Ever felt like becoming environmentally conscious was too much work? Ever felt like you cared about climate change, but that your own individual actions would not have a real impact? Elizabeth Sorrell, from the National Audubon Society, co-founded a green website called ImpactDash – a wonderful platform that allows regular folks to learn how to save energy… and money. With a can-do attitude and inspiring stories accumulated along her journey, Elizabeth is here to make sure that what some people now consider a trend becomes a way of life for most Americans.
Can you actually recall the precise moment when you first became an environmental activist?
I actually get asked this question a lot. [laughs] Looking back on my life, there was never a point where I became conscious of the environment. It’s just kind of a way I’ve always been: the simple idea that less is more. I like to think of environmental advice as life advice, which actually helps you save money. By approaching environmental sustainability with that kind of mentality, you can get people engaged with conservation. You can even get climate change deniers into conversation simply because they like going to the park, they enjoy natural resources such as rivers; thus, here’s something you shouldn’t flush in the toilet because it will eventually end up in our water system and have an negative effect on this thing you love.
How was the idea of ImpactDash born?
Around high school or early college, I realized that environmental activism was a lifestyle and was becoming something that you could focus on career wise. Following that idea, ImpactDash is a sustainability website I co-founded with Katie Klencheski that sprung from a conversation we had about the idea that you don’t have to consider yourself an environmentalist to make environmentally-solid decisions. Katie and I wanted to provide individuals an entry point into the world of environmentalism. Many people you talk to who aren’t making sustainable choices aren’t doing so because they lack regard for the environment. They just don’t know where to start or they feel like the problem is so insurmountable that they think they can’t affect it. They think, “What is me recycling really going to do?” ImpactDash gives tips and provides a voice for people to talk about how everyday decisions can add up to positive results for the bigger picture.
One of your sections is called “tips,” which provides daily guidelines on how to be environmentally friendly and save money at the same time. Can you give us some examples of what you’ve written?
There are lots of things people can do. We’ve done several on water conservation. One of my favorite tips: when you start your shower in the morning and you let the cold water run, put a bucket underneath. Use that water to run the dishes or water the plants. It becomes water for household chores! I also did one about a banana shoe shine. You can use a banana peel to shine a shoe, even leather. Take the peel, rub it on the shoe until it’s shiny, take soft cloth (and old t-shirt even, really any soft cloth, but not a paper towel which leaves traces of paper and is not reusable), wipe the banana residue off, and it’s a shiny shoe. You’ve just avoided the harsh chemicals from the regular shoe shine material.
I’m liking these tips! Anything else?
Get a library card. In the last few years many people have started using e-readers, which on one level is great because they don’t use paper, but they still need energy to charge. So if you’re not sure that you want to hold onto a book forever or perhaps there’s a guilty read you don’t want to friends to see, take it for a test run from your local library.
The United States is obviously one of the main contributors to the degradation of the environment. How do you feel about that?
I think that policy-makers should most definitely prioritize. Sweeping environmental changes orchestrated from the top would be amazing, but honestly, it just isn’t going to happen, but small gestures can add up, and can be great symbols. Jimmy Carter added solar panels to the White House, but that decision was eradicated under Reagan. I think it’s fantastic that President Obama is going to add new solar panels, and that the First Lady has started a garden at the White House. Will these two decisions stop climate change? Of course not, but they could encourage citizens to look into solar energy and edible gardens at home.
Why should big corporations turn green?
That’s a great question. A lot about being environmental is consuming less and in a more intelligent way. If you’re an organization making those choices, for instance, investing in more energy efficient light bulbs and heating/cooling systems, you’ve just decreased your expenses in the long run. The other reason why firms should be environmentally friendly has to do with PR. Consumers are interested in companies with green initiatives.
Have you ever had a bad experience interacting with someone about this topic?
I was once at a bar in Manhattan and I ordered organic vodka, which is made from organic crops. A celebrity – and I’m not going to say who he was – came up to me and started drilling me about organic crops yielding less product, so if you’re trying to feed the hungry, organic could be worse. Which is an argument I have heard before, and I understand where he was coming from, but I replied that even if it takes more energy and time, I am a fan of figuring out any way to use fewer chemicals.
That sounds like the logical thing to do.
I know. I mean, we currently have fish whose genitalia are changing in the water! But instead of talking to me about our different points, he just changed subjects and said that recycling takes more energy than creating new plastic. Again, an argument I’ve heard before, but I answered that with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch currently swirling plastic in the middle of the ocean, maybe we should look at how to make energy more efficient. If we use energy wisely, and get the energy from renewable sources, then recycling is still the preferred choice of creating new plastic. I’m a fan of moving away from plastic in general, but that’s the point when I realized he was just being argumentative.
Did you then take a picture with him?
[sarcastic] Of course.
What is your biggest pet peeve about the environmental movement?
People that use the word “green” carelessly. Ugh. You know it’s actually becoming a bad word because it is so overused. In the next few years, it will no longer be valid in a environmental conversation. “Green” is unquantifiable and does not present any standards. A company can put “green” anywhere without any regulating systems to verify that fact. The FTC just took the first steps in combating this practice, and I’m really hopeful about the next steps.
What has been your biggest success in the past few years?
Getting my brother to stop eating fast food. [laughs] Seriously, getting him to think about where his food came from, how far it traveled, what energy went into processing it. Eating food with the fewest steps from farm to table is a great way to be sustainable. And if I can convince my brother to stop eating junk food, I feel like I can convince anyone!
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
Come to our page and read our articles! We love hearing from readers, and we’ve written pieces based on comments left on our Facebook and Twitter. We use social networking to promote our content and also to inform people of environmental events going on around the nation. Keep reading, because Katie and I have big things planned for Phase 2 of our site, and you definitely want to stick around for it.