Expand Your Eco-Influence

What can you do to reduce water consumption?

A schematic of modern thermohaline circulation.
A schematic of modern thermohaline circulation. Wikimedia Commons

Recently, our own Monica Schenk informed us of the über-cool Eco-Mom Alliance, an organization dedicated to inspiring and empowering mothers to make a difference in the battle against climate change. This group highlights the power that parents have in our families, communities, and schools. Which got us thinking…

As a member of Low Impact Living’s community, you are most likely taking steps in your personal life and around your home to reduce your impact on the earth. But what about all of the other circles that you and your family inhabit? Here, we take a look at some great ideas for the rest of your life.

Working for a Living

While companies like Toyota and GE are coming up with exciting new green products, others are focusing on greening areas of their current operations – something that any company can do, including yours. For example, Bank of America as instituted an internal recycling program that saves the equivalent of more than 200,000 trees per year. BofA also supports employees’ desires to reduce the CO2 emissions they produce through driving, by offering $3,000 cash back to those who buy hybrids – what a deal!

Another area that companies are investigating is their supply chain – all of the raw materials, products and services that a company buys in order to do their thing. Wal-Mart has requested that suppliers reduce the packaging of products sold in their stores. Starbucks has instituted a “bean-to-cup” initiative that drove the use of recycled paper sleeves, saving the equivalent of 78,000 trees in 2006.

Since companies also use enormous amounts of energy, several forward-thinking organizations are purchasing credits to offset their usage. Whole Foods Market was the first to offset 100% of its electricity use through wind-energy credits.

Of course, we don’t all have the sort of power that these corporate behemoths have. But even though you may not work for a giant company with company-wide green initiatives, often all it takes is a little ingenuity and elbow grease to make big changes.

Take a cue from a leader in the hotel industry, Fairmont Hotels.  They believe that one of the best ways for any company to get started is to form a Green Team with folks from different areas of the company.  All you need is a champion to pick up the cause. You can bet that there will be many money-saving ideas generated by people who have been itching to make things better, but haven’t had the forum to do so.  Besides, anyone can make like the big guys and look into recycling programs. Or consider greening your office supplies through a new supplier, like The Green Office.

We also need some suggested for how to make your office or workplace more green, please check out our earlier post on 10 Ways to Green Your Office.

You can also see if your city has a Green Business Certification program, like the ones in San Francisco and Santa Monica, CA.  States are also getting into the act, with new business greening programs taking root in Arizona and Maine.

Whatever steps you take will have an impact on the environment.  And since greening is first about conservation, you’ll likely have a positive impact on your company’s bottom line as well.  A win-win!

The Children Are Our Future

They are also our now. There are more than 61 million children between the ages of 5 and 19 in the US – that’s a lot of school supplies and sack lunches. To help reduce that blow, the Go Green Initiative has designed a program to promote environmental responsibility on school campuses, nationwide. By bringing together parents, students, teachers and administrators, the program creates a united front against climate change. A comprehensive, customizable program, the Go Green Initiative provides all of the resources you need to get going, including a planning guide, communication templates, training, and even access to funding.

Speaking of funding, schools across the nation face budget shortfalls every year. Many schools turn to fundraising to mitigate those shortfalls. Now, you can look to other schools for ideas that help the environment at the same time. Take PS321 in Brooklyn, NY, for example. Their cell phone drive will keep at least some of the 125 million discarded phones out of landfills. That’s important, because phones (and other electronic waste) contain toxins that can leach into the earth and groundwater.

Another idea revolves around the concept of “sponsored waste” as created by TerraCycle, those folks who came up with organic fertilizer made from worm poop and sold in reclaimed containers (yes, it’s real, and it’s spectacular!) TerraCycle now pays schools, non-profits and community groups to collect packaging from partner companies like Capri Sun, Stonyfield Farm and Clif Bar. TerraCycle then upcycles the drink pouches into tote bags and pencil cases, and the yogurt containers into planters. Clif Bar wrappers are molded into a new material to be used to make backpacks and gym totes. Schools can earn from 2 to 5 cents for each container sent in. What a great way to “close the loop”, and get paid doing it!

But, some habits die hard, and sending your children out to knock on doors hawking crap seems to be one of them, for some reason. If you need help transitioning from selling the same ole candy bars and wrapping paper, check out Global Goods Partners, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping schools raise money through the sale of handmade, fair-trade goods like stationery, scarves, and jewelry. Revenue from their artistic offerings assist communities in the areas of economic empowerment, education, health, and women’s rights. Plus, everything is available for purchase online, saving many young knuckles.

Or, look for a program that encourages people to try new green brands, like Southern California’s Fundraising Green. This organization has assembled a book of coupons, redeemable for discounts on eco-friendly alternatives to common brand-name products and services. After all, do we really need any more cookies? No! (Unless they are Thin Mints. Or Tagalongs. But you get the point.)

College Campuses: More Than Just Frats and Keggers

On university campuses across the nation, students are actively voicing their environmental concerns, and are spearheading changes on their campuses. From constructing green buildings to installing more bike racks, changes big and small are taking place on campuses across the country.

Last year, GE and mtvU sponsored a contest for students with the most innovative, groundbreaking idea for campus greening winning $25,000. After more than 100 entries were judged on ecology, imagination, and economics, an MIT team took the top prize. Their idea? The team proposed the construction and management of a solar-powered processor to convert waste vegetable oil to biodiesel, reducing the school’s energy costs and environmental footprint. Well done!

Of course, your campus doesn’t have to go this far, especially if the usual suspects like recycling and composting are not yet in place. If this sounds like your school, one place to start might be the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). AASHE provides tons of help to member campuses, such as how-to guides, workshops and an online resource center. Dorm vs. dorm sustainability challenge, anyone?

Need some more ideas? Students from Middlebury College in Vermont pushed the board of trustees to approve a plan to make the school carbon neutral by 2016. Oberlin College in Ohio created a web-based monitoring system in some of their dorms to show students how much water and energy is being used at any given time, helping change consumption habits. Amazing what a bit of inspiration, coupled with some perspiration, can achieve.

Speaking of Inspiration

With many denominations stating that responsible stewardship of the earth is a moral imperative, it only makes sense to see what impact our churches themselves have on the earth. Many congregations have success stories to share, from purchasing renewable energy as many Unitarian Universalist churches are doing, to planting community gardens on church grounds, like at Church of the Holy Spirit in Baton Rouge, LA.

If you’re interested in helping your church to become greener, there’s an Energy Stewardship Guide for Congregations available to help churches in their energy conservation initiatives. And don’t forget about the same types of initiatives that are being applied elsewhere – from recycling to carpooling, these programs can make a big difference.

Regardless of the circles that you inhabit, opportunities abound to create change from the inside. If you have any other ideas for groups that can make a difference, let us know! 

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