1. Think Global, Park Local
Everything that we do, good or bad, has an impact on the planet. And African Americans and other minority groups are often so wrapped up in survival mode that we go for the easy or cheap fix — which isn’t the greenest. There are simple, cost effective things that can be done to get you on the right track to support a healthy world, body (and wallet).
2. Weatherize the Crib
Swap out your light bulbs, use cold water to wash, turn your water heater down to around 120 degrees and get a sealing kit from your local hardware store. It is estimated that U.S. households account for over 35 percent of our carbon emissions. Talk to your local department of the environment; quite often they have free weatherization kits or home assessments. Your energy bill (and carbon footprint) will be noticeably smaller.
3. Listen to Mom: Reduce and Re-use
Yes, we all know by now that we should recycle (and if you don’t you should be ashamed) but what about reducing and reusing? Remember, nothing is ever “thrown away.” When I was a kid, I thought my parents were crazy for doing this, but now my wallets know better. Be creative! You can wash and reuse freezer baggies, aluminum foil from baked potatoes, those cute little plastic containers from the take out (which are perfect for packing a lunch). Also, always be on the lookout to buy products with less packaging.
4. Down With Water Snobs!
Those Fiji bottles are really cute, very art nouveau. But, have you ever thought about how far Fiji is?!?!? Contrary to common thought, clean water is not unlimited and with climate change, the quality of water could drastically change. So, by now you should know to chill on the 850-pack of water bottles from Costco (because of the obvious excessive greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, production and landfills), but also find ways to conserve at home. Stop running the water while you brush your teeth. Get a rain barrel (which you can get for free from your local department of the environment) and use that to water your grass and wash your car. Use an environmentally-approved filter (like Britta) for drinking water. The water is just as safe (and much cheaper).
5. Clean Green…
Don’t forget about the quality of your indoor air. Household cleaners can be the worst source of pollutants. So, give up some (if not all) of those chemical cleaners and go for all natural options. The price is the same, you won’t be creating additional chemical run-off. You’ll also be able to do a thorough cleaning without feeling like you were huffing paint.
6. Eat Local—and in Season
Michael Pollan, author of Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, says that to be green and healthy, we should eat like our grandparents. That means looking for fresh strawberries and peaches in December ain’t happening. Buying local produce means that not only are you supporting your neighbors, but you are reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are produced by driving foods half-way around the country. It also reduces waste from packaging and energy used for processing. And since local foods aren’t traveling for days, they stay fresh longer in your fridge and retain more nutrients.
7. Don’t Eat Anything with More than 6 Syllables
If something on the ingredients list looks like supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (for all the youngins out there, that’s a Mary Poppins reference), maybe you shouldn’t be eating it. If you can’t pronounce it, that means it probably burned up a lot of fossil fuels to become whatever it may be, and traveled a few places before landing in your belly. And chances are eating those hard-to-pronounce ingredients is no where near as fun as saying supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Find something with a short ingredients list, written in English.
8. Beat your Feet—to the Nearest Bus!
Well, its obvious that carpooling, walking or biking can improve your health, by increasing your physical activity level. But an added bonus is the less we drive, the less dangerous emissions we create. On nice days, get off two stops before your destination to burn more calories. If public transportation is not possible for your commute, keep your tires properly inflated, make sure your car is regularly tuned and checked, and be an ADVOCATE. Just because you don’t use public transportation or bike lanes, doesn’t mean you can support efforts to improve, create or expand them. Think of others’ commutes, and not just your own.
9. Be The Person Who Plants Trees
Make this classic children’s story come to life. Creating a tree canopy is an excellent way to save money on air conditioning bills (almost 25 percent a year) by strategically landscaping and planting trees in your yard. Look for deciduous trees, that can grow up to 50 feet and have spreading crowns, (like maples, ash and river birch trees) and to maximize savings, plant along the east, west and northwest sides of the house. If possible, use the same tree to shade the air conditioning unit. By planting trees to shade paved areas, you can decrease heat reflection from the sun. To help protect you house (and your pocket) from winter winds, plant staggered rows of evergreens close together. To find trees perfect for your area, contact your local utility or parks department.
10. Get With Your Local Park
It’s a great free source of entertainment. You get to socialize while improving your health and reconnecting with the non-electronic world. Researchers have linked contact with nature to a wide array of health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, faster recovery from surgery and heart attacks, and improved behavior in hyper children and teens. So visit our local park or green space, and tell everyone else, too!
PLUS: CHECK OUT OUR GALLERY ON GOING GREEN YEAR-ROUND!
Autumn Saxton-Ross is a health scholar and activist and an assistant director of Washington Parks & People.