Growing into a green lifestyle

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by Gary Gaston
Contributor

My first flirtation with environmental activism came at the age of 15, after reading 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. The subsequent 50 More Things pushed me over the edge. I became a recycling nerd.

In those days, the only place in rural west Tennessee to drop off recycling was in a giant metal container that sat in the hinterlands of a Kroger parking lot. Since I didn’t yet have my license, I made my mother drive me the 25 miles each weekend to deposit all the recyclables I had collected during the past seven days from our extended family and friends. My parents were troopers though, even allowing me to retrofit our home with many of the book’s suggestions on conservation.

Later, as the editor of my high school newspaper, I was afforded a monthly platform for spreading environmental propaganda. My devotion to the cause did not affect my classmates in quite the same way, however, and, as with most teenagers, my militant streak dissipated when faced with more pressing issues, such as the SAT prep exam and college application deadlines. I did learn a valuable lesson though on the importance of making a personal stand for my passions.  

I know it’s a cliché, but watching An Inconvenient Truth broke my fifteen-year lapse and reawakened my persona as an environmentally proactive citizen. I have made some simple changes to my lifestyle and the logistics of my household’s operation to reach a comfortable level of convenience and responsibility.

Here is an easy list to follow; the ten most important (and simple) things you can do to help make Nashville (and the Earth) a greener place. Environmental responsibility isn’t difficult, and will give you a personal satisfaction that is hard to beat.

Recycle Everything. It is estimated that less than 30 percent of households in Metro Nashville recycle. There is no excuse for not recycling! If you are still living in the dark ages, here’s an easy solution for your embarrassing problem. Buy one or two plastic bins that can be stored in the pantry or an unused area. Throw all recyclables during the week in the bins (I separate glass from metal, plastic and paper), over the weekend dump the bin into your Curby unit (or a recycling center). Curby picks up metal/aluminum cans, all plastics and paper products (no glass) on a monthly basis. For more information on Curby and a list of recycling center locations, visit http://www.nashville.gov/recycle/main.htm

If your office does not recycle, be proactive and start a program. There are several local services that pick up paper products free of charge on a monthly or bimonthly basis (they also supply the containers). My office uses Recycling Solutions. For a list of recycling services visit the Metro website above.

Invest in new bulbs. Compact fluorescent (CF) use 66-75 percent less electricity than an incandescent bulb and they last 8-15 times longer, which equals major energy savings and more money in the bank (it is very important to properly recycle CF bulbs as they contain trace amounts of Mercury – drop bulbs off at Metro’s Recycling Facility off Trinity Lane; for questions call 615880-1000). 

Make the Green Power Switch. You’ve probably noticed the flyer in your monthly electric bill promoting this partnership between TVA and NES. The program provides electricity generated from clean, renewable resources such as solar, wind and methane gas. Purchase $4 blocks, each equivalent to 150-kilowatt-hour of energy. A green power investment of as little as $8 per billing cycle is equivalent to not driving your car for four months.

Buy local produce / eat organic. Rule of thumb, eat organic, but choose locally grown non-organic over distantly-grown organic. This not only supports local farmers, but it decreases the transportation costs associated with your food consumption. If you haven’t been to Nashville’s Farmer’s Market recently, it is worth a Saturday afternoon stroll. The Market is currently undergoing renovations and Director Jeff Themm promises a greater focus on direct-from-the-farmer and organic options in the upcoming season. Make sure to ask specifically for organic produce whenever possible. The more farmers see demand, the more likely they are to comply. For more info visit www.nashvillefarmersmarket.org

Join a CSA. Earlier this year I signed up to be a member of a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. Every week I receive a half-bushel box filled with seasonal fruits and vegetables. I split the cost with a friend, so for approximately $11 each per week, we get more than enough for both of us. To find a CSA that delivers near you, visit http://nashfof.wordpress.com/csa/

Eat less meat.   Livestock consumes 70 percent of American grain production and it can take up to 840 gallons of water to produce a single serving of beef. Just for fun, try out the 30-Day Vegetarian Challenge (www.goveg.com), I did, just over two months ago, and I have never felt better, plus I’ve lost about 12 lbs! If you are not yet willing to make the switch to a vegetarian lifestyle, then cut down on your consumption and choose pasture-fed sustainable meat whenever possible. Locally and organic raised is even better (the CSA list above includes several farms that offer pasture raised livestock).

Plant a tree.  Beyond the fact that they absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, trees can drastically reduce your home’s air-conditioning needs, up to 50 percent in the summer. Do some research about the best place to plant your tree. If it’s too close to the power lines or a building, it may end up being an unfortunate investment. Choosing a native tree supports the local ecosystem and lends a certain amount of assurance the tree will do well once it is planted properly. For an amazing resource on everything trees, check out www.treesaregood.com. 
If you can’t plant a tree but still want to contribute, sign up for the Habitat for Humanity Tree Planting event at Providence Park, where 100 trees will be planted the first two weekends in November. To volunteer, contact Mike Allen with Habitat, at (615) 254-4663.

Live Urban. Choosing where you live is one of the most environmentally significant decisions you can make. Urban living is inherently sustainable, especially if you live within walking distance of your work place. Mass transit choices are also easier in the city, and besides, living urban is more fun!

Drive a sustainable vehicle. Who doesn’t love a Range Rover, but are they really a necessity? This might be the hardest sacrifice for most folks, and I’m even having trouble dealing with it myself. I want a hybrid, but I cannot give up my car right now. So, I’ve started carpooling with a friend from the office to offset my carbon footprint. 

Join an organization and contribute to your community. Whatever your interests may be, it’s a safe bet there is a non-profit that needs your time and energy. www.greenernashville.org offers a great list of Nashville’s Sustainable related organizations and www.greenlivingtips.com offers up some additional advice and tips worth checking out.

I am now 32 and admitting that my flirtation with sustainability has now become a life long commitment. Although I lost my way for many years, I am happy to once again be living a green lifestyle. If you can accomplish any of the things on this list, you too will already be on your own path toward growing into green.

Gary Gaston is an urban designer for Looney Ricks Kiss Architects (LRK). In his previous work as the Associate Design Director of the Nashville Civic Design Center, Gary was a principal contributing author of the Center’s book “The Plan of Nashville: Avenues to a Great City,” published by Vanderbilt University Press in 2005. Gary also serves on the board of Nashville CARES and the GLBT Chamber of Commerce.