end shoe production now and never run out of actual usable shoes with what we’ve already got. But what is the likelihood of that happening?
I like how you do what’s best for you in that grand scheme of things. I’m much more conscious of these things because of it.
I remember it was raining when I left Merritt Island that morning, that’s why I didn’t wear them. That’s a silly reason in retrospect, but I blame it on being in the middle of this transition to barefoot living. 🙂 My goal is to get to the point where I’m comfortable wearing the huaraches everywhere except when it’s really cold.
Cold climates are definitely a problem for barefoot shoes, but I think in general we’ve become too soft and our feet too pampered by socks and rubber soles. Studies are showing how bad shoes are for our knees when running and I’m sure they affect our posture and our bones while walking too.
The way I see production as it relates to sustainability is purely supply and demand: If fewer people demand unsustainable shoes, fewer unsustainable shoes will be made (and that scales to everything: food, energy, etc.). It’s really that simple. What’s tough is ignoring all the marketing and hype that’s designed encourage unnecessary buying.
Those types of changes are easiest on an individual level and I feel that by setting an example, sharing what we learn, and talking about the journey, we will be most effective at encouraging change on a bigger scale (that’s part of the reason I do the monthly expense reports, to share my journey and be honest about the bumpy and challenging transition).
First of all – very enlightening post as I was somewhat aware of the sandals you were talking about but only in a vague sense. Learn something new everyday 🙂
Second of all – I have to say that I’m really thankful that lately I’ve been reading so much more from you and some other amazing people about how to be more sustainable with my choices. I will admit that while I’ve never been terrible to this planet, I also never used to make it a priority to think sustainable. But its been this past year of being more concious about it, reading more about it, learning more from posts just like this one and being inspired by it, that’s really opened my mind to so much more.
So, I thank you for that!
Also, I’m a DIY addict so I’ll build my own XYZ over buy them pre-made any day of the week haha.
Enjoy the sandals Raam!
– Lauren 🙂
Hi Lauren! 🙂
I was, like you, always “aware” of sustainability and even the need for making better choices, but it wasn’t until I spent six months traveling through India, Vietnam, and Nepal that I really began to see why sustainability was so important.
Realizing that my choices, even way over here in the United States, actually reverberate through time and end up contributing in some way to the poverty and inequality I witnessed over there, that caused me to question and contemplate every single choice and decision I made.
And thanks to this wonderful thing called the Internet, I quickly learned that I wasn’t alone in feeling this way or in making such discoveries after traveling.
I admit much of my world has shifted into the virtual realm of the Internet, but I’ve always been somewhat of a DIY addict (I’ll never forget trying to fix a broken vacuum by taking it apart when I was 12 and, having forgotten to unplug it, getting badly electrocuted).
Great post, Raam and the video points were well made. I’m happy you paused before you hit the “buy” button – I’m much more mindful these days too, especially since becoming vegan in January. I’ve been pretty much a minimalist the past few years before I knew the term. Since retiring in Sept. of ’09, I have a small savings from cashing in a retirement account, and once that’s gone, that’s it. Hope to pick-up a little teaching surfing lessons this summer – see what happens. What’s new with you regarding moving to Florida versus your overseas trip? Just wondering where you were. Peace and Love, Ricky
My plans right now don’t extend any further than the end of April. I will definitely be in Florida for most or all of April (I leave Boston on Wednesday). I might go abroad for May and June and then come back to Florida in July to watch the last shuttle launch. I haven’t decided and I’m not pressuring myself to make a decision… I’m letting myself go with the flow. 🙂
Hi Raam –
yes! I love to make art from old rubber tires and find scores of good trash (shoes and more) at the beach,,,living on a tiny island in the Caribbean taught me much about “sustainability”.
I find that island life is the most conducive to sustainability — it seems the need for sustainability is more obvious on islands where there is limited land available. I think that same mentality needs to be extended to Earth, where we truly are just a small island floating in space. We need to take care of what we have! 🙂
I hear you – great choice to make your own – as you may remember I have been long time pushing forth how to simplify healthy living via sustainable means.
Something just popped into my mind when I read your article. For what it is worth I did some work at Whole Foods Market in Canada and I remember reading about Seventh Generation products.
This company chose their name in line with their sustainable business mission and was inspired by the Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy in which the words are found “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.” Just like you they are thinking ahead.
By the way I am now on week three of my tips on how to buy organic food inexpensively. If you are interested please drop by.
All the best to you as always,
I have heard about Seventh Generation products and it definitely sounds like those products are more sustainable. That’s something I really want to see more of: Businesses who think ahead, beyond their yearly profits and individual growth. I feel there needs to be more businesses that focus on community improvement over pure profit and growth. It seems that so many businesses think of the sky as their limit for growth — why not intentionally set a cap and decide what’s “enough”?
Thank you for the comment!
Thank you for your response. You always take the time.
More about sustainable businesses: I believe that many people directly sharing about sustainability and wellness in their work can really help move the world in an even more positive direction. You may recall I am on a bit of a crusade to help sustainably minded wellness business owners succeed more and more since I have expertise in the area.
If it is cool by you I place the link for my work to help like minded business owners. It is http://www.GrowYourWellnessBiz.com
Enjoy a wonderful day,
I agree Raam. Sustainability is a must and soon everyone will need to be a part of it for this world to maintain us. It’s difficult though in this society. Or maybe its just me. Sometimes I’m very sustainable. I definitely don’t buy much anymore but sometimes I also find it somewhat depressing when I forgo something because of the “environment” and then see waste the next second. Kind of like the water debate. A lot of pressure is put on the consumer to lower water use at home yet most water use comes from the industrial industry so it would be better to focus on them.
Anyways, I’m a big fan of sustainability and I see it getting stronger in the years to come 🙂
Matt-glad to see I’m not the only one struggling with topdown/bottom up sustainability.
As a macro trained person…I look to governments/major influencers first.
Then, I get frustrated with the blindness and realize the only thing I can do is change me.
Anyway-thank you for making me feel less alone. 🙂
I think when we look at the whole picture, it just becomes obvious that all we can do us change ourselves. 🙂
And I think there’s beauty in that: All that stress about needing to save the planet goes away to a large degree. The biggest place we can make a difference is right here, with ourselves. When we feel we’re making progress on that front, extending our reach beyond flows naturally.
I find that when I’m not at peace with myself — when I’m not taking care of everything right here at home (health, finances, personal development, etc.) — that’s when I feel resistance; that’s when I feel incapable of making a difference. If our world, the one we have complete control over, is out of order and in disarray, then we won’t be very effective in changing the world beyond ourselves.
Hi Raam, Jeanie, Matthew,
I was just told the story of the hummingbird who was taking little drops of water in her beak and dropping them on a fire in the forest. All the animals told her she needed to leave. Her reply was to continue her work.
We all can make a difference.
Keep up the good fight!
I feel your pain, Matt, and I’ve been there. But it’s a lot like seeing other people throw trash on the ground and then feeling like it doesn’t matter if we throw trash on the ground too — of course it matters.
We cannot rush things and look for immediate results. We need to accept that there won’t be a pollution-free planet in any of our lifetimes. We need to accept that it’s going to take a long time for a lot of these changes to catch on and really have an effect on the world (perhaps several generations). Only by thinking long-term (i.e., far beyond our own lifetime), will we break the cycle of selfishness and nearsighted decision making and start pushing the world in a better direction.
We each create a world around ourselves, a little bubble that makes up “our world”. If we choose to live in a sustainable world, a world where we as individuals make sustainable choices all day long, then our actions will reverberate through time and combine with others to create that shift.
Hi Raam, I can definitely relate to your experience. I frequently waffle over buying decisions because I want to have less stuff in my life. I always ask if I really need it or can I make do with something I already have.
It has been a real struggle to buy clothes after losing about 30 pounds. I hesitate to get replacements when many of my clothes aren’t worn out yet, even though they are hanging off me. At least I will donate them to the battered women’s shelter so someone else can get use out of them.
I’m right there with you! I’ve had similar struggles with clothing while losing (and gaining!) weight. Becoming more conscious of being wasteful and more mindful of my purchases, I find myself using that as motivation to maintain a healthy and consistent weight (I seem to be +/- 20 lbs depending on activity level).
When I got rid of all my clothes before I went to India last year, I donated them all to Goodwill… several trash bags full! While that’s a lot better than throwing them away, not having excess to begin with is definitely the ideal option. 🙂
I try to do this as well, Raam.
I look at every one of my purchases and ask whether it’s something that can be integrated into my life and stay that way for years on end. The last item that I’ve bought (besides food) in the last year was a new pair of shoes. I haven’t been to a department store in ages. It’s really odd because we live in a consumerist society yet we reject to play the game.
I’ve been trying to find ways to reuse everything I have. Sometimes I feel like I’m just being cheap but I know that if I at least reuse something once than I’m stopping it from hitting the landfills that much sooner. A simplest example would be if I happen to stop to get coffee in the morning. I rinse out the cup I get and use that at home for the next few days when I brew my own.
I’ve been moving toward purchasing stuff that people make. Etsy has been wonderful because I love that real people are making it from their own projects; often from found pieces so it doesn’t just come from manufactured items.
Thinking, as you have done, not only saves you a massive amount of money each year but makes sure that your money is going toward those that could truly use it rather than multibillion dollar businesses, ya know?
Anyway, just wanted to add in 🙂
(Btw, Raam, you should totally watch this one show called Wonders of the Universe)
It’s funny you should mention rinsing out paper coffee cups and reusing them… I’ve been doing that ever since I got back from India! I usually use the old coffee cup for tea over the course of a few days — sometimes it even lasts an entire week! I think it’s absolutely a mindset and a way of thinking. Like you, I’m constantly looking for ways to reuse things before throwing them.
As for handmade items, I’m a bit on the fence. I always look for durable items… things that may cost more, but that will last many times longer than less expensive items (thereby reducing my waste). My experience with handmade items is mixed: sometimes they’re durable, sometimes not. If there was a “durable handmade items” store, full of items that were specifically made to last a long time, I’d always buy from there!
I love seeing businesses that combine state-of-the-art materials with local labor to create handmade items that are durable and of high quality.
We make so many little choices every day. A sustainable choice is one you could make again and again, infinitely.
I found this post to be one of your more inspiring – so simple, empowering. I can carry this attitude in my pocket.
That’s a great way of looking at it, Ali! We should just ask ourselves if we could make our choice over and over without any negative repercussions. When we think about creating a sustainable lifestyle, it can seem daunting. But if we just focus on one choice at a time, aiming to make each choice and each decision the most sustainable one, then we’ll automatically be in a transition towards a sustainable lifestyle.
Very honest post ..love the thought ..have to keep this in front of mind…not some where in the back…
Thanks, mom! 🙂
I shall echo my friend Chris O’Byrne here…
It’s hard to realize the impact of our lives on others, both positive and negative.
In our living, we create death AND life.
The same with our dying. In the end though…is it worth our lives to constantly be consumed with guilt for simply being?
For accident of birth TIME I would be consumed in Hitler’s gaseous rage due to my disabilities…
For accident of birth PARENTS I would be the girl in your voting for poverty post…
For accident of clicking amongst blogs, I would not have been sparked by YOU to a better me…
even though I have been/was struggling to uplift many consumers to better selves long before we “met.”
I agree that more mindful consumption of goods, services, energies is necessary to a healthier symbiosis amongst living creatures.
I do not agree, however, that guilt serves anyone. Tis a fine line to tread, Raam…awareness so easily tips into guilt/shame, as well you know. 🙂 You have tugged me back from the brink of it several times, and I am grateful for your balancing wisdom, here and elsewhere.
I think awareness only tips into guilt when we allow fear of inadequacy to replace action. If we resolve to do whatever we can to help, while maintaining the understanding that we can only do so much and that we must take care of ourselves too, then we won’t feel guilt or shame.
Where there is action and a willingness to do whatever it takes, guilt and shame have no place. 🙂
I think that this is a good idea. I usually use my shoes until they fall apart so being able to re-use the soles this way is a great idea.
I have yet to try it with soles from an old pair of shoes, but it seems like a great way to reuse them! Most of the work in making huaraches comes from hole placement, hole punching (the better the hole, the longer it will last), and the threading and tying of the laces. There are tons of YouTube videos out there that explain everything. 🙂
I loved this post so much because it really points us to where we have power. At the same time, it’s not always so easy and you capture the waffling aspect so well. There’s a certain kind of rumination and letting go that comes with each decision. And you are so right on how we need to research because I’m not always clear on how a decision might not be sustainable. There there’s always the guilt factor. So much to consider!
There is definitely something extremely empowering about letting go of something we want, but don’t actually need. And with each act of resistance, we become more capable of resisting unsustainable wants and desires.
I’m discovering that there is so much to learn if we just take a moment to ask and research the questions. Whenever I need to buy, consume, or use something for an extended period of time, I try to ask myself what the long-term effects of that choice will be. If I don’t know, then I do some research on Google. Just the other day I became curious about the possible negative side-effects of deodorant, so I did a search on Google and spent about 20 minutes reading whatever I could find.
I loved reading this and discovering the huaraches kit you mentioned. I don’t need new running shoes yet, but when I do…
Actually, I found myself in a similar situation just yesterday. I went into REI to see if they had any multi-functional shoes that I could wear to work. I wanted a sandal that I could wear with pants or a skirt that would also be comfortable to walk in. If I hadn’t been thinking about the ramifications of my purchase, I probably would have walked out of that store with a pair of shoes that wasn’t even close to what I had in mind when I went in. Instead, I left the store thinking that what I can make do with what I already own for two more months of school, even though I am all of a sudden living within walking distance. My shoes aren’t THAT uncomfortable.
I also Love the idea of using soles of old shoes to make huaraches. Thanks for mentioning that!
I can’t even count how many times I’ve gone into stores (especially REI and EMS!), picked up things to buy, walked around thinking about whether I really needed them, and then left the store with nothing.
Since coming back from India I find myself asking new questions whenever I’m about to buy something: What would one of the 500 million people there, who are surviving below the poverty line, do instead? That’s an incredibly powerful perspective to set before buying something as it shows us just how wasteful and needless certain purchases can be. It was thinking of them that helped me decide to buy huaraches instead of $100+ running shoes.
Great article, Raam! Have you read Born to Run? They talk about huaraches as well. I saw similar sandals made out of old tires and rope last month in Vietnam. It was only $2 USD; not bad for sustainability measures.
Thank you! I’ve heard a lot about the Born to Run book, but I haven’t read it yet. I’ve also seen several documentaries on YouTube and read articles about research that has been done on the benefits of running barefoot and it’s really incredible how much better it is for you.
When I was in Vietnam last year, I saw a man creating sandals from old tires and selling them on the street too. 🙂 That seems like such an awesome way to reuse existing plastic and rubber instead of letting it pile up in a landfill somewhere.
Sustainability when it comes to food. Have you blogged about this elsewhere or have any useful information you’ve come across somewhere? Would like to educate myself more on this one. Yes, every time I get some plastic utensil or goods packed in a plastic bag I think, is this really necessary? I don’t even need this…but I feel somehow pushed from the employee to receive a bag for my goods and an extra fork for my meal to go. It’s quite annoying…honestly, when I worked as a cashier, if someone wa buying a large item or not too many small items, I ALWAYS asked if they really needed a bag or not…I think small actions like these would help in the long run too, for the community – even though it is starting at an individual level. I am pretty selfish with my actions though, I think about desire than is this good for the planet? But would at least love to learn more about the food… 🙂
I think the small actions come down to habits. I’ve been noticing the exact same thing with cashiers and bags… for them, it’s so normal to put everything in a bag and not even think twice about it. So, that just means I need to be more aware and remember to tell them I don’t want a bag. I try to carry everything in my backpack, even food, and then ride home on my bicycle.
The most basic thing we can do when it comes to being more sustainable with food is to purchase items that do not have unsustainable materials to begin with. That means fruits and veggies that are loose and larger bags of grains and beans instead of small containers that will get thrown in the trash.
Hi Raam, I’ve followed you on social media for a while, but never got around to commenting.
I admit my faults in living a sustainable existence. The temptations were higher when I lived in the city. Now that I’ve been traveling I see the transparency in living with what you have and recycling.
When we set conscious goals, inner change can happen.
I loved this insightful post and it reminded me of a book called The Secret Story of Stuff. It’s a small book takes average, everyday items like a newspaper or a pair of running shoes and tells the reader how they were manufactured, right down to the chemical compounds. At the end of each chapter the authors offer tips on how to recycle that item or use it less.
I think you’re leading a good fight and espousing ideas that everyone needs to listen to.
I love what you said about inner change happening when we set conscious goals. I think that’s what it’s all about… setting conscious goals instead of wishing for things to change or just talking about how we’d like to see things change.
If we’re not deliberate and intentional with our actions, our life will just bounce around like a toy boat in a stormy ocean.
We make choices based on price, which I’ve learned is completely arbitrary! The prices of things we buy don’t at all reflect the true value of the resources or labor used to make them.
I have spent more money this year because now I’m making sustainable choices that often cost more. But I’ve started looking at these things as investment in the future. Someday, there will be a price on clean air and clean water (there already is, somewhat), and if I spend a little bit more now for something that’s better, I’m putting that off by just a bit.
Finding a place where frugality and sustainability meets (the thrift store! the beach!) is the best thing ever. I hope these sandals bring you much happiness!
You are so right about making it an investment for the future. That’s exactly how I think of spending extra money for things that are more sustainable.
A few days ago I booked a 23-hour train ticket from Boston to Florida for $170 instead of buying a 5-hour plane ticket for $120. The train is more sustainable than the flight and I’m in no rush to go anywhere — I can do all my work on my laptop while I’m on the train. But that extra $50 went a long way towards reducing my carbon footprint.
I too have been searching for a place where frugality and sustainability meet. I’ve been living down in Florida for the past few weeks (the beach is nearby — I love the beach!) using nothing more than a bicycle to get around… it’s incredible how freeing and “real” it feels to be “human powered”. 🙂
Nice one Raam, this small example works on a lot of levels.
People can get all amped up for sustainability and being more environmentally aware but lose sight of what the crux of it is.
Your footwear could be amplified to heading out and buying a hybrid car, when really a reliable older model that is a tenth of the price and hasn’t come off another production line would do the job.
Will you be making a goodyear sandal to keep just for special occasions? 😛
Keep up the good work.
Thanks Andrew. 🙂
I love your question about making a Goodyear model of my sandals to keep for special occasions. I know it was a joke but I think it’s a great example of how we unknowingly generate waste.
As I downsized all my stuff into one bag, buying things for a special occasion no longer made sense. Where would I put it when the special occasion was over? Instead, I focus on making sure everything in my life has a purpose and that it continues to serve a purpose.
Earth may as well be the backpack for humanity. If we load it with stuff we don’t use, it’s going to get pretty heavy and unsustainable pretty quick!
Those look like Luna sandals. I have a pair and since getting them I have stopped wearing any other shoes. I used them for running primarily but now for everyday use as well. What will I do in the winter living in Oregon?? One guy had custom split toe (tabi) socks knitted in wool and then felted and lanolined for winter use. I need figure out how to do this.
I was curious how the running sandals you purchased worked out for you?
I finished reading Born To Run and while I use my Vibrams for running, the stories in the book got me thinking if I could go even simpler.
I’ve been wearing the huaraches almost exclusively for two years now and I couldn’t be happier. They are fantastic. I had been running in them up until a few months ago, until I switched to straight barefoot running (it happened while I was in Australia; I’ve been able to run 17 miles non-stop barefoot with no pain or blisters on pavement, sidewalks, gravel, dirt, and sand).
The huaraches are the only shoes I try to take with me now. There have been occasions when the temperature drops below freezing that I’ve needed to put on socks or wear close-toed shoes (when visiting my parents in the northeast USA during the winter, for example).
It’s amazing how much your feet adapt if you give them time. My feet used to always be cold. I would wear shoes and socks in the summer. Now, I can handle being barefooted in near-freezing temperatures.
I am going to have to give them a try.