During Earth Week, I described steps National Geographic is taking to green its facilities, corporate practices, and all-round image. It’s one thing for a mammoth organization (pun on May mag cover story intended) with man and purchasing power, and the benefits of things like “strategic subcommittees” to tackle such an endeavor, but it can be downright overwhelming for an individual. At nearly every go-green event I attend, participants ask for advice on HOW to sort through the seemingly limitless abundance of information and demands on their time and attention–much of it conflicting–to identify green action steps that make sense for THEM.

Start small! Just like training for a marathon, going green is a lifestyle change that requires both physical and mental commitment, and it is most easily accomplished gradually. Once you start making minor adjustments, I bet you’ll be surprised by how far you can go, and the impact you can have over a timeframe as modest as a year.

Of course “small” is a relative term, so I thought I’d share five steps I’ve taken to green my own life by way of example:

Shop local: I visit my local farmer’s market once weekly, where I buy the majority of my produce. When shopping at the grocery store, I try to buy local when it’s offered. I also make an effort to patronize locally-owned restaurants, clothing stores, and other retail outlets. This significantly reduces my share of the fuel used to transports goods, and I value developing a rapport with people who have a vested interest in the community they serve.
 
Reuse! In my opinion, most Americans focus far too much attention on the third arrow of the green triangle–recycling–and not nearly enough on the “reduce” and “reuse” portions. I try to avoid disposable products whenever possible–cups, packaging, etc. I bring my water bottle and hot beverage mug everywhere and ask food service providers to fill them for me–many times I even get a discount for doing this. When asked for a cone or a cup with my ice cream, I always choose the cone! I also reuse food packaging including plastic bags, aluminum foil, and boxes.

Seek out sustainable travel options. When traveling home from D.C. to Boston, I take the train instead of flying. It takes a bit longer, but it’s a significant carbon savings and a pleasant ride. I walk and bike around Washington and take Metro as a last resort.

Minimize meat consumption: I like to think of myself as not so much of a vegetarian as a “meat minimalist.” I eat meat sparingly, a couple times a week, and try to get the majority of my protein from plant sources and dairy. When I do eat meat, I opt for organic, ethically produced varieties. We can all reduce our meat consumption, saving food, water, and oil resources (Did you know that it takes 2.5 – 5+ pounds of grain and 435 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef? Check out the new film Food, Inc to learn more about food choices and the food industry).

Use all-natural beauty and cleaning products. I LOVE using all natural beauty and cleaning products. They’re better for the environment and my health–no toxic chemicals to make my eyes water or skin bristle. I find them to be very effective and enjoyable to use, often with mild, yummy scents more reminiscent of a trip to the garden than a lab. I buy household items from a local store called Greater Goods, but you can find them at many grocery stores. And my favorite all-natural beauty products boutique is Lush fresh handmade cosmetics.

Of course, this is just a small sampling of choices I’ve made; there are limitless avenues toward greener living. Adventurous types might opt for sleek, innovative modes of transportation like the “Go-One trike” favored by National Geographic employee Fabio Amador. Activists might prefer more aggressive tactics: today, I’m writing to my local National Public Radio to ask them to forego sponsorship from agribusiness giant Monsanto, a genetic engineering specialist that has been charged with numerous abuses.

What are you doing to be cool by going green?

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