Do you want to do more for the environment, but it just seems so hard?
You are busy. You have a lot of responsibilities — a demanding job, demanding kids, demanding pets, cooking meals, doing laundry, mowing the lawn, binging on Orange is the New Black because you are the only person at your office who hasn’t watched it.
How can you possibly make time to learn about doing good things for the environment and then actually do them?
Besides, does it even matter? The world’s environmental problems are so huge, what difference could it make if you turn off some lights or toss your yogurt containers in a recycling bin instead of the trashcan? Isn’t someone with more power than you working on these things?
I have to confess, I have felt all these things, although it was Making of a Murderer that I binged on. I wanted to do the right things. I wanted to help animals and the environment. I did not really want to change my own behaviors, though. It felt hard. I already drove a Prius, that was something, right?
These days, I do a lot more of the “right things” and it hasn’t been that hard. Here are four easy guidelines to get you on the green path.
1) Start Where You Are
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
You don’t have to dive right in and be the poster child for green living, suddenly becoming a vegan zero-waster who walks everywhere and only shops at organic markets. If you are doing almost nothing environmentally friendly, the good news is there are many easy options to choose from to get you started. If you already take some actions, but want to do more, there are options for you, too.
Give yourself permission to feel OK about wherever you are starting from. You don’t need to compare yourself to others. Just get on the path of doing little things.
Small efforts really add up!
2) Make simple changes
Start with 1–3 simple behaviors that you can repeat until they become habits.
Starting with a few easy goals is more likely to result in success than trying to do too much at a time. According to the American Psychological Association, the best way to make lasting behavioral changes is by starting small and changing one behavior at a time.
Here are some easy ways to get started:
- Use your recycling bins.
- Don’t have recycling bins? Do a quick internet search to find out about recycling programs in your area. Sign up for curbside service, or buy your own bins to take to a recycling facility.
- Buy several reusable shopping bags so you no longer need plastic bags at the grocery store.
- Turn off any unnecessary lights in your home.
- Take shorter showers.
- Turn off the water while you are brushing your teeth.
- Turn your heat down a degree or two in the winter and your air conditioning up a degree or two in the summer.
- Reduce your amount of driving by grouping errands, carpooling, and walking, riding a bike, or using public transportation now and then.
Need some ideas for going to the next level? These are my next changes that I am still working on turning into habits:
- Keep reusable coffee cups in your car and take them in with you when you visit Starbucks or your favorite local coffee shop.
- Keep reusable cold beverage cups in your car and use them when you go into fast food restaurants.
- Keep reusable containers in your car for restaurant left-overs.
- Purchase and use reusable straws wherever you would normally use a plastic straw. Glass straws are more durable than you might think and provide a pleasing drinking experience.
- Buy or make your own beeswax wraps that can be used instead of plastic wrap for covering leftovers and other food storage needs.
- Go ahead and use your current plastic storage food containers, but instead of ever buying more, switch to glass containers.
- Be more aware of the packaging of products you buy. Choose those with the least amount of plastics. Reducing waste is a good reason to buy more items in bulk, and less single-serving size foods.
- Purchase reusable mesh bags for use when shopping for produce and bulk items.
3) Involve Others in Your Efforts
Involving family members or roommates in your efforts to be more “green” can really help. If everyone in the household is willing to take on the challenge of making 1–3 changes to start, you can help each other remember and find ways to make the new behaviors easier.
In a family with kids, you could consider making a game out of remembering to do the new behaviors.
Whoever remembers to grab the reusable bags before going into the grocery store earns a point, shorter showers earns a point, recycling bottles, cans and junk mail earns a point..etc. Whoever reaches 10 points first earns a reward. The reward should be something meaningful to your family members, but could be anything from being released from chores for a week, to choosing an activity or outing, a new book, or cash.
Live alone or don’t feel that your family would be supportive? See if a friend will try out a few new things to help the environment. That way, you both have someone to cheer you on and brainstorm new ideas with.
If you can’t find anyone that wants to “go green,” try finding a friend who is taking on any kind of goal — like losing weight, exercising, or writing a book — and be accountable to each other for your progress on your individual projects.
4) Know That Your Efforts Matter
“The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”
- Chinese Proverb
It is sometimes hard to believe how much small efforts add up, but they do.
For instance, my local PUD has information on its website informing customers that if they lower their thermostat just 1 degree for 8 hours, they can save up to 1% on their heating bill. Do more, save more. Such small changes can add up to significant personal savings, and also reduces the amount of electricity that needs to be generated, which is good for the environment.
What if many people use a little less electricity?
Small efforts really add up!
According to Innov8energy, if everyone in the United States turned off just 2 lights for 1 hour every day, we’d save more than 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year. The amount of coal needed to generate that much electricity would fill the Empire State Building almost 3 times.
What if many people stop using plastic bags?
Small efforts really add up!
In a Scientific American article written prior to California’s statewide ban on plastic shopping bags, the results of a local ban in San Jose (CA) are revealed. The plastic bag litter reduction was significant: approximately 89 percent less plastic litter was found in the storm drain system, 60 percent less in the creeks and rivers, and 59 percent less in city streets and neighborhoods.”
As chimpanzee expert and conservationist Jane Goodall has pointed out, small choices really add up when multiplied by thousands, or millions, or even billions of people. When you choose to do the right thing for the environment, for our planet, you are not alone. There are millions of us out here making our own small choices every day.
You have some work ahead of you, but for now, how about treating yourself to some play?
Stuart Brown, MD, founder of the National Institute for Play, teaches that play is as important to humans as vitamins or sleep. In light of this, please accept my Endangered Species Superheroes Activity Book as a gift for your health. It is 20+ pages of fun for all ages — earth-friendly word searches, fill-in-the-blank games, coloring pages and more.