Practical Pointers for Going Green: 15 Ways to Create a Sustainable Family
Is the idea of going green and raising an environmentally friendly family appealing in theory—but a little tricky in practice?
Whether or not you have a green thumb or deep pockets, raising a sustainable family is attainable. And in our current society, going green makes sense on many different levels, as the changes you make can contribute to your family’s health, your pocketbook and the overall well being of our planet. Think one family isn’t enough to make a difference? Think again! Your family can have a big impact with just a few lifestyle changes.
“Kids learn what they live,” explains Dr Richard S. Kordesh, author of Restoring Power to Parents and Places. “If they are living and participating in a world where they are a consumer only, that’s a way of life that is internalized. Alternatively, they can also learn that they can grow and make stuff. And they can learn those basic, useful skills at home.” For starters, the experts suggest these tips:
- Talk to your kids about what it means to be green. “The simplest definition of green living is making choices based on what’s right for the environment,” explains Chris Ward, Education Director at the Cleveland County Conservation District. “Being green means creating less impact, either by lifestyle changes or buying products that are more eco-friendly.”
- Pack a lunch. Make a commitment as a family to eat in more often. “Taking your lunch each day is one of the greenest things you can do,” Ward says. “It reduces the amount of unrecyclable waste created on a daily basis, multiplied by the number of people in your family.” Since children often learn by imitation, pledge to take your lunch to work each day. It will be less expensive, healthier and reduce the amount of driving you do on a daily basis.
- Reduce your consumerism. Talk to your kids about needs versus wants. “Buy only what you need to buy and look for ways to buy it locally and with a minimum of packaging,” Ward explains. For books, DVDs and magazines, consider borrowing them from your local library instead of buying new, or use Netflix or Redbox to catch your favorite new releases.
While your habits may not seem to have a major impact, Kordesh urges parents to look at the bigger picture. “Imagine if you had a whole community taking these steps, sharing resources and information. These changes are at the heart of healthy community development.”
Go Green to Save Green
“The best place to start saving the world is in the home,” says Claire Malone, a leading member of the Norman Sustainability Network. “The key is to start young and have kids feel like they are taking care of their family and the environment at the same time.” Many environmentally-friendly changes can also have a positive benefit on your bottom line.
- Drive less. Malone recommends mapping out safe walking/biking routes to local restaurants and grocery stores and using them as often as possible. “It’s good exercise and saves gas,” she explains. When driving is necessary, carpool with friends or coworkers.
- Green cleaning. Natural cleaning products will clean your home and avoid exposing your family to toxins and harmful chemicals. With laundry and dishwashing detergents, reduce the amount you use for each load. “The recommended amount on the package is way too much,” Ward says. “Use about one-third of the recommended amount and you’ll still see the same level of clean. When doing laundry, keep in mind that you shouldn’t see bubbles.”
- Green Your Home. “In winter, keep the temperature in your home around 68 degrees,” Ward suggests. “Keep the temp in summer at 78 degrees. For every degree you lower it, energy costs rise six percent.” Ward recommends cleaning air filters monthly, changing to compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, applying weather stripping around windows and doors and using ceiling fans. “Most ceiling fans use only as much power as a 100 watt light bulb,” she explains. “In the winter, set the fan to low and to turn clockwise to pull warm air down from the ceiling. In summer, the fan should turn counterclockwise to keep air moving.” Also, use power strips on everything from cell phone chargers to laptops to your cable box to reduce the “ghost drain” of electricity being used even when these items are turned off or not in use. If you are an OG&E customer, you can request a home energy audit, which includes an in-home inspection, an air conditioner tune-up, duct work inspection, and a weatherization kit for $50. For more information, visit www.ogehomeenergyeff.com or call 877-430-3936.
- Use less water. Use commercial car washes that use high-pressure nozzles to minimize water usage. “If you must wash your car at home, use biodegradable soap, a bucket and sponge,” Ward says. “Never use your hose.” Also consider your toilet, which accounts for 30 percent of indoor water use. Consider installing a low-flow toilet or place a hot water bag filled with pebbles or sand to your tank. “This adds volume to the tank so it fills with less water,” Ward explains. For outdoor water use, consider collecting precipitation in a rain barrel to keep your lawn and garden naturally well-watered.
Go Crunchy Granola
Whether you grow it or buy it, locally-grown food offers a number of financial, taste and nutritional benefits. In addition to supporting local farmers and connecting you to your community, food grown nearby is better tasting, higher quality, and more nutritious. Plus, it keeps money in the local community. “Remind yourself that the money stays here when you buy local. It’s fixing our roads and going to your child’s schools,” Malone says. “Think about the bigger picture and the return on your investment.”
- Grow your own. Backyard gardening can take many forms, from greenhouses to raised beds to a tomato plant in a five-gallon bucket. “Teach [kids] how to garden and make them a part of nourishing their family,” Malone recommends. “Talk about the plants you see and make it educational but still fun.” Kordesh also recommends composting as a means of reducing trash and enriching garden soil.
- Buy local. Don’t have time to grow your own? Shopping at your local farmer’s market can give your kids first-hand access to farmers and other food producers, plus seasonal produce and access to healthier food options. Visit www.metrofamilymagazine.com/farmers-markets for a list of metro-area Farmers Markets.
- Join a Cooperative. Need more shopping flexibility? Join the Oklahoma Food Cooperative (www.oklahomafood.coop), a network of local farmers and customers offering Oklahoma-produced products year-round. All items sold through the cooperative are grown or produced in Oklahoma and orders are delivered on the third Thursday of each month to pick up locations across the state, including many in the local area.
- Eat at restaurants serving local fare. Eating out can also support local food. “There is no reason that the stuff we like to eat has to be trucked in and have a large carbon footprint,” says Matt Burch of Urban Agrarian, a local food distribution company. “Seek out restaurants that serve local food. And if your favorite restaurant doesn’t serve local food, be sure to ask them why.”
The Three R’s
Ever watch Bob the Builder? Then odds are you are familiar with “reduce, reuse and recycle” mantra and the benefits of keeping still-useable products out of the landfill.
- Reduce waste. Ward encourages families to stop buying disposables like paper plates and paper towels, opting instead for reusable options. Pay bills online to reduce paper and donate usable items to local charities of thrift stores.
- Buy it used. Garage sales, consignment shops, freecycle.com and thrift stores are great places to find what you need, often at a fraction of the cost.
- Aim for less plastic packaging. According to Ward, the average American disposes 300 pounds of plastic each year. Buy staples such as cereals, rice, beans and oatmeal from bulk bins. Opt for products in glass jars. And if you must buy plastic, make sure it can be recycled.
- Reduce your mail. “Each year, the junk mail industry destroys about 100 million trees to bring you the ads and offers you throw away without opening,” Ward explains. Add your name to the “Do Not Mail” list by calling the Direct Marketing Association at 212-768-7277, opt out of credit card offers by visiting www.optoutprescreen.com and reduce the amount of unwanted catalogs that you receive by visiting www.catalogchoice.org.
- Recycle. Curbside recycling bins have made it easier than ever to recycle your household items. Oklahoma City, Edmond and Norman accept plastics #1–7, while Moore accepts #1 and #2. If you have hazardous waste products such as motor old, antifreeze, paint or garden chemicals, contact the Hazardous Waste Facility near SW 15th and Portland in Oklahoma City at 405-682-7038 to see about open drop-off times and requirements. To find out how to recycle products such as household cleaners, paint and batteries locally, visit www.okc.gov/trash/recycle/beyondbin.html or http://earth911.com
For Matt Burch of Urban Agrarian, the choice to create a more sustainable family is really about doing what is right. “It’s our responsibility to leave the world a better place than we found it,” he says. “The simple decisions we make on a daily basis can be very rewarding.”
MORE TIPS TO GO GREEN:
- Recycle CFL bulbs at all Home Depot locations. Deposit any unbroken CFLs in the in-store orange collection units. Recycle cell phones and printer cartridges at many retailers, including Best Buy and Staples locations.
- Save green by going green at many local stores. The Earth in Norman offers a 10% discount if you walk or bike to their store. Target locations offer 5¢ off for every reusable bag you use, and Whole Foods offers 10¢ off per cloth bag used and 5¢ off for paper. CVS stores also offer a “Green Bag Tag,” program offering $1 in in-store rewards for every fourth visit with a reusable bag.
- The Oklahoma Food Coop (www.oklahomafood.coop) offers work credit for those who volunteer sorting and compiling orders. These work credits spend like cash to buy locally grown food for your family.
- Talk to your kids about your current shopping and living habits and how you would like to change. Solicit their input and suggestions and make a goal as a family to integrate those changes.
Make Your Own Cleaning Products
Many natural cleaning products can be made from ingredients such as lemons, baking soda, vinegar, borax and castile soap. “Create a natural all-purpose cleaner by combining 2 cups of water with a teaspoon of borax, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, a tablespoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of dishwashing liquid,” Ward advises. “Or, for a natural furniture polish, dab on a mixture of 1 cup olive oil with ½ cup lemon juice.”
Other green cleaning tips? Freshen your fridge by securing one-half cup of baking soda in a coffee filter with a twist tie and placing it your refrigerator door. Clean your microwave by filling a bowl with water and four slices of lemon. Heat for three minutes and wipe clean.
- 8 Reasons to Buy Local Food: www.oklahomafood.coop/8reasons.php
- Use Less Stuff Tips: www.deq.state.ok.us/mainlinks/uls/ulstips08.pdf
- Norman Sustainability Network: www.normansustainability.org
- Urban Agrarian: www.urbanagrarian.com
- Cleveland County Conservation District: www.clevelandcountyconservationdistrict.com
Local Recycling Programs
- Oklahoma City: www.okc.gov/trash/recycle/index.html
- Edmond: edmondok.com/index.aspx?NID=611
- Norman: recyclenorman.com
- Midwest City: midwestcityok.org/recycling
- Moore: www.recyclemoore.org/
- Yukon: www.cityofyukonok.gov/around-city-hall/recycling-program/
- Oklahoma Recycling Options by County: www.deq.state.ok.us/LPDnew/recyclers/countymap.htm
Brooke Barnett is MetroFamily Magazine’s Assistant Editor and has an addiction to reusable bags and locally-grown produce.