Earth Day | What Does It Mean to Go Green?

tips for how to go green this Earth Day

‘Going Green’ means to live life, as an individual as well as a community, in a way that is friendly to the natural environment and is sustainable for the earth, and Earth Day is the annual day of awareness that celebrates the green lifestyle.  

It is an opportunity for individuals and communities to come together to adopt new behaviors and share knowledge and practices that can lead to more environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible decisions and lifestyles.  As a result, Earth Day reminds us that small changes in how we live our daily lives today can help protect the environment and sustain its natural resources for future generations.

In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations. – Great Law of the Iroquois Confederacy

To meet today’s environmental challenges, it’s important for everyone to consider the effects of their actions at home and in the workplace. Here are a few tips and resources for environmental stewardship provided by experts at the World Watch Institute:

Recycle

Recycling programs exist in cities and towns across the United States, and as a result, helps save energy and protect the environment. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, for each pound of aluminum recovered, Americans save the energy resources necessary to generate roughly 7.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is enough to power a city the size of Pittsburgh for six years!

What you can do:

  • Put a separate container next to your trash can or printer, making it easier to recycle your bottles, cans, and paper.

Turn Off the Lights

On the last Saturday in March hundreds of people, businesses, and governments around the world turn off their lights for an hour as part of Earth Hour, a movement to address climate change.

What you can do:

  • Although Earth Hour happens once a year, you can make an impact every day by turning off lights during bright daylight, or whenever you will be away for an extended period of time.

Make the Switch

Compared to traditional incandescents, energy-efficient lightbulbs such as halogen incandescents, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and light emitting diodes (LEDs) have the following advantages:

  • Typically use about 25%-80% less energy than traditional incandescents, saving you money
  • Can last 3-25 times longer.

What you can do:

  • Plan to switch out your traditional incandescents with energy saving bulbs the next time your old bulbs die out.

Turn ON the Tap

It is known that plastic water bottles create huge environmental problems, and therefore the energy required to transport these bottles could fuel an estimated 1.5 million cars for a year. The kicker here? About 75 percent of water bottles are not recycled, rather, they end up in landfills, litter roadsides, and pollute waterways and oceans. 

What you can do:

  • Fill up your glasses and reusable water bottles with water from the sink. The United States has more than 160,000 public water systems, and by eliminating bottled water you can help to keep nearly 1 million tons of bottles out of the landfill, as well as save money on water costs.

Turn DOWN the Heat

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that consumers can save up to 15 percent on heating and cooling bills just by adjusting their thermostats. Turning down the heat by 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours can result in savings of 5–15 percent on your home heating bill.

What you can do:

  • Turn down your thermostat when you leave for work, or use a programmable thermostat to control your heating settings.

Support Food Recovery Programs

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO),  roughly a third of all food produced for human consumption—approximately 1.3 billion tons—gets lost or wasted, including 34 million tons in the United States annually.

What you can do:

  • Encourage your local restaurants and grocery stores to partner with food rescue organizations.
  • Go through your cabinets and shelves and donate any non-perishable canned and dried foods that you won’t be using to your nearest food bank or shelter.

Buy Local

Local and small businesses are more sustainable because they are often more accountable for their actions, have smaller environmental footprints, and innovate to meet local conditions—providing models for others to learn from.

What you can do:

  • Instead of relying exclusively on large supermarkets, consider farmers markets and local farms for your produce, eggs, dairy, and meat. Food from these sources is usually fresher and more flavorful, and your money will be going directly to these food producers.

Get Out and Ride

Carpooling and using public transportation helps cut down on greenhouse gas emissions, as well as gas bills. Cities across the country are investing in new mobility options like bike sharing programs, and people are renting for short-term use. As a result, there’s been a significant reduction in emissions.

What you can do:

  • If available, use your city’s bike share program to run short errands or commute to work. Memberships are generally inexpensive (only $75 for the year in Washington, D.C.), and by eliminating transportation costs, as well as a gym membership, you can save quite a bit of money!
  • Even if without bike share programs, many cities and towns are incorporating bike lanes and trails, making it easier and safer to use your bike for transportation and recreation.

Share a Car

Car sharing programs spread from Europe to the United States nearly 13 years ago and are increasingly popular, with U.S. membership jumping 117 percent between 2007 and 2009.  Consequently, in 2009 car-sharing was credited with reducing U.S. carbon emissions by more than 482,000 tons. 

What you can do:

  • Join a car share program! As of July 2011, there were 26 such programs in the U.S., with more than 560,000 people sharing over 10,000 vehicles.
  • Of course, if you don’t want to get rid of your own car, using a shared car when traveling in a city can greatly reduce the challenges of finding parking (car share programs have their own designated spots), as well as your environmental impact as you run errands or commute to work.

Plant a Garden

Whether you live in a studio loft or a house in the suburbs, growing your own vegetables is a simple way to bring fresh and nutritious food literally to your doorstep with minimal impact. 

What you can do:

  • Plant some lettuce in a window box. Lettuce seeds are cheap and easy to find, and when planted in full sun, one window box can provide enough to make several salads worth throughout a season.

Compost

What better way to fertilize a personal garden than using your own composted organic waste. Likely, you will not only reduce costs by buying less fertilizer, but you will also help to cut down on food and other organic waste.

What you can do:

Reduce Your Meat Consumption

Livestock production accounts for about 18 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions and accounts for about 23 percent of all global water used in agriculture. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan, but by simply cutting down on the amount of meat you consume can go a long way.

What you can do:

  • Consider substituting one meal day with a vegetarian option. And if you are unable to think of how to substitute your meat-heavy diet, websites such as Meatless Monday and Eating Well offer numerous vegetarian recipes that are healthy for you and the environment.

Making small changes and adopting sustainable practices, for instance, ride sharing, buying local,  turning off the lights, or recycling can make an enormous impact on the environment over the long term. 

Click here for more on Earth Day 2019 and ideas for change.




Change-Makers: The Yellow Tulip Project

Photo of Julia Hansen, founder of The Yellow Tulip ProjectOn an early May evening this year in Portland, Maine, a radical art exhibition quietly opened on the edges of the city. It was called I Am More: Facing Stigma and featured life-size black and white photographs of 22 people from the wider community.

There were artists, doctors, real estate agents, high school students, mental health advocates, and poets ranging from 14 years old to 69. The images, created by the photographer Lissy Thomas, were accompanied by a short description of how each person identified themselves. “I am a doctor. I am a father. I suffer from depression.”

The exhibition was organized by The Yellow Tulip Project, a non-profit organization formed by a 16-year old high school student from Portland called Julia Hansen. The organizers had put out a call on Facebook, to see if people would be willing to step forward and publicly share their experiences of living with mental health issues or of being impacted by the suicide of a loved one.

Smashing the stigma

It was personal experience that compelled Hansen to set up this project. When she was a sophomore in Portland, she lost a best friend to suicide. Six months later, her other closest friend also took her own life. Emerging from the grief and shock of the deaths of her two best friends, Hansen then did something transformative.

She wanted to bring discussions of depression and mental illness out of the shadows of high school culture and into the light. So she set up The Yellow Tulip Project, and crafted “Tulip Teams” in schools throughout northern New England. These volunteers would become advocates for mental wellness within their own school walls and build “Hope Gardens”—where yellow tulip bulbs are planted in schoolyards and community spaces every fall.

Yellow was the favorite color of one of her best friends, and the tulip the favorite flower of another. “The tulips kind of represent my depression,” explains Hansen. “The bulbs are there and they’re in the cold and dark. But in the spring they’re forced to push up through the ground and bloom, to see the beauty again.”

A rising trend

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America states that anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults (that’s 18.1 percent of the adult population of the U.S. or nearly one in five). Data from the National Institute of Mental Health shows that in 2016, an estimated 16.2 million adults (6.7 percent of the population) had at least one major depressive episode that year.

These statistics are mirrored in the workplace. Mental health issues are the fourth most common cause of both short-term and long-term private disability insurance claims—the key reasons why people take prolonged time off work.

This form of disability is one that many struggle to talk about. It’s something that actor and writer Will Wheaton—famed for his role in the iconic film Stand By Me—discussed in a speech at the Ohio chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) which he then recounted in a blog that has since gone viral.

Julia Hansen believes that one of the best ways to heal this epidemic is to build educated communities. She encourages people to come together in real life to create gardens and communal spaces where conversations about things like depression can naturally flow.

She says this is something we can all help to cultivate. The key is to normalize the conversation. “We want to build strong, supportive and educated communities that support people struggling with mental illness,” she explains. “One day we hope that we can all speak openly about mental illness in the same way that we speak about physical illness.”

Change-Makers is a series of blogs where The Council for Disability Awareness highlights people who are raising awareness and normalizing conversations about disability in their communities. Do you know of someone doing extraordinary work? Write to us at info@disabilitycouncil.org  

Pictured above, Julia Hansen. Image courtesy of Lissy Thomas.