As with most new writing projects, I’ve been struggling with where to start. I fall in with the crowd of scientists and environmentalists who believe that urgent action is needed to prevent catastrophic environmental collapse. At the same time, my goal in writing this blog is to reach out to people who might not know how to get started and to give everyone some encouragement that a change in your lifestyle will have an impact.
My decision? I need to start by coming clean with my audience. My lifestyle would require somewhere between 4.1 and 4.7 planets if everyone lived like I do. How do I know? I measured my Ecological Footprint. Better than the average American Ecological Footprint, I still have work to do. It’s a fun and sobering exercise to measure your ecological footprint and I think everyone, even politically active, vegan, organic-cotton wearing, recycling, and frugal environmentalists need to take the time to assess from time to time. These are not the ecological quizzes from 5 years ago…it’s worth checking them out. After all, it’s hard to go a deeper shade of green when you don’t know what color you are!
I took two tests this morning. First, I went to www.earthday.net (same quiz can be found at www.footprintnetwork.org), created my avatar and answered questions about my food habits, home, transportation, and consumption habits. What’s nice about this site is that you can take the short version or the long version. I, of course, did both just to see what the difference would be between answering the generic and more specific question (about .3 planets or 1 global acre). They use a standard scale (always-sometimes-never) and they help you out with meaningful suggestions about what that means in the context of each question (example: “I’m a farmer’s market fiend, but I really like potato chips”). Afterward, they suggest some specific steps you can take to reduce your footprint. When I took the more detailed version, the suggestions seemed to be better related to my habits, so if you’ve got the extra minute or two to estimate more specifics, I recommend it.
The second test was through the Center for Sustainable Economy at www.myfootprint.org and is the same quiz you can access through Redefining Progress (www.rprogress.org). This quiz is not as flashy—no animation here, but it shows you where you are in relation to the national average as you work through the questions, which is great fun when you see the numbers dropping. Some of the questions force you to answer based on what you do most often, which may not be the best reflection of your actual habits if, for example, you shop for food at farmers markets, grocery stores, and health food stores. However, this quiz does a better job of looking at consumption, waste, and recycling. They also have a running column on the left of facts about resource use and critical environmental issues.
These are certainly not the only calculators out there, but they are the ones linked to the organizations that are setting the standards for measurement. If you’ve got kids, there’s a fun one I discovered this morning: www.kidsfootprint.org. This one tests them as much on what they think the best choices are as it does on what they actually do and because there are good and better choices, the kids can be “right” and still learn how to improve.
There’s plenty of information to read on all of these websites, and I know it can be overwhelming. You might be thinking, what's the bottom line? Do you need to go vegan and live "off the grid" to be green? Not necessarily. If everyone commits to going a little greener, a deeper shade of green, the overall impact on the planet can be significant. Maybe you start by turning off the lights, trying a staycation or teleconferencing if you regularly travel for work, trying one vegetarian meal a week or cutting portion sizes of meat. Significant changes are possible without "giving up" on what you love. I’ll spend the next post talking about what the Ecological Footprint is and how this personal audit can help you deepen your green and I’ll talk about some principles of how to integrate new green strategies into your lifestyle effectively and inexpensively. It can be easy being green. (Thanks, Erica, for the pic!)