"It's Not that Hard Being Green (And It Can Save You Some Too)"
12 Ideas to Lighten Your Footprints
Although our childhood friend Kermit the Frog used to poignantly share his woes about being green, these days it's not that difficult for those of us with two legs to make a lot of little choices and commitments that can collectively add up to leaving a little less of a dent on our beautiful planet.
While a lot of the news about global climate change, vanishing biodiversity and resource depletion is pretty scary, it is comforting to know that there are lots of little things we can do, and save some money as well.
In my simple mind, to not be wasteful is the most fundamental conservative value. To not throw away money and resources that we might need someday - some might even call it stingy - but I am a pragmatic person, and to me the most successful measures are ones that are practical and simple.
Little things help, and they add up. It's not an all or nothing world. If you buy a few things generated locally, it's that much less that got trucked in. If you save a little electricity or gas, and everybody else did too, collectively we could save an enormous amount.
I've collected tips from a lot of different sources over the years, and here are some of my favorites. My apologies now if some of these are redundant or overly simplistic - I'll gladly accept that if it helps us all think a little more about the depth of the footprints we are leaving for our children and grandchildren.
1. Save Mountains and Don't Leave the Lights On. Turn off lights and equipment that you aren't using, and the people of Appalachia who are seeing more of their mountains permanently flattened for cheap coal will be grateful. Meanwhile, when it comes to electricity, you pay for what you use. You will be surprised to learn how much electricity most appliances still draw when they are off! Put these energy sucking "vampires" on a power strip and switch them off at night when not using them, and you get bonus points.
2. Change a Few Light Bulbs, Then Forget About Them. A handful of long lasting LED bulbs in our house made a noticeable difference on the electric bill, and at our house we actually like the light better. I still haven't replaced one of them yet, and some have been in the house nearly 4 years.
3. Less Gas and Oil Equals Less Money for America's Rivals. Save a little gas and oil by combining trips and not using quite so much heat and air conditioning, and a little less money goes to prop up autocratic regimes in the Middle East and elsewhere (A lot of the world's oil reserves belong to friendly allies like Iran, Russia and Venezuela). 3 degrees less AC or heat won't affect your comfort much, but it will save you some money.
4. The 4 B's - Birds, Bees, Butterflies and Bats. Recent news about unexplained sharp declines in honeybee populations should be a concern for all of us - they pollinate most of our food, including the stuff that the animals we call food eat too. Beautify your yard with a patch of native wildflowers and plants, and then enjoy watching all these important pollinators enjoying the fruits of your labor.
5. Less Bleach Please. Sure you need white paper around the office, but given its intended purpose, does toilet paper need to be white? How about paper towels? Chlorinated byproducts from bleaching paper and wood products are among the toughest things to remove from wastewater, so the less of it that we use is less that winds up in our rivers and lakes. And while it may not be readily obvious to those of us who live on higher ground, when it comes to long-lived chemicals like that, "we all live downstream" (or downwind).
6. Be Part of the Cycle - Precycle, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Cloth shopping bags rock compared to the crappy weak plastic derived from petroleum bags; the same ones it takes like 50 of to do the work of 6 decent bags. I store them in the car.
- If you have a hard time throwing away things you no longer need but are still perfectly usable, a great way to find homes for many items is www.freecycle.com
- If you want to help create a bigger market for recycling paper instead of clearcutting our National Forests (at a loss to us taxpayers), buy whatever sensible paper products you can with the highest post-consumer recycled content.
- Some grocery stores sell Marcal toilet paper and paper towels, made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper and whitened without chlorine - and the price is good.
And if you'd like to let the good folks at some of the biggest sellers of paper and wood products know that you are looking for more recycled content, they actually listen when we write in numbers because, well, they've grown addicted to our money and can't live without it. Here are a few handy links to corporate customer comment forms;
7. Buy Local and Get Fresh. Some people like to buy the food from the supermarket because it's easy or they think it's safer. Listen, that produce just rolled in here in a truck from California, Mexico or some other distant corporate agricultural enterprise. Buying local uses a hell of a lot less fuel, which also means it probably was picked sometime in the last day or so. Besides, if you have a farmers market, the kids will dig walking around and looking at all the cool stuff, and they will be reminded that somebody has to grow the food they eat, somewhere, somehow.
8. Organic Food - More Food, Less Other "Stuff". What they put on the food goes in your body as well as the air, water and soil. I personally feel like keeping the temple reasonably clean isn't a bad idea. I also tend to decide about organic when the price is pretty close to the non-organic, but I also chuckle at myself that I often have to convince myself that my long-term health is worth more than 50 cents per item. Local farmers markets allow you to vote with your wallet, support your neighbors and know where your food came from. If you are as stingy as I am, check out Trader Joe's stores sometime - great foods and household products at or near grocery store prices.
9. American Ingenuity (or anybody else's for that matter). There are a lot of great email listservs with simple tips on how to tread a little lighter. a lot of them are homegrown, but hey, a good idea is a good idea, and the rest, I hit Delete. I like National Geographic's The Green Guide myself. Another "good source of advice for real people leading busy lives, Idealbite.com, offers free tips by email; "short and sassy eco-living tips that arrive each weekday".
10. Buy Downloadable Music! Of course, I shudder to think of selling my music without the artwork, but there is an awful lot of plastic wasted in manufacturing CDs. As iPods and laptops do more of the work of being our personal music sources, the containers matter less. You get instant gratification too. And this independent artist and businessman appreciates your support just the same.
11. Let Companies and Politicians Know How You Vote With Your Wallet. While we can make many of these choices with our pocketbooks personally or at work, we can also collectively accomplish a lot by dashing off a few quick notes or emails to our elected representatives, and to the stores and corporations we patronize. Good news or bad news. Hearing from a lot of customers or investors is about the only thing that affects change in corporate America, so let them hear from you.
12. Teach Our Children Well. The more time the kids spend outside amazed by butterflies, hiking by a creek, or helping take care of the garden helps build a culture of stewardship and wonder.
It is easy to feel like all these little things are just that - little things. Sure they are. There are 300 million of us - imagine what big things we could collectively accomplish by each of us doing a bunch of little things! During World War II average Americans saved scrap metal and planted Victory Gardens, all pulling together for a common goal. It is much easier now to do many things to collectively make a difference - now it's time to be aware and act on our awareness.
My hands and back are sore from planting several native flowering shrubs and trees (azaleas, redbuds, dogwoods and a crape myrtle for fun) these last few days. But my heart is full with the satisfaction of knowing all the joy they will bring us and our new baby, and all of the wonderful new sights and sounds they will help introduce her to as a whole microcosm of winged visitors stop by each season.
And a final word about our childhood friend Kermit. There are a lot of troubling signs in the past decade about declining frog and amphibian populations. Around our house, spring would not be the same without the chorus of spring peepers or the occasional lovesick summer tree frog. These guys eat bugs and lots of them. They are vulnerable to anything that coms in contact with their always moist skin, so keep your eyes open for our slimy friends, and try to avoid using chemicals near where they hang out. The mosquitoes and gnats won't thank you, and I'd bet that you will be fine with that too.