Earth Day summons ideas of planting trees, tie-dye and hula hooping, music outside, and sunshine. It begs for bare feet and green grass for one day but does not often extend much past the celebrations. But Earth Day has an amazing history, so why not use Earth Day to remind us of the incredible world we live in and take steps to protect it? The fact that you’re reading this means that you already buy or are interested in buying local food, an incredibly huge step in protecting the environment. So when that defensive guilt kicks in about how hard it is to live sustainably, let go, you’ve already started! I’m not asking you to go completely waste-free or to start washing your clothes in your bathtub, just take a minute on Earth Day to step outside and enjoy the lush greenery that has finally returned.
The first Earth Day was April 22, 1970 when Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson organized an environmental teach-in after an extremely destructive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California in 1969. As politically aware and active as the ‘60s were, there was very little conversation about the environment; pollution and gas-guzzling were considered the norm, a sign of progress. Rachel Carson’s release of Silent Spring in 1962 slowly started the conversation and Nelson’s teach-in jumped onto that momentum and propelled it forward. He worked across party-lines, class-lines, and managed to unite people of all walks of life in a drive to protect the environment. On the very first Earth Day 20 million people took to the streets in protests and demonstrations to fight for a more sustainable and environmentally friendly economy. It then lead to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the passing of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and the Endangered Species Acts. Today there are events and festivals organized around Earth Day to bring people together and raise awareness about environmental issues, children go on field trips to plant trees, and more events have sprung up involving farmers and farming communities.
So, I have compiled a simple list of things you can do to live more sustainably. These are just a few ideas, take them and make them yours, no one formula is going to work for everyone.
- Shop Local—from local food to drink to clothing to your local hardware store, when you buy local products from a small local business you are positively impacting the environment. Your products did not have to travel as far to get to you and you are investing in a system that can greatly change the way we interact with each other and with consumer goods.
- Buy bulk items when you can—Buying in bulk cuts down on both packaging and cost. You can even bring your own container to put whatever you’re buying in bulk into so you don’t have to waste a plastic bag.
- Carry a reusable water bottle and travel mug, reusable shopping bags, and Tupperware in your car—buying water bottles is one of the most wasteful things you can do; bring a water bottle with you to refill and that will make a huge difference. Also if you know you are going out to eat you can bring your own Tupperware to put leftovers into so as to not use plastic or Styrofoam.
- Unplug electronics from the wall when you’re not using them—When you are done charging your laptop or your phone, unplug the charger from the wall. Even if the charger is not attached to an electronic, it is still using electricity when plugged in.
- Observe an eco-sabbath—This idea is from Colin Beavan, or No Impact Man, who took a year to learn how to live without creating any waste. He recommends to take a day once a week and use no electronics, instead go outside, read a book, or volunteer somewhere!
- Carpool, walk, bike, scooter, rollerblade—there are always innovative ways to get places; if you don’t have to drive, don’t!
- Mange your thermostat—keep your house at a reasonable temperature, open your windows when you can, put on a sweatshirt before you turn up the heat, etc.
- Educate yourself—A huge part of living more sustainably is being aware of the impact we are having on the earth and those around us. There are plenty of books, documentaries, clubs, and websites about all of the different aspects of the many environmental issues we are facing today.
- Plant a garden—Any kind of garden, vegetables, flowers, trees, herbs, bushes, it doesn’t matter! Supporting any kind of life is good for the environment and good for you.
- Get a rain barrel—You will inevitably have to water something at some time, so get a rain barrel to catch rainwater instead of using water from the sink!
The most important things to remember are to be creative and to be patient with yourself. Living more sustainably is not going to be an easy, overnight change – it’s going to be a process full of baby steps. It’s important to do one thing at a time and do it in a way that works for you and fits your personality. It’s not meant to cage you in, it’s about creating a lifestyle. Pick one of these things and figure out how to make it work for you, figure out how to do it well, and then move onto another. Pretty soon the momentum will build and you will find yourself gravitating toward a more holistic and sustainable mindset.
-Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
-Cradle to Cradle: Remaking The Way We Make Things by Michael Braungart
-No Impact Man—Documentary