By Dr. Rajat Bhatt, Guest Writer

I have been a regular follower of The White Coat Investor blog for several years. Over this time, I have built my portfolio nest egg and gained valuable wisdom. As I have aged, my investing goals have changed. As physicians, we owe a responsibility to the environment, and we should set a good example of environmental stewardship for our patients and children.

Physicians have a significant role in shaping societal thinking, and they are role models. We should promote sustainable consumption by educating our patients about their impacts on the environment as well.

We should encourage the three words:

  • Reduce
  • Reuse
  • Recycle

Take a moment to reflect on your activities over this past year. How many luxuries did you indulge in—driving opulent EVs oblivious to the coal power source for electricity, taking extravagant cruises that pollute fragile ecosystems, or buying unnecessary plastic items that ultimately land in the oceans? We even need to look into our meat consumption and how it is affecting the ecosystem and contributing to climate change. We rationalize these as rewards for our hard work, but we are unaware of the lasting consequences.

About 10 years ago, I laid out both a financial plan and a social responsibility plan where I outlined specific changes I could make in my own life to be a better steward of society. My first goal was transitioning to a vegetarian diet. After watching the documentary “Food, Inc.,” I was disturbed enough by industrial agriculture to quit eating meat entirely. I lost around 50 pounds over the next two years, and I have kept the weight off since. Over the years, I started eating healthier meals cooked at home more often (since vegetarian choices are limited at most restaurants), which created a positive feedback loop. While I once enjoyed restaurants, home cooking brings me greater joy and keeps me healthy.

My next goal was reducing plastic consumption. I use reusable bags and avoid single-use items. I even changed pens less frequently by replacing refills on my old ones as they do everywhere else except in the US.

In the past, new gadgets were a weakness, but now I keep devices as long as they function. The initial excitement fades after a month.

Regarding cars, I drove my Toyota Camry for 20 years, and I am selling it only because the wheels are literally falling off. My next car will be a hybrid for its reliability and lower emissions.

Today's environmental crises—like climate change, pollution, and resource depletion—demand swift action. By living more simply and mindfully, I have discovered that true happiness comes from life's small pleasures, nature, and meaningful giving—not materialism driven by marketing since childhood.

Going forward, I aim to continue setting my own path according to my values, not outside influences. As with finances, a self-development plan ensures making the most of our limited time on this planet we are very fortunate to inhabit.

 

Becoming More Environmentally Responsible

Making a change will start with introspection and mindfulness looking within and doing a self-audit. For example, are we taking a vacation at a faraway exotic place to really explore or simply for Instagram posts? Why are we driving a fancy car? Do we really enjoy it, or is it an expression of competence and success?

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Climate change is indisputable, with ice core samples and atmospheric data as evidence. Denying it is akin to the folks playing violin during the sinking of the Titanic, ignoring the imminent collapse. Our children will suffer the consequences if we choose to ignore it the same way. If we are saying that this is part of Earth's natural cycles, that cannot be explained by the rapidity of change since industrial development and the carbon isotopic data isolated from the atmosphere that implicates global warming. If we are saying it is a global academic conspiracy (I heard that from a physician friend), then the oil companies are very well funded to dismiss that, and that has not happened yet

The planet's finite resources are primarily non-renewable, making recycling challenging. Most materials are never repurposed, as consumer data shows.

The hard truth is that current levels of consumption are utterly unsustainable. Vast marketing machines fuel overconsumption, convincing us to constantly buy beyond our needs. But our planet has finite resources, and it cannot sustain our unchecked appetites.

As sentient beings, true happiness and fulfillment arise from within, not from external consumption. By practicing mindfulness and introspection, we gain the wisdom to see through the hollow promises of materialism. With an awakened ecological consciousness, we realize the futility of excess.

As physicians who vow to do no harm to patients, we must apply this same oath to the planet and all its inhabitants. Knowing this, here are the changes I have made to my lifestyle.

 

Connecting to Nature

Making time to enjoy parks and natural areas has been deeply rewarding. I now take regular walks through my neighborhood, taking care to observe seasonal changes in the trees, birds, and plants. Simply being outdoors reduces stress and fosters gratitude for the environment sustaining us.

 

Simplicity at Home

Downsizing possessions and minimizing waste has created a calmer domestic life. Changes like composting, avoiding single-use plastics, and repairing/donating items have cut my footprint. I even use both sides of printer papers, and I only print when needed. Living more simply feels good. We live in a 3,000-square-foot home and feel our quality of interactions with the young kids is better sitting around the kitchen table than in an isolated room on another floor.

 

Health and Well-Being

Transitioning to a plant-based, active lifestyle has profoundly benefited my health beyond weight loss. I have more sustained energy, resilience to illness, and motivation for self-care through nutrition and exercise. Living consciously complements living sustainably.

 

Inspiring Positive Change

Leading by example and discussing choices with loved ones has encouraged some to also evaluate habits. Combined, our reductions in consumption could benefit communities. Individual acts compound into meaningful differences, so sharing knowledge pays forward.

 

Continued Learning

financial responsibility and sustainability

Studying environmental sciences and solutions keeps me engaged. I enjoy emerging innovations in renewables, building, chemistry, and more reported by leaders enacting positive change. Unless we reduce resource consumption, these alone will not work well. Knowledge inspires further care for our fragile planet.

 

Spaces for Reflection

Spending dedicated time in nature reserves restores perspective. Sitting among trees and enjoying the outdoors (or biking on the bayous around Houston) brings profound gratitude, connection, and wonder. It's rekindled my care for landscapes and scenes sustaining all life. Nature heals and teaches.

 

Here, however, are some challenges I faced in my lifestyle transition:

  • Habit formation: It can be difficult to break ingrained habits and form new sustainable routines, like remembering reusable bags or bringing travel mugs. Sticking with changes took perseverance and time.
  • Social pressures: Friends and family didn't always understand lifestyle choices, like a plant-based diet. Some social situations require extra planning.
  • Limited options: Especially earlier on, finding vegan/low-waste options when eating out or traveling could be frustrating. The movement has grown, though.
  • Expense: Transitioning purchases like appliances, vehicles, and home goods to more sustainable options required higher upfront costs in some cases—like a hybrid in my case. Toyotas were in short supply, and I had to pay a premium for the hybrid.
  • Information overload: With so much information available, it was tough to discern high-quality sources from greenwashing or misinformation spread by certain industries.
  • Self-doubt: It was easy to question decisions or doubt your impact, like whether personal efforts truly mattered next to global challenges. Ongoing learning helped address this.
  • Time constraints: Balancing work, family, and other priorities with lifestyle changes like gardening, cooking from scratch, and volunteering took diligent scheduling.
  • Isolation: Some friends felt lifestyle differences diminished rapport, or they saw changes as overly preachy.
  • Policy shortcomings: Despite individual efforts, the lack of systemic action on the biggest issues—like climate—was disheartening at times.

Sharing challenges honestly could help others pursuing similar journeys feel less alone in their struggles. Perseverance was needed to overcome obstacles.

More information here:

The Happiness Index: Mine Required My Own Version of Retirement

 

Methods to Reduce Overconsumption Include

  • Brewing one's own coffee using fewer plastic pods.
  • Eating out less and using reusable lunch containers.
  • Becoming vegetarian to minimize animal cruelty. (Climate-friendly beef is not really climate-friendly, as it's based more on an honor system and fees paid toward certification rather than meeting stringent goals. Regular beef and climate-friendly beef have the same methane emissions and water use. Greenwashing is a problem in the organics industry.)
  • Avoiding boat ownership, due to environmental impact and maintenance burdens (opting for a kayak instead).

 

Issues I Am Working On

Certain areas present challenges in striking a balance, and feelings of guilt may arise. For instance, an annual trip to India contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, but alternatives are scarce. It is crucial not to become overly consumed with guilt or self-doubt. Such endeavors should be entirely voluntary to avoid internal conflict. Pursuing these actions willingly without sacrificing pleasure necessitates wisdom and time.

The advantages of this transition include: the savings become automatic, resulting in a positive feedback loop. As I spend less, I have more time, and money accumulates automatically. I do not feel deprived. Yet the money compounds, and I have more to contribute to society rather than depleting finite resources. However, we face challenges such as self-doubt and guilt, which I strive to address.

More information here:

Your Secret Weapon Is Spending Less

 

Issues I Am Unable to Change Currently

There are issues like packaged foods that may persist unless policy changes occur. For example, milk for my children comes in a plastic bottle. Though it's discarded in the recycling bin, it is not always completely recycled. It is difficult to get from local dairies in an urban environment. Additionally, challenges arise with family and children. For instance, my children use disposable plastic highlighters and stationery from school that are discarded annually. Ideally, reusable alternatives would exist. However, the school is very specific about what it would like, and I don't have much say in refillable and non-drying highlighters, etc.

Moreover, the annual family trip to Disneyland appears wasteful due to excessive marketing and toy consumption. Although I would prefer to reduce these aspects, doing so might deprive my children of their enjoyment.

We also took a cruise recently, but I felt it was necessary for maintaining relationships and family. While some may find joy in traveling, it should not incite discord. True enjoyment comes from within, minus marketing influences. If someone enjoys going to Vienna, they should go for it. But if it's for an Instagram post, then that person must decide who is going to look at it and what they truly value

The Vedic philosophy of Brahmana teaches that we are all interconnected in nature. By improving ourselves, we uplift our shared world. Gaining wealth comes with a moral responsibility to society and nature.

The path I’ve taken (and the path other physicians could be taking) requires patience, insight, and relinquishing attachment. But being a force for good brings meaning. As stewards of immense resources, we must lead by example—for our patients, families, communities, and the planet we call home.

[Founder's Note by Dr. Jim Dahle: Dr. Rajat Bhatt is an experienced, board-certified Rheumatologist in a private practice located in Houston. This article was submitted and approved according to our Guest Post Policy. We have no financial relationship.

Dr. Bhatt first approached me about this article months ago, and my first thought was, “Well this should make for an interesting comments section!” Long-term readers probably won't be surprised given my outdoor interests (it's not unusual for me to spend two months or more a year sleeping outdoors) that I have great sympathies with the environmental movement. I also find it interesting to see so much overlap between the financial independence movement and the environmental movement. The less you consume, the more you help the planet AND your pocketbook. In fact, our planet would be completely destroyed if everybody on it consumed in a manner that I, and most WCIers, can afford to do. Frugality IS environmentalism. Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.

However, I think the first response most people will have to a piece like this is to feel personally attacked and maybe even feel a need to attack back. “How dare you lecture me about my diesel-guzzling F-250 and seven boats when you go on cruises, give your kids milk, and fly to India every year!” Another common response is to consider the hypocrisy present in many parts of the environmental movement. “How interesting that you drove over here in your gas vehicle to protest this oil pipeline,” or, “You think whaling is evil but Chick-fil-A is fine?” 

Sometimes we go fully philosophical: “Well, in 5 billion years, the sun will go out and the planet will be ruined anyway.” Or we resort to humor. I mean, who doesn't call their 8-year-old a dolphin killer every time she drinks bottled water or point out that if God didn't want us to eat animals, why did He make them out of meat?

I'm no fan of ESG investing (I think you and your favorite causes are better off just buying index funds and donating to the causes directly), but I am a big fan of this planet, and I think it is worthwhile to consider ways in which our choices can both improve the environment and our finances at the same time. Now if I could just convince myself that it is just as fun to eat vegetables and watch YouTube videos about other continents instead of going there myself I could preach the environmental word too without feeling so hypocritical.]

Do you feel like we need to reduce, reuse, and recycle? What steps have you taken to do that? What else can be done to prolong the life of our planet? Comment below!