Podcast Recap: Discusing Sustainable Communities (Episode 3)

Dr. Zaida Darley graced the Sustainable Solutions with Planet Aid podcast in its third episode, bringing her unique blend of expertise in community sustainability, like housing planning, real estate, and environmental anthropology. In our conversation, Zaida gives sustainability tips for community-led projects that bring people together while simultaneously reducing their carbon footprint.

You can dive into the conversation’s highlights below, or immerse yourself in the full podcast experience on platforms like Apple, Google, Spotify, YouTube or directly on Planet Aid’s website.

Environmental Anthropologist, Zaida Darley, Discusses Community Sustainability

Zaida Darley’s insightful approach sheds light on the role of environmental anthropologists. She eloquently explains that anthropologists explore how communities organize around vital resources like water, and how this organization influences cultural and political landscapes. From the way we manage fresh water to our approaches to wastewater, these decisions shape the very foundations of our cities.

But there's more to it than just water. Zaida highlighted the food–energy–water (FEW) nexus, and how it significantly influences land use. Her expertise led her to Southern California’s wine industry in 2016, during a severe drought that prompted a State of Emergency.

"My focus is how people perceive the environment, nature, and what they are willing to do to make changes," Zaida shared. Her ability to tune into community needs has been pivotal in fostering sustainable water practices at a local level.

Sustainability in Housing

We asked Zaida for some practical community sustainability tips that people could implement to make real change. Here’s her range of suggestions based on a person’s level of involvement.

  • Passive: Embracing Nature’s Beauty

Before Zaida Darley became known for her work in environmental anthropology, she was a dedicated housing draftsperson with a deep-rooted love for ecology. She often found herself in a delicate dance, balancing client desires for aesthetic housing designs against the need to protect and honor the local ecosystem.

Zaida recalls how something as simple as the grass at a lake's edge, a nurturing ground for fish, is often overlooked. Clients might prefer a neatly manicured edge, but this choice can disrupt the beautiful biodiversity that gives the lake its true allure. Zaida gently reminds us that sometimes, the best way to sustainably coexist with nature is to simply let it be.

  • New Construction: Building with a Conscience

For those eager to proactively contribute to community sustainability, Zaida advocates for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification in new building projects. This approach allows for a thoughtful selection of materials and methods that are kinder to the environment and more energy-efficient. It's about crafting spaces that not only look good but also feel good for the planet.

  • Preservation: The Soul of Old Buildings

Zaida speaks passionately about the importance of preserving existing structures instead of always opting for new constructions. This approach saves time, energy, and resources. But more than that, it’s about preserving history and the unique character of older buildings. There’s an undeniable charm and story in these structures that she believes should be cherished and protected.


  • Energy Efficiency Improvements

Zaida offers several practical sustainability tips to reduce energy consumption, which not only saves money but also lessens our environmental impact. She suggests starting with an energy audit from your local energy company to identify cost-effective improvements.

Simple steps like weather sealing windows and doors, and adding insulation, can significantly reduce heating and cooling expenses. These improvements not only make your home more energy-efficient but also more comfortable. She also highlights the availability of assistance programs for low-income families, encouraging everyone to explore what their region offers.

  • Gardening: Growing Joy and Community

As her final sustainability tip, Zaida discusses how community gardens have proven themselves incredibly popular for the old and young alike. Everyone comes together, sharing the work, the land, and the healthy food that grows as a result.

At the University of South Florida, where Zaida attended, the campus botanical garden rented out space for individuals to grow their own food or flowers. Students found that it was relaxing, therapeutic, and great for their mental health.

Even if somebody only has an apartment balcony, they can get started gardening at home. It’s a hobby that feeds the body and the spirit.


The Need for Community-Level Support

One of Zaida’s goals is to achieve zero food waste in her community. In her eyes, leftovers are just nutrients that can be reused or recycled in some way. She noted this is very similar to Planet Aid’s goal with clothes. The environment ultimately benefits from the continual reuse of clothes, and then the material can be recycled so that nothing ends up as land waste.

Zaida and our Planet Aid hosts Monica and Haley agreed that community-scale programs require buy-in from everyone involved. Haley added. "We really rely on locally-led organizations, and we really think about empowering communities to reach their potential rather than dictating some solution for them."

Try out Dr. Zaida Darley’s sustainability tips on energy efficiency programs and sustainable housing improvements, and let us know if they helped. If you’re interested in eliminating clothing waste in your community, please reach out to Planet Aid.

Planet Aid helps facilitate the collection, sorting, and distribution necessary to minimize textile waste around the world. For people looking to make their own community more sustainable, Planet Aid offers solutions including:

Finding your closest yellow donation bin
Joining Planet Aid’s School Program
Hosting your own yellow bin

Click on one of the links above to start your sustainability journey.