How can I lessen my impact on the Earth?

April 18, 2011

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Five ways to be more green

Q:  How can I lessen my impact on the Earth? 

A:   As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, Karen Price, campus sustainability manager, offers these five ideas for treading more lightly on our planet. 

1. Wipe wet hands dry on your pants, skirt or run them through your hair instead of debating if paper towels or air dryers are better. The next time you dry your hands on a paper towel and throw it in the trash think about the greenhouse gases that were created in the oil used to power equipment to harvest and transport trees to a mill, mill the trees, transport the paper towels to the dispenser, then transport them to a landfill. Feel guilty? Air dryers are not the answer because of the oil used for material extraction, fabrication and transportation. I have dried my hands by running them through my hair for about nine years and don’t miss the paper towel experience. I’m even teaching my one-and-a-half year old to wipe her hands on her skirt. 

2. Just stop drinking packaged beveragesthey’re bad for your health and the environment. Do you recycle the metal, plastic or glass container your beverage came in and feel like you are doing a good thing? Stop and think about the oil that was used by equipment for material extraction, to heat and melt it to form the container; the gas to ship the container to the beverage company, the distributer, the retailer, to your home, then to the recycling plant. Just because the Food and Drug Administration considers packaged beverages a food doesn’t mean that your body’s cells will thrive on sugar, corn syrup and chemicals. Bottled juice without the fruit’s fiber from its peel, for example apple and blueberry, spikes your blood sugar which contributes to diabetes and obesity. I will never give my child bottled beverages; she loves water and smoothies.   

3. Eat a lot less meat and dairyit’ll improve your health and the planet’s. Eating meat produces more greenhouse gas emissions than driving your car was in the news several years ago after a couple scientific reports were published. For example, the Environmental Defense Fund  writes on their web site, “If every American had one meat-free meal per week, it would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads.” Are you still eating the same amount of animal products? Beans and tofu have protein AND fiber, only small amounts of fat and no cholesterol. Quinoa has the highest protein content of any grain and Bon Appétit serves it at their salad bar. Read the New York Times Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler for more background information on the impacts of livestock to our planet’s health. 

4. Before you buy something new, evaluate if you really need it—and if you do, buy used.  For example, my dentist recommended I buy a Sonicare tooth brush. I saw several new-in-the-box listed on Craigslist for half the $100-200 price.  Then I looked at my husband’s Sonicare and saw that I could remove his brush head and twist on another brush head in five seconds. So I decided to share my husband’s Sonicare instead of buying used. I saved myself $50-100. I saved the planet from the environmental stress of material extraction and transportation and the hazardous materials in the battery. The book, Your Money or Your Life, explains how you can get more happiness out of life by spending less, saving more, and thinking about earning and spending money as expending your energy for something of value. 

5. Learn about the health risks to you, your family and the environment from the consumer products you use daily. Do not expect the government to protect you—you have to become an informed consumer. The Environmental Working Group is a non-profit team of scientists, engineers, policy experts and lawyers that pores over government data, legal documents, scientific studies and their own laboratory tests to expose threats to your health and the environment. Their research brings to light unsettling facts that you have a right to know. Go to to find how the most and least toxic sunscreens, learn why you should get rid of your Teflon pans, download the Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, compare the radiation in cell phones, and so much more.