7 Ways to Be a Better Environmental Steward in your Community
Ready to make your community a better place? Here’s how to begin the journey into your new role as an environmental steward.
As admirers of the great outdoors, we have the power to preserve and protect our communities, our favorite places to recreate, and the planet. The future of our planet is still uncertain, but the threats of climate change are very real and that’s why it’s more important than ever to be a part of the solution. To quote the late Kenyan environmental activist and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Wangari Maathai, "we have a special responsibility to the ecosystem of this planet."
This Earth Day, SheJumps teamed up with Krystal Guerrero, a Seattle-based environmentalist, to share seven things you can do to become a better environmental steward in your community.
According to the EPA, environmental stewardship is defined as “the responsibility for environmental quality shared by all those whose actions affect the environment”. Environmental stewardship conserves natural resources, combats pollution, and protects biodiversity, but most importantly, it means we protect and sustain our environment for future generations. With over 7.7 billion people calling Earth home, creating a cleaner and more sustainable planet seems a daunting task, but what happens when we start working on ourselves and our own communities first? Your positive impact, while seemingly small in scale, would be the first step to promoting better habits and building the home we all deserve.
Ready to make your community and favorite places to recreate better for everyone? Here’s how to begin the journey into your new role as an environmental steward.
1. Ditch single-use plastics
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably used a plastic water bottle at some point—and probably for good reasons! Bottled water can be convenient and easy to consume, but the waste is monumental. It’s estimated that our planet is consuming over one million water bottles a minute, with only nine percent of those bottles ever getting recycled!
The best thing you can do for the environment (and your wallet) is to make a one-time investment in a reusable water bottle, or filtered water pitcher, to let you drink clean water from a local tap. SheJumps offers a stylish, reusable Girafficorn Hydroflask to keep your favorite drink hot or cold for whenever you are on the go or just hanging out. If you’re worried about how to keep your reusable bottle clean, check out this recent New York Times article highlighting best practices for cleaning your favorite travel mug.
2. Challenge yourself to be low (or zero) waste
Reduce, reuse, recycle. There’s a good reason reduce is listed first in this commonly used slogan. Reducing the amount of waste you create can have a major impact on the environment. Doing simple things, like canceling paper mail and opting into email communications can dramatically reduce the amount of paper waste you create. If you’re up for the Zero Waste challenge, try eliminating all waste from your lifestyle for a day, a week, or even a month to kickstart sustainable habits.
Another idea to reduce waste is to BYOB (bring-your-own-bag) whenever you head out on a shopping trip. Did you know that the single-use plastic bags we get at grocery stores aren’t recyclable? That means it is up to us to reduce the demand for these items. Next time you head to the grocery store or pack for your next hiking trip, take a canvas or reusable bag to reduce plastic waste. Here are a few ideas to upcycle some common items you might have laying around the house, like an old tee shirt, into a tote bag.
3. Support local when you can
When semi-trucks transport items like bananas, avocados, and blueberries from across the country to your local grocery store it increases the greenhouse gases emitted into our atmosphere that contribute to climate change. When you purchase food at local farmers' markets or community-assisted agriculture programs, you support food that is grown close to home which helps cut back on harmful emissions. If local food is hard to come by, consider working with your neighbors to start a community garden. This is a wonderful way to extend your environmental stewardship and train others to do better for the planet.
4. Rethink your transportation
Fossil fuel transportation accounts for 29% of greenhouse emissions in the United States. If you typically drive your car to the store, school, or to the local park, ask yourself if there is an alternative way to get there. Some examples include walking, biking, ridesharing, and utilizing public transportation. If you have options, consider making the switch to reduce your carbon footprint and improve the air quality in your community.
5. Pack it out
“Pack it in, pack it out” is a familiar motto for outdoor adventurers. This slogan highlights the importance of bringing all of the supplies you will need for your trip and then making sure to bring all of those items, including trash, back out with you. Whether it’s a quick trip to a local park or a ten-day backcountry traverse, it’s important to respect the land you are recreating on and the other people benefiting from that space by packing out your trash and leaving little to no trace. Next time you plan to recreate outdoors, consider taking a small bag to collect trash other people may have missed–also known as the 11th Essential. This behavior may even inspire others to do the same next time they are out—because a big movement begins with just one person making a difference.
Photos by Britany Freeman at 11th Essential
Recycling is a proven way to conserve energy and natural resources, and a great way to become a better environmental steward. In addition to recycling paper, cans, and bottles, you can also consider recycling batteries, glass, and electronics.
If you’re new to recycling, here are a few tips to get started:
Familiarize yourself with EPA’s list of common recyclables to review what can and cannot be recycled.
Look for products that use less packaging or utilize recyclable materials in their packaging.
Find your local recycling centers to easily dispose of recyclable items that don’t belong in your curbside bin (such as batteries, old electronics, and textiles!).
7. Get involved with environmental organizations
As individuals, we are strong environmental stewards, but together we are unstoppable! Luckily, there are many grassroots environmental organizations doing inspirational work in their communities and beyond. Getting involved with an environmental organization is a great first step to meeting other environmental stewards and flexing your “I’m saving the world” muscles.
There are many environmental organizations you can get involved with today, including the Outdoor Oath, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting a different and healthier outdoors founded by Teresa Baker, José González, and Pattie Gonia.
In 2021, SheJumps launched a Strategic Plan that outlined four ambitious goals for the organization to achieve by 2024. One of the goals is to strengthen its commitment to environmental stewardship through partnerships. SheJumps counts on the efforts of thousands of volunteers and supporters across North America to help realize its goals, and through that support, the Girafficorn community can spread awareness on how to be better environmental stewards.
Photos by Zach Joseph and Wade Fellin
About the Author
Krystal Guerrero (she/her) is a Seattle-based environmentalist and marketing professional. Her graduate research at the University of Washington focused on the human dimensions of environmental degradation. When she isn’t busy growth hacking for clean technology startups, you can find her hiking, traveling, or curling up with her orange tabby Penny and a great book.
SheJumps is an inclusive organization. We welcome all women and girls (transgender and cisgender) as well as non-binary people who identify with the women's community. SheJumps strives to be an ally in the fight against racism and acknowledges that our events and programs take place on traditional, unceded Indigenous lands.