Green, beyond being simply a color, can be an adjective used to describe someone who’s new or getting the hang of things. For us emerging adults, we’re green to this part of life. There’s a lot of stuff we’re still learning. But there’s one thing I really hope Millennials have made more progress on than previous generations had at our age: taking care of the environment.
Humans have always been really good at destroying stuff. But it seems like we used to be a lot better at harmony, at not taking too much, at not exhausting resources. The advent of the modern world — particularly industrialization in its many facets — has skyrocketed our civilization forward, while robbing and decimating our environment.
We’ve only got one planet guys, and we’ve made remarkable progress toward screwing it up irreparably. Whether or not you think the shifts we’re seeing in our climate are part of a large natural cycle the Earth goes through, or something humans are wholly responsible for, we haven’t been making it better. And if we continue to accelerate the changes, we’re going to make it a heck of a lot harder to live on this planet.
I hate getting apocalyptic, but the facts cannot be turned away from. Reefs and rainforests are dying, disappearing, or are already destroyed. Biodiversity is dropping all over the world, at a rate that begins to threaten the balance of ecosystems. The amount of waste we create, and are constantly creating, is overwhelming. As the dominant species on the planet, it ought to be our responsibility to care for it, and to ensure its continued health as much as possible, for the sake of all its inhabitants.
It is incredibly difficult to be environmentally friendly in all of one’s actions. From an information perspective, it’s hard to know the full impact of every choice we make. From a lifestyle perspective, there are some things I at least find it difficult to change or do without. But a little progress — a little awareness and change — is at least a step in the right direction. So I hope you’ll join me in taking some of these steps to help care for our planet.
How we eat
- Drink from a reusable water bottle — and skip the straw. Plastic bottles and straws are one of the easiest ways to cut needless waste, and especially to keep it out of oceans and other places it might harm the wildlife. Same goes for avoiding plastic dishes and silverware.
- Environmentally friendly means responsible farming, too. Eating organic, local, and/or from sources that use eco- and animal-friendly methods is getting easier. You can check out farmer’s markets, health food stores if your wallet allows, and the labels on items you buy.
- Compost. You can buy a compost bin and either keep it under your kitchen sink or outside if the smell bothers you, and let any food waste (eggshells, potato peels, small scraps, etc.) get funky until it’s a sweet fertilizer for your — or your neighbor’s — garden.
- On that note, minimize food waste. Especially in the U.S., we waste so much food. It’s horrible. Don’t buy extra if you know you won’t eat it, don’t throw it out if it isn’t actually bad (i.e. browning on cut fruit), and check to see if your community or city has any sort of a food waste program where people can donate excess food.
How we shop
- Grab some reusable bags. Where I live shoppers actually have to pay for non-reusable bags, but even if plastic or paper is free, bringing bags from home will save waste.
- Green is the new black. The fashion industry is reported to be the second largest polluter in the world, after oil. This Nylon article offers more info, and simple ways to support sustainable fashion.
- Skip extra packaging whenever possible. When packaging is needed, try to use renewable/eco-friendly means like recycled cardboard.
- Check labels/brands to see if they source their materials responsibly. Of course, the benchmark for this is companies like Patagonia, who has a whole sections on its website detailing its commitment to lessening environmental impact. But recently other brands like Allbirds have been making protecting the environment a pillar of their business.
- Buy used. Almost everything (almost!) is less expensive and more eco-friendly to buy used. Used clothes, furniture, and cars (especially ones that aren’t particularly old) are a great place to start. Refurbished tech can also help cut down on manufacturing demand and the impact of those plants.
- Build sustainable. Wood stuff is awesome, and in principle all renewable — but some wood is way less sustainable than other types. Trees and plants that grow slower are more difficult to keep sustainable, so materials like bamboo and pine are grow a lot faster than oak and mahogany, but there are sustainable sources of most woods.
How we live
- Recycle. Most forms of plastic packaging, paper and cardboard, glass bottles, and metal cans can all be recycled. (Note that Styrofoam can’t be recycled, which is another reason to avoid it when possible.)
- Don’t litter. I can’t believe I have to say that one but I still see so much trash and waste on the side of the road, in landscaping, any busy area, and even beaches.
- Buy a plant. Or at least water the ones you have. I’m terrible at keeping plants alive, but they’re really important to the environment and balancing out carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
- Turn the lights off. Seriously, the lights only need to be on for the rooms people are actually in. In the same vein, using the A/C and heat as little as possible, as well as swapping your lightbulbs for LED or compact fluorescent, will not only save your energy bill, but prove a little less taxing on the planet.
- Ride green. This isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can walk or bike to work, do it. If you can take public transportation, more power to you. If you need to drive, try to carpool. Support vehicle manufacturing that not only reduces the need for natural gas and cuts down on pollution, but is conscientious manufacturing.
- Support renewable energy sources. Solar, hydroelectric, wind. It’s not all gas and coal folks. The more we support and explore responsible and sustainable energy sources, the more we’re able to be responsible about how we consume resources that aren’t available so easily. You can do this by checking out the energy sources of businesses you support, or even installing solar panels on your own home (if you own it, which is a big if). A lot of power companies will give discounts to people who commit to more eco-friendly energy.
- Support other people who care. There are so many wildlife reserves, state and national parks, and environmental impact organizations. Usually the people who spend the most time in nature are most committed to preserving it. Support them, be them.
All of those things feel like a lot to ask. I’ll be super honest and admit that not all of them are possible for me right now. But I stick to the ones that are possible, and we can all look for ways to reduce waste and be nice to the planet. We only have one, and we aren’t alone on it. There are billions more people and trillions more animals and plants — currently estimated at a total of about 8.7 million species. They’re counting on us. We’re counting on us. But together I think we can save the world.
What are some of the best ways you’ve found to go green in everyday life? I’d love to hear, so let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy Earth Day!