BY CANDY PARKER
While a recent Harris Interactive poll demonstrated that gays and lesbians are markedly more likely than heterosexuals to describe themselves as “caring a great deal about the current state and future of the environment,” I must confess that I was late in jumping on the clean energy-powered bandwagon. Recycling was a hit or miss proposition, walking or biking rather than driving rarely crossed my mind. I paid little attention to the eco-friendly practices, or lack thereof, of a particular business when deciding whether or not to bestow my patronage.
It is only within the last year or so that I began to make a real effort to dip my toes in the green end of the pool. Mind you, I’m not at the point where I’ve surrendered my fossil fuel-powered vehicle nor have I installed a wind turbine on the roof of my home, but I have started to do a few little things that, when done consistently, can make a big impact.
1. GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT
Recycling is one of the easiest and most obvious steps to take and given my love of competition, I turned it into a contest, competing only against myself. Each week I challenged myself to haul a larger pile of recyclables than trash to the curb. I was astounded at the sheer bulk of the recyclable materials with which I’d previously been burdening the local landfill. This is the most basic step and requires virtually no change in lifestyle. If you’re not already a religious recycler, you should kick it up a notch.
2. THERE’S A CHILL IN THE AIR
After realizing that I could lower my winter home heating costs by 1 to 3 percent for every degree I lowered the thermostat, my first step was to do it. My second step was to don a fleece pullover and head to Home Depot for a couple of energy efficient space heaters. Again, ever the competitor, I spent the last two Washington DC-area winters engaged in a battle of wills with Washington Gas. I simply refused to raise the thermostat above 62 degrees until I began to see my pets’ breath in the air.
This was actually a very easy adaptation and not nearly the sacrifice it sounds, for in assessing my home heating needs, I realized that the vast majority of my waking hours were spent in only one area of my house: the living room. I also knew that when I turned up the thermostat to a level sufficient to keep the living room warm, then my third story-level bedroom was sweltering, and not in a good way. So I cranked down the thermostat and used the space heaters, as needed, in the one area where they were needed most. At first, I feared I might be trading in one evil for another (i.e., lowering my gas bill by increasing my electricity consumption), I soon learned this wasn’t the case as my net savings — as well as my satisfaction in defeating Washington Gas — were considerable.
3. LOG ON AND LOSE THE STAMPS
Like most people, I dreaded the time spent paying bills. A loathsome activity typically reserved for Sunday nights, a time at which my mood was already dampened as I mourned the end of my weekend, bill paying was an envelope-licking, paper-cut inducing mess. What was the green alternative? Paperless billing and online bill payment. I signed up and saved a few trees, eliminated my share of the fossil fuels required to deliver those mailbox equivalents of a Debbie Downer, and virtually eliminated my need for stamps. Cha-ching!
4. WHAT’S GROWN IN VIRGINIA STAYS IN VIRGINIA
Unable to disavow the food snob label with a straight face, I am admittedly a fan of fine cuisine. As such, I would frequently trek to Washington, DC, from my home in the northern Virginia suburbs to partake in whatever delicacies DC’s chefs were offering. Imagine my surprise when the visit of a far more environmentally-minded friend prompted me to research restaurants that feature locally sourced foodstuffs. I discovered one of the area’s most amazing restaurants. Local is better, not just for the environment, but for the palate. Check out the restaurants near you that specialize in local, organic, seasonal fare. Your taste buds will be happy you did and you’ll be supporting local ranchers and farmers.
5. GREEN IS AS GREEN DOES
Perhaps the most self-serving discovery I made in my quest to go green was in the selection of the companies with which I now choose to spend my money, for what I discovered was that the proprietors of local businesses and small national companies who make a real commitment to the environment are some of the nicest people with whom you’ll ever do business.
As Kermit was known to croon, “It’s not easy being green,” and while many Fortune 500 firms now inundate us with green messaging as a convenient ploy to distract from the not-so-green realities of their operations, the local shop managers, restaurant owners and small national firms who commit to going green are doing so often at the expense of their profit margins. They make that sacrifice because they actually believe in this stuff, and in my book that makes them darned good people with whom I’ve found it a great pleasure to do business.
For more ways to lessen your impact on the environment, visit The Daily Green.