Kidder: Make a difference for the planet by starting with your day

Alex Greenlee | The Free Press

Posted on April 16, 2012 in Perspectives
By USM Free Press

By Tyler Kidder

Some days my job seems daunting — changing the minds of thousands of people and getting them to do something differently.

Other days it doesn’t even feel like work: I recycle things; I educate people about why I think waste reduction is important; I make signs inviting people to events that I have planned (and am actually excited about attending.)
I explore up and coming technologies and creative ideas.

I go to meetings and offer expertise and enthusiasm, I write articles for the student newspaper about what I do.

To me, environmental sustainability is really important. I’m sure there’s something that is equally important to you.

The question is: how do you communicate its importance to others? Do you tell them loudly how you feel about politics? Do you leave anonymous notes on doors telling your neighbors they shouldn’t smoke? For me, the most effective way is to live it.

Sure, if you asked me outright I’d tell you why I bike to work, don’t buy bottled water, and regularly serve in the community. Wouldn’t it be equally or more powerful, though, if you witnessed me doing these things and just knew that I not only talked the talk, but walked the walk? There is so much power in DOING what you believe. Lame cliché coming up: actions speak louder than words.

Lots of studies (don’t look away, I’m not going to cite them) have indicated that modeling behavior is the best way to create new social norms.

And whether you know it or not, you live by social norms. If someone in front of you tips the barista at the coffee shop, you are twice as likely to do it yourself because suddenly you think it is expected or normal to do so.
Seeing cyclists daily on their way to work might make some of those car commuters think about biking themselves.

Don’t bother denying it, it’s just the way we work as social creatures. But you can start new social norms and challenge existing ones, there’s no doubt about that.

So be sure to live the way you hope others will live, including, if I may suggest it, being a little gentler on our planet. Bring that reusable water bottle and lunch bag to class, walk and bike whenever you can, volunteer, buy and use a little bit less.
And for goodness sake, please hand this paper off to a friend/stranger to read, burn it in your fireplace, or recycle it after you have read it. You know I would.

Tyler Kidder is the assistant director for sustainable programs at the USM.