Five Things Your Business and/or Family Can Do For the Earth and Community For Free or Little Money

Now that this year’s Earth Day (April 22) celebrations, tree plantings, etc. are over, many of us go back to old habits. We can all do our part 365 days a year to protect the earth’s resources and reduce the effects of climate change because without a healthy environment, we won’t have a healthy economy. Here’s some easy actions you can take along with additional resources.

1.     Reduce waste, increase recycling

It’s now relatively easy to recycle paper, glass and plastic, especially in urban areas as containers can be found in commercial buildings and along the street. Often jurisdictions will provide recycling containers for home and office. Items containing hazardous materials such as electronics, construction materials and paint should always be recycled to prevent contaminating the land and groundwater. Earth911 provides an excellent database for recycling a number of materials; just enter your ZIP Code and the type of material.

2.     Reduce food waste and compost, even at the office

Approximately 1/3 of the food that is grown and raised in the U.S. is wasted, which also wastes the water and fertilizer used to grow the food. This is due to a number of factors including throwing out food that that is past its “Sell By” date, grocery stores that don’t want to sell “ugly” fruits and vegetables and restaurants that serve large portions.

Composting diverts food away from the landfill and prevents emission of greenhouse gases like CO2. Fruits, vegetables, coffee grounds and yard waste are a few items that can be composted. While some people use compost bins, you can also store compost in a plastic bag in the freezer. You can do this at work, too, but you’ll want to provide training and training about what can and cannot be composted. Composting pickup services are big business in some regions. Recology provides posters for home or office of what can be composted or recycled.

3.     Buy renewable energy credits (RECs)

Renewable energy – solar, wind, hydropower – now comprises 18% of all electricity power in the U.S., doubling since 2008 - and prices are coming down rapidly. While many of us aren’t able to install solar panels on the roofs of our homes or office buildings, almost everyone can purchase renewable energy credits (RECs) for home or office. Electricity produced by a solar or wind farm, for example is fed into the electrical grid then credits are sold by the owner of the renewable energy source. More than half of U.S. states and the District of Columbia require a minimum amount of energy to come from renewable sources now or by a future date.

Purchasing RECs may or may not increase your energy rate. It all depends on what state you’re located in and if it’s a residential or commercial account. For example I purchase 50% renewable energy for my home (and home office) in Virginia, and there’s no additional charge. If I chose to, I could purchase 100% renewable energy which would increase my rate by 1.5 cents/kWh. provides a directory of companies that sell RECs. I’ll also add Arcadia Power, a Certified B Corporation based in Washington, DC, since I’m a customer.

4.     Walk, bike or use public transit, whenever possible.

Do you drive alone to work every day? If so, you’re one of the 76% of U.S. commuters who do so. That’s a lot of cars on the road during morning and evening rush hour. In fact Americans spend 42 hours a year stuck in traffic, and 40% of all trips taken are two miles or less. You and your colleagues can be part of the solution to traffic.

Most urban and suburban areas have alternative transportation options available such as taking the bus, train or biking or walking. With mobile technology, you can find routes and schedules for public transit on your cell phone. Carpooling, ride share and telecommuting will also help reduce traffic, even if you only do this one day a week. If your company doesn’t offer telecommuting - and you can do your job from anywhere – get a program started with appropriate guidelines. If you have employees who live in the same area, suggest carpooling if they’re on the same work schedule. Online resources such as Commuter Connections in the Greater Washington, DC, area make it easy to plan your commute. As for biking to work - my favorite option - Bike To Work Day 2018 is on May 18, and it’s celebrated in towns and cities throughout the U.S. with pit stops and suggested routes.  

5.     Move your money to a community bank, credit union or a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI)

When you do your business or personal banking with one of these institutions instead of a big corporate bank, you’re benefiting your local economy and community. Community banks generally hold under $500 million in total assets. When more is invested at a local level through a community bank or a credit union, there is more positive community impact. Credit unions are cooperatively owned by its members. These financial institutions are more likely to:

·      Invest in and loan to small, local businesses because their staff and board of directors live and work in the community

·      Lend to local farmers who provide locally sourced produce and other food products

·      Offer more attractive loan terms

·      Offer low- or no-fee checking and savings accounts

·      Provide more personalized customer service

Community banks and credit unions employ almost a million people and help create thousands of jobs and support local businesses that keep money within the community. In fact, $45 of every $100 spent with a local business stays in the community versus $14 of $100 spent online or at a large, national chain retailer. These Stats & Facts from the Independent Community Bankers of America can help you decide about moving to a community bank or credit union.

While all these options may not be feasible for everyone, they cost next to nothing to implement. Pick one or two and see what you can do to make an impact on your environment, your community and your world.

Mark Frieden is Founder and President of Crossbow Strategies, a sustainability consulting company based in Alexandria, Virginia, that helps organizations create and measure key performance indicators (KPIs) relating to social, environmental and economic impact.