Thursday, May 29, 2008

Change Agents

Why does one person feel compelled to do their part to lessen their footprint while another does not? The answer represents something of a holy grail to the environmental movement as a whole (myself included). The developing field of “conservation psychology” is devoted to it exclusively. Trying to get others to change their behavior – whether the dynamic is parent/child, boss/subordinate, teacher/student, or peer/peer – is a fascinating process all around (to me anyway).

“Change agent” is a popular term nowadays in the world of corporate-speak. It describes someone who is leading the charge to literally change behavior whether it is at the team, division, company, or industry level. Most often, the change is necessary – the result of some sort of burning platform – with the end result leading to significant improvements in performance.

For our topic of interest, I like to think of the change agent as a thing and not necessarily a person (unless you’re Al Gore, of course). That “thing” is slightly different for each person with the resulting change in behavior varying in intensity. You have your “light greens” installing a CFL bulb or using a reusable bag to your “deep greens” who are taking a hard look at how to fundamentally alter every aspect of their day-to-day.

The following stories offer some insight into these different drivers of change and the resulting shades of green:

• Kill-Two-Birds-With-One-Stone Green – “Atlanta Family Slashes Carbon Footprint” (NPR)

• Mainstream Green – “Shopping to (literally) help save the world” (MSNBC)

• Armageddon Green – “Energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare” (AP/Yahoo)

I like to think that here in Sakonnet our change agents are the patches of woods, the little streams, the beaches, the ponds, the neighborhoods, the farms, the conservation land, and all those other elements of our local environment that make our home so special.

So, what gets your green motor running? What shade are you?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Grow a Row, Save Some Dough

On the heels of the “Save a Dime, Hang a Line” post, I couldn’t help but through out another cheeky title. But the fact is, it’s true. Then, I saw this pic on the left from the Kitchen Gardeners International site and it was a done deal.

Until this year, my family has done the basic home vegetable garden – couple tomatoes here, a little squash there, and round it all out with your run-of-the-mill herbs. But this year, we’ve gone all out. Four new 4x8 raised beds, a new berry bed, and in the coming weeks, melon and pumpkin patch. The peas are up and trellised, lettuce and spinach being harvested already; today we’re transplanting a variety of seedlings that we started a couple months ago. Everything will be done organically – no chemicals and lots (and lots) of homegrown compost.

Why? Originally, it was grow more of our food under the guise of getting more local with our diet, as well as to help teach the kids where their food comes from. In recent weeks, the notion of saving money has creeped into the picture. Between fuel costs at the pump and what you are laying out at the grocery stores these days, it just makes sense to be a tad bit more self-sufficient.

I’m inspired by stories such as this one about yet another successful urban farming experience. Suburbia provides most of us with at least a little patch of sunny yard. These folks are reclaiming empty lots and transforming them into a productive local food sources, all the while doing a heck of a job at bringing their community together. Then there is the Dervaes family and their Path to Freedom "project". They are redefining what suburban homesteading is all about. Absolutely amazing.

We’ve talked about the benefits of local food a lot here. Everything from helping the local economy to limiting the impact that transporting food hundreds, if not thousands, of miles wreaks on the environment. Yes, growing some of your own food takes some time and effort. With the former seemingly in short supply for most people, it is difficult to hop on this bandwagon. As with all things, there are options.

Can’t grow your own row? Eat off someone else’s. Sign up for a CSA plot or just go out and support your local farmers market. (The new Sakonnet Growers Market starts up the first week of July.) If you can’t seem to deviate from the normal grocery store path, try to buy fruits and produce that are grown locally. Many stores now list the town/state/country of origin. Lee’s in Westport does a great job of this. If you don’t see a sign, ask.

I’m out to the garden now. Talk to you soon.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Clothesline Saves $20 in One Month

I can’t believe it’s been almost a month since the last post. Things have been extremely busy with the warmer weather and school. The former can be summed up in one word: GARDEN. More on that in the next few days as I take a mini-vacation.

But to kick things off, I just had to pass this along. In the posts about getting a clothesline up and running I mentioned that I’d report back on the electricity savings. Well, the NationalGrid bill came today and lo’ and behold, it’s almost $21 less than last month! Granted, the days are a bit longer so we’re using less lighting, but compared to the same time period last year (that grid on the back of the first page of your bill), we’re down 159 kilowatt hours. A quick carbon calculation shows that we saved 179 pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. Small amount, yes, but imagine if 100, 1000, or 1,000,000 more homes strung up a line.

Now, we used the clothesline about 75 percent of the time due to the rain we’ve had in past weeks. Our outlay in hardware and rope was about $25, so we’re just shy of realizing a full 100 percent return on our investment (ROI) in one month. With the savings had from here on out, that’s just money in our pocket (and less carbon hitting the atmosphere).

Here’s what I’ve learned through this “experiment”: Small changes in behavior can lead to substantial savings, both in terms of money and environmental impact. We should sweat the small stuff – it REALLY does matter.

I hope to see more clotheslines up over the coming months. Feel free to shoot a comment over if you’ve realized any savings yourself. Now, I’m off to pull some clothes off the line before the rain…