Black, White and Green by Gia Machlin, November 06 2010, 0 Comments

Kids tend to see things in black and white: You don't like me? You must hate me. He's not smart, he must be stupid. For many of us, the tendency to present a False Dilemma carries forward into adulthood. Big kid that I am, I often forget the shades of gray in between choices and tend to think in extremes. So when I embarked on my environmentalist journey, I became passionate about minimizing my environmental impact in every aspect of my life and left little room for transgressions. I stopped buying plastic water bottles, started carrying around reusable bags and coffee mugs, switched to organic produce, cut down on my energy use, stopped buying things I didn't need, reduced my water use, practically eliminated my meat consumption, switched to natural cleaning products, stopped using disposable dinnerware & Ziploc bags, bought a home seltzer maker, and cut down on my water use.

I thought if I could just get everybody else to do what I did, the world would move quickly in a direction of healing and repair. I went on a mission to spread the word about my enlightened way of life and thought that through education and sharing of experiences I could get others to follow suit. I became a green hall monitor, of sorts, and found myself giving the evil eye to all those bottle drinking, plastic bag toting, meat eating planet destroyers out there. Now, while quite a few people have told me that I've inspired them to change their habits, so many more have not even thought about changing the way they live. Why? Could it be that my drastic transformation from over-consuming materialist to radical greenie is rare, and that it represents one extreme? Maybe expecting the majority of consumers to give up the majority of their consuming habits is just unrealistic?

Then I started to look back at my own evolution and realized that I, too, was living in a shade of gray. For example: I didn't completely give up eating meat because I wasn't ready to stop making my favorite ragout sauce, but when I do eat it I make sure it is grass fed and organic. I still buy paper towels because, for some things, I just want to throw away the mess, but I buy towels made of 100% post-consumer content. I'm pretty good about not buying or drinking bottled water, but if I find myself in a situation where is the only choice of beverage that I have (i.e. it is given out at a conference where there is no access to tap water), I will drink it and make sure I recycle the bottle. So if the (self proclaimed) queen of green herself isn't living a purely green life, then surely others can do the same? Maybe encouraging this shade of gray will actually rally more people into a greener lifestyle. Maybe I was going about it all wrong with my "green police" attitude. Cast a wider net, my husband likes to say, and you will catch more fish.

So goodbye, black and white, and hello green! If you are not ready to make drastic changes in your lifestyle, then OK, start with little steps. Make a change that doesn't make you feel frustrated to the point of giving up. Pick something and stick with it. Then pick something else. Here are a few easy things you can take on:

#1: Stop buying plastic disposable water bottles. Carry around your own reusable bottle in your backpack, briefcase, shoulder bag, or purse.

#2: Stop using disposable plastic shopping bags. Carry around at least one Chicobag with you - these definitely fit easily into your pocketbook, briefcase, even pocket.

#3: Recycle at home and at work. Check out our "What do do with your stuff" page for where and how to recycle different types of materials.

#4: Stop using disposable coffee cups. Carry around your own reusable coffee mug. Ask for a ceramic "for here" cup if you plan to hang around the coffee shop to enjoy your coffee.

#5: Stop buying wrapping paper - use colorful newspaper, children's art projects, reusable gift bags or cloth for your gifts.

#6: Stop using disposable wrap and bags for your kids' lunches. Instead purchase reusable bags and lunch materials.

#7: Eat less meat. Reducing the amount of meat you eat can have a significant impact on the environment - methane from cows is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

#8: Take public transportation whenever you are in a city. Check this out for a guide of public transportation options in your city.

#9: Ask yourself "do I really need it?" when you are about to buy a new appliance. If you do need it, make sure it is Energy Star rated.

#10: Stop using paper plates and utensils. If absolutely necessary, buy ones made of recycled and biodegradable material.