Set Goals this Month for a Greener Lifestyle

AMES, Iowa — “Go Green” is an appropriate March cheer, what with a day for celebrating all things green and the green-ness that comes with spring’s arrival. But going green to create a more sustainable home or community doesn’t happen overnight. According to two Iowa State University Extension and Outreach specialists it takes thought and action, and they have tips to get families and communities moving in the right direction to healthier lifestyles, economies and environments.

“Sustainability is achieved when there’s a relatively equal balance among our social, environmental and economic values. This is the ‘triple win.’ It’s simple, yet marvelously complex,” said Kristi Cooper, ISU Extension and Outreach family life specialist, ISUEcofamily blogger and an Eco Family Conference organizer.

Cooper describes this simple complexity in terms of local foods. “Buying local food reduces the amount of transportation needed. This means lower food costs and fewer greenhouse gases, addressing both economic and environmental values. Buying your food at a farmers’ market lets you meet the person who grew your food. You can provide input on how your food is produced, thus addressing social and environmental values,” Cooper said.

Cooper encourages individuals and families to pick one thing that motivates and interests them — it could be as small as choosing whole unprocessed foods at the grocery store to joining a local food cooperative or growing foods the family likes to eat. Cooper suggests families also consider these actions:

  • Get an energy audit from your local utility company — it’s easy and they often provide free items, discounts and advice on being more efficient.
  • Choose to not drive the car one day a week.
  • Refuse to buy stuff you don’t need or anything in excessive packaging.
  • Freecycle — donate or give away what you don’t use instead of tossing it in the trash. Fix what is broken.
  • Take your own mug for your favorite beverage refill.
  • For goods not produced locally, choose fair trade products.
  • Buy your next garment or gift at the consignment store.
  • Take a shorter shower.
  • Spend an hour outdoors enjoying nature.
  • Start a compost bin indoors or outdoors.
  • Get a rain barrel.
  • Replace part of your high maintenance lawn with perennial food-bearing native plants.

Scott Timm is an ISU Extension and Outreach community economic development specialist working with the city of Fairfield on sustainability issues. “In Fairfield we take a top-down and bottom-up approach,” Timm said. “The top-down: we’re working on policy, on expanding our energy portfolio; we’re looking at how we can create and work on our own energy needs. But then there’s also action that needs to be happening on the ground — with residents. That’s the bottom-up work that we’re doing.”

Timm’s daily focus is on meeting Fairfield’s community sustainability strategic plan goals. “My work is about helping local government with big picture decision making; but it’s also about teaching skills and working with residents and homeowners on things that they can do to lead more sustainable lives,” he said.

Setting goals important for communities and families

People sometimes are amazed that a community the size of Fairfield (fewer than 10,000 people) is aggressively addressing sustainability. Timm believes any community can become more sustainable — but residents must plan and be serious about it. Every community has different needs, so the first steps should include a well thought out and purposeful plan. “A plan with buy-in from all sectors of the community makes it possible to achieve success, and it opens serious funding streams,” he said. For communities wanting to become more sustainable, he recommends starting with a facilitated working session involving representatives from all segments of the community and really examining community sustainability successes and gaps, then creating an action plan.

On the personal level, he suggests that families take time for a similar review. Look around and determine what needs to be dealt with. Is it the electric bill, a more productive garden, or desire to live more with less? Identifying some personal goals, working towards them and being successful will not only achieve sustainability, but personal satisfaction. Kristi Cooper agrees.

“I appreciate the perspective of taking responsibility for our choices,” Cooper said. “I have waited on experts to tell me why and what to do, and expected the institutions in my life to make it happen. Then I realized that I was giving up my personal power to influence my own quality of life. I am learning every day ways I can be more sustainable.”

ISU Extension and Outreach blogs, conferences, programs like Homegrown Lifestyle and a wide variety of publications empower individuals and families to be more sustainable. Many of these resources are referenced in Cooper’s ISUEcofamily blog at Educational publications with information about the actions Cooper lists above are available from the ISU Extension Online store,, and at county extension offices. Watch Timm and a group of Fairfield high school students in action — working toward a more sustainable Fairfield.