Going Green, One Baby Step at a Time

babyI feel like so many people are intimidated by the vastness of the ecological movement, of sustainability, of the color green. In his TED conference talk, “The paradox of choice,” Barry Schwartz explains how too many choices can paralyze us from making a decision. I learned the same theory from my marketing professor in college, who explained why psychoeconomics is so important to businesses. Given similar conditions between two grocery stores, for example, the store with 15 varieties of chips will ultimately attract more business than a store with 75 varieties. Interesting.

These days, it’s overwhelming how many articles and people and blog posts and news stories are giving us ways to go green. Perhaps it is this inundation with information that is holding so many of us back from actually making the choices. Where do we begin? In What About Bob, one of my favorite early 90s comedies, Bill Murray, a basket case of psychological issues, uses the mantra “baby steps” to help sort out his life. It worked for him, and it can work for us. Do some research, but not too much at first, and pick one or two changes that you can stick with. This is much more manageable than trying to green the world all at once. Below are my four suggestions, all of which not only reduce the oft-cited carbon footprint but are also economically justifiable (they will save you money!):

1. Stop buying bottled water.

A chilled plastic bottle of water in the convenience-store cooler is the perfect symbol of this moment in American commerce and culture. It acknowledges our demand for instant gratification, our vanity, our token concern for health. Its packaging and transport depend entirely on cheap fossil fuel. Yes, it’s just a bottle of water–modest compared with the indulgence of driving a Hummer. But when a whole industry grows up around supplying us with something we don’t need–when a whole industry is built on the packaging and the presentation–it’s worth asking how that happened, and what the impact is. And if you do ask, if you trace both the water and the business back to where they came from, you find a story more complicated, more bemusing, and ultimately more sobering than the bottles we tote everywhere suggest.

I understand that bottled water is convenient, but seriously folks, it’s a scam. You are paying for something that you probably already have access to. If you want to read more about the industry and its negative effects on the environment, check out “Message in a Bottle. If you are looking for a stylish, eco-friendly water bottle to get started, check out Klean Kanteen.

2. Change all your light bulbs in your home/office to CFL.

Sitting humbly on shelves in stores everywhere is a product, priced at less than $3, that will change the world. Soon. It is a fairly ordinary item that nonetheless cuts to the heart of a half-dozen of the most profound, most urgent problems we face. Energy consumption. Rising gasoline costs and electric bills. Greenhouse-gas emissions. Dependence on coal and foreign oil. Global warming.

The product is the compact fluorescent lightbulb, a quirky-looking twist of frosted glass. In the energy business, it is called a “CFL,” or an “energy saver.” One scientist calls it an “ice-cream-cone spiral,” because in its most-advanced, most-appealing version, it looks like nothing so much as a cone of swirled soft-serve ice cream.

CFL – meaning compact fluorescent lamp – lightbulbs are the way to go. They emit the same amount of light as regular bulbs but use 75-80% less energy. To learn more, check out “How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World. One. And You’re Looking at it.”

3. Spend less time in the car.

If you have not heard already, China, in preparation for the August Olympic Games, recently put into effect an even-odd license plate law that will help lessen the effects of traffic congestion on the environment. While we probably couldn’t get away with something like this in America..what an idea! Carpool. Bike. Take the bus. I highly recommend WalkScore.com, an interactive map that grades your location based on how many common services – grocery stores, libraries, schools, etc. – are within walking distance. When I lived in St. Louis, I used the site to find nearby bars and even discovered a new bookstore and tea shop.

4. Start an indoor/outdoor garden.

You don’t have to become a locavore, but cultivating a few plants is a good idea. Indoor plants absorb toxins and can create healthier living spaces, while outdoor plants can yield fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables that can spice up your cooking. Check out The GRS Garden Project to see how growing your own food requires a minimal amount of labor while at the same time offsetting the rising costs of food.

An additional thought from one of my closest friends :

Do as many things as you can electronically. Transactions, bank payments, communications…..so much can be handled in the online forum now that using paper should seem superfluous. It’s only a question of time anyway before print communications are all but phased out. Reduce paper usage, yipee.

These are my suggestions. What are yours? Taking smaller steps is an easy way to begin making a difference, and even if you feel like you’re not doing much, trust me, you are.

(photo credit:  dreilinger)

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