Hanging Out with Inspiration on National Hanging Out Day

There’s always more to learn, and there always seem to be inspiring people ready to share their stories. And, just when I think I’m doing fine, I realize there’s more I can do to make a positive difference.

Tonight I attended Project Laundry List’s annual meeting and celebration of National Hanging Out Day. Project Laundry List works to make air-drying and cold-water washing laundry acceptable and desirable as ways to conserve energy. Tonight’s discussion was to focus broadly on the small changes we each can make to save energy in our daily lives. A couple of names on the panel of presenters drew my attention and I was curious to find out about energy and conservation initiatives underway right here in my hometown.

The panel included an owner of a vegan restaurant in Concord, a car dealer (speaking about vehicle maintenance and changing driving habits), a very active community volunteer and green businessperson, and the mayor. The audience of forty or so people was a lively group of environmentalists, eager to share information and inspire action in others.

Here’s a very short list of things I realized I could easily do now to conserve energy and water:

  • Drive 55 miles per hour. If we all did this, the United States would cut 20 percent of its fuel usage.
  • Wash my clothes in cold water.
  • “Imagine an egg under my gas pedal” to help avoid excessive acceleration and braking.
  • Walk to work, even once a week.
  • Buy a low-flow shower head.
  • Check my tire pressure more often and keep my tires inflated properly.
  • Give up plastic bags completely.
  • Get more involved in making my community a better place by volunteering.

The list of suggestions was lengthy, and I did feel good about the things I already do to lighten my footprint on this earth. Being a (99 percent) vegetarian, growing some of my own food, driving a hybrid vehicle, using CFL and LED lightbulbs and drying my clothes on a drying rack are all great things to do. But there’s so much more to be done. The need is huge, and it will take small and big changes made by all of us to truly make a difference.

I was inspired by the challenge to think of my own lifestyle in contrast to that of people in a third world country and evaluate my energy consumption accordingly. Making that comparison should help me to rationalize any change I might be reluctant to undertake. How would I view my one mile commute? My need to do several loads of laundry each week, some in hot water? My habit of leaving my computer on all the time?

I came away realizing again that perhaps the biggest way that each of us as individuals can contribute to creating positive change is to inspire someone else to make even a tiny change.

Consuming one pound of meat is the equivalent of driving an SUV 40 miles. If I can inspire a couple of friends to give up one meat meal a week and try a vegetarian alternative, that would be the equivalent of not driving that SUV 4000 miles in one year. Meatless Monday really is a powerful concept, isn’t it?

One woman spoke of the pledges she made twenty years ago on the twentieth anniversary of Earth Day, one of which was to give up the use of paper products. “The more I’ve done it, the less I’ve missed it,” she said. A panelist described walking to a public place in the evening to read, to take advantage of lighting that would be on for the evening anyway, rather than turning on lights at home.

It takes 16 to 21 times of repeating a new activity to create a habit. After that, it’s a routine that requires little or no conscious thought to continue, which means we should be ready for a new challenge.

As we approach Earth Day in just three days, let’s consider the small and not so small things that we each might do to create a cleaner, more sustainable environment. Then, go one step further and inspire someone else to make a small change, too.

A woman in the audience commented to the panel: “Thank you for all that you all do to make this place a community instead of just the place we all live.” Judging by her energy, she’s been a major contributor herself to creating this community.

And then, I got recruited by the mayor to join the City’s Energy and Environment Committee.

Like I said, there’s always more to be done!