Here are five simple ways to preserve the planet for future generations.
1. Buy local first, organic second. When organic baby formula hits the shelves, you know the organic food movement is here to stay. Great, now maybe the growth in demand will make organic more affordable. The problem is, organic may be better for you, but it’s not always better for our planet. For starters, the fact that consumers are willing to pay more for organic foods means farmers can afford to ship that food farther, which requires more refrigeration and more durable packaging, all of which adds up to more oil and a larger carbon footprint.
I’m not talking about shipping bananas across the country; I’m talking about fruit coming from New Zealand, and vegetables coming from Chile. That’s a lot of oil. Meanwhile, your local farmer can get you fresh milk, apples, potatoes, and much more on a quarter of a tank of gas. The popularity of local farmer’s markets means patronizing your local farmer can be about as easy as going to the grocery store. If the grocery store is your only option, try to choose products that originate closer to home. And consider only consuming fruits and vegetables that are in season.Want to learn more? The folks at Tree Hugger have put together a fabulous resource about this topic.
And check out Sustainable Table about buying local and eating well.
2. Be a smart landscaper. Did you know that gasoline-powered landscaping equipment such as lawn mowers account for five percent of urban air pollution? We hear a lot about the negative environmental impact of highly-manicured golf courses; the same goes for your highly manicured lawn. That coveted, lush carpet in your front yard requires a lot of water and a lot of fertilizer. Your best bet is to preserve as much of the natural woodland as possible around your home—it’s better at soaking up water, which means it helps to prevent flooding.
If you must landscape, use plants that exist naturally in your area. Carefully consider how much sun you get, and plant accordingly so as to minimize the amount of watering required. If you’re dealing with overgrown shrubs and trees, relocate them instead of dumping them, especially if they are natural to your area. Finally, if you’re blessed with a sunny yard, replace some of your lawn with a vegetable garden. Install a soaker hose to minimize watering.
3. Embrace the digital lifestyle. If you’re still using a point and shoot camera that requires film, trading it in for a digital camera is a must. The chemicals used to develop film and print the photos are toxic. Even better: you can edit your digital photos before you print them, selecting only your favorites, which saves paper. If you’re concerned about the quality of the photography and preserving the photos for the long term, you don’t need to be. Most point and shoot digital cameras on the market today take quality photos that rival film. And companies such as Kodak and Hewlett Packard have improved their printing technology to give you crisp, clear prints of your photos on glossy paper that looks as good, if not better, than traditional film.
Next, consider digital movie rentals. Most cable companies offer an on-demand movie rental option. This cuts out the DVD and all that goes with it—driving to the store, manufacturing the DVD, and storing it, not to mention the DVD player itself!
What about digital music? Surprisingly, there’s a lot of debate over whether iPods and digital music are good for the environment or not. Since CDs are not biodegradable, it would seem that digital music is the more sustainable option. On the other hand, digital music has to be played somewhere, and the non-stop technology revolution means lots of iPods, computers, and their parts are ending up in landfills. If you’re one of the many iTunes addicts, then consider recycling your CDs, and avoid trading up every time a new, only slightly better digital music player enters the market.
4. Recycle your technology. When you do upgrade your computer, printer, and other components, take advantage of one of the many technology recycling programs offered by Dell, Hewlett Packard, Apple, IBM, and others.
Dell recently announced, “Plant a Tree for Me,” a partnership with The Conservation Fund and carbonfund.org that allows consumers to offset the carbon emissions associated with their personal computing products. Dell claims that their program “zeroes out” the CO2 produced by the energy you’ll consume with your computer. Even if it offsets it only slightly, planting a tree can’t be a bad thing.
Recycling your technology parts is all well and good, but what about buying smart in the first place? The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition has put together a report card on companies who operate responsibly.
5. Buy smart all the time. One of the best things you can do, of course, is to buy products that don’t require recycling in the first place. GreenPeople has a large directory of green products that you can search by zip code to find retailers in your area.
These are just five small things you can do, but there is so much more. I’ve found that being mindful of my everyday habits is a good start toward building a sustainable future for myself—and generations to come.