Mavis Bates, Adjunct Faculty, Math and Sciences
With Earth Day approaching, it’s a good time to think about what it means to be green. There are many ways that we can ensure our own homes are contributing to a healthier, more sustainable environment.

Being “green” is our way of acknowledging that we must take care of the Earth if we want the Earth to take care of us. We all need to minimize the impact that our lives have on the environment. We must walk gently on the Earth, and live simply so that others may simply live. We must use our resources wisely, so that there will be something left for our children and grandchildren. We must reduce pollution and carbon dioxide emissions so that the air will still be breathable and so that we slow and reverse the effects of climate change.

The basics of sustainable living address food, energy, water, waste, transportation and climate change.

Meals in the home are a simple place to start with bringing green into our everyday lives. How do we eat right for ourselves and the planet? First, we need to eat food raised organically, so that we know the plants and the soil were not sprayed with dangerous pesticides and herbicides. But it’s also important that we eat locally grown food. Food from faraway places like New Zealand had to ride on an airplane, which uses up lots of fuel and creates more carbon dioxide.

The best ways to save energy at home are also the easiest (and they save us money too): Turn off the lights when you leave a room, turn down the thermostat in the winter and turn it up in the summer. Some harder things to do to save energy include making your house “tighter,” with more insulation, energy efficient windows and caulking any cracks in your house. That keeps the warm air inside in winter and cool air inside in summer.

Conserving water may be the major environmental task of our time. Here’s another simple idea: Be sure to turn off the tap when you’re brushing your teeth or doing the dishes, and take shorter showers. My dad said that when he was in the army they got three minutes to take a shower—a minute to soak, a minute to soap, and a minute to rinse. If he could do it in three minutes, then maybe four or five should be enough for us. In our gardens we can use drought resistant flowers instead of water gulpers.

Reducing waste is so important. Our landfills are already bulging with garbage. Simple ways to reduce waste are using reusable shopping bags and reusable drinking bottles and reducing use of disposable plastic bottles. Reusable diapers, plates, cups, napkins — there is a long list of things that we can use (and reuse) in order to reduce waste.

Active transportation means walking or riding a bike. Try it when you can. Our towns are not always set up so we can walk to the store, but if you can walk or bike it’s a great way to save energy. Drive an energy efficient car, car pool, or telecommute. Our cities do not belong to cars, they belong to people!

Climate change is the big picture that drives all of these effort. The more we can reduce our dependence on energy of every kind the better. And these efforts can easily begin at home.

Mavis Bates teaches Sustainability 101 at Waubonsee Community College and is Chairman of Aurora GreenFest

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