A group of university students spread acorss numerous campuses have issued their "to-do" list for a greener new year. They are teams of students competing in the Ecocar contest across North America.
1. Drive smart. We appropriately begin with a no-brainer resolution for the EcoCAR teams. There are many small changes you can make to green your time behind the wheel. Planning trips to avoid traffic and stop lights, maintaining steady and legal speeds, slowly accelerating, limiting use of air conditioning, heated seats, and rear window defoggers, and avoiding unnecessary heavy loads can all improve fuel economy. 2. Set car-free goals. Whether it is biking to work or running errands on foot, it’s easier to stick to a greener transportation plan if you set goals. University of Wisconsin EcoCAR team member Dan Grice set an ambitious goal for 2010: 3,000 commuter miles by bike. He says, "Bike commuting is my goal. I want to average four days a week which would eliminate 3,000 miles of driving in 2010." No bike? EcoCAR’s Mississippi State University team takes advantage of the free bicycle-share program. Look around or start one in your area. 3. Try sharing. Car pooling may have been an invention of necessity to dodge traffic, but it’s greener than ever even if it’s still not the most popular option – 77% of Americans drive to work alone. EcoCAR’s Texas Tech University team is doing its part and has started car pooling to their garage daily. Local car sharing programs are taking off too and chances are we could all benefit from taking up one of these options. EcoCAR’s University of Waterloo and University of West Virginia teams both take part in new campus car share programs which rent hybrids by the hour. 4. Drop mileage from your food. Country of origin labels, wait lists for CSAs and the overcrowded farmer’s market scene add up to one thing: Americans are paying more attention to where their food comes from. Beth Bezaire from Ohio State University’s EcoCAR team says, “Purchasing food that has to fly across the world has become less appealing.” The teams suggest buying local as much as possible and setting a goal, like resolving to incorporate one local food product into your meals every day. Push your school or office to incorporate local foods into the menu, like they did at the University of Victoria in Canada (UVic) cafeteria, or eat out at restaurants that support regional farms. 5. Grow a garden. Seriously. Take a page from food author Michael Pollan and don’t be afraid to grow a garden, even if you only have a small space. You may discover it’s easier than you think. If land is at a premium, find a community garden. UVic’s Campus Community Garden rents 15 foot long plots for $30 a year and they currently have a waiting list! Get one started on your campus or sign up for a space in your local community garden. 6. Read or watch something new. The EcoCAR teams may know a lot about green engineering, but they are also challenging themselves to learn about other issues this year as well – whether it's sustainable food, water footprint or other environmental issues. Jeff Waldner from UVic says, “I find that knowing more about the problem makes me think more about the solution. The first time I picked up a book about global climate change, I was shocked at how much I didn’t know about the issue.” 7. Remember the little things. Switch your light bulbs, look for products made from recycled or lower footprint materials, buy energy efficient electronics and appliances, go paperless, and conserve heat and water. The EcoCAR teams say it’s easier for young adults to start small, especially when time and money are often a factor. Also, these behavioral changes may seem minor, but they add up. 8. Don’t forget the trees. It’s easy to toss a plastic bottle or empty can into a recycling container, but it’s paper that typically gets the cold shoulder. The average American uses 650 pounds of paper per year and a lot goes to the landfill – paper products make up the largest percentage of waste at about 36%. Find simple ways, especially at work, to make sure paper gets tossed into the recycle bin. University of Wisconsin EcoCAR team member Brian Lee offers this tip: “Get an empty cardboard box, put it under your desk and when it gets full, empty it in the actual paper recycling bin. This works for me because I don’t have to go out of my way and since the box is right at your feet, I always remember to recycle.” 9. Assess energy. Alternative energy sources are becoming more affordable and there is new funding available for smaller solar and wind installations. If you can’t consider renewable energy at home, look at the other areas of your life. For the EcoCAR teams, that means getting involved and encouraging their schools to go green. At UVic, solar panels heat the indoor swimming pool, parking ticket dispensers and lights around campus. An added selling point is hiring local renewable energy companies to do the job. 10. Speak up. Don’t be afraid to say something to help change behavior. Dana Bubonovich who is on Penn State University’s EcoCAR team says, “I remind people on campus to throw their bottles in a recycling bin. It may cause a little embarrassment, but they recycle it.” If that’s not your style, share ideas and advice or get involved. Go to city meetings on sustainability topics and offer opinions, volunteer with local organizations or keep tabs on your government’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.