During Earth Week, I described steps National Geographic is taking to green its facilities, corporate practices, and all-round image. It’s one thing for a mammoth organization (pun on May mag cover story intended) with man and purchasing power, and the benefits of things like “strategic subcommittees” to tackle such an endeavor, but it can be downright overwhelming for an individual. At nearly every go-green event I attend, participants ask for advice on HOW to sort through the seemingly limitless abundance of information and demands on their time and attention–much of it conflicting–to identify green action steps that make sense for THEM.
Start small! Just like training for a marathon, going green is a lifestyle change that requires both physical and mental commitment, and it is most easily accomplished gradually. Once you start making minor adjustments, I bet you’ll be surprised by how far you can go, and the impact you can have over a time frame as modest as a year.
Of course “small” is a relative term, so I thought I’d share five steps I’ve taken to green my own life by way of example:
1. Shop local. I visit my local farmer’s market once weekly, where I buy the majority of my produce. When shopping at the grocery store, I try to buy local when it’s offered. I also make an effort to patronize locally-owned restaurants, clothing stores, and other retail outlets. This significantly reduces my share of the fuel used to transports goods, and I value developing a rapport with people who have a vested interest in the community they serve.
2. Minimize meat consumption. I like to think of myself as not
so much of a vegetarian as a “meat minimalist.” I eat meat sparingly, a
couple times a week, and try to get the majority of my protein from
plant sources and dairy. When I do eat meat, I opt for organic,
ethically produced varieties. We can all reduce our meat consumption,
saving food, water, and oil resources (Did you know that it takes 2.5 –
5+ pounds of grain and 435 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef?
Check out the new film Food, Inc to learn more about food choices and
the food industry).
3. Travel sustainably. When traveling home from D.C. to Boston,
I take the train instead of flying. It takes a bit longer, but it’s a
significant carbon savings and a pleasant, scenic ride through coastal New England. I walk and bike around D.C. and take Metro as a last resort.
4. Reuse! In my opinion, most Americans focus far too much
attention on the third arrow of the green triangle–recycling–and not
nearly enough on the “reduce” and “reuse” portions. I try to avoid
disposable products whenever possible–cups, packaging, etc. I bring my
water bottle and hot beverage mug everywhere and ask food service
providers to fill them for me–many times I even get a discount for
doing this. When asked for a cone or a cup with my ice cream, I always
choose the cone! I also reuse food packaging including plastic bags,
aluminum foil, and boxes.
5. Use natural beauty and cleaning products. I LOVE using
all-natural beauty and cleaning products. They’re better for the
environment and my health–no toxic chemicals to make my eyes water or
skin bristle. I find them to be very effective and enjoyable to use,
often with mild, yummy scents more reminiscent of a trip to the garden
than a lab. I buy household items from a local store called Greater
Goods, but you can find them at many grocery stores. And my favorite
all-natural beauty products boutique is Lush fresh handmade cosmetics.
course, this is just a small sampling of choices I’ve made; there are
limitless avenues toward greener living. Adventurous types might opt
for sleek, innovative modes of transportation like the German engineered “Go-One trike”
favored by National Geographic employee Fabio Amador. Activists might
prefer more aggressive tactics: today, I’m writing to my local National
Public Radio station to ask them to forego sponsorship from agribusiness giant
Monsanto, a genetic engineering specialist that has been charged with
What are you doing to be cool by going green?
Sarah Jane for My Wonderful World
Image of natural soap courtesy MooGrass Farms.