You have lots of free time, right? Of course not. Life is busy and getting busier all the time. And let's face it: when it comes to squeezing in grocery shopping, getting the laundry done and dreaming up ideas to green the planet, we all know which to-do item is going to get pushed to the bottom of your list.

Which is why if you feel like the Green Lone Ranger, you may be going about things the wrong way. Going green as a family — especially if you have kids — should be a group activity. One way to get the ball rolling is by forming a family green committee. 

So grab a big bowl of organic popcorn, a couple of recycled notepads, and call the gang together. Let's turn your family into a self-starting green machine.

Buy-in equals progress

Just as democratic government is derived from the consent of the people, real green change requires buy-in from everyone — even if we're talking about a single household. You'll never get the kids to turn off unused lights if they don't think it's important. And if they're not minding the power bill, forget about getting everyone to separate their trash for recycling.

In our article "How to green your 21st century business," we discussed the importance of multi-departmental green committees in the workplace. These same principles apply at home. If you can get everyone contributing to the idea of a more efficient, less resource-hungry home, you'll not only improve participation — you're likely to discover new solutions.

Make a plan

You can conduct your family meeting just as you would at work. Start by prioritizing some broad areas of discussion. Here are 10 possibilities:

  • Energy use
  • Laundry
  • The kitchen
  • A "greener" yard
  • Recycling
  • Safer household cleaners
  • Using less gasoline
  • Heating and cooling
  • Water conservation
  • Family meals
Jot your favorites on a set of index cards. Agree on some fixed period of time — 10 minutes per topic, maybe — and start brainstorming. Everyone is an "idea man."

Using a whiteboard or a sheet of paper for each topic, write down every suggestion. Adopt a "no bad idea" policy: everything goes to paper at this stage without discussion. Try not to let people filter each other's contributions. Once the ideas slow down, move to the next card and a clean whiteboard.

This phase shouldn't last more than 20 or 30 minutes. When you get to that point, stop. Now comes the business part. Bring out your whiteboards, one by one, and try to arrive at a single action item from each. Combine similar suggestions, talk things out, and move the most practical, highest-yield ideas to the top of the page. Then take a vote.

Write down your goals

As you come up with your winning ideas, assign family members to each task. This is a family, not a boardroom, so the object is to create a sense of ownership rather than a system of accountability. Discuss how your action items will get done. As you build these mini-plans, transfer them to a master sheet. This will get posted in one or more locations around the home.

Commit to the next step

The final thing you should do is schedule the next family meeting. It could be a week or a month, depending on how much you've decided to start doing and your family's enthusiasm. At your next meeting, review progress on your first batch of items and brainstorm a few more.

Never toss your whiteboards: they're a great place to start the next time the topics are addressed. It also reinforces the idea that everyone's opinions matter. This is team building, even if the youngest members don't have all their permanent teeth yet. Have fun.

Do you have a tip for greening the family? Has something worked well for you? Please share in our comments section!

Copyright Lighter Footstep 2008