Sustainable concepts and communities are not new concepts. In fact, in many ways, the world is just beginning to think harder and smarter about the way we live and the impact on the environment. From the cars we drive to the foods we eat, consumer demand for sustainable products is greater than ever. Thanks to this new consumer awareness, we have hybrid cars, eco-friendly trash bags and organic food.
What we purchase and consume is definitely changing, but we do not need to limit it to our spending habits. The best changes we can bring are right in our own backyard. The push for green living is also driving people to get involved in projects that make their neighborhoods cleaner, greener, and more pleasant places to live.
Some people already have a robust network of neighborhood sustainability activists to plug into, while others are blazing a new trail for green development in the places they call home. Whatever your situation, there’s no better time than now to get involved. While some opportunities are more straightforward and simple, there are also countless creative and fun ways to get involved and make a difference.
- Create a Certified Wildlife Habitat in your yard.
This is a great one for people that want to improve the community – without having to involve the community (or really speak to anyone!). If you want to start with a project that can be done entirely on your own property? Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat program. The CWH program teaches homeowners how to set up their yard with the things that wildlife needs to flourish, such as food, water, and shelter.
Start with the CWH checklist and build out your natural space gradually. When you’re ready, you can get your yard or garden certified by the NWF and get a cool yard sign. Display it proudly and encourage your neighbors to do the same!
- Get a community cleanup crew together.
Sick of looking at litter in your community? Get some folks together to clean it up! Pick an area suffering from litter, vandalism, or general disrepair and pool your neighborhood’s resources to get it spruced up.
In many places, community cleanup initiatives have even turned into regular events that bring people together and help grow lasting friendships. Group up with some old friends, or make new ones—either way, there’s nothing like helping out neighbors to inspire a sense of teamwork and generosity.
- Reduce your waste footprint.
Waste of all kinds affects the health and sustainability of neighborhoods. That includes the trash that people throw out from their homes every day, which is why finding ways to reduce and redirect waste has become an increasingly urgent priority for many neighborhood activists.
There are many different ways to improve your sustainability game when it comes to waste. Some folks choose composting, which allows them to fertilize their gardens with decomposed food and yard waste. Others install trash compactors and use special trash compactor bags, which helps reduce the footprint that their waste requires in landfills. Choose an option that’s right for your lifestyle.
- Join or set up a community garden.
A community garden is a wonderful way to improve neighborhood food independence, teach and hone gardening skills, and forge strong relationships. There’s a good chance one already exists near you—start off by using the American Community Garden Association’s community garden tool to find out.
If your area doesn’t have a community garden yet, it’s a perfect time to get one started. Talk to your municipal government about plots of land that might be available, or ask the owners of local vacant lots if they’d like to donate land to a sustainability project.
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- Grow your own food at home.
If a community garden isn’t on your radar, why not try growing your own food instead? Once you get the basics down, it’s actually not difficult to grow produce like tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, herbs, and zucchini at home. Plus, you’ll have total control over pesticide use (or lack thereof) and other growing conditions.
Having your own food garden is a double win: You’ll have tasty and nutritious produce on hand, and you’ll learn the skills to reduce your reliance on mass food production systems. When folks can grow their own food, the result is stronger neighborhoods that are a step closer to a fully democratized food system.
- Buy your produce from a CSA or farmer’s market.
Much of the produce in grocery stores is grown by large agribusiness corporations that often don’t use sustainable farming methods. You can do better by plugging into your local sustainable food economy. This can take many forms, but two common ones include buying produce from a farmer’s market or joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) plan.
Most areas have farmer’s markets where small farms can sell their products. You’ll often find produce, dairy, meat, honey, and other goodies for sale at them. Meanwhile, CSAs are subscription services that provide an automatic regular delivery of fresh and delicious local produce.
- Organize community swap meets, yard sales, or other secondhand events.
Community secondhand events help keep resources circulating among neighbors and provide an inexpensive way to purchase clothes, decorations, electronics, or just about anything else. They also reduce the amount of new items bought, which saves both money and resources.
Frankly, community secondhand events are also just plain fun—there’s no telling what kind of interesting stuff you’ll end up with when you bring people with different lifestyles, backgrounds, and tastes together. The best kind of sustainable development builds the human connections that create a foundation for economic and social stability.
- Consider installing solar panels on your property.
Ready to take a big step toward green energy independence? Learn about available options for installing solar panels on your home or in your yard. You might be surprised at how affordable the technology has become, and once it’s installed, you could save substantially on your electric bills.
Solar installation not feasible? Look into community solar programs that allow you to support local solar infrastructure projects. Each program’s rules are a little bit different, but all share the basic structure of allowing community members to purchase capacity on local solar grids and receive a credit on their electric bill in return.
- Ask your local and/or state government for greener transit options.
Many American neighborhoods are sadly lacking in green transit infrastructures like bike paths, electric car charging stations, and public transit stations. Making these changes can be transformational for a neighborhood’s sustainability, which is why a lot of Americans are now pushing their elected officials to consider implementing new transit options.
Source: Girts Ragelis/Shutterstock.com
Remember that local government is a long game, and getting substantial changes made in transit infrastructure requires commitment. Expect long meetings, confusing forms, and perhaps even a spirited political debate. Ultimately, though, it’s all in the spirit of doing what’s best for you and your neighbors.