A 7-Point Beginner’s Guide to Going Green


Image: NicestAlan

Going green: where to start?

If you are interested in living a more eco-friendly lifestyle, this is for you. We hope you will find WebEcoist to be pleasantly free of politics and we’ll never tell you to eat granola, hug a tree or vote for the Greens. You don’t even have to switch to tofu. The great thing about modern green living is that there is truly room for every lifestyle – from green consumers to chic eco mamas to tech-obsessed geeks. Modern green living is for people interested in living harder, better, faster, stronger (to paraphase Daft Punk). If that sounds like you, you’re in the right place. Do you view life as an ongoing learning experiment?

Then here’s what you need to do to go green:

1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

This classic mantra is still the most important one. Next to the crisis of climate change, resources (particularly petroleum, water and food) are getting ever more scarce. We must relearn the “three R’s” – and we’re not talking about grammar school. There are literally thousands of things you can do, large and small, to help the environment. Most of them benefit you in addition to helping the planet. Some are cheap, some are expensive, and many are free. But before you go and purchase carbon offsets or consider a hybrid, first just shift your mindset. Reuse, reduce, recycle – it’s fundamental for anyone who wants to go green.

Getting started: just begin observing your daily habits and purchases. Do you need to throw everything away? Is there something permanent you could use instead of that disposable version? Can you donate, compost, or trade that widget? Once you make the mental shift from a NIMBY (not in my backyard) approach that is wasteful and careless, you’ll be ready for higher-level greening. Ready for more? Read on for the overview. In future posts we’ll bring you detailed breakdowns of everything you need to go green – but this summary will help you know what to expect.

2. Transportation

We’re not only running out of accessible petroleum reserves – the global political climate isn’t exactly friendly to gas prices. If you didn’t worry about the environmental effects before, the cost of filling up the tank has just about everyone looking for ways to save green. Come back soon to find tips for mass transit that doesn’t suck, carpooling that doesn’t kill, and telecommuting that your boss actually goes for. You’ll also learn about the more extreme and wacky tips you might want to try, from hyper-miling to alternative modes of transport. It’ll be good for the planet and your wallet, too.

Getting started: Simply begin exploring your options. If you can purchase a hybrid or more fuel-efficient car, that’s great. Try asking your boss about telecommuting a few days a week, and take advantage of mass transit if you have access in your area.

3. Shopping

Purists may deride “eco products” as nothing more than greenwash or a new marketing opportunity, but consider:

– We are consumers and that’s not going to change soon.

– Some of the latest and best green innovations are coming from consumer-driven trends. Buying organic jeans is not going to save the planet, but green consumption is helping to “mainstream” green living. Besides, green these days is pretty cool. You won’t believe how hard you can geek out on all kinds of green tech, green gadgets, and green hacks. Think longer battery life. Think a water container that won’t give you cancer, soap that doesn’t dry your skin out and a safer toilet-scrubbing experience. And be sure to let us know what kind of consumables you’re interested in greening. Since many products can be made at home, we’ll also be sharing DIY money-saving tips for many necessities.

Getting started: look for fair trade, organic, and eco-friendly labels or certification on goods you buy. Choose local meat, dairy, and produce when you can. Try not to buy “fast fashion” and needless gadgets that are cheap but will soon fall apart. Invest in quality over quantity. Buy your furnishings and electronics used when you can. Read your favorite magazines and books online instead of choosing print versions. Avoid plastic when a sustainable alternative is available such as wood, metal, fiber or bioplastic.

4. Food

Green grub is not just tofu and organic carrots. Really. In future posts, you’ll learn about the foods you don’t have to buy organic and cheap ways to buy the ones you do. You’ll learn about food miles and whether local is really best. You’ll find out how you can be a green steak lover. Green food should be healthy, cheap, delicious and accessible – and it can be, so stay tuned.

Getting started: for now, start shopping at the farmers’ market for your veggies because they’ll be a lot cheaper and healthier and safer. Eat a vegetarian dinner one day a week. Cut back on the soda, fast food and other overly-packaged and processed junk. You don’t have to do it all at once – try going “100% whole food” one day a week to start.

5. Your Pad

The home is the easiest place to start greening. There are literally hundreds of relatively easy home hacks – many free and most inexpensive. (Note that we will be providing in-depth guides to you super DIY’ers out there who want to get extreme. Bookmark this page and check back in the future for updated links to new posts.)

Getting started: you can switch dead light bulbs with CFLs, buy a programmable thermostat, toughen up a little and adjust your heat and A/C by two degrees of comfort, buy a compost bucket, and give up disposables like paper plates and paper towels. You can also use eco-friendly detergent, carpet cleaner, soap, plant fertilizer, pet food…it goes on and on! Many of these things you can make yourself for pennies. Which helps to offset the cost of that LED plasma.

6. Lifestyle

This ties into Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, but goes a little deeper. Is your laundry green? What about your workplace? Are you greening your travel? What gifts can you give at holidays that aren’t going to hurt the environment (without annoying your friends and family)? Look for upcoing lifestyle guides that go beyond generic clichés and address green solutions for every kind of lifestyle. So you have an SUV and there’s no way you can trade it in for what they’re offering – no problem. You can still be green. Maybe you are addicted to the latest gadgets, or you’re a die-hard designer shoe girl. Maybe you refuse to give up your burgers. That’s O.K. – there is a green way of doing things for every lifestyle. No challenge is impossible to solve with creativity, investigation, and a little bit of humor. If you think that’s too ambitious, you’re probably not in the right place. But if you are excited by new, innovative ideas and solutions with a positive point of view, stick around.

Getting started: Get out a notebook and write down the following: how often you travel; how often you dine out; how many family members/dependents you have; how far you drive to work; where you shop for your food, clothing, household products and electronics. This will give you a pretty good idea of your lifestyle. You should also figure out your carbon footprint. Don’t worry; no changes to make yet. Simply take stock of how you live so you can make smart changes down the road.

7. Habits

This is a bit different from lifestyle; the lifestyles people lead – based on family size, location, profession and so on – are diverse. But habits are more about the daily actions we take, often without thinking. You will find helpful tips, hacks and tricks in the future to live a little greener without too much stress. Sane green living is the goal. Whether it is turning off your lights or saving water, check back weekly for new tips.

Getting started: like “reduce, reuse, recycle”, simply make it a goal to consciously think about your habits this week. Do you order take-out or do you shop at the farmers’ market and prep your veggies for fast meals during the week? Do you shop at stores that use sweat shop labor to produce their goods, or do you look for products that are either fair-trade certified or made in the U.S.A.? Do you buy heavily processed junk food on a regular basis or do you try to avoid it? What cleaning products are you using? Simply start thinking about your habits. There are so many habits where, with slight modification, you can quickly reduce your carbon footprint.

Of course, this is simply an overview of the areas where you “green up”. You might want to bookmark this post and come back for links to more in-depth articles in the future.