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Small tweaks provide for living a greener life

By Dr. Susan Caplow, assistant professor & coordinator of environmental studies 

Guest Column, published April 18, 2018 in the Shelby County Reporter 

As an environmental studies professor, the number one question I get from students and community members is, “how can I best help the environment?”

A lot of people are interested in treading more lightly on the Earth but are not sure what behaviors will result in the biggest positive change. Of course, there isn’t one simple answer to this question, but I want to share some thoughts in light of recent Earth Day celebrations.

First, I think it’s important to remember that every effort counts. It’s easy to beat yourself up over the less eco-friendly things you do, but keep this in mind: every time you choose a more sustainable option is better than if you hadn’t.

We all have unique constraints on our options, so we must find our own way to go green. That said, a lot of pro-environmental behaviors that may seem hard at first may represent win-win-wins: for the environment, your health and your wallet! Consider upping your game in whatever way you can to enjoy the benefits of a green lifestyle.

Now, onto the recommendations: some big-ticket behaviors pack a larger punch in terms of environmental benefit. Transportation, home energy use  and food choices can be high-impact areas in multiple ways.

For example, minimizing car use by living close to work, bundling trips or walking/biking as much as possible will reduce your carbon footprint, shorten your stressful commute and save you gas money.

In the home, purchasing energy efficient appliances and moving the thermostat a degree or two closer to the outdoor temperature saves money and energy with very little effort involved.

You can also make a big difference by forgoing international air travel – one transatlantic trip emits the same amount of carbon as a year of driving!

Finally, limiting animal products in your diet will help the environment, animals and your health; animal agriculture is a major emitter of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants, and the average American eats far more animal products than is recommended for a balanced diet.

As a general rule, remember the 3Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle. Did you know these “Rs” are ranked? Reducing waste is the best “R” for the environment.

So ideally, instead of just recycling, you’ll find a way to reuse a product first – but if you can avoid purchasing the item altogether, that choice is the best for the environment and for your budget.

This rule applies to water, energy, food, consumer goods, etc.- any time you avoid consuming a resource, you’ve done something good for the planet.

Of course, you and I cannot save the environment alone. Ideally, these individual behaviors happen alongside environmental policies at the local, state, national, and global levels.

Without protections for environmental resources and regulation of pollution, we can see dangerous levels of contamination of the water, air and soil we depend on for our survival.

So consider asking your representatives to support pro-environmental legislation, as government programs help us stay safe and preserve resources for our grandchildren to enjoy.