Why is environmental sustainability such an intimidating concept to put into practice? I am a huge fan of the outdoors–an avid hiker, trail racer, and diver. I recycle. I don’t litter. I leave no trace. And yes, sometimes I even skip a toilet flushing or two. You know, “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” and all that.
Too much info? Moving on.
But, I often wonder if there’s something more we can do to help the environment beyond recycling paper and plastic. My internet searches on this topic return a confusing, twisted path of articles and organizations that leave me feeling hopeless and confused.
Information is power, but only if it’s useful and you know what to do with it. I didn’t know what to do with all of those articles. I just needed the basics; how do I take it to the next level of being environmentally conscious?
Did you catch our suggestions on how to ask for help? That’s exactly what I did when I hit a wall with this week’s post on environmental sustainability. I asked for some help from someone who lives and breathes this stuff.
I met Nancy Meyer in Bali, Indonesia. She was a fellow traveler that participated in our DIEMlife workshop and a true expert in energy and sustainability. I was grateful she had the time to answer a few of my questions and share some valuable insight to help us everyday folk come up with a master plan to help the environment.
Tim: Nancy, how did you get involved in energy and environmental sustainability?
In the early years of my career I worked in the nonprofit sector in Indianapolis addressing issues of hunger, homelessness and youth development and eventually made my way to Peace Corps to volunteer abroad. After working on community development and poverty alleviation issues both overseas and locally, I decided to pursue a policy degree so that I could work on the more systemic nature of some of these problems to create longer lasting solutions. I moved to DC after getting my MPA and began working as a policy analyst with the federal government on a whole host of issues ranging from transportation security, food aid nutrition and air emissions from power plants. From there, I was recruited by my current company to focus on environmental policy issues affecting the energy sector and I’ve been there for the past 6 years.
Tim: What can we do to be more energy efficient at home?
Nancy: Even though the United States has backed out of the Paris Agreement, you can still make a contribution to reducing your individual carbon footprint. The US Paris pledge included a long-term goal of reducing economy-wide emissions by 80% by 2050. Drastically improving energy efficiency over the next few decades is vital to meeting those targets. The US Department of Energy provides a personal checklist you can follow that gives several good ideas for making your own home more energy efficient. For example, sealing air leaks in your home could reduce your personal energy consumption, and associated emissions, by 20 to 30%.
Another simpler idea than the energy audit, is something I try to do every day at our own apartment – figure out how to program your thermostat (if it can be programmed) or make a habit of turning the AC/heat down when you leave the apartment. I have a post-it note next to our door so that myself and the boys remember as we’re walking out the door. Another huge energy saver is keeping your blinds/curtains drawn during the heat/cold of the day. We have floor-to-ceiling windows in our apartment, so once the sun comes up we close the blinds to keep some of the heat out this time of year.
Tim: There’s so much info out there. Any basic tips that can make a big impact on saving the environment?
Nancy: Contributing to environmental sustainability may seem like a vague and challenging goal, but you can take many small steps in your daily and weekly routines that can pay big dividends not only for your pocketbook, but also for the environment.
- Shop with reusable grocery bags. If you live in a place that doesn’t already ban or tax plastic bags, consider living as if you do. Plastic bags are a huge pollutant to the natural environment – they can strangle and poison animals and break down over time into smaller particles that contaminate soil and ocean water. Compared to other plastics, they also aren’t very economic to recycle – so you can do the environment a huge favor and not use them at all.
- Reduce your food waste. Nearly 40% of food in the United States is never eaten, and as it decomposes in landfills it turns into methane – a GHG 28 times more potent than CO2. For those willing to take a big step – composting is a great option, but if you don’t have your own garden it might involve finding a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) organization to donate your scraps to or investing in your own vermicomposting (worm!) bin. If that sounds too extreme, consider committing to taking inventory of the food in your fridge before going to the grocery store each week and getting creative with your leftovers and existing fruits and veggies so less gets thrown away. Organizing a weekly shopping list and meal plan can provide accountability to ensure that you prepare and use all the food you buy each week.
Tim: Like me, I know you love the outdoors. What are some things we can do in the outdoors to help the environment?
In terms of sustainability in the outdoors – when hiking, I always remember to “leave no trace” and bring plastic bags to carry out all trash that you bring in with you when you’re out for a long hike. This includes not throwing banana peels and apple cores out into the wilderness because it can disrupt the natural habitat. Likewise, always bring your own reusable water bottle/water bladder to carry water in when on a long hike. This is a good idea for every day life as well – the world needs fewer plastic bottles in it! Lastly, if you are a city dweller like me, try to find a carpool out to the trailhead if you’re going on a weekend hike. Likely, there are other friends who would love to join you on that hike or run – so make the most of the gas to get out there!
Tim: This is awesome, Nancy, thanks! Any parting words?
Nancy: Like tackling any big challenge, the key to fostering a more environmentally sustainable lifestyle is starting with small, achievable goals based on your personal situation. Perhaps giving up all plastic bags doesn’t work for you, so adjust based on what makes sense for you. Whatever mindful steps you take to becoming more sustainable, regardless of how big or small, will no doubt have a lasting impact on the environment.
Hopefully this post and Nancy’s insight inspires you to find more ways to help ensure we can always say “This Land is our Land.” Before I leave, I wanted to share rare footage of a me completing a lifelong Quest (“Roll down a grassy hill in Ireland”) on a trip I took there a couple years ago.
I mean, look at that lush, green landscape and that beautiful sky! None of this would be possible without a rich and healthy environment. Let’s work together to keep it like this so you and your loved ones can continue to breathe clean air, swim in clear waters, awkwardly roll down hills in Ireland, and enjoy our life to the fullest on this beautiful planet.
About our contributor:
Nancy Meyer grew up on a small, family farm in Indiana where she spent the majority of her childhood outdoors bailing hay, feeding cattle and chopping weeds out of corn and soybean fields. After college, she moved to Indianapolis and worked on issues such as ending hunger and homelessness and improving economic opportunities and quality of life in disadvantaged communities. After pursuing an MPA, she moved to Washington, DC to work on policy solutions to address the systemic nature of such social issues. She currently conducts research on climate change for the energy sector at a private sector consulting firm. She lives in DC with her partner Jamie and their two nephews. On the weekends, she is typically out trail running, spending time in her community garden plot, or enjoying meals and conversations with friends.