How to Engage the Unengaged on Green Issues {and Do Small Changes Even Matter?}

Small steps matter because they have the power to shift our perspective.

Last month I discussed how it's tough to get folks to pay attention to issues such as climate change because 1) the consequences are far off and the problem is impossible to perceive with our senses and 2) it's depressing and humans avoid thoughts that cause negative emotions. In light of these challenges, on this blog as well as on Facebook I posed the question:
What are your best strategies to get others to be interested in green issues and to change their behavior?

Thank you to all those who took the time to respond! Responses included:
  • Use a positive "hook" (going green is fun, happy, saves money!) that often involves self-interest
  • Avoid preachy stance (avoid shame, judgy-ness, greener-than-thou attitude; be empathetic; admit own shortcomings)
  • Keep it light (use humor, be lighthearted, skip all the depressing details)
  • Lead by example
  • Provide actions to empower people
  • Focus on the next generation
  • Be aware of the power of language (some uncomfortable being "environmentalists")
  • Seek common ground (for example, everyone who gardens/ farms feels connection to planet)

Some expressed skepticism about the impact of small individual changes, arguing that the problem is urgent and what we need are big changes such as getting climate deniers out of elected office and dramatic policy changes at all levels of government. Of course, how exactly to make those big changes happen is the gazillion-dollar question.

I mostly write about small incremental changes on my blog. In the face of an enormous and complex problem such as climate change, it's easy to wonder if that's useful or if it's enough. Here is why ultimately I think it's worthwhile to continue to do so:

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11 Things You Will Not Find at a Farmers Market

photo credit: Patrick Kuhl

I stepped into a Safeway the other day to pick up a few things for a sick child, and was surprised by the number of organic foods available. That's progress, I think. Still, I could have done without the helium balloons, aisles of candy and toys, and row upon row of packaged foods. My little shopping trip left me with a renewed appreciation for the farmers market.

11 things you will not find at a farmers market

  1. Little plastic stickers on every piece of produce
  2. Foods with tie-ins to popular TV characters
  3. High fructose corn syrup
  4. Magazines with scantily clad photo-shopped women prominently displayed
  5. Cheap toys
  6. Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners
  7. Candy at my kids' eye level in the checkout line
  8. Fluorescent breakfast cereals and yogurt
  9. Bread with more than 20 ingredients
  10. Eggs from caged chickens
  11. Sodium Benzoate and other preservatives

When I shop with my 3 little ones at the farmers market, instead of my kids nagging me for Doritos or Fruit Loops, they beg me for blueberries, dried persimmons, and grapes. If you are trying to switch from food-like substances to real foods, the farmers market is a great place to start! Find your local farmers markets here.

Feel free to pin or otherwise share:
photo credit: Natalie Maynor

What would you add to the list?

Related Posts

Check out these additional posts about real food by Green Sisterhood bloggers:

Would you like more ideas and tips about Going Green Gradually? Sign up for my free email subscription to get each of my posts delivered to your inbox (I usually post one or two times a week). You can also follow me on Facebook, Google Plus, Pinterest, Twitter, or with your favorite RSS Reader. I hope to see you again soon!

6 Strategies for Choosing Non-toxic Personal Care Products

This past week concerned customers have been taking letters to Walgreen asking them to #MindtheStore by keeping products containing any of a list of 100 hazardous ingredients off their shelves. Similar previous efforts have resulted in Target and Walmart agreeing to take steps to reduce and eliminate hazardous chemicals in their products. Some might wonder whether this course of action is really necessary. I mean, don't our national laws and regulations prevent retailers from selling hazardous products in the first place?

Acceptable Levels of Risk

Although most consumers believe the U.S. government regulates the safety of personal care products, the sad truth is, personal products (a.k.a. cosmetics) are among the least-regulated products on the market. The current cosmetics law in the United States dates back to 1938, long before thousands of ingredients had even been invented. The FDA (charged with oversight of the cosmetics industry) has no authority to require pre-market safety testing, does not have the authority to regulate what goes into cosmetics before they are marketed for consumer use, and has no authority to require recalls of harmful cosmetics or even to require that manufacturers report cosmetics-related injuries to the FDA (source).

In fact, the cosmetics industry rather than a government agency is in charge of policing itself. Like many other industries before them (tobacco, alcohol, and now food), when faced with the possibility of meaningful government regulation (in 1978), the cosmetics industry volunteered to regulate itself by creating the Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) Panel. Who determines if ingredients are safe enough to be used in personal products?
"Acceptable levels of risk are entirely at the [Industry] Panel's discretion" (source).

Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Snack Bars

Here is another recipe that has made it into our homemade snack rotation. They started with the very popular recipe Playgroup Granola Bars on My friend Lys made them for me and my kids during a play date and they were a big hit. As always, I have made many modifications. I use chocolate chips instead of raisins, which was actually Lys' innovation. Of course, if I had used only raisins I could have called my recipe "refined sugar-free" or something. But oh well. Chocolate chips make them extra appealing.

I use white whole wheat flour (instead of white flour plus wheat germ). You could probably use whole wheat flour plus wheat germ, but I don't happen to stock wheat germ. I cut the brown sugar entirely, because they really are plenty sweet with just the honey. I also tried substituting applesauce for some of the oil and that works too. I make them both ways depending on whether I have an open jar of applesauce on hand or not. I also added some nuts. As with all my favorite healthy homemade snacks, these freeze extremely well and are perfect for lunch boxes, picnics, and on-the-go snacking.

How to Turn Cereal Boxes into a Lift-the-Flap Toy

Breakfast is my favorite meal and I make hot breakfasts several times a week. Still, we manage to go through quite a bit of boxed cereal at my house. Enough to make me want to do something useful with the cereal boxes before they hit the recycling bin. When I noticed by chance that the boxes of several of our favorite cereals perfectly nested inside each other, I just knew there must be something they would be useful for. Eventually, I came up with the perfect upcycling project, thanks to my middle child's love of lift-the-flap books (which she calls "peek-a-boo books").

Here's how to turn two ordinary cereal boxes into a fun crafty project that your kids will love making and playing with. We call them peek-a-boo houses at my house.

How to Upcycle Cereal Boxes into a Peek-a-Boo (Lift-the-Flap) House

6 Ways to Ditch Disposables

Over the last few years, one of the strategies I have used to green my lifestyle is to switch from single-use disposable products to reusable ones. In addition to trimming my trash's waistline significantly, these changes have reduced my family's exposure to toxins and saved me buckets of money. Here are 6 switches I've made that you can make too!

Goodbye, Paper Napkins and Towels. 

I still keep a roll of paper towels on an upper shelf in a kitchen cabinet, but probably only go through two or three rolls in a year. Switching to cloth napkins and towels was not nearly as painful as I thought it would be. First, we switched to cloth napkins. When we ran out of paper napkins, I simply dug the cloth napkins (wedding gift) out of a bin in the garage instead of buying more paper ones. Then I stocked up on some fabulous sponges and plenty of kitchen towels, and made sure to stash them in convenient locations. You can read more about my switch to a paperless kitchen here.


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