How to Help the Environment While Making the Most of Your Time

Do you want to do what you can to help the environment but can’t find the time? Here are eight ways you can do both!

How to Help the Environment While Making the Most of Your Time (Photo: A photo of a green tree in a field with a clock superimposed over it)

“I don’t have enough time!” I lament to my husband, as I stay up too late washing the dishes yet again. I’m certainly not alone in this cry, as anyone who raises small children knows. The days may be long, but it still feels as if there are never enough hours. But despite all that, our family still lives in as environmentally-friendly a manner as we can. As many “green” activities take more time than conventional ones – I’m looking at you, dish rags that we need to wash – how do we find the time to help the environment?

Some of it is reorganizing our priorities. But in many cases, I’ve found some shortcuts to save time and still help the environment.

Make big purchases count

Much of the average person’s environmental footprint is driven by big, occasional purchases. These include the cars we drive, the houses we buy (both the location and size), and the appliances we use.

For example, a car that gets 40 mpg uses 225 fewer gallons of gas a year than one with a 25 mpg fuel economy, saving $560 in fuel alone annually. An Energy Star refrigerator uses up to 15% less energy than one that’s not. Little actions can add up to make a big difference, but big actions get you a lot more energy and carbon savings for the effort!

Set it and forget it

Some of our green choices have actually saved us time compared to the conventional alternatives.

When we installed our solar panels, we received a major discount on our bill if we signed up for auto-pay. That was something I had meant to do with our utility but never got around to. Now it’s one less bill that I need to keep track of.

Similarly, once you set a programmable thermostat, it will do the work of adjusting the temperature to save energy automatically. The Nest thermostats even eliminate that step, setting themselves based on motion sensors that can tell when you’re home. (Admittedly, they’re really expensive. We got one for free with our solar panels.)

Buy in bulk

“Buy in bulk” is a common “mom blog” refrain to help you save money. I ignore this advice most of the time because our small house doesn’t have anywhere to store giant bundles of toilet paper or even cereal. But I do make an exception for some “green” products. Because I have to buy some of them from our natural foods store, which we don’t go to as often as the regular grocery store, buying a slightly larger size can save us a trip or two. I particularly like when you can refill your own container, as some places offer for dry goods and even soap.

But I do make an exception for some “green” products. I have to buy some of them from our natural foods store, which we don’t go to as often as the regular grocery store. Buying a slightly larger size can save us a trip or two. I particularly like when you can refill your own container, as some places offer for dry goods and even soap.

Embrace active transportation

Confession: I’ve never gone to the gym since my younger son was born over a year-and-a-half ago. There’s simply no time! Nonetheless, I still get some exercise. I either walk or bike to the subway every day. In addition, when we run errands or go out, we try to walk or bike.

I know this option heavily depends on how pedestrian and bicyclist-friendly your area is, but it’s worth giving a try if you can. It will take longer than driving, but you can the two-for-one of exercise and transportation. It’s definitely more fun than running on a treadmill!

Pick brands you like and stick with them

My aunt once wondered how I found time to do research on the sustainability and ethics of different brands. The answer is that I did that research once and now have brand loyalty like everyone else. Admittedly, some information changes over time, like what corporation owns a particular company or the formulations of “green” cleaning ingredients. But for the most part, we just buy the same stuff every time we go to the grocery store. It’s often easier because the “organic” brands are all grouped together.

Make your way to help the environment part of yours and the kids’ routines

Composting (especially with kids) is one of those things that seems like it takes a lot of time but actually doesn’t. We keep recycled quart yogurt containers near the prep area, so Chris just puts vegetable scraps in them as he goes. When there are two or three (or when we’ve been derelict in our duties, four or five) containers full, we bring them out to the composter.

When we bring them out, we rip up some newspaper and toss it in. Sprout loves ripping up the newspaper with me so much that he told me he missed it the other day in the middle of our annual break from composting. (We let everything break down for about six weeks from September through October.) Once a week, we turn the composter, which takes about five minutes.

You can even make older kids responsible for some activities. By making sustainability activities part of the kids’ chores, they can learn about how to be green while taking some of the burden off parents.

Do the “lazy” version

“Lazy” is in quotes because parent who does any of this is actually lazy! But there are often simpler or less time-intense versions of a lot of “green” activities. For example, lasagna gardening actually results in a more low-maintenance garden than traditional vegetable gardening. Serving your baby peas as a snack can be faster than dealing with baby food.

Some of it honestly is just not judging yourself based on other people’s standards. We use a lot fewer cleaning chemicals partly because we don’t clean that much. We buy less “stuff” so we don’t spend as much time shopping.

Don’t get dragged into shame from the other direction either. Taking concrete steps to be more sustainable is important, even if you can’t do them perfectly. Back when we used cloth diapers, we also had disposable on hand just in case we were behind on laundry.

Do one thing really well

No one can do everything. Colin Beavin, aka No Impact Man, had the income from a book deal to support as radically green of a lifestyle as possible and he still couldn’t do it fully.

But everyone can pick a single thing they’re interested in and learn how to do it well. The more you can involve your kids, the better! For some parents, it may be growing their own food or going zero waste. For others, it may be giving up their car. Activism may capture the hearts of some. Even though I do a mish-mosh of things, my one true love is communicating about it.

So if you too are in the depths of dish-washing despair about the lack of time in your life, I totally understand. If I figured it out, I’d be getting a lot more sleep. Nonetheless, I hope these ideas will help you find those moments to be a little more environmentally sustainable each day.

If you want to learn some easy wins for being “green,” check out my post on 10 Easy Ways to Go Green that Make a Big Difference. To meet and chat with other environmentally-minded parents, be sure to join our Green and Sustainable Parenting Facebook group

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