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A few weeks ago I attended a "Green Festival" in Washington, D.C., tagged as the world’s largest environmental expo. As I walked around, I kept thinking about who this festival was really meant for. Everyone in attendance chose to go to (and pay to get in) this event. These are people who are already invested in the environment.

So, was anyone really learning anything new?

And if festivals, lectures and the like aren’t the answer, how do we reach the people who just aren’t yet thinking about "being green"?

My first solution: Don’t call it "green."

Don't call it Green

I probably shouldn’t say this as the green living blogger on Cool Green Science, but I don’t like the term "green." At least amongst mixed company.

You know who I mean: the people who roll their eyes when they just hear the word "organic" or talk about how vegan food must taste like tree bark while chowing down on perfectly vegan French fries or cookies.

The problem is that anyone can use the word to describe just about anything. And that leads to overuse (which the term is dangerously close to reaching) and confusion. And if people don’t think the word means anything, it could lead people to just give up entirely on trying to make an effort.

And who can really blame them? According to environmental marketing firm TerraChoice, the average number of "green" products on the shelves of big-box stores almost doubled between 2007 and 2008. Their 2007 study on “greenwashing” found that, of 1,018 products surveyed, all but one product made claims that are demonstrably false or risk misleading consumers.

What we really need is to stop relying on linguistic shortcuts when providing details about the benefits of a particular product, service or lifestyle choice.

Set a good example ...

People are bombarded with messages all day long, and we have mostly learned to tune them out. But one thing people still notice is the other people immediately around them. So if 75 percent of shoppers are carrying tote bags, the other 25 percent might start to wonder what the benefits are. And if drivers see you happily zipping along in the bike lane while they are stuck in traffic day after day, they might eventually warm up to the idea of alternative modes of transportation.

So proudly carry around those reusable bags, and share with your friends a tip about the delicious apples at the local farmer’s market.

…but don't be a schmuck

Scolding people into making personal changes never works. They have to want to do it, and to do it for their own reasons.

So when you talk to other people about what you’re doing for the environment, leave them out of it. Be available to answer questions and help them when they are ready, but let them reach out to you. They’ll be glad they have their very own non-judgmental environmental guru to turn to.

Help make things easier

One of the best parts about the Green Festival was the trash situation. Each “trash can” was really three clearly marked receptacles: trash, recycling and compost. In addition, every plate, cup, bowl, napkin, utensil and sample cup was 100 percent biodegradable and could be put in the compost bin with food scraps.

If only it were this easy in our daily lives.

To really get everyone on the right track, the "green option" has to be the easiest option, or very close to it. So help make doing the right thing the easier thing: advocate for curbside recycling programs, start a local carpooling group, or volunteer to make changes at your office, such as creating a bike room, having an in-house composting bin, and installing double-sided printing options.

Celebrate the free stuff

If there was one thing that was clear at the Green Festival, it’s that people (myself included) love free samples.

Many people still think that “being green” is expensive, but there are so many things people can do that are eco-friendly and low cost that you can shout about:

  • Walking more and driving less. Save on gas and get some exercise at the same time.
  • Replacing your light bulbs with CFL bulbs. CFL bulbs cost a little more than incandescent bulbs, but they last up to 10 times longer while using about one-fourth of the energy, according to the Energy Department.
  • Eating more vegetarian meals. Beef averages $3 per pound in U.S. cities and boneless chicken breasts cost about $3.40 a pound. On the other hand, dried legumes and rice are less than $1 a pound.
  • Shopping (and eating) in season. Steering clear of strawberries and melons in the winter will not only save a lot of dough, you’ll avoid having your fruit shipped around the world.
  • Shopping online. No, not online stores, but on sites such as Craigslist or Freecycle, where you can find secondhand goods — everything from furniture to house wares to baby clothes — for really cheap or often completely free!
I obviously don’t have all the answers, but these are the ways I plan to reach out to people in my life. How do you plan to reach out?
-- Text by Judy Althaus, Cool Green Science Blog