Hey, it's cool if you're not ready to dive in head first. We don't expect everyone to be as all-consumed with this idea as we are--especially not at first. You can play the field. You can just be an "eco-friend with benefits." For that crowd, here are some icebreakers for you, some ways to dip your toe in the sustainable sea before getting totally naked.
1. Imagine a fully renewable powered world
2. Learn more about renewable energy and sustainability
3. Slow down
4. Support sustainable-focused organizations
5. Have an energy audit
6. Compost, re-use and recycle
7. Research permaculture and then plant a garden
8. Consider going a step beyond compact fluorescents
9. Share your ride
10. Shop wisely
Imagine a fully renewable-energy powered world
That's right, all you have to do is daydream. Holy crap, it doesn't get any less committed than that, does it?
Maybe start with just your life, seeing the day when you drive a biofuel or electric vehicle and live in a house that produces all of it's own energy using renewables like solar or wind or geothermal. Then picture your entire neighborhood doing that. Then picture it spreading throughout your city, your country, your world. We're serious. Just fantasize about that. It'll help.
This idea comes from our friends at The Intenders, who help people make the most of their thoughts and words.
Learn more about renewable energy and sustainability
Oh, don't run away yet, there won't be any tests. All we're suggesting is reading a few tidbits about solar thermal power, solar electric power, biofuels, wave generation, hydrogen generation or whatever category of renewable energy that tickles your noggin'. Click here for educational links if you'd like some suggestions.
This is common sense, we know, but we find that it helps to have a reminder from time to time, especially in our high-speed culture. Slowing down is a good way to save energy, whether it's on the freeway (slowing down five or 10 miles per hour saves a good amount on gas) or just taking some "off" time to recharge your own personal energy supply. Plus, it's just more enjoyable to go through life at a pace where you can actually be present in what you're doing, right? Toward this end, consider saving one day a week for a simple, unplugged, less-consumptive activity like walking to the park for a picnic or going to the library or having some meditation time in a quiet place.
Support sustainable-focused organizations
There are many great non-profits and community-based organizations working toward sustainability and self-reliance and we can't stress enough how much they can use your help. It's part of our mission to highlight as many of these great organizations as possible and we'll begin doing so in spring of 2009, when we hit the road again! If you're really having a hard time thinking of one to support through volunteerism or donations, may we suggest the SolTrekker organization?
Have an energy audit
If you're a homeowner or a renter and you want to throw your money out leaky windows and drafty doors, then you shouldn't have an energy audit. But if you'd like to save money on your utility bills, the best place to start is with an energy audit. You might be surprised how much you can save just by sealing your home and adding a few insulated window shades, and you can save even more by adding extra insulation if the audit finds that your house is poorly insulated. If you're a renter, consider asking your landlord to at least split the costs of sealing up window and door drafts with you. It will save you money on utilities and it will make the rental space a little more valuable to the owner.
Compost, recycle and re-use
Recycle: Sure, you already recycle glass, plastic and aluminum (we hope!) but think about also recycling electronics. And when you're buying batteries, consider buying rechargeable batteries, which can be recycled. Check out rbrc.org.
Re-use: Think twice before throwing something away or buying new. For most things, there are a lot of other options. Check out www.freecycle.org and earth911.org for more ideas.
Compost: Creating a compost pile or compost bin where you can put your biodegradable garbage and food scraps keeps it out of landfills and turns it into fertilizer that will help you take on the next eco-tip.
Research permaculture and then plant a garden
There are 30 million acres of lawns in the United States. We understand that it's nice to have a grassy space to recreate, but this statistic is worth mentioning every time we hear the argument that biofuels compete with food when it comes to land use. It could be said that lawns (and the grass seed fields used to seed them) compete just as much. If you rarely use your lawn, why not consider giving it a permaculture makeover, and turn it into a place rich with native species, a space that provides food and requires less water and no mowing. If full-on permaculture sounds too taxing for you, consider starting with a simple raised bed or container garden. Here's a few permaculture links:
www.permaculture.org, www.permaearth.org and permaculture.net.
Consider going a step beyond compact fluorescents
Yes, compact fluorescents are more efficient than the incandescent light bulbs that most of us grew up with, and it's common to see “change your light bulbs” on lists like this, but we'd suggest going further and checking out LED lighting. It's a little harder to find at this point, and slightly more expensive, but LEDs do not contain mercury, they last much longer and they're even more efficient than CFLs. And for those who complain about the "blue light" of LEDs they have seen, take a look at some of the newest "warm" LEDs, which are addressing this issue. Here's a few site suggestions: the c.crane company, superbright and EarthLED.
Share your ride
Of course, we are big on mass transit and pedal power, but for the times when you can't avoid driving, consider ride-sharing. It's a great way to save money by splitting fuel costs as well as helping someone out by giving them a ride. Have a look at the rideshare section on your local craigslist or sites like erideshare.com.
Now that going green is popular, many companies are doing their best to capitalize on it. Some probably are just in it for the money, but some are certainly in it because they're passionate about providing quality products and services in the most sustainable way. If you care about being a conscious shopper, it's probably worth doing some homework, or at the very least, asking a few questions. As a general rule, we advocate patronizing smaller, locally owned companies that are highly invested and involved in their community, but here's a few links for products and companies that we recommend: Gaiam, Veria, and DHLovelife.