It's about the future

Feature story - April 1, 2000
This year, Greenpeace, the world's best-known environmental organisation, turns 30. Since 1971, Greenpeace has been on the front line working to protect our irreplaceable natural environment. Activists have witnessed pollution and destruction, protested against environmental damage around the world and called on those responsible to change their practices. As we enter a new century, there is still much that needs to be done to protect our global environment. Greenpeace will be playing its part, but everyone can and should help.

You can do a lot to make a difference. Below is a list of 30 practical things you can do to be part of the solution.

  1. Step lightly on the earth. Everyday we make hundreds of choices that impact the environment. So think carefully about the things you do, the products you use and the waste you produce. Are there less environmentally destructive alternatives you can chose that will make a difference? It's the first step towards making a difference.
  2. Reduce your individual impact. Really, the best thing that we can do for the planet is to use fewer of its resources. At the heart of the environmental crisis is our consumer society. Ask yourself these questions before you buy something: Do I really need this? Is there another product which would do the same thing but more sustainably? Will this product last? Do I know how this item was made, how it will be used and how it will be disposed of? If you ask yourself questions like these every time you buy something, your buying habits will change for the better and you may even save money.
  3. Keep up on environmental issues. Follow the media coverage, read up on environmental issues in your community, nationally and internationally. Know the facts so you know what is at stake. Check the Greenpeace international website at regularly to stay in touch with critical global issues.
  4. Use your political clout. Demand to know what position your politicians take on important environmental issues before you vote in the next election.
  5. Speak out on environmental issues. Write, call, fax or e-mail your politicians and tell them about the environmental issues you are concerned about and what you expect them to do to protect the environment. You can also contact your media or become an activist online.
  6. Use your buying power. When possible, support services and buy products that you know have minimal impacts on the environment, with considerations such as reduced waste and packaging, less energy consumption, and sustainably harvested timber.
  7. Be energy efficient. From compact fluorescent light bulbs to fuel efficient vehicles, each choice you make can reduce the amount of CO2 emissions entering our earth's atmosphere and help prevent global warming. Keep heating levels to a minimum. Choose energy efficient appliances. Learn about the most energy efficient options and purchase them whenever possible. It's good for the environment and can reduce your energy bill too.
  8. Insulate your home. One of the easiest and most effective ways to save energy is to ensure your home is insulated for coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter. Fix draughty windows and doors, insulate your hot water heater and pipes and use alternatives to air conditioning or use it sparingly.
  9. Conserve Water. Fix leaky faucets, toilets or water pipes. Even a small drip can lead to a lot of wasted water over time. Water gardens and lawns only when necessary and do so in the early morning or evening to reduce evaporation.
  10. Look into new, eco-efficient home improvements. If carrying out home improvements, think about eco-friendly designs and material options. Check with local suppliers to see what is available.
  11. Drive less and use public transportation. You know you should, but are you using public transport? Walking or cycling are obvious alternatives too. These are easy and often cost-effective ways to make a big difference to the amount of fossil fuels we burn, the pollution we produce and the contribution to global warming we make. If you do have to drive, try to ride-share [car pool] whenever possible.
  12. Ensure your work place is environmentally sound. Whether you work at a factory or in an office, examine every element of your working life and make sure it is a safe working environment for you and the planet.
  13. Work from home, commute less. With new computer technology, it is possible for more people to do at least part of their work from home. If you can, take the opportunity to enjoy the homework environment and help minimise energy use and transportation congestion. Even one day a month can make a difference.
  14. Stop the spread of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Ask your food shops if they stock products that contain GMOs. If so, let them know that you don't want any GMOs in your food, not only because of health considerations, but also because GMOs pose a major threat to the environment. Ask restaurants if they use GMO products and tell them you would like GMO-free options on the menu.
  15. Reduce your food waste. Compost your food waste in your garden to reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill. Buy food in bulk -- it's cheaper and requires less packaging. Buy products loose rather than in packaging when you can.
  16. Grow your own food and/or buy locally grown foods. The mass production and transportation of foods around the world is one of the most wasteful practices on earth. Buy local produce or grow some of your own food. It saves money, allows you to use environmentally friendly techniques, helps you avoid toxic pesticides and saves energy at the same time.
  17. Eat less meat. Fruit and vegetable production requires far less energy and water than meat production. Eating grains, fruits and vegetables is healthy, less expensive and better for the environment. If you do eat meat and eggs, buy free-range, organically produced products.
  18. Avoid toxic materials and pesticides. Although industry is by far the greatest producer of toxic pollution, we all contribute to the toxic waste problem. Read product labels before you buy and choose simple, less polluting options. Use cleaning agents such as vinegar instead of chemical glass cleaners, plain soap instead of chemical detergents and avoid using toxic pesticides when you can. Avoid using drain cleaners and aerosols. Choose water-based latex paints over solvent-based paints and never use lead-based paints. Avoid plastic containers for storing food.
  19. Choose alternatives to toxic and disposable systems. Most dry cleaning solvents are highly toxic and carcinogenic. These chemicals often remain in your clothes after you bring them home. Try to buy clothes that you can wash rather than dry clean. Many of the clothes that are 'dry clean only' are actually washable by hand with soap and cold water.
  20. Recycle everything you can. Even items such as batteries, cardboard boxes, steel and tin can be recycled. Talk to your local authorities about where to recycle all your waste. Whenever possible buy used or recycled goods. Take your own bags to the shops and avoid excessive packaging.
  21. When you must use plastic, ensure that it is not PVC. The entire life cycle of products made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pollutes the environment and your home. Toxic by-products such as dioxin are emitted during production and when PVC is thrown away and burned in incinerators. Toxic chemicals can also leach out of PVC products when they're used. PVC items include window frames and other building materials, flooring, soft furnishings, cling film, shower curtains and even some children's toys.
  22. Don't dump hazardous household waste into the environment. Paint, paint thinner, pesticides and car fluids should never be put down the drain or in your waste bin. Ask your local authorities for advice on the best way to dispose of these materials and avoid using them when possible.
  23. Plant native plants. If you have a garden or share a community garden, plant native plants that will not damage the local ecosystem. Look especially for those native plants that are endangered in your area. When possible, choose plants that require less watering and therefore less energy to maintain. Plant flowers, trees, ground cover and vegetables instead of grass. Protect and foster diversity.
  24. Ask questions and chose wisely when planning a vacation and support eco-tourism activities. Is the tour, resort or location you have chosen working to protect the local environment or has it been responsible for destroying it? Ask your travel agent for environmental information before you book and about environmentally friendly options. Support eco-aware recreational activities, such as whale watching.
  25. Don't buy endangered species. Be sure not to buy products made from endangered species. African and Asia countries in particular offer a huge range of items, food and alternative medicines made from endangered or threatened species including coral, turtles, rhino horn, bears, monkeys, tropical birds and whales. Inquire about endangered species before you travel and avoid buying any by-product from those.
  26. Start your own local environmental group or participate to an existing one. You can make a difference in so many ways - local land conservation and restoration, making your community bicycle-friendly, organising clean ups and tree plantings, starting letter-writing campaigns and raising funds for environmental organisations are just a few ideas. Pool your efforts with others and get started together.
  27. Educate your children about the environment and support environmental education in your schools and community. Future generations will have to tackle some huge environmental issues such as global warming, dwindling biodiversity, the disposal of waste, including hazardous and nuclear waste and the potential impacts of genetically engineered crops. Ensure that they are ready to understand and be involved in protecting their environment through programmes in schools.
  28. Right to know. If you live near a factory or incinerator or a nuclear plant ask the owners to tell you and your community which chemicals they are producing or emitting into the environment and what the health risks are. Challenge them if they are not open about the working of their plant.
  29. Support alternative energy. Many countries are lagging behind in investing in renewable energy. Tell your politicians and utility suppliers they should make more of alternative energy sources like solar, wind and wave power.
  30. Be positive. There are serious threats to our environment and our futures. But there are solutions. Be positive - and make a difference.