Confession: I’m a tree hugger. A frustrated one.

I bring reusable bags when shopping, attempt to grow much of my family’s food, compost, recycle, work close to where I live. But I long to do more. I know I’m not alone.

Here’s the thing. When it comes to making bigger changes, the price is high. We recently went shopping for a car, and would have loved to have gotten an electric plugin with appropriate range. But the model that would have suited us was out of reach financially.

It drives me crazy that our heat and hot water are generated by an oil-fired boiler. But my plan to switch to a heat pump water heater, install a wood stove and invest in a mini-split heat pump for heating and cooling, along with solar panels on our perfectly oriented roof, seems far away from realization given the costs of the technologies and installation. Even the estimate for weatherization has been out of reach.

Accepting responsibility for climate change and environmental decline is critical, and individual action is imperative. But even though the costs of more environmentally friendly technologies have never been lower, taking action means too much sacrifice for many people currently.

Ending use of fossil fuels is the elephant in the room here, and there are no easy answers. That said, giving up isn’t an option. Raising awareness and doing the things we can do — physically and financially — are all part of the solution.

With that in mind, we offer up more than a dozen simple suggestions for making the Earth a healthier place . . . while you save up for those bigger-impact items on your Green List to save the planet.

1. Shop secondhand first: The secondhand clothing market is growing, and secondhand stores are making it easier with online shopping. Beyond clothing, check your local pawn shop and online used venues before purchasing new tools, furniture, electronics, etc.

Why? Fewer resources will go to make new products; less waste will be produced as still-good used products are reused instead of thrown out; you’ll save money.

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2. Tune in to your cleaning products: Using cheap, commonly available products like baking soda, vinegar and lemon juice can keep your home clean and fresh just as well as chemical cleaners.

Why? There is no giant Mother Earth magic wand that turns all the chemicals we create, buy and use into something safe. Those chemicals end up in our septic systems, our waterways, our aquifers and our air.


3. Unfriend plastic products: Bringing your own water bottle and taking reusable bags to the grocery store have quickly become normal, accepted parts of life. Consider taking the next steps: Get rid of other plastics in your everyday life by doing things like ordering drinks without straws and take-out food without plastic utensils, not using bags for produce items in the grocery store, and even swapping out common plastic items for non-plastic alternatives (go bamboo toothbrush!).

Why: Plastics decompose poorly, if at all. It is filling our landfills, choking our oceans and waterways, and killing animals.


4. Buy local: From food and drink to dishes and clothes, buying local may not always be the cheapest option, but the money flows back to people in local communities. Local goods are often fresher, more unique and culturally relevant.

Why: Avoids the carbon impact of shipping from far-away places.


5. Grow a green thumb: Consider using whatever land area you have available to support wildlife, or start with a small garden plot that can be expanded over time. Try just one or two of your favorite vegetables and go from there.

Why: It reduces the need to ship and package food, and it can’t get fresher. And while this isn’t necessarily a “green” reason, gardening activities and being outdoors is known to support mental and physical health.


6. Question consumption: Ask yourself if you really need it. The best way to prevent waste and the use of our limited resources is to not buy things at all. Make it a habit to pause and ask yourself that question. And when it involves a gift, consider giving gifts of time and experience over material items.

Why: You’re saving resources, reducing waste and concerns over pollution, and isn’t simplifying life on everyone’s list?


7. Stop paper bills and statements: Electronic statements and bill pay options are everywhere these days. Be prepared for keeping records electronically when taking this step.

Why: Reduces paper creation and waste, and the emissions associated with mailing.


8. Take the Pesticide Pledge: Some Maine towns are acting to ban use of pesticides altogether, and you can join a growing movement around the world to do the same.

Why: As in #2, every chemical — good or bad — has the potential to end up in our water and air. We have yet to know the full effects on the planet and our health of many chemicals. One example: According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, pesticides are one factor in the decline of bees.

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9. Use smart heating: Programmable thermostats automatically adjust the temperature of your home while you are away or asleep.

Why: Save energy, reduce carbon emissions and save yourself money.


10. Check out rechargeables: Yes, rechargeable batteries are still a thing, and better than ever, according to a recent review by, which also said today’s rechargeables cost less than a nickel a charge over the life of a battery.

Why: Reduces waste and the disposal of the metals used in batteries.


11. Give your water heater a vacation (or at least a lighter workload): The next time you go on vacation, turn your water heater off. Or at least turn it down. Even when you’re not using water, most water heaters keep working to maintain the temperature of the water in the tank.

Why: You’ll save energy, reduce your carbon footprint and save some coin.


12. Calculate your carbon footprint: There’s an app for that! We know you’re curious. So are we. The EPA has a way for you to determine how much greenhouse gas your family generates. The Nature Conservancy has one too!

Why: It’s a lot easier to set some goals when you know your impact. And you can share your experiences and raise awareness among friends and family.

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