Tree Hugger. Hippie Freak. Nature Nazi. Frog Licker. Birkenstock Barbie.
Over the years there have been a lot of ugly nicknames for environmentally conscious individuals. Somewhere along the way in the 1960's, when the pro/anti-establishment mentality began to flourish, preserving our planet became a political issue. You couldn't care about recycling and organic farming without being considered a left-wing wacko. Discussions about global warming or animal rights became as much of a cocktail party taboo as money and religion. Capitalism and conservation would never be seen having tea together. Finally, FINALLY, in 2008, we are finding our way out of this compartmentalized way of thinking. While some environmental issues still seem to influence political platforms, for the most part, green living is becoming a more global belief system.
But for many, old habits die hard. Convenience continues to reign over recycling. Chemicals and drugs continue to be dumped down our drains and into our landfills because people don't understand the long term impact on our groundwater. Our natural resources continue to be depleted and eco-friendly alternatives are ignored because they aren't as cost effective and may be more labor intensive. Sometimes this battle to protect the planet feels like a futile one. Sometimes this green girl feels like packing up her re-usable grocery totes and giving up.
The thing is, I truly believe the health of this earth is worth fighting for. And I believe there is a right way to do it. Standing on a soapbox and shouting at the top of my lungs accomplishes nothing more than giving others the excuse to cover their ears and look the other way. It is far more effective to live by example. Education and inspiration are the key to affecting change in others.
The interesting thing about setting an example is it often results in self-motivation. Ever since I started writing this column, I find I am even more diligent in making green choices. It has reinforced my own commitment. It also makes me accountable. When my friends look at me as a environmental advocate and give me recycling t-shirts and eco-themed gifts it compels me to live up to their image of me. By going public with your greenness you show others how easy and satisfying it can be.
Three visible things you can do to live by example and encourage others to get green:
1. Carry a stainless steel canteen filled with filtered water instead of a single use disposable bottle of water. Stainless steel, unlike plastic, is not sensitive to heat or freezing temps so you don't have to worry about toxic chemicals leaching into your drinking water. Klean Kanteen makes an excellent product that is durable and comes in several different sizes.
2. Use re-usable totes when shopping. Most grocery stores sell a well designed bag for around 99 cents. I carry four or five bags in my car and grab a couple whenever I head into a store. Just last week I was at the grocery checkout and handed my re-usable bags to the gentleman who packs the groceries. "Good for you!" he said. There was a lady behind me in line with a full basket of groceries and no bags. This may sound terrible, but I was kind of thrilled that she looked a little guilty. This particular store keeps a stock of re-usable bags at the checkout and as I wheeled my cart away, I watched her grab several and hand them to the cashier. See? You never know the change you might affect and I just saved the planet from however many countless plastic bags this now "green" shopper may have used in the future. It made my day.
3. If you work in a retail store, encourage your store to promote re-usable bags or have employees ask customers if they need a bag. I work in a needlepoint shop and we sell all kinds of little notions. Most women are happy to tuck their skein of perle cotton or package of needles into their purse. If they are carrying a project bag (most are) then they usually put their larger purchases in that bag. When the offer of a paper store bag is rejected I always say "The trees thank you" which usually elicits a smile and the awareness that they just made a green choice. The store owner is delighted because she is saving a bunch of money on bags. Everyone wins.
On a positive note, the green lifestyle has never been more widely promoted as it is now. We no longer have to go to a health food store to shop organic or a specialty store to find green cleaning products. Energy conservation is more the rule than the exception and the afore mentioned nicknames are no longer considered derogatory. So go ahead. Dare to be an inspiration. Be a Birkenstock Barbie and be proud!