As a proponent of green living I’m frequently asked, what does it really mean? “Being Green” is an oxymoron if you really think about it, but living green comes down to decision-making and caring.
Caring enough to plan ahead when leaving for work in the morning to bring bags to use at the grocery store afterwards. Planning ahead by bringing a pizza box to reuse, a fast-food bag, a coffee cup, decisions made many times a day, sometimes inconvenient, to show that I care for the ground from which I sprang and the next generations who inherit it. The real oxymoron—contradiction in terms—is believing that we don’t all have an important stake in changing our convenience culture. I ‘d say, saving our planet, but then I’d close some minds to my message, and I’m really writing to you, o ye of little faith in the rest of us to do the right thing.
So let’s start off by forgiving those who are fooled into not caring, who don’t think ahead and maybe never will. Who always double-bag their gallon of milk, don’t think twice about driving a yacht on wheels until it hurts them at the gas tank, and think solar power is why their lawn turns brown in the hot summer despite their sprinkler system. They are only following the leader. They’ve bought into the idea that conservationism is a personal virtue disconnected from good citizenship. Thankfully they also follow good examples, and I’m going to challenge you to be one. Here’s what I mean by Being Green.
First think of Green simply as the middle of a spectrum. You won’t be asked to live like a Hobbit denied the creature comforts, instead to balance convenience with responsibility. To get an outline of what that could mean for you, dear reader, in your life, I’ll share examples from mine.
My favorite pizza place is family-owned, recipes straight out of Brooklyn. Real New York pizza, generic boxes. Having worked in a few pizza places during my youth, I remember the hours folding boxes—the paper cuts, the unreal amount of waste. Last night when I placed my usual Friday order for a white pizza with extra garlic, I told the guy taking the order that I’d bring my own box.
“What’s that?” Incredulity in his voice. He heard me right, just couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“I said that I’ll bring my own box for the delicious pizza I order every week, so that you don’t have to use one of yours.” Once he understood what I was really saying was he’d be folding one less box tonight before close, he brightened to the idea. My dream is for the day when regular customers are expected to reuse containers and utensils, to save the business money and contribute to achieving sustainability—a balance of convenience with responsibility. Once green living is being demonstrated every day by early adopters, it’ll spread quickly, but first we need more concrete examples.
I’ll get to them. Right now I’m thinking about Al Gore’s Green campaign, and how so much money was spent to get a message out that boiled down to change your light bulbs. I’m thinking about tire gages being a political issue, the scoffs at the little things everyone can do everyday. We have no Big Fix; instead a thousand little changes in every community, inside every home and business, across every state and nation required to create sustainability in our time and place. And it begins with a few people willing set the example. There’s that word again.
In addition to pizza on Fridays, my weekly routine involves a fast-food stop or two, resulting in similarly hilarious exchanges with clueless clerks when I request the cheeseburger that I’m just going to scarf down before my vehicle leaves the parking lot to come through the window sans bag. I gave up trying to give them my own, but they’ll catch on eventually. They don’t appreciate the disruption to routine when I say, yes I’d like a drink with that, and I brought my own cup, ring me up for a large. Otherwise they don’t get my business.
You should have seen the grocery baggers when two customers followed each other with canvas bags. Paper or plastic? Neither, hemp. You curmudgeons out there pay close attention because changing your fellow human can be such fun. The amusement is endless with the befuddled looks, the “doh!” in voices as people catch on to your perfectly reasonable request to save their business a little money. The other day on the way to a dinner party, I picked up a six-pack of beer, and the clerk insisted that I depart with my purchase in a plastic bag. This rule being unexpected—guess it’s a Durham thing—I didn’t think to bring in my own. Rather than argue about the particulars of a billion or so pieces of manufactured petrol heaped on our planet daily, I took my purchase to my vehicle and returned with the bag.
The next scene I’ve seen play out two ways. Returned resentfully or haughtily, the clerk just throws the bag away, gaining a grudge against environmental snobs. Clerks are just doing their job. Or return the bag with a smile and most likely you won’t even have to say please reuse this. And sometimes you’ll see in the second or two of eye-contact that the clerk appreciates the extra effort to care. Secret yearning is behind those eyes for someone to show the way out of this mess. When about one out of every five people adopt green living, the adaptation will spread instantaneously throughout humanity. But let’s keep the conversation simple for now. Examples.
Convenience cups and drink bottles have to go. I reuse bottles multiple times, but the numbers add up, so now I’m going to carry a reusable all-purpose bottle. The cafeteria has a fountain dispenser at work, and so do about fifty convenience stores between here and there. The coffee shop actually asks me if I brought my cup that morning, as much as I’ve preached reusing and recycling to the poor high school kids who have to listen to me. Initial resistance is usually followed by grudging acceptance and eventually appreciation. Patience is required to see the change through to the end and set a good example. Persistence too, even in the face of a skeptical public.
Example-settlers are allowed to be imperfect. If you take this message to heart, fill your mind with lots of Green. The goal is to balance convenience with sustainability. I forget sometimes and one more pizza box ends up in the recycling bin with the drink bottles. Such is life; nobody’s perfect. But persistence leads to all sort of avenues opening to achieve more balance and a sense of being part of needed change. I’m an early adopter of green living ways which will soon be common. So common to be socially expected, I hope.
Doors have opened in my life at work where I save trade magazines and junk mail from the trash, at home where family has adopted more green living ways, using less energy and fuel. We buy more locally, support businesses like Vines Bistro in Cary which offer locally-grown food and are looking ahead to erasing this idea that it’s cool to ship stuff from all over the world. I buy gas based upon research into which energy companies are embracing a renewable future and which are fossils. Politicians paid-off by Big Oil are easy to spot, and my vote always goes against them. Point is, the more you open the door to green living, the more it’ll become glaringly apparent how easy it really is, and how many opportunities exist to make a difference in the calling of our time to save the planet.
There, I said save the planet and you didn’t flinch. Try to tell me it doesn’t seem perfectly reasonable when seen as incremental steps and opportunities knocking, balancing convenience with responsibility. The care one shows for the environment is returned in the ability to do a little more in other areas of life. And sometimes it’s returned in Big Ideas, appreciative gestures and a dozen other little ways as more responsibility is taken for analyzing our lives and seeing where changes can be made. It is quite possible that enough little changes will add up to the really big ones needed to create sustainability. And if I can dream, humanity can instantaneously adopt green living en mass once the early adopters show the way—if the science of adaptation for species lower than human applies to us. No offense to any primates or E.T.’s who might be reading.