Saving the Planet, One Household at a Time: A Brief Introduction to Eau Claire EcoTeams
by Meg Marshall
We invite you to embark on an adventure that will lead you to more sustainable lifestyle practices. “Sustainability” means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs (Brundtland Commission, 1987). Another way to say it is, “Enough, for all, forever.” Today, that’s not how we live in America, where 5% of the world’s population uses almost 30% of its resources, wasting close to 75% through inefficiency and lack of awareness.
As Yogi Berra once said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” Climate change is altering our world. Through our daily activities, each of us contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing this change. You can determine your impact by calculating your carbon footprint at www.myfootprint.com. If you are like most Americans, you will find that if everyone lived like you do, it would take between four and five planets to support us.
When a community decides to become more sustainable, government, business, and citizens must all be on board. The City of Eau Claire has come a long way in working towards sustainability, and Eau Claire County is beginning to do the same. Some towns are addressing sustainability, as well.
In the business community, the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce has introduced a Green Business Certification program, a commendable move on their part. Community members are the next to bring on board, and that’s where EcoTeams comes in. Our local EcoTeam project is coordinated by Erin LaFaive, Horticulture Educator for Eau Claire County Extension, and is funded by grants from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board, JONAH, UW Extension-Western Division and Xcel Energy.
A team can be made up of your friends, neighbors, coworkers, people in your faith community or civic organization, students—anyone really! The typical size is 5-8 households, or 5-15 people. Over a period of a little over two months and in a series of seven meetings, the Green Living Handbook helps you take action to develop sustainable lifestyle practices in six areas (chapters): garbage, water, energy, transportation, eco-wise consuming, and empowering others. Different team members run the meetings.
The Sustainable Lifestyle Assessment in the workbook allows you to keep track of your accomplishments. Before each chapter, you will complete the “before” column for that topic area. Then you will choose which activities in that chapter you will do. After completion, you complete your “after” column. For example, if you recycled 20% before and 40% after, you have an improvement of 20%.
The typical meeting will begin with a discussion of the previous topic, and then move on to the next.
To get a feel for how the program works, let’s look at an existing EcoTeam. The Unitarian Universalist team, in its sixth meeting, began by reporting their experiences with the chapter on eco-wise consuming, which they had intentionally chosen to do before Christmas. Not only did they reduce the number of gifts given, they made efforts to wrap presents in unwanted fabric tied with yarn scraps and give gifts of charity instead of something that may not be wanted or needed. The conversation drifted to memories of the Christmases of our childhood and how things have changed. Everyone mentioned a heightened awareness of what they bought for the holidays and how much each item was needed.
The meeting then turned to the final topic, transportation. Across the board, more attention was paid to eco-driving: driving more slowly, avoiding jackrabbit starts, inflating tires properly, and planning errands carefully to minimize miles driven. We acknowledged that public transportation is somewhat lacking in our area, but the greatest barrier to its use might be that many people don’t know how to ride the bus and don’t know what route to take. Wilma Clark suggested that anyone who takes the bus somewhere before the next meeting should get extra credit! I expect that in the final chapter, Empowering Others, there will be suggestions for educating the public on Eau Claire Transit.
Lasting about an hour and a half, the meeting was lively and full of good suggestions and laughter. Some philosophical musings made their way into the meeting, such as, when we travel, what do we contribute to the places we visit (economically, culturally) compared to the emissions caused by the air travel to get there? Overall, team members have realized that doing little things allows us to make changes without causing discomfort and inconvenience.
The East Side Hill EcoTeam has planned to go out to dinner after their final meeting, and the person who makes the most improvement will get a free dinner, compliments of the rest of the team. Matt Smith hopes he is the winner. He felt pretty green going into the process, but he says he has learned new things to help him save money and become more environmentally friendly at the same time. Like many of us, he is more inclined to take his reusable grocery bags into the store when he shops! Every chapter generates ideas for other activities and projects.
Matt likes the group setting and the motivation and support he receives from other members. That seems to be one of the most important things about EcoTeams. EcoTeams are a great way to meet your neighbors, to examine your own lifestyle, and to find ways you might be able to live more frugally as you lower your carbon footprint.
Studies show that Americans had the highest level of happiness in 1956, a much less complicated time. Since then, material consumption in our country has tripled. Clearly, stuff doesn’t buy happiness. Happiness comes from human connections, helping someone in need, volunteering, and doing what we can to make the world a better place for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, and for people around the world.
Join an EcoTeam today. Call Erin LaFaive (715-839-4712) or Meg Marshall (715-835-1733) or email us at email@example.com. Check out our website, www.sustainableeauclaire.org for more information.