March Madness? Welcome to March Awareness!

Hope everyone is having a great time!

Pedro, Social Media Engagement Intern for Live Green! with you today, I got to say, this year has been quite awesome for the Live Green! Team! It was fantastic to see everyone who attended Sustainapalooza and the keynote lecture for the 2021 Symposium on Sustainability

While opportunities like the annual Symposium on Sustainability offer excellent opportunities to connect, celebrate and look forward toward resiliently uniting for a sustainable future, ensuring this vision requires year-round personal awareness and action. Although March is known as a month of madness with tournaments and all sorts of happenings, as we narrow in on our last few months of the semester, this month’s social media campaign is all about a month of awareness. Specifically awareness of the day-to-day collective impact we each have on the planet, as well as the many opportunities to reduce that impact. 

Each day, we partake in many activities, each with its unique and direct impact on the environment; furthermore, we can passively affect the environment when we heat our houses or use electricity. As such, it is impossible to estimate the effect of our actions unless we use tools available to us, such as those to assess our ecological footprint. While most of us have heard a lot about assessing our carbon footprint, what are ecological footprints, and how do they differ from carbon footprints?

Although both ecological and carbon footprints have the same objective, a carbon footprint focuses only on an individual’s carbon emissions. In contrast, an ecological footprint is the holistic overview of a person’s impact on the environment; so carbon emissions are only a part of a person’s overall ecological footprint. According to WWF, our ecological footprint specifically equates to the amount of the environment necessary to produce the goods and services necessary to support each individual’s day-to-day lifestyle.

Many factors can affect our ecological footprint; however, this blog is focused specifically on helping to get you started in better understanding how your daily actions can make a direct impact on three categories included in your collective ecological footprint; energy use, transportation and waste.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through their carbon footprint calculator, offers an easy tool to calculate these three ecological footprint categories. 

ENERGY USE

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, coal and fossil fuels generate 85% of the U.S. electricity. Therefore, minimizing energy consumption in our daily lives can go a long way in reducing our carbon footprint. There are many ways to do this:

  • In our first blog of 2021, Practical tips for an inspiring and sustainable 2021, we illustrated some methods to both decrease your spending and energy consumption. These strategies include simple tasks that can be executed quickly, such as unplugging electronics to reduce phantom power consumption and adjusting your thermostat to spend less energy on heating or cooling.
  • Sciencing, a website dedicated to making science fun and engaging, has a guide on how to save energy in your daily life. For instance, when you are out shopping for new appliances, pay close attention to the product’s energy consumption. Whenever possible, avoid electric instruments in favor of non-electric alternatives, such as using a drying rack over a dryer, which will decrease your energy consumption.

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation is another factor affecting our energy use. According to the EPA, transportation is the primary source of carbon emissions in the United States, and most of those emissions come from light-duty vehicles, such as cars. As such, there are actions we can comfortably take to mitigate our impact.

  • The EPA also offers resources on a number of ways to save money on transportation without compromising. For example, an easy way to reduce the impact of transportation is to decrease the amount of gas spent on each trip. You can do this by driving at a steady pace, keeping your tires properly inflated, coasting when slowing down, and warming up your car for only a minimal amount of time.
  • Another opportunity to decrease carbon emissions is to ditch the car ride altogether. When the weather is nice, biking is an easy way to exercise and reduce emissions at the same time; and when the weather is not on our side, public transportation allows people to move around more efficiently and with fewer emissions per person.
  • To reduce the impact of transportation, you can also shop locally. According to Sustainable Connections, supporting local producers and locally-owned businesses, allow an opportunity to reduce your own transportation impact by shopping local, as well as reduce your ecological footprint in purchasing items that traveled fewer miles in getting to you.

WASTE

Waste Management Hierarchy – ISU Recycling Services: https://www.fpm.iastate.edu/Recycling/refuse_management.asp

Waste is another factor affecting our footprint: in 2018, the EPA estimated that 50% of waste is landfilled, and not diverted for beneficial use. There are definitely opportunities we can take to minimize our impact on the environment, through how we manage our individual waste.

  • In a previous blog titled Recycling as a Cyclone, we illustrated different ways people can recycle (and reduce waste going to the landfill) on campus and in the Ames Community. For instance, looking for blue bins on campus and yellow bins around Ames.
  • As we are in the last few weeks of spring semester, and move-out will be happening soon, now is a good time to start inventorying what you have that needs to be moved and itemizing what you plan to keep and do not want. Taking a little time now can allow you to greatly reduce what you put into the dumpster, and instead sell or donate. There’s also an annual event to help you, Rummage Rampage. This event (hosted jointly by the Office of Sustainability and the City of Ames) is pretty much a giant garage sale that allows your old furniture (and almost ANYTHING else you no longer want) to be purchased and reused by others. In 2019, Rummage Rampage diverted over 54 tons of move-out items from being landfilled and raised over $33,000 for community non-profit organizations and ISU student organizations. This year’s event is scheduled for July 30-August 7.
  • According to an article by Today’s Parent, whether a family or individual, there are a number of easy and inexpensive ways to minimize our waste impact. Switching to paperless as much as possible, purchasing items in refillable containers, and eliminating plastic bags, plates, and utensils are all viable ways to reduce waste at a minimal effort.

IN CONCLUSION

Many factors affect our ecological footprint. Being mindful of them, in our day-to-day lives, allows us to more effectively address and control our individual footprints. Although it can be overwhelming to consider tackling every factor, by strategizing where we can make a difference and then focusing on a few factors at a time, we start leaving a lighter footprint. It takes a number of steps to complete a journey. The important thing is to keep walking. 

Happy March Awareness!

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