What Can I Do??
James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.
Updated October 11, 2007

All of my other resource pages are for information. This one is for action!

Special thanks to my wife Pam for her help on this page -- and her commitment to simple living!

Students who have been learning about the environment and the human role in it may be asking themselves exactly the question that appears at the top of this page. Since my goal as an educator is not to tell students how to live their lives, the focus here is not on what we "should" do, but rather on what we "can" do. I will even offer suggestions here that I do not necessarily follow myself. Each of us must find his/her own path.  Feel free to look these over and try the ideas that work best for you right now.

Many of these ideas are not only good for the environment -- they are good for health and pocketbook, too!

If you have additional ideas or relevant web sites to suggest, or if you notice dead links, please let me know .

Get Local

I have read -- and perhaps it is true -- that the average item on a dinner table has traveled 1,600 miles to get there! The structure of the grocery industry makes it difficult for farmers to provide fresh products to customers nearby. The Northeast Organic Farmers Association ( NOFA ) not only supports environmentally-friendly farming practices; it also helps to link consumers to their food! See NOFA's list of organic farms and vendors , or check the NOFA-Mass main site for more information.

Even more local than food is your own back yard! In Texas, we had rented an apartment with a "lawn" area smaller than 0.01 acre, and were able to dramatically increase bird biodiversity in less than three years by planting native vegetation. In the four years since we purchased our house in Massachusetts with just 0.31 acres of land in the center of town, we have increased the biodiversity on the propery tremendously. We have seen a wide variety of butterflies, dragonflies, and birds -- including red-tail hawks -- as well as an assortment of mammals. My daughter and I will soon be applying for certification of the yard by the National Wildlife Federation. The NWF's Backyard Wildlife Habitat program provieds resources that can help any property owner -- and many renters -- to increase biodiversity, even on small land parcels. See the landscape section below for more of my specific ideas about home habitat.
Eat Organic

Green Ideas for Campuses

Many colleges -- including Bridgewater State College -- already have or are developing sustainability centers. At BSC, our new sustainability center will be launched in Fall 2006. The sustainability center follows two other major initiatives on our campus: the Energy Bear program and the design of a LEED-certified science building. Until our own center is running, students can get some ideas from the work of the Harvard Green Campus Initiative.

Students at Bridgewater have created a student organization known as REAPS .

Learn about the local Cape Cod school that is erecting it's own wind turbine!

Network and Keep Learning

Take the pledge The energy pledge campaign has helped thousands of people to identify steps that they can take to reduce their energy consumption, yielding both environmental and national-security benefits. I discovered that I am already following a number of the recommendations, but I found quite a few new things I can do to help!

Be sure to view the "Green Ribbon Flash" movie to see an enlightening comparison between the patriotism of the 1940s and today's softer brand.

Don't just complain - get active! A student of mine found this site while browsing the web site of a favorite music group. It is a collaboration of many who are interested in collective action to protect the environment. When the political atmosphere is hostile toward environmental protection, citizens need to get more involved. This site can help direct citizens toward tangible actions they can take.
The Center for a New American Dream has created a new web site called the Conscious Consumer .

It has three main functions: first, it provides information -- in the form of case studies -- about how unconscious consumption causes real problems in the world. Second, it provides ideas for advocating changes in the ways companies conduct their business. Third, it provides online shopping for goods that are produced with better treatment of workers and the environment.

See if you can figure out what those people looking at the television have to do with all of this!

Turn off that TV!

More national and local groups are listed on my environmental NGOs page.

Visit some of the other web sites listed among my environmental links . Read as much as you can, and read it critically. Take advantage of public radio and public television to keep up to date.
Naturalist and Sierra Club founder John Muir once wrote, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." As you learn more about environmental problems, you will discover connections to other very human problems, such as human rights, education, and disarmament. Norbert's Bookmarks for a Better World is a project that can help you explore these connections. The site provides over 30,000 links to top-quality web sites on a variety of progressive issues. Explore and learn!

Don't Litter

This may seem obvious, but I am learning that it is not so, at least in my adoptive home state of Massachusetts. Consider the letter at right, which appeared in the May 28, 2006 edition of the Boston Globe Magazine. It validates what I have observed in what could be one of the most charming landscapes in the  U.S., if only people treated it with a little more respect. Perhaps people here are too busy, too tired, or take the beauty of their surroundings too much for granted. In any event, the writer is absolutely correct. I once followed a car into the Cape Cod National Seashore as a woman and three teenagers started pitching fast-food wrappers out their windows -- on their way in to enjoy a pristine beach!

Cigarette butts are a special problem. Some people mistakenly believe that these are biodegradable, or too small to matter. In fact, however, moving water tends to float them and concentrate them on shorelines in most disgusting ways, and they last for years.
Welcome to Trashachusetts
On a recent road trip through Maryland, my husband commented on how clean the highways were. I huffed: "Every place looks clean compared to Massachusetts. We're just used to seeing garbage everywhere. We think we're literates, but we're litter-rats." (I was on a roll.) "The COmmonwealth has produced a culture of contamination!"
   My husband finished rolling his eyes and pointed to the car just ahead. We watched the driver flick a cigar butt out his window. "See," my husband said a little smugly, "there are jerks everywhere." Then we noticed the licence plate: "Massachusetts."
~~Karen Trais, Duxbury

Consume Less

As North Americans, the best and most difficult thing we can do is to break our addiction to the accumulation of needless stuff. Some things are easier to give up than others, but we can at least think about changes in many areas. Here are some possibilities:

The energy pledge campaign has helped thousands of people to identify steps that they can take to reduce their energy consumption, yielding both environmental and national-security benefits. I found that I am already following a number of the recommendations, but I found quite a few new things I can do to help!

Be sure to view the "Green Ribbon Flash" movie to see an enlightening comparison between the patriotism of the 1940s and today's softer brand.
Take the pledge

Holiday Consumption

Be a SCROOGE. Don't be mean, but don't be manipulated, either. During the next holiday season, read the newspaper and television news critically.  Beginning in November, you will notice a definite pattern. The news is about shopping - predictions for the coming season's volume, expectations of seasonal employment, tips on what to buy. The subtext is that if you are not buying, you will somehow crash the economy. (Just as predictable are the post holiday stories about credit-card debt. Think about that.)

If you are interested in learning more, you can join S.C.R.O.O.G.E. - The Society to Curtail Ridiculous, Outrageous, and Ostentatious Gift Exchanges - an organization dedicated to the problem of holiday consumption. If you have a stamp and two dollars, you can join its 2,000 members and receive its snail-mail newsletter. Meanwhile, here are a few tips from the 1995 edition:

  1. Try to avoid giving (and receiving) extremely expensive gifts (particularly the heavily advertised fad/status symbol items that are often not very useful or practical).
  2. Make every effort to use cash rather than credit cards to pay for the items that you do purchase.
  3. Emphasize gifts that involve thought and originality, such as handicraft items that you make yourself.
  4. Celebrate and enjoy the holidays but remember that a Merry Christmas is not for sale in any store for any amount of money.
The address is:

Buy-Nothing Day

Beginning in Canada in 1992, International Buy-Nothing Day is now a growing movement. The object is to avoid buying anything on the day after Thanksgiving -- the busiest shopping day of the year. It is the busiest day because we as consumers have been told it is. By choosing not to shop on that day, we send a small message that we will not be part of the shopping herd. More importantly, the discipline of going through an entire day without buying anything forces us to think of other ways to spend our time, and may make us think twice about the many impulse purchases we make each day.

Update: in 1999, the day after Thanksgiving dropped to about fourth or fifth in the ranking. Even respected media outlets such as NPR refused to consider the possibility that this slip in the rankings came about because of the campaign.

Stay Out of Wal-Mart

Avoiding WalMart is not only good for the planet; it is good for communities, taxpayers, businesses. The reasons for avoiding WalMart are so many that I have decided to move my discussion to its own Bad-for-Business page.

Think About Images that Promote Over-consumption

This is from syndicated writer L.M. Boyd:
How much toothpaste should I put on the brush?
A strip long enough to cover the bristles. That's what sellers of same recommend. They would. Experts otherwise motivated say a dab the size of a peanut is enough.


We can lessen our impact on the environment by our dietary choices. Fortunately, a diet that is healthier for the environment is also healthier for us as individuals -- and cheaper! An excellent book on this subject has been written by Doris Janzen Longacre, who compiled the suggestions of Mennonites who have found ways to eat better and consume less at the same time.  The book, which has been through 43 printings as of 1996, is:

Longacre, Doris Janzen. 1996. More-with-Less Cookbook. Scottdale,PA: Herald Press.ISBN: 0-8361-1786-7.

Even if you do not buy the book, here are a few ideas to get started on a healthier, less consumptive diet:



We can use public transportation. In the greater Boston Area, which includes Bridgewater, this means the MBTA , Brockton Area Transit, or the soon-to-be-launched Bridgewater shuttle. If it is not available or adequate, we can lobby for improvements. We can learn to use the time on public transportation effectively, either reading or relaxing on the journey to and from work.

Walk. It is good for health and the environment. When buying or renting a home, consider a location that would allow you to walk to work, school, and/or shopping.

Consider fuel consumption when buying a car. Over the late 1980s and 1990s, stable gasoline prices have made us complacent, and have caused us as a nation to stop making progress on fuel efficiency. The worst offenders are Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), which have:

If you are considering a SUV, compare it on price, space, and fuel economy with a medium-to-large sedan or station wagon. You may be surprised. But pay attention to the automotive media over the next couple of years -- I've heard recently (January 1998) that Detroit is planning a new generation of " green" SUVs.

Climate change is a serious problem, caused primarily by the carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels like oil, coal, and gas. But there are things we can do about it - like choosing to go carbon neutral.

Household Energy

SEQL (Sustainable Environment of Quality of Life) posted 100 Ways to Save The Environment.

If we invest in compact fluorescent bulbs for lighting, the initial cost is high, but they last longer than traditional, incandescent bulbs (reducing the consumption of resources for the bulbs themselves) and they use much less energy for the same amount of light (reducing the demand for electricity and the fuels used to generate it).

More simply, turn out the lights in rooms that are empty.

Turn off computers when not in use, or at least turn off the monitor.  Some new systems automatically suspend the monitor or the entire system when not in use.

Keep the thermostat low in the winter and high in the summer. Use clothing and blankets rather than fossil fuels to keep warm. Set the thermostat even cooler at night. Heat and cool only those rooms that are used. At night, consider turning the heat very low in the entire house and then using a supplemental system (space heater) in occupied rooms.

ITEM: glass jars
USES: In place of plastic food containers, glass jars provide a better seal, fresher taste, longer storage, and no plastic after-taste. Since they are readily obtained by reusing jars used to ship peanut butter and other food, they do not require the consumption of any new resources, particularly petroleum. They are also easier to clean!
The Center for a New American Dream is a not-for-profit membership-based organization that helps individuals and institutions reduce and shift consumption to enhance quality of life and protect the environment.
Escape from Affluenza Escape from Affluenza is a PBS documentary produced by KCTS in Seattle. The one-hour program uncovers the environmental and social costs of "keeping up with the Joneses," and tells the stories of people who have escaped the rat race in a variety of ways. The program's web site includes 100 specific tips for slowing down, saving money, and helping the environment. Ironically, it also includes ordering information for the video of this and a related program.

The problems described in the Affluenza programs are driven in part by brand awareness and sophisticated marketing aimed at children and parents. See my Baby Branding page for a startling example and further links.


Once in Sierra magazine, a letter to the editor claimed that Al Gore was not an environmentalist, because there is no such thing as an environmentalist with four children. That may be a bit extreme (one of the Sierra Clubs most famous leaders, David Brauer - also had a large family), but family planning is an important part of our relationship to the environment - particularly as North Americans with a propensity to consume more resources than others in the world. If you are interested in learning more about how to control family size and what some of the benefits are, contact Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Adoption is another alternative to consider.


In North America, our habits have harmed the landscape in a variety of ways. We can make some changes that will help make our home environments more enjoyable -- both for ourselves and for the species who were here long before us. For example:

Reduce or eliminate the lawn area.  We seem to have gotten the idea of  perfect lawns from the English manor houses, and it does not make much ecological sense. Grass is both an invader species and a monoculture. I worked for a couple of years as a landscaper in Baltimore, and most of my energy was spent trying to maintain plants that were out of place. In most parts of the United States, the maintenance of grass requires:

In addition to the expensive consumption of resources, the grass monocrop simplifies the environment, and reduces forage and habitat for animal species.  In many parts of the United States, local ordinances actually prohibit homeowners from allowing their land (or part of it) from returning to its natural state through a process of succession. Often these "weedy-lot "ordinances can be set aside if it is demonstrated that the succession is a result of a conscious decision and not mere laziness.

For those living in New England, I recommend the New England Wild Flower Society , which is the oldest plant conservation organization in the United States. It promotes the conservation of temperate North American plants through conservation, education, research, and horticulture programs. If you live too far from New England for this to be a useful guide, you can probably find a similar group in your own region, by doing an Web search on "native plants" and the name of your state or region.

The Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) of Kansas City has an excellent web site with information about lawn care, landscaping, water gardens, and water management for the home.

Rain Barrel
When water falls on a modern roof, it usually runs off to storm sewers right away. This contributes to flash flooding and reduces ground water recharge.

Rain barrels connected to the roof downspouts can reduce these effects while saving on water bills! I am particularly pleased to suggest the New England Rain Barrel Company, because it sells recycled barrels and has special offers that may save on shipping.

NOTE: Some other vendors offer food-grade rain barrels for people who wish to rely on rain water for drinking. Recycled barrels are not suitable for such purposes -- they should only be used for gardening and lawn care!

Household Products

The intensive marketing of cleaning products began in the Golden Age of Television with the introduction of Soap Operas, which began (and continue)  essentially as vehicles for selling people ever more complex and expensive varieties of soap. Part of the marketing is the continuous creation of "New" and "Improved" varieties. Another part is convincing us as consumers that we need specialized cleaners for specialized tasks. In reality, most household chores can be accomplished by a very few, simple chemicals.

Consider using some of the following:
Item Use(s)
Concentrated natural cleaner 
(such as Simply Green or a citrus-based cleaner)
Use in a spray bottle at very small concentrations for glass and general cleaning; higher concentrations for tougher jobs such as floors, appliances, etc.
Borax powder Use to remove roaches or ants, in place of commercial pesticides.

Also use as a laundry booster in place of bleach.

Vinegar This is very good for general cleaning, including glass, but not for mirrors, as the acidic fluid can seep around the back of the glass and react with the silver. (Ask me how I know this!)
Isopropyl alcohol Personal deodorant - much more effective and cheaper than commercial brands, without irritating aluminum compounds (even lower impact and more effective are natural mineral-salts deodorants such as The Crystal

Use as lighter fluid - in Brazil it is common to soak a piece of stale bread with alcohol to start a grill - works better and cheaper with fewer fumes

Baking soda Baking soda is an excellent general-purpose cleaner -- sprinkle on counters with a little water for excellent cleaning or sprinkle on carpets (or automobile interior) prior to vacuuming.

Both Real Goods and Tom's of Maine sell a variety of earth-friendly products. Real Goods sells through its web site and catalog; Tom's products are available in stores, including Trader Joe's , which also happens to offer a lot of organic prepared foods.

Consumer interest in doing the right thing has led Consumer Reports to create a new web site: GreenerChoices.org; this in turn is part of eco-choices.org. I learned about it from the Living on Earth radio program of May 19, 2006. Listening to this weekly, hour-long program on public radio is a great way to stay informed.

Personal Health

For information related to environmental health and water quality, visit the toxics section of my environmental problems page.

I am not a medical doctor or even a medical expert, but a few words about personal health seem appropriate here. It does us little good to clean up the environment as a whole if our own bodies are not being taken care of. This section should not be construed as offering specific medical advice. Consult a physician, nutritionist, or other health professional with any questions related to your specific health situation.

Having never been a smoker, I cannot speak to the incredible difficulty of kicking the habit, but I do know what the effects are: I've lost quite a few relatives to smoking, and more dying as I write. See my No-Smoke Zone for more information and help with quitting.

I also believe that artificial foods should be treated with great caution. Aspartame (Nutrasweet) and Olestra are artificial substances of dubious safety that promise something for nothing. I know more about Nutrasweet than I do Olestra. When Nutrasweet first reached the market, a friend with an unusual neurological condition told me that his neurologist had warned him to stay away from the stuff. I did not take this very seriously until I wrote a research paper on the process by which Aspartame gained FDA approval. It turns out that following several failed attempts to develop a safe artificial sweetener, the government was determined to win approval for Monsanto's latest alternative. Political participants in the process overturned the findings of the scientific reviewers. Incidentally, sugared soft drinks might not be much better - see articles by holistic-medicine practioner Dr. Vendryes and the American Academy of Pediatrics - Ohio Chapter . - in this case "alternative" and "main-stream" physicians seem to agree. Unless indicated by a medical necessity  (such as diabetes or morbid obesity), I would consider "natural" sweets and fats in moderation, rather than artificial foods in abundance.

Any questions? Contact me at jhayesboh@bridgew.edu .
James Hayes-Bohanan, Ph.D.
Bridgewater State College
Revised: May 21, 2006
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