Earth Matters: Column marks first year of greening readers

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By Lynn Capuano

I do many things at home out of concern for the environment. Some are stranger than others. I collect the shower water that I’m wasting (while I wait for the water to warm) in a pail, and use that water to fill the toilet tank after flushing, and I use the water I soak dried beans in to water my house plants.

My husband is on my case to avoid buying any groceries in plastic or Styrofoam packaging. (Do you know how hard this is??) And we’re working hard to carpool to just about every activity the kids go to.

It makes me feel less odd and extreme when I learn we’re not the only family that adapts behaviors to protect our natural environment. Friends and family members all have their lines in the sand as far as things they won’t do because of the environmental impact, whether it’s not drinking almond milk or letting the lawn grow naturally without any chemical interference. Unfortunately, though, often those individual decisions are coupled with less environmentally friendly decisions, like ordering items online and driving oversized vehicles that get poor gas mileage.

How do we make these decisions and what influences us?

This week marks one year since we started writing this column. We all hope that we are influencing you and maybe even changing some of your behaviors. However, it’s a shot in the dark as many campaigns are. Will this message speak to people in such a way that they change their behavior? We question whether it is more effective to target children or adults.

Three out of the five of us who write this column are also involved in an effort at one of the elementary schools to raise student awareness about the environmental harm due to all kinds of waste. We started a “reduce” challenge at the school, and each month we focus on a different area to try to reduce waste such as water, energy, and food.

Each student receives tally cards on which they track what they do each day to reduce waste. At the end of the month, each classroom teacher counts each student’s marks and nominates the high-scoring student to be showcased on a poster in the hallway as a Rising Star by the Home-School Association Green Committee. The selected student also receives a bag of environmentally friendly products like a reusable bag and reusable straws.

I am of two minds about this effort. On the one hand, I think this sort of project raises awareness so, at the very least, the students are familiar with the vocabulary of environmental protection. On the other hand, I worry that it becomes white noise because the message of this project is not reiterated in other ways throughout the school day and possibly not at home, and then the significance of the environmental issues is diminished for the students. We continue to write this column, though, and we continue to adjust our approach with the students, ever hopeful that we are connecting and engaging people to think and maybe even changing their behavior.

The idea isn’t that climate change will be reversed because you turn off the water when you brush your teeth. The hope is that because you do that you may ask different questions of the people running for office, and then you may vote differently, and that will help address climate change through changes in global agreements and national policies.

Perhaps you will support community composting and preserving open space, and will demand centralized water management to preserve and protect our precious aquifers. Maybe you’ll change your purchasing behaviors and start to demand that manufacturers eliminate the use of plastic in their products, and that retailers and the service industries eliminate the sale and use of anything made of plastic. We have to at least try.

Each of us has received positive feedback about the column which is gratifying and invigorating. We enjoy having a forum through which we can let the larger community know about environmental issues we are tracking. When we started, we agreed to focus each column on one of the following topics: what to do at home, sustainability, emerging environmental health threats, and debunking “green” myths. Those topics gave us plenty to explore as the breadth of subjects we have covered makes clear. As our first year comes to a close and we begin our second year, we hope to continue to provide valuable information and hope to hear more from our readers.

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