Illustration: Thoka Maer

Climate Action Guide

How to Help Green Your Town

From the workplace to city hall, here are some ways to make your community more climate-friendly.

This article is part of a special series from our fall 2019 climate issue on how you can level up your actions against climate change. Visit the full Climate Action Guide here

While your personal actions at home and around your neighborhood can cut carbon and change social norms, actively encouraging others to adopt more climate-friendly practices is the next step. But where to start? Your daily life and around your own community. Think about the places you visit and the people you interact with every day, and consider how you might be able to change behaviors and ideas. Many places—say your kid's school or your own work—are rife with opportunities to be more energy efficient or be more climate-friendly. Then, when you get comfortable in these spaces, consider ratcheting your advocacy up a notch by taking your case to your city council.

Here are some tips and advice, big and small, for how you can get started. 

Work 

There are plenty of things you can do to improve the office’s sustainability without inserting green line items in the budget—and some of them will increase productivity, too.

Adjust the Thermostat. Cooling and ventilation account for about one-fifth of office energy use, so ease up on the AC. Plus, research shows that, thanks to standards based on men’s bodies, offices are routinely set at temperatures too cold for women to work optimally.

Print Strategically. Paper production has many adverse effects on the environment, from the loss of carbon-capturing trees to the chemicals production requires and the emissions it creates. If you must print, do so double-sided (and in “draft” mode, which uses less ink). And when you let your boss know that, by the way, printing costs one to three percent of an organization’s annual revenue . . . send an email.

Pack Your Lunch. Whether your office is the cab of your pickup or a cube, pack your lunch—and in reusable containers. A study of 40 kinds of sandwiches—some store-bought, some homemade—found the carbon impact to be lower for the latter, thanks to far less packaging and refrigeration. (Which also applies to many more meals than just lunch.) 

School

Five days a week, many kids dive into an environment that shapes their lives now and for decades to come. So join the PTA—then ask for these things.

Climate Change Literacy. The knowledge and behaviors ingrained in primary school can stick for a lifetime, so including climate change in the curriculum is critical. Not sure where to start? NASA’s climate portal (climate.nasa.gov) provides a repository of scientist-reviewed lesson plans you can suggest.

Healthier, Lower-Carbon Meals. Diets richer in plants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes, and lighter in meat can be better for kids’ growing bodies and brains. Reducing the school’s climate impact is a bonus. In Oakland, California, for example, shifting to one vegetarian meal a week cut the district’s food-service carbon footprint by 14 percent.

Cost-Effective Building Updates Asking for upgrades like LED lighting or nontoxic products can lead to positive health outcomes, keeping kids and their teachers in the classroom. And any upgrade that uses less energy or fewer chemicals will reduce emissions and the huge burden maintenance fees post on a school's budget—and, ultimately, taxpayes. 

Place of Worship 

Consider this advice from Rev. Abby Mohaupt, senior adviser for education and training at GreenFaith, an interfaith organization focused on environmental action. 

Assess the Everyday. More sustainable practices can be incorporated into many facets of a religious institution, but easy opportunities to lower its carbon footprint include community gatherings, building operations, and the grounds. Ask how post-service meals are sourced, Mohaupt says, or where is the mosque getting its energy.

Align the Messages. Greenfaith.org hosts resources for incorporating environmental teaching into the  practice for a variety of religions. “The conversation about changing lightbulbs or getting rid of Styrofoam are bigger and harder questions than we sometimes think,” Mohaupt says. “So they have to go hand-in-hand with education and liturgy.”

Spread the Word. When your spiritual home is ready to step up to public leadership, GreenFaith’s website also includes information on how to get involved with broader religious and secular efforts. Single-faith organizations like A Rocha, Hazon, and The Islamic Foundation for Ecology and Environmental Sciences offer guidance that complements Greenfaith’s.

City Hall 

Lindsey Constance, a city council ­member in Shawnee, Kansas, cofounded the Metro Kansas City Climate Action Coalition and advocates for federal action as a member of the National League of Cities. Here are her tips for making council requests.
 
Bring Solutions “Come with a suggestion or idea rather than just a problem,” Constance says. “We hear problems all day long! Even if it’s not the right answer, it shows that you are willing to get in there and help problem-solve, too. It’s really motivating when your neighbors come with a solution and show that they want to be a part of figuring things out.”

Ask for Efficiency. The first thing to press for are efficiency improvements, so request a city-wide energy audit. Replacing old and inefficient HVAC units, windows, and insulation will save the city money it can invest elsewhere, so it’s an easy sell.

Consider Co-benefits ­Officials aren’t always motivated by environmental concerns, so pitch co-benefits. Native plants in parks, medians, and roadside cut costs because cities don’t have to water or mow them. And in addition to acting as a carbon sink, they mitigate rain runoff. 

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