Get Invoved with WCTM:
10 Things You Can Do, To Do Less

10 Things You Can Do, To Do Less

When it comes to doing the right thing for the environment, we often gorge on info and skimp on action. At, our goal is not only to bring you the best information possible on climate change, healthy lifestyles, and our obligation to maintain a moral relationship with our environment, but we also want to help you make concrete changes that make a difference.

One of the most important things we must keep in mind is that we cannot buy our way to sustainability. Sustainable consumption is not a product. It’s not a t-shirt or a bumper sticker, and no matter how much of packaging comes from “post-consumer recycled content” it’s not in a box on the shelf of a big-box retailer – or any retailer, for that matter.

This list is just the beginning and is by no means definitive; feel free to add your suggestions in the comments. Also, know that in addition to being a prescription for the reader, it is a reminder for the author. Most of us live in a world set-up around the idea that consuming and acquiring more and more is acceptable evidence for success. Suggesting that people act in a way counter to the consumer culture is bound to meet resistance, even within the confines of our own skull.

  1. Take a shorter shower. To be sure, this tiny act of shaving a few minutes off your daily ablutions is not going to have a significant impact. Water is often a highly local issue; and while access to fresh water is of global concern, the use of water by individuals is a drop in the bucket (so to speak) of the water used by agriculture and industry. So why do it? Why take an action that saves a little water and a little gas but does not make a significant impact, even if everyone started taking quick showers? Some argue that the effect is so little, we shouldn’t bother. But the cumulative effect is less important that the psychological; we should do it because it is a small act of mindfulness. Even taking a short shower, you get clean, you maintain your hygiene, you have your morning blast of warm water — just a little less. By shortening the shower, you begin, or end the day with a small action to remind yourself to use less and be conscious of your consumption.
  2. Use the reusable bags. To intend to do the right thing is admirable, but not enough. One must act to make the intention meaningful. So, if you have purchased a clutch of reusable grocery bags that now live unmolested in the trunk of your car, the time is now to make a change. Put them in the front seat. Put them where you can see them. Put them in your hand before you walk into the store. It seems our intention is in the right place, as seen by the explosion in the manufacture of reusable bags, but the action is obviously lacking since the production of plastic shopping bags has not declined. If you have a pile of reusable bags, don’t acquire more, even if they are being given away for free. Use what you need, replace as needed.
  3. Bring your own cup – just one. Our culture of disposability (the daily coffee in the paper cup and the extra paper cup to protect our hand from the hear, the workplace stack of styrofoam by the water cooler, the fountain drink cups at the gas station and the movie theater) has made a tiny, acquisitive shift. Now, everywhere you go has a branded, reusable receptacle, some for hot beverages, some for iced, most are now BPA free – many are now given away for free by well meaning organizations who, in the spirit of reducing our consumption, have crammed America’s cabinets with travel mugs to which we long ago lost the lid. So, rule of thumb: if you have a portable beverage container for each member of your household you don’t need more. Use the ones you have until they are lost or destroyed by excessive use. Then get a replacement.
  4. Commute without your car. The amount of energy we use to move our bodies from home to the place of work is astounding and the most popular mode of commuting is also the least efficient. By selecting transit, or an active mode of transportation, we not only saving money, we leave more room on the road for the people who still choose to drive. And you don’t have to do it everyday. Try once a week. Leave your car at home and take a bus or a train, or ride your bike into work.
  5. Check out a book from the library (rather than purchasing). With apologies to authors everywhere: consider, instead of purchasing a book, heading down to your local library and borrowing it. For the latest best seller, you may have to add your name to a waiting list, but the anticipation will only whet your desire to read.
  6. Resist the urge to banish all darkness. While improving the efficiency of your illumination is admirable, many times, we see increased usage with increased efficiency (See, Jevon’s Paradox for more about the relationship of demand and efficiency. ). After we replace all our incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent, we tend to leave more lights on, keeping empty rooms bright, late into the night. So, even before you go out and replace all your light fixtures, try turning off the ones you don’t need, leaving empty rooms dark and using only the light you need. Perhaps a dimmer home will turn out to be a bright idea.
  7. Replace paper towels with rags. This is a tough one for a lot of households. The ease and sanitary convenience of the paper towel is tough to replace with a reusable cloth option. Wipe-up rags can become unsightly with extended use and you need to keep a fairly large number available, or you’ll spend a lot of time washing and drying. The advantage of rags is that you likely already have them. Old washclothes or t-shirts can be reused as rags for cleaning. Another option is to replace paper towels with reusable alternatives.  Also, consider using cloth napkins instead of paper.
  8. Move Closer. If you have a move in your future, when selecting your new home, ask yourself the following: How close is where I live to where I work? How close is necessary shopping? Is this new home served by transit and pedestrian accessible? For every mile you live from where you work, you drive about 500 miles a year. Think about how many miles per gallon your car gets and do the math. For most drivers, that will mean about $60 per mile, per year. Not bad, if you live a mile away from work. For suburban commuters, the costs can be in the thousands of dollars, just for gas, just to get to work.
  9. Eat with the season and the region. In December, in Nebraska where this is being written, the most plentiful fruit in the grocery store is Navel oranges. Those aren’t grown around here. Most come from Florida, more than a thousand miles away. With the emerging “locavore” movement, people are getting more information and a greater access to locally produced foods. While an all-or-nothing approach may be impossible, or unrealistic for your area, try as much as possible to eat food from near by. This reduces the amount of energy needed to transport the food, and makes the producers more accountable to the communities in which they live and work.
  10. Adjust your comfort by degrees. After a few decades of inexpensive energy and increased efficiency, we have become accustomed to creating microenvironments in our homes, offices, stores and vehicles that meet our optimal level of comfort. Creating that comfort takes energy, usually in the form of burning a fossil fuel, be it gasoline, natural gas, or coal either in our car, in our furnace, or at the local power plant. Each degree change saves up to 5% on your heating or cooling costs, which means less energy used. You’ll be surprised how quickly your body adjusts to the small change.

The eleventh, unspoken recommendation is this, “Don’t buy special note-pads for ‘to do’ lists. Any portable writing surface, will do if you need to jot something down.”


No comments yet.

Add a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe to Newsletter