OK, I know that April is going to be the month of big-thinking, earth-month-inspired editorial columns, but since I already got all of my pensive, stroky-beard-thinking ya-yas out in my essay on personal sustainability (“The Better Good Life”), I figure this is the ideal spot to do my list of seven relatively simple things a person can do (and that I personally enjoy doing) to lighten or offset some of his or her earthly burdens.
1. Go for good food. By this I mean sustainably raised and healthy whole foods (local, organic, biodynamic, free-range, humanely raised — whatever turns your crank), ideally prepared at home. Choosing good food does nice things for the earth and for your body, so to me, this is a two-for-one bonus opportunity.
2. Try fixing before throwing. Disgusted with my flimsily made label maker (I know, that’s what I get for buying a label maker), I was about to toss it out when my handy husband suggested he could try fixing it instead. Five minutes later, the thing was good as new. I’ve had similar luck taking worn shoes to the cobbler, and torn clothes to the tailor. In fact, I’ve got articles of clothing I bought vintage and have been wearing, literally, for decades.
3. Save a trash bag, feed a worm. Try as I might to avoid wasting good food, I still end up with bits of lettuce too shriveled to eat and table scraps too nasty looking to turn into soup. But I know they’re still far too good for a landfill, so I put them in a compost bin, which gets carried to the compost pile on a daily (or almost daily) basis. There, with very little help from us, worms and other critters turn it into good, clean dirt. You can compost even if you live in the city, and even if you don’t have a yard. Learn more at www.howtocompost.org.
4. Pony up for renewable energy. Most power companies offer a renewable energy program that allows you to pay a slightly higher rate for some or all of your electricity usage to fund energy sourced from wind, solar and other renewable resources. The slight premium you’re willing to pay (as little as a dollar or two) helps demonstrate demand for more sustainable sources of
energy, and helps fund energy programs that make the world safer for current and future generations. Learn more at http://apps3.eere.energy.gov/greenpower/buying.
5. Steer clear of temptation. Watching “The Story of Stuff” (see the video at www.storyofstuff.com), I learned that of all the stuff we buy, only about 1 percent is still in our possession six months later. The rest is consumed or discarded. Scary! I’ve made three key changes over the past few years that have helped me significantly reduce the amount of stuff I buy: I stopped browsing catalogs that convinced me I needed a zillion different products, garments and appliances to survive; I stopped watching TV, and thus TV advertising; and I stopped frequenting shopping centers “just to see” if there was anything interesting on the store shelves. I also developed a budget, but that’s another story.
6. Tote your own load. You know all that junk we toss? It adds up to something like 1,500 pounds per person, per year. And a lot of it is single-use containers and disposable bags. That’s why I’ve been striving to carry my own reusable mugs, water bottles and even eating utensils. I bring my own bags to the grocery store. Is it an occasional pain? Do I occasionally forget? Yes, and yes. But I figure over the past five years, I’ve cut my usage of disposables by close to 50 percent. And I’ve been encouraged by how many friends and acquaintances are doing the same.
7. Get involved. I’d been reading this advice for years, but until I got elected to a position on my local town board, I never realized what a huge amount of influence small neighborhood associations and local governments can have — particularly when they are in touch with county and state leaders. Nor did I realize how much satisfaction and good energy a person can derive from connecting with neighbors who share her concerns. Last spring I helped organize a community clean-up day where my extended family labored with about a dozen neighbors to clear a beautiful ravine of about 3 tons of trash. It was filthy, exhilarating work, and it gave me huge hope for what’s possible when we decide to work together. So sign up for a committee, a task force, a clean-up crew — anything that hooks you into a community of other people who care.
So there you have it, my little list of easy things that make a difference. Want more? There are much bigger and better ideas to be found at places like www.greenamericatoday.org. And lots more food for thought in this issue of Experience Life — which is now available in an eco-friendly digital edition, too. Learn more about it at experiencelife.com, where you can also share your own green ideas in our new Sustainable Living forum.