What You Can Do
If you haven’t yet done so, join us. We are an all-volunteer group of individuals in the DC region who support each other in efforts “to care for the earth, be wise stewards over it,
and preserve it for future generations.” We welcome any who want to join us. We are led by Merikay Smith, Katie Cummings and Matt Markoff. We currently have about 80 members in our region and are part of the larger LDS Earth Stewardship group headquartered in Utah. ldsearthstewardship.org
There are also simple steps you can take on a daily basis to be a better earth steward.
Here are some environmental actions in an easy-to-use format. Ideas adapted from GreenFaith.org.
In prayer, affirm your commitment to care for the Earth.
Take 3 action steps below today.
QUICK STEP #1: ADJUST YOUR THERMOSTAT 1 DEGREE
Through energy use alone, the average US home creates over 13 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Right now - turn your thermostat 1 degree lower (if it’s winter) or 1 degree higher (if it’s summer).
QUICK STEP #2: MAKE YOUR LUNCH AND DINNER TODAY VEGETARIAN
Meat production worldwide is a leading source of greenhouse gas emissions, and creates huge amounts of toxic waste. Animals are often treated cruelly on factory farms.
From the LDS Doctrine and Covenants 89:12-13
12 Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;
13 And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.
QUICK STEP #3: TAKE ONE HOUR AWAY FROM ELECTRONICS AND TOWARDS CREATION
Today, disconnect from all electronics for 1 hour, and go outdoors. If possible engage friends or family to join you. Or – if you can’t get outside – make yourself comfortable in front of something that reminds you of the natural world and meditate.
WORK ON ADDITIONAL EASY STEPS IN THE COMING DAYS.
3 KEY WAYS TO REDUCE ENERGY IN YOUR HOME:
Change to CFL Light Bulbs:
Start small by installing CFLs when a light blows out, or make a big change by installing CFLs in all of your lights. These bulbs contain mercury, so recycle them at Lowe’s, Home Depot or IKEA.
Do a DIY Web-based Energy Audit:
The United Nations estimates that by 2050 there will be more refugees from climate change than from war. You can fight climate change, reduce your carbon footprint, and cut your energy bills by identifying the most effective energy saving steps in your home. Get started today by completing a web-based home energy audit.
Increase Your Temperature Setbacks:
As much as half of the energy used in your home goes towards heating and cooling, often at times when the space isn’t being used. Start saving money and energy immediately by adjusting your thermostat when you are not at home or are sleeping—in winter, be sure to lower the thermostat by at least 10 degrees (vice-versa for summer). Use 7 day programmable thermostats to make this easier. Shut vents in rooms that are infrequently used. Talk with people at your work, church or other frequented sites about saving money and energy by thermostat adjustments.
3 KEY WAYS TO GREEN UP YOUR TRANSPORTATION HABITS:
Turn the Key, Be Idle Free
10 seconds of idling uses more fuel than turning the engine on and off (NJDEP), and engine fumes degrade air quality and are tied to asthma and other respiratory conditions. Turn your engine off when you are sitting for more than 10 seconds. Better yet, drive a hybrid or electric car which automatically shuts off -- so quiet!
Commit to More Days on Mass Transit
Have you checked out the mass transit routes near your home, and do you use them? Sometimes mass transit is not as convenient as driving. So start small by committing one day per week as a mass transit day, and build up from there. Or coordinate with coworkers or friends to carpool or ride a bike.
Drive Slower, and Get Tune-ups!
Drive the speed limit—the faster you drive, the more fuel that you consume. Driving 65 mph uses 20% more fuel than driving 55 mph. Don’t neglect tune-ups or oil changes; a poorly tuned engine can increase fuel consumption by as much as 10-20%. Always keep tires aligned and properly inflated. All cars have a label describing the correct tire pressure. Use the higher number psi (pounds per square inch) to maximize your fuel efficiency (US EPA).
3 KEY STEPS TO REDUCE TOXINS IN YOUR HOME:
Believe it or not, companies are not required by law to list ingredients on the labels of their products, so it is likely you won’t find full ingredient lists on any of them. But what you do find may surprise you. What do the labels of your cleaners and pesticides suggest in terms of their harm to human health or to the environment? If you hire a company for these tasks, be aware of the chemicals being used in your home and garden. Choose the least harmful way to clean or get rid of pests.
The 2010 President’s Cancer Report tells a sobering story: “to a disturbing extent, babies are born ‘pre-polluted’ ” because of chemical exposure in the womb, and - “many known or suspected carcinogens are completely unregulated.” Too many household products contain harmful chemicals that linger on surfaces many days after they are used. Choose ‘green’ cleaners such as Sun & Earth, GreenWorks or Seventh Generation. How do you identify a green cleaner? Look for full ingredient lists (not just ‘active’ ingredients) on the label, and ingredients that are vegetable-based, biodegradable and solvent-free. Don’t fall for a marketing trap—many companies list ‘green’ or ‘natural’ on the label, even when the product contains harmful ingredients. Home mixed cleaners are often cheaper, less toxic and have equal or better cleaning results. Use 2 T white vinegar in one gallon water for window cleaning. It's also useful for cleaning areas like shower tiles with soap or hard water deposits. Or for cleaning grass stains from laundry. We'll be posting other home cleaner ideas -- please share your favorites with us.
Avoid Using Pesticides Whenever Possible
Pesticides are harmful by design, that’s what makes them effective. Exposure to pesticides has been tied to respiratory ailments, cancer, and endocrine disruption (Beyond Pesticides). It's possible to have a garden without using pesticides. Use pesticides only as a last resort— try the least harmful alternatives first. If you use a pest or lawn care vendor, switch to a vendor that uses Integrated Pest Management practices and is (ideally) Green Shield Certified. Pesticides labeled "organic" can still be harmful. The best approach is to have a variety of plants which will bring in lots of beneficial insects. With pesticides, the opposite occurs. Beneficial insects are killed and populations of pests skyrocket, leading to the application of more pesticides.
3 KEY WAYS TO EAT "GREEN":
At Least One Day per Week, Go Vegetarian
Worldwide meat production releases more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector combined (Source: UN Environment Programme). Start small by eliminating meat one day per week, or challenge yourself by taking a week-long vegetarian pledge.
Choose Sustainable Fish
Nearly 70% of commercial fishing grounds are depleted or recovering from overfishing (Source: UN Food and Agriculture Organization). Before ordering seafood, reach for your Seafood Watch pocket guide which will give you the ‘red’ light or ‘green’ when deciding what to choose.
Go Organic with the Dirty Dozen
Can’t afford to eat everything organically? Some fruits and vegetables are sprayed with more pesticides than others, and cannot be cleaned of pesticide residues as easily. Choose organic for the 'Dirty Dozen' fruits and vegetables that fit this category: peach, apple, bell pepper, celery, nectarine, strawberries, cherries, kale, lettuce, grapes (imported), carrot, and pears. Over time you can grow many of your own fruits and vegetables. Start small and easy. Grow lettuce and other greens in small, window-sized containers during the winter or larger pots outside in spring/fall. Info on this and other food growing tips from the Grow Eat It Eat program of the University of Maryland: extension.umd.edu/growit.
3 KEY STEPS FOR WATER CONSERVATION IN THE HOME:
The Easiest of Steps: Shut the Water Off!
The typical US household uses a lot of water—400 gallons of water every day for a family of four (US EPA Water Sense). One of the most effective steps you can take to reduce your water usage is to shut the water off at the times you don’t need it—while soaping up dishes, shampooing your hair in the shower, or brushing your teeth. If you are not actively using the water, always shut it off.
Use Low-Flow Showerheads and Faucet-Flow Aerators
Reduce your water usage immediately by installing a low-flow showerhead and faucet-flow aerators on all water faucets. These devices maintain water pressure while reducing flow, by infusing air into the water stream. Look for showerheads and aerators that are EPA Water Sense labeled.
Kick the Bottled Water Habit
Fill a plastic water bottle ¼ of the way with oil—this is how much oil is required to make the typical bottle of water. If you add up the plastic used for the bottle, the energy required to collect and clean the water, and the fuel it takes to ship the bottles to stores, it equates to millions of barrels of oil each year (Sierra Club). Kick the bottled water habit by installing a water filter on your faucet and purchasing a reusable water bottle. Get a water bottle that does not leach chemicals by looking for ‘BPA Free’ plastic bottles or by choosing stainless steel.
3 KEY WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR WASTE IN THE HOME and a bonus:
The Easiest Step: Only Buy What You Truly Need
Save energy and resources by recycling your glass, aluminum, plastic and paper. Check to find out what materials are recyclable in your area. It is important to avoid contaminating the waste stream—if non-recyclables contaminate recycling, it can lead the recycling process to be inefficient.
Stop Junk Mail
Individual households receive thousands of pieces of junk mail each year, most of which is printed on virgin paper and is not recycled. Visit the Direct Marketing Association and click on ‘DMA Choice’ to manually adjust your mail settings.
Keep that Party Sustainable with Waste-Friendly Dinnerware
Your waste will outlive you—plastic can take up to 600 years to break down in a landfill, and Styrofoam never breaks down. When planning events, keep the environment in mind by using reusable or biocompostable dinnerware. Volunteer at church events to organize recycling or to work in advance of activities to reduce trash. Consider hosting a zero-waste event to model what’s possible.
3 KEY OPPORTUNITIES FOR ECO-FRIENDLY GROUNDS MAINTENANCE:
Keep Children and Pets Safe by Eliminating Lawn Chemicals
What are those small flags left on lawns after they are treated by a lawn care company? Those warnings state that a lawn has been sprayed with pesticides, and children and pets should avoid the area. Avoid these risks to children and animals and improve the environment, by eliminating chemicals on your lawn. Encourage your neighbors to do the same. See the organization Safe Lawns for more information. Lawns have fewer weeds and resist drought better when they are mown at the highest mower setting. If you hire a mower, ask that the lawn is only mown as needed -- that's better for the lawn and burns less fuel. Many lawnmowers are highly polluting (much more so than even the worst vehicles). Most lawns do not need fertilizer (or at most need one application in fall, slow release). Adjust your expectations -- welcome nitrogen-fixing clover which benefits pollinators rather than seeking a perfectly uniform turf. (Personal note: a large area of our back lawn has not been mown for 7+ years. I love the textured look and weeding a few times a year keeps the area free of invasive plants. There’s a net savings of my time, less fuel burned, less air pollution, and habitat is created. I mow the perimeter so it does not look unkempt.)
Water Your Grounds Wisely
Did you ever notice sprinklers on after a rain shower, or in the heat of the day? Early morning is the best time to water; the hotter the temperature, the quicker the water evaporates. If you use automatic water systems, adjust them if rain is in the forecast. Don’t cut your grass too short in hot weather. Replace excess lawn with native and drought-resistant plants which once established are more tolerant of seasonal fluctuations in rainfall. Install rain barrels or cisterns to catch runoff for use later in your garden.
Build a Garden
There are countless types of gardens—vegetable, herb, container, raised bed, flower—so there are many opportunities to craft a garden around your interests, location, and aptitude. What is your primary goal for creating a garden (food, providing habitat, stress reduction, a space for reflection)? What are your resources (space, soil, sun exposure, water source, time)? Start small and grow. Local Master Gardener programs and extension websites are excellent sources of information and offer free classes. In Montgomery County there is a vegetable demo garden at the Derwood Ag Farm Park open daily: extension.umd.edu/mg/locations/demonstration-gardens . When purchasing seeds, support small farmers and seed banks by using rare and heirloom seeds. Over time you can also learn to save your own seeds and swap with other gardeners. Whenever possible choose native plants for landscaping. Reducing your lawn saves on mowing (also reduces associated air pollution and use of herbicides/fertilizers). In place of lawn plant a food garden or native plant habitat garden. See our post on native plants for more information.
GO A DEEPER SHADE OF GREEN AND TAKE ON ONE OR MORE OF THE PROJECTS BELOW.
ENERGY CONSERVATION: INSULATE AND WEATHER-STRIP
The average US home has enough air leaks to equal an open window. Sealing and insulating your home can save you up to 20% on heating and cooling costs, and upwards of 10% on your total energy bill (Energy Star). Find an experienced certified contractor, or follow Energy Star’s do-it-yourself guide.
TRANSPORTATION: CHOOSE A FUEL-EFFICIENT CAR
The single most important environmental choice that most US citizens make is our choice of transportation. The average US auto releases 6 tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, acting as one of the biggest contributors to climate change. When you purchase a new car, take some time to research so that you can purchase a vehicle that gets 40 mpg or higher.
TOXICS REDUCTION: CREATE YOUR OWN GREEN CLEANERS
There are over 80,000 synthetic chemicals in use, and less than 5% have been tested for their effects on human health and the environment. The best way to control your exposure to chemicals is to make your own green cleaners with some common and non-toxic household ingredients. Read these 25 do-it-yourself green cleaning recipes for every room of your house.
FOOD: LOCAL FOODS
Support your farmers close to home and reduce your carbon footprint by visiting farmers’ markets or participating in Community Supported Agriculture: Local Harvest offers a handy website to locate the markets and CSAs closest to you. Or grow your own if possible and share. (It's June and already we've shared with more than 20 people bags full of vegetables from our Maryland suburban garden. We simply can't eat it all and the freezer is full.) Check if there's a local community garden where you can grow a plot if you don't have space or sun for a garden at home. Talk with neighbors or friends about cooperating together on growing food. (My neighbor and I share our seeds -- more varieties for each of us. We share the food once grown too.)
WATER CONSERVATION: USE RAINBARRELS
When we are given the gift of rain, we tend to let it flow through gutters into the nearby landscape all at once. This poses several problems—the water flows in torrents often leading to scouring of small tributaries and even flooding, and in rural areas this water flow carries valuable soil with it. By diverting the water from the gutters into a rainbarrel, these problems are avoided. Water that is collected can be used for plants, gardens and other uses. Review this useful rain barrel guide.
WASTE REDUCTION: COMPOST
The average American creates 4.5 lbs. of garbage each day (Source: Story of Stuff) much of which is food waste. Starting an indoor or outdoor compost bin is easy and turns food waste into nutrient-rich soil. Read a simple description of composting grass and table scraps and learn how to compost. See our blog on Josh's worms for ideas if you don't have space for an outdoor compost bin.
PET Waste: Dispose of properly
Letting your dog or cat poop on a neighbor’s lawn or a nearby park is not just annoying (and in most jurisdictions illegal), it’s also very bad for local water quality. Fecal matter ends up in local streams and can spread diseases. Dog waste can carry up to 60 diseases — bacteria, virus and parasites that can infect other pets and humans. Bag pet waste and put it in the trash.
GROUNDS MAINTENANCE: CREATE LOCAL HABITAT IN YOUR BACKYARD
One of the biggest threats to local wildlife is development—as homes go up, natural habitat is destroyed. Make your property as wildlife-friendly as possible by pulling invasive plants, adding native plants (tall trees, understory trees, shrubs, vines, perennials and groundcovers). Reduce areas of lawn. Add a simple water feature (no pump required)-- just a container of water with a few water plants and mosquito eating fish. If you want you can certify your backyard as a wildlife habitat. See National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat™ program.
Once you've taken action in your own home, help your congregation to get started on environmental issues. If you’re a Latter-day Saint, consider talking with your Bishop about starting a Green Team for your ward. It’s best to create a list of possible activities and have them approved by your Bishop and Ward Council so that whatever you do it is fully supported by the ward leadership.