Take simple steps toward a greener lifestyle
Wed, May 06 2009 at 1:58 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy of Texas has learned that more than 50 percent of Americans, including Texans, want to live an environmentally conscious lifestyle but many don’t know what to do to make a significant difference for the health of the planet.
According to a recent Harris Poll on green living (supported by The Nature Conservancy), nearly three-quarters of Americans believe their actions can make a difference in protecting the environment. Yet, beyond recycling, fewer than 5 percent of those making lifestyle changes to “go green” have taken other important steps, such as consolidating driving trips to reduce gas use, using utilities wisely or using energy-efficient light bulbs, Harris reports.
“Texans are clearly aware and concerned about living greener lives and they are certainly willing to take steps to be more Earth-friendly when they know what steps to take,” said Laura Huffman, state director for The Nature Conservancy of Texas. “We want people to know that every small lifestyle change counts.”
Some simple things Texans can do to help safeguard natural resources include:
• Bring your own reusable bags to the store when you shop.
• Pay and receive your bills online to save paper and trees.
• Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs to save energy.
• Water your garden before 10 a.m. and after 8 p.m. to reduce moisture loss through evaporation.
• Make sure your tires are properly inflated to save gas.
Additional information, including a related podcast interview with Nature Conservancy staff and a downloadable poster with green tips, can be found online at nature.org/texas.
The Harris Poll found that 53 percent of those surveyed have taken steps to green their lives. At the same time, 34 percent said they hadn’t changed their lifestyle because they “did not know what to do.”
Huffman noted that if every American home switched out just one incandescent light bulb for a compact fluorescent one, the United States would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for an entire year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. However, only a small fraction of those polled have made this change.
“There are lots of Earth-friendly ideas out there for people to choose from,” Huffman said. “You don’t have to do them all — just pick one to start with. Simply switching to compact fluorescent bulbs will not only help the environment, it will save you money, too. The bulbs last much longer and are much more economical when it comes to paying your energy bill.”
She added that cost savings are a benefit to many lifestyle changes that help the environment. “Being conservative in using gasoline, in adjusting your thermostat and in choosing energy-efficient appliances will all be good news for your pocketbook, too,” she said.
In 1995, San Antonio was the first city in Texas to offer curbside recycling to all city residents. Stephen Haney, interim chief of environmental programs for the city’s Solid Waste Management Department, advises people who want to recycle to start small. “In my family, it started off with recycling paper, then evolved from there,” he said. “The hardest thing for people to do is change their behavior, but if you do it gradually, it’s not painful.
“If you want to start recycling, put a little container beside your kitchen trash can. Then, when you’re cooking, just throw the clean recyclable packaging materials into the container instead of the trash. The key is just to start, and make it convenient.”
If someone wants to do more than recycle, there are other options that make a difference. After recycling, paying bills online is the most common energy-saving measure reported by those who have made lifestyle changes (73 percent). Nearly half (49 percent) are buying more locally produced food and/or goods, and many are buying green household products (47 percent) and installing energy-saving appliances (46 percent).
For example, Steve Brown, 41, a project manager and business analyst in San Antonio, recently switched health clubs so he could more efficiently commute to work on his bicycle part of the time to reduce gas consumption.
About twice a week, he throws his bike in the back of his truck and takes his 3-year-old son to day care on the way to work. After work, he drives to the gym, works out, then rides his bike home, leaving his truck at the gym. The next morning, he rides his bike from home to the gym, showers and drives to work. He says he saves substantially in gas costs this way, which pays for his gym membership.
“This allows me to do two things I want to do – get some exercise and save energy,” Brown said. “With some creative thinking, you can figure out how to make it work.”
Brown’s major commitment to a greener lifestyle, however, is his backyard organic garden, where he grows summer and winter vegetables along with fruits and berries. “I grow a lot of the food we eat,” he said. “We cook for the season, and we put up preserves and freeze berries.”
Recycling has simply become part of daily life for Joel and Margaret Kenty of Austin and their son, 10, and daughter, 7. “We’ve always been recyclers, even before curbside pick-up,” said Joel Kenty, a 42-year-old financial planner. They created a recycling center in their garage on a wire metal shelf that holds containers for bottles and plastic, different types of paper, aluminum cans and plastic grocery bags.
“I’ve always thought it’s important to recycle,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to throw useful things in the landfill and it saves so much energy to recycle.” His children grew up recycling, he added. “It’s a way of life for them now.”
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.