How Can You Take Action?
Whether you are looking for a few simple things you can do around your house, or something more substantial that will help educate others about the importance of natural resource conservation, we have the ideas here for you to get started. Remember that no action is too small, and that our cumulative efforts can have a big impact on protecting the environment. But once you get a taste for taking action we hope that your efforts will continue to grow and incorporate your friends, colleagues, neighbors, and family. Working together we can become a part of Pennsylvania’s conservation heritage
In and Around Your Home
We spend so much time at home that it is a perfect place to take action to make sure the yard, building, and everything in it is as environmentally-friendly as possible. Take one or more of the following actions to reduce your impact on the natural world around your home.
- Native plants not only add beauty to your landscape but also provide benefits to butterflies, birds, and other wildlife. Consider adding some native plants to your yard. Learn which ones will work best for you at the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) Native Plants page.
- There are many “green” cleaning products out there that tout their “naturally safe” ingredients, but how do you know which ones will really clean while having a lower impact on the environment? The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has online lists of their favorite “green” cleaning products to check out.
- Poor indoor air quality can lead to health issues, but having house plants helps clean up the air. Rodale’s Organic Life magazine has a list of top purifying plants, such as Boston fern and palms. Just be sure not to plant English ivy outside, as it can grow out of control.
- It’s great to invite birds into your backyard using feeders and bird baths, but there are some important rules to follow to keep birds safe. Learn more from the Audubon Society.
- Many of our yards are dominated by turfgrass lawns. These are not beneficial to wildlife and take a lot of water, fossil fuels, and human energy to maintain. You can do your part for the natural world by reducing the amount of lawn. And for the areas that you keep grassy, follow these watering and lawncare tips from Planet Natural.
- Consider creating a compost pile in your yard or in a compost bin in your kitchen to recycle food scraps and yard waste. Food scraps make up about 20 to 30 percent of what we throw away. Composting benefits and enriches the soil. The Environmental Protection Agencyhttps://www.epa.gov/recycle/composting-home has more information on how to get started.
- Stormwater runoff, and the pollution and soil it can contain, is a big problem for keeping our rivers and streams clean. You can help by diverting your roof runoff into a rain barrel, rain garden or other feature. The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has more tips and info to get you started.
- Sinks, showers, and toilets can use a lot of water, but there are simple devices and upgrades you can install to save money on your water bill. Penn State Extension talks more about water conservation tips you can incorporate into your home.
- There are many ways you can reduce the energy used within your home, such as using LED bulbs or switching to solar energy, saving money on your utility bill. The Pennsylvania Utilities Commission (PUC) is here to provide you with specific information and potential money saving opportunities.
- Pennsylvania is known for its agriculture, so why not buy foods that were grown locally to support nearby farmers? You’ll have the benefit of lowering your carbon footprint and possibly buying organic produce that has a reduced impact on the environment. Find a farmers’ market near you from the PA Preferred Program.
- Through taking smaller steps and looking to make a bigger impact? Why not make your existing home, or your next house, a certified “green” and sustainable home? These homes factor in renewable energy sources, recycled materials, low toxicity paints and other building materials, and other elements to protect your health and the environment. LEED and the National Green Building Standard are but two of several certification programs out there.
On the Go
When you are out and about there are plenty of opportunities, simple and more complex, for you to take action for the environment. Give one a try today!
- Americans used 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, and less than 25 percent of those were recycled. That’s a lot of plastic going to our landfills. Instead, why not carry a reusable water bottle with you? This Infographic from the PA Parks and Forests Foundation (PPFF) tells you more about it.
- For short trips, why not leave the car at home and use your feet or take your bike instead? You’ll get healthy exercise, enjoy the outdoors, and prevent some fossil fuel emissions from getting into the atmosphere. Bucknell University has a phone app called “Ready, Set, Fit” that can provide inspiration to get moving.
- Styrofoam can’t be recycled, and yet so many of the takeout containers out there are made from the stuff, so all that ends up in the landfill. When dining out, consider bringing a reusable container with you to the restaurant in case you want to bring home leftovers?
- Looking for something new to do outside? Why not learn a new skill like kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, mountain biking, or snow shoeing? Get Outdoors PA can help you get started.
- Pennsylvania has 121 state parks and 20 state forests, all of which are free to all to visit and explore. Why not plan your next vacation or weekend getaway to one? The PA DCNR manages these parks and forests and has details about lodging, activities and other information.
We spend more waking hours at work that at home, so what we do there can have a big impact on the natural world. And while we may not be able to change how the building is designed or where it is located, there are actions we can take to help conserve our natural resources while we’re there.
- Printing can be wasteful if not done right. You can help make it better by only printing was is necessary, printing double-sided or printing on the backside of old documents, printing on paper made with post-consumer recycled paper, and recycling or reusing all paper materials.
- Save energy around the office by using LED or compact fluorescent bulbs, turning off the lights when not in a room, using a power strip for computers and other high-power electronics and turning off when you leave for the night, set the thermostat a few degrees warming in the summer and a few degrees lower in the winter (and at night when no one is in the office) to save on HVAC costs, and installing automatic sensors on your lights.
- Save water in the office by installing low flow toilets and aerators and automatic shut-off devices on water faucets, and don’t irrigate the landscape unless necessary.
- Reduce the number of employee cars in your parking lot by encouraging car-pooling, offering incentives for people to use mass transit, and providing bike racks.
- In the break room or cafeteria, provide shade grown coffee, use mugs instead of disposable cups, provide reusable take-out containers for employees eating out, have a place for people to store brown bag lunches, have healthier snack options like fruit and nuts in the vending machines, and have a place for people to eat outside to enjoy clean air and nice weather.
- Have a centralized waste and recycling center rather than separate bins for each cubicle and office.
- Use “green” cleaning products and/or a cleaning service that uses such items to protect the air quality in the office.
- Measure the office’s carbon footprint and find ways to offset emissions, particularly for business travel. The Natural Resource Defense Council has information on different offsets.
- Other green office tips can be found on The Balance’s webpage.
- Headed to a conference or workshop? If you plan to drink coffee or tea while there, bring your own travel mug (and water bottle) rather than use disposable coffee cups. You’ll get to hold more beverage and reduce the amount of Styrofoam or paper headed to the landfill. Find some motivation to do so from the Sightline Institute.
In Your Community
The natural world is all around us, but how much do you really know about it? Knowledge can help lead you to take new actions for the environment and be a better steward of our world. A few suggestions are listed here.
- Everything on this planet is in a watershed, which encompasses all the land that drains to a specific waterbody like a lake or river. Do you know the “watershed address” of your home, school, or office? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) allows you to find any watershed across the state or country. Then you can learn more about your watershed through a quick web search.
- Clean water is a resource that is important to us all. Did you know that riparian buffers, which are the trees, shrubs, grasses and other plants along a river or stream, help to filter out pollution before it can get into our waterways? Riparian buffers are very important and deserve to be protected and restored. PA DCNR has a wealth of information on buffers, including how you can help.
- Our meadows and forests are full of myriad plants and insects, but not all of them belong there. Some are invasive species, visitors from other states or countries, spreading out of control. This includes the spotted lanternfly and kudzu. Learn how to identify invasive plants and insects in your area, then help get rid of them. PA DCNR has information about invasive plants, and the PA Invasive Species Council has information on invasive insects.
- Litter is not only ugly, but it pollutes our drinking water and harms wildlife. So, while you’re walking in the woods or strolling along a river path, bring a trash bag with you so you can collect any litter lying around. Better yet, why not gather your friends together and register for the Great American Cleanup? Together you will make a huge impact on the natural world. Keep PA Beautiful has all the details.
In Your Free Time
Whether you have a free hour or a whole day, there are many little and big things you can do today and into the future to take action for the environment. No action is too small to make a big difference.
- Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks and 20 state forests have the support of myriad volunteers who repair trails, fundraise, and host events, among other tasks. You can join them by becoming a member of a local Friends Group. PPFF manages the Friends Groups and has information on each one.
- If time is an issue for you, consider becoming a Steward of Penn’s Woods. This program sponsored by Exelon involves a one-year commitment to protecting a natural site of your choosing. You do the work when you have the time and are rewarded for it. Find more details on PPFF’s site.
- Are exhibits on history, art, and nature more your thing? Then why not become a volunteer docent at the PA State Museum in Harrisburg or at another museum near you. Docents at the State Museum lead educational programs, work in the gift shop, help at special events, and more.
- If you are looking for a good source of weekly information on volunteer opportunities and ways to take action, sign up to receive PPFF’s Take Five weekly email.
- Find your closest Conservation Landscape and Heritage Area and subscribe to their newsletters to learn about heritage and environmental issues specific to your region.
- Really want to get involved in educating others about the impacts of climate change to the natural world and human health? Consider becoming a Climate Reality Leader by attending one of the annual trainings around the world.
- If climate change isn’t your passion but plants are your thing, you could become a Master Gardener through Penn State. Or if animals and the outdoors are more to your liking, become a Master Naturalist. Both will help you learn more about your passion and then help you share your knowledge with others.
- Start an Environmental Advisory Council to advise your municipality’s decision-makers and undertake projects regarding the protection and conservation of natural resources.
- If you want to be able to make policy changes that affect the environment and ensure funds are going toward conservation purposes, why not run for office? Take your passion for the outdoors to the Capitol and increase your reach. The Conservation Voters of PA is one place to check out for the issues that matter and to get tips on running for office on an environmental platform.
- Still wanting more? Check out our Partners page to discover these organizations’ websites and see what volunteer opportunities they might have. There is a wealth of opportunities out there… what are you waiting for?
Looking for Motivation?
There are plenty of great conservation-related books out there – nonfiction and fiction, for adults and for children – more than we could ever list here. But this is a good starting point to fill up your reading to-do list, with plenty more on Good Reads
Books for Adults
- Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
- A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold
- The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America by Timothy Egan
- Where the Wild Things Were: Life, Death, and Ecological Wreakage in a Land of Vanishing Predators by William Stolzenberg
- The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
- Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
- Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
- The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston
- Wilderness and the American Mind by Roderick Nash
- Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
- H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
- The Botany of Desire: A Plants’-Eye View of the World by Michael Pollan
- Reclaiming the Wild Soul: How Earth’s Landscapes Restore Us to Wholeness by Mary Reynolds Thompson
- The Diversity of Life by E.O. Wilson
Books for Children
- The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
- Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base
- The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
- The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins
- One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss
- Ten Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh
- Miss Lady Bird’s Wildflowers: How a First Lady Changed America by Kathi Appelt
- Children of the Forest by Elsa Beskow
- The Sun in Me: Poems About the Planet by Judith Nicholls
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
- Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor