Green Living & Urban Work-Life Balance

Green Living as a Sustainable Lifestyle in Work-Life Balance

Green Living is a complex concept. It can be considered as equivalent to sustainable lifestyle and urban sustainability as advocated by the United Nations under its Draft Outcome Document for Rio+20, particularly its “10 year Framework of  Programmes (10FYP) on SCP (sustainable consumption and production)” and also “Sustainable Cities and Human Settlements (Resource Efficient Cities)

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For instance, in an urban lifestyle just because one can afford to drive a gas-guzzling, giant SUV for commuting or can afford to set a heater higher and air conditioning lower does not mean that one should. Thus green living can be defined as a lifestyle which seeks to bring into balance the conservation and preservation of the Earth’s natural resources, habitats, and biodiversity with human culture and communities.

We need to embrace practices which have little or no negative impact on our environment both now and in the future, to reduce waste and consumption, to work with Nature in creating sustainable food systems, amenities, and living arrangements, and to strengthen local communities and relationships.

Addressing the Challenges of Green Living

The urban lifestyle poses many challenges that affect the level of commitment and responses by the urban population towards the desired positive impacts of green living as outlined above.

“The desire, will and commitment towards green living from all stakeholders along the pathway to sustainability is important.”


Issues can arise from

a) Urban Stresses: The challenges of – time, flexibility and money strongly affect urban society. The relatively higher cost of living in towns and cities is one of the factors influencing city workers to work longer hours, hold more than 1 job, commute, have less family time, have more than one car/vehicle, and many more stresses on society related to lack of time, flexibility and money.

b) The urban environment and its amenities: Indoor and outdoor air pollution, water pollution, waste dumping and littering, hazardous materials, noise, heat islands, concrete jungles, lack of access to clean water, lack of safety and security are among many environmental issues faced by the urban population on top of the society stresses..

c) Shifts in Modern Society: In future city planning three profound shifts in modern society need to be factored in, i.e. information technology, mobility and climate. As with everything else, technology is changing not just how we live and work, but the cities where we live and work. Technology has already affected social change, making younger generations more mobile and urban. In many countries there is progressive move towards greater urbanisation, that exacerbate the need for addressing issues on work-life balance. There are also shifting demographics, unemployment issues/the urban poor, safety and security issues, provision of amenities, and effects of family dynamics among the urban population, amongst many other issues. People are living longer. Younger workers wait longer to start families and older empty nesters want the easy amenities offered by city life. Now, even if they’re not in a city center, people want to be able to work from, or at least near, their homes, or have better access to their destinations.

d) Choices: Urbanites, especially the youth, are demanding more choices – about how and when they work—more flexibility and a work-life balance. They want choices in transportation. They want conveniences and amenities. They want clean air, clean water and a safe quality lifestyle. But perhaps most importantly, they are keenly aware of their changing planet and will likely be more accepting of and inventive in how they accommodate and adapt to that change. More than anything else, that will affect their choices for the way they live and the cities in which they live.

Women, especially mothers in urban dwellings, bear much of the consequence of the transformation of families over the past 50 years dues to changes in family structure, for instance, smaller-sized households, delayed marriage and childbearing, increased divorce rates and single parenthood.

Often women are the main care-givers in urban families, and together with the stresses from environmental pollution and traffic, and maintaining the standard of living in spite of ever-rising urban costs, there would be a constant struggle to achieve a better work-life balance.

The desire, will and commitment towards green living from all stakeholders along the pathway to sustainability is important. Many solutions are at our disposal, with new creative ideas constantly emerging due to the volatile dynamics of society and urbanisation, and various groups working to address these challenges. A transparent and integrated approach would ensure a shorter pathway towards green living.

Example of a rooftop garden in an urban environment (Picture: courtesy of Ms Lee Lee Lo)

At the local level, work and neighbourhood community support and community involvement are important in the sharing of green living approaches and opportunities for better work-life balance in the family. This enables the imparting of knowledge and skills, in addition to awareness-raising, to stressed urban families, allowing them to seek stress-outlets through community green living activities in the urban environment. Establishing urban gardens and other green community projects, such as community 3Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle), and health, welfare and safety projects are typical examples. The positive effect would be improved air quality, less waste hazards and improved cleanliness in local communities, with a increased sense of community spirit.

Workplace community support can, for instance, provide baby or child care creches, especially for stressed mothers returning to the workforce after delivery. Another example is allowing telecommuting for specific job scopes to reduce travel or commuting stress, travel costs and environmental footprints, while still maintaining work productivity.

The following are examples of current approaches in the urban context (and possibly beyond urban boundaries).

1) Uplifting traditional ways from individual consumer actions and the producer sector: In a more holistic approach, green living can incorporate time-tested ‘old’ ways. For example, the negawatt revolution advocated by Amory Lovins in 1990 to reduce electricity consumption and increase cost savings is still relevant today. Also, upcycling in addition to recycling can reduce the burden on virgin materials and resources. These are only a few among enumerable efforts advocated and informed by consumer groups, NGOs, academia, consultants, business and industry, the media and governments that can provide for better green living.

2) Technology Solutions: Technology, especially Internet and Mobile Technology, has also offered new solutions to some of the biggest challenges for 21st century urban planners—climate change and how we make our neighborhoods as green as possible. These include technologies for alternative energy sources, clean air and water, waste management, transport, housing/buildings and infrastructure, green products and services, among others.

3) Public-Private Smart Partnerships: Ultimately, city governments (local authorities) and the private sector can work better to deliver tangible benefits and more successful urban regeneration through smart partnership with the people, e.g. smart procurement processes (Ref: Sascha Haselmayer, CEO City Mart, Barcelona, Spain); promoting low-carbon transport alternatives, such as providing better public transport and being a cycling-friendly city; the smart use of social media to share articulated issues with, and elicit feedback and solutions from, the smart urban population, particularly the youth.

It therefore suffices to say that the right choices we make together for urban green living today will ensure we have a sustainable urban life tomorrow.


Katharine B. Silbaugh. Fordham Law Review. “Women’s Place: Urban Planning, Housing Design, and Work-Family Balance”


By: Jenny Tan S.E.

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