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January 2007 / Links updated 2013
YOU CAN MOVE MOUNTAINS

In 2006, the global population passed 6.5 billion. In a world this mobbed, you have to wonder what any individual's efforts to live more sustainably could possibly achieve. Say you replaced five incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents. Would that help put the brakes on global warming? If from this day forward you bought only recycled toilet paper, would that save even a single tree?

I'm not saying it isn't good and important to be the change you wish to see in the world, Seesawas Gandhi so memorably put it, but making a significant difference calls for something more: acting as a lever of change.

Remember levers from science class? They're the nifty tools that use a fulcrum or pivot point to make a lifting job easier. If the force being applied is farther from the fulcrum than the load being lifted, less effort is required. Just recall your experience with seesaws from your playground days and you'll get the picture. To lift a child heavier than yourself, you moved back on your side of the plank -- away from the fulcrum in the center -- or asked him or her to move forward. This made it possible to lift someone as much as twice your weight or more.

Similarly, by making use of a fulcrum in your life, you could do some serious heavy lifting for the environment. For fulcrum, think workplace, school, congregation or club -- that is, any organization to which you belong. By persuading one of these to adopt greener practices in any area, you will multiply your impact considerably.

Here are some ideas for what to propose to the groups you're involved with:

Energy efficiency. Suggest replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs or compact fluorescents, buying energy-efficient equipment bearing the Energy Star label and turning the equipment's power management features on by default.

Selling points
* Benefits to the organization: lower energy bills, points for good citizenship
* Benefits to the public: cleaner air, less global warming pollution, increased energy independence for the United States

Fresh, local, organic foods. Make a case for the right to eat as healthily at the company or school cafeteria as you do at home.

Selling points
* Benefits to the organization: healthier, happier employees/families; points for good citizenship
* Benefits to the public: better public health, preservation of local farmland, cleaner water and air, less global warming, increased energy independence for the United States

Waste reduction. Many organizations recycle because local ordinances require it, but could be induced to do more, such as replacing in-house print communications with email, using two-sided copiers, reusing packaging and establishing a purchasing policy that favors items with recycled content. Electronics manufacturers should be encouraged to offer take-back programs for their wares.

Selling points
* Benefits to the organization: cost savings, points for good citizenship
* Benefits to the public: preservation of resources, less need for landfills and incinerators, safe disposal of toxic materials, cleaner water and air, less global warming pollution, increased energy independence for the United States

Integrated pest management. A good suggestion for any organization, but especially for schools and houses of worship where children are found, is to use integrated pest management (IPM) rather than more conventional -- and poisonous -- means for controlling pests. IPM relies on prevention, habitat modification, development of good soil health and non-toxic strategies as much as possible.

Selling points
* Benefits to the organization: more effective pest control, better health for people using the facilities, points for good citizenship
* Benefits to the public: better public health, cleaner water due to reduced toxic runoff

Commuter benefits. Propose a commuter benefits program that allows employees to pay for public transit with pre-tax dollars. Some generous for-profit employers can even be persuaded to foot the transit bill and take the tax benefits themselves -- or split the costs and benefits with workers. Other good suggestions include parking cash-outs (where employees get payments in exchange for not using free company parking); carpooling incentives (such as reserved parking spots in the best locations); telecommuting; a guaranteed emergency ride home for transit, vanpool and carpool users; and bike racks and showers for bikers.

Selling points
* Benefits to the organization: greater employee satisfaction, safer commutes, less demand for company parking, eligibility for transit grants, less traffic congestion, points for good citizenship
* Benefits to the public: cleaner air, less global warming pollution, increased energy independence for the United States

Green design. Recommend that organizations that are renovating or building new facilities use sustainable strategies that limit sprawl, minimize water and energy usage, preserve natural resources such as wood and protect indoor environmental quality for users of the facility.

Selling points
* Benefits to the organization: lower operating and maintenance costs, higher market value, increased productivity and satisfaction for building users, points for good citizenship
* Benefits to the public: preservation of land and resources, cleaner water and air, less global warming pollution, increased energy independence for the United States

Though by no means exhaustive, this list has enough, I hope, to get you started. Best of luck, and if you meet with success, tell me about it.

—Sheryl Eisenberg


Family photos
Sheryl Eisenberg, a long-time advisor to NRDC, posts a new This Green Life every month. Sheryl makes her home in Tribeca (NYC), where—along with her children, Sophie and Gabby, and husband, Peter—she tries to put her environmental principles into practice. No fooling. Read more about Sheryl.


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Archimedes Speaking of levers, Archimedes famously said, "Give me a place to stand, and I can move the earth." Over the centuries, many people, from Descartes to Thomas Paine, have mined the line for meaning, but none as movingly, to my mind, as Robert F. Kennedy, in describing obstacles to change:

"First is the danger of futility; the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills -- against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence. Yet many of the world's great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation... It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. 'Give me a place to stand,' said Archimedes, 'and I will move the world.' These men moved the world, and so can we all."

-- from RFK's Day of Affirmation speech (well worth reading once you get past the preamble).



Exit sign
Easy sell. Energy Star exit signs cost around $10 a year less to operate than conventional signs and last up to 10 years without a lamp replacement. If all American businesses switched over, the savings in electricity costs would be $75 million, according to the Energy Star site.



Best practices. Follow these tips when making your proposal:

1) Do your homework -- about current practices at the organization as well as the changes you're recommending.

2) Identify who is responsible for the relevant area of operations.

3) Seek help and advice from friends in the organization.

4) Put your proposal in writing.

5) Explain what the organization stands to gain.

6) Back up your arguments with information from credible sources.

7) Provide a list of resources for planning and implementation.

8) Offer to help get the ball rolling by drafting a memo, making a presentation or organizing a committee.

9) Be courteous and respectful at all times.


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Sheryl Eisenberg is a web developer and writer. With her firm, Mixit Productions (http://www.mixitproductions.com), she brought NRDC online in 1996, designed NRDC's first websites, and continues to develop special web features for NRDC. She created and, for several years, wrote the Union of Concerned Scientists' green living column, Greentips, and has designed and contributed content to many nonprofit sites.