WHAT YOUR STEP! “So what is an ecological footprint?” At KWB, we get asked that question often. The next question is always, “How do I measure mine and how do I make my footprint smaller?” Having a big footprint is like wearing a scarlet letter these days. Everyone wants their lifestyle to glow a groovy green. But, honestly, calculations to figure your big shoe size can be very complicated and methods to reduce it significantly can mean some extreme measures. Plus knocking the ‘ol Eco footprint size down can diminish the size of your wallet as well. Your Ecological Footprint is a gauge of how many resources you use. Answering a series of questions about your lifestyle and habits generates a rough estimate of how much land it takes to sustain you. 4.5 acres of usable land are available to every human on Earth. In the U.S., the average footprint is 24 acres. Clearly we have some pretty ugly big, fat feet! If you are interested in determining your ecological footprint, Google for ways to calculate it. You’ll find plenty. You may even discover how much googling increases your footprint. If you search for ways to keep from looking like Big Foot though, you’ll find some pretty extreme practices and some very expensive solutions out there that might frighten you back into being comfortable with a less green, more muddy brown lifestyle. So, we looked for some simple ways to prevent Central Texans’ eco feet from being quite so large without resorting to painful practices like footbinding or cutting off our big toes. Relax. The key word was “simple.” We don’t expect you to stop using toilet paper or even build a compostable toilet onto your home. And I, for one, do not want the hospital figuring the carbon footprint of a heart by-pass if I need one or even the footprint of bandaging a banged toe! It just doesn’t matter! While you will find great debate online about whether you should handwash your dishes or get an energy efficient European style dishwasher (verdict seems to be that the energy efficient dishwasher using water that’s not too hot is best), we support the idea that you should probably just use what you have, your hands and a sink or an aging dishwasher. If you handwash, don’t be extravagant with the water. If you use a dishwasher, don’t run it until it is full of dishes and reduce the water temperature if possible. When you save the money for a dishwasher one day or replace your old one, opt for something a bit more energy efficient. In the meantime, plant a tree in your backyard to offset washing the dishes or pick up trash around your neighborhood a few days each week. Most of us just cannot afford a remote programmable solar water heater in today’s economy or a sleek and efficient European dishwashing machine. Stop feeling guilty. Here’s how you can help fit into those reasonably sized eco shoes a bit better. Whether you already carry a stainless water bottle to refill instead of buying bottled water and have recently switched to energy-saving fluorescent bulbs or you’ve become a fan of buying locally at the Downtown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and only send birthday greetings by e-mail or Facebook or even if you are only green-curious and have just begun to think about ways to be more environmentally friendly, we hope you can pick one or two practices below and at least reduce your shoes from extra wide to narrow. We will worry about the actual size later! Eat foods that are locally grown or produced. Fuel must be used to transport food from distant places. Energy is also expended on regulating food temperature during the transport. So, if you cook, shop the Downtown Farmers Market on Saturdays until 1pm. If you eat out, try our locally owned restaurants, which tend to buy from local food suppliers rather than a franchise owner in Oregon or wherever. Drive less. Riding a bike is fun! Walking is sexy! (and healthy) Avoid disposable products. Okay, do not get rid of the toilet paper no matter what the experts on the internet tell you! And building a compostable toilet can be expensive and difficult. (The World Hunger Relief Farm near Connally High School has a great one though if you want to see how it’s done.) Just use recycled toilet paper products instead. Buy sandwich containers instead of plastic baggies. Use a broom instead of sweeper cloths. If a cloth towel will work instead of a paper towel, use it. Avoid Styrofoam as if it were poison! Always recycle. In Waco, Woodway, Hewitt, and many other local cities, there is curbside recycle pick up. If not in your area, call the Waco Cobbs Recycle Center (254-751-8536) to see if your items are acceptable for drop off there. They are open 8 – 5, Tuesday through Saturday. Try to gradually increase the amount you are recycling. Can you recycle as much as you throw away? More? Conserve water and electricity. Don’t let the tap run while you brush your teeth. Turn off lights and televisions when you leave the room. Open your blinds and curtains to use natural light if possible. Your grandmother has told you all of this since you were a kid! Reuse stuff! Use empty margarine containers for food storage or other things. Use an old milk jug to port water to the dog’s bowl. Plant something in an old chipped bowl and put it on the patio. It will look quirky and charming. Be creative. Glue your wine corks to a piece of plywood and use it as a bulletin board or a place to hang your jewelry when you take it off. Check out Pinterest.com for some creative ideas to re-purpose everything you can imagine. And visit local charity run thrift stores like any of several Goodwill’s in our area, Salvation Army, 2nd Chance, Caritas, Mission Waco and more to buy and reuse so many items. Or visit local resale shops that specialize in certain items. You can buy fair to great furniture, clothing, cars, tires, appliances, books, toys, and lots of other things. Bring life to someone’s old belongings. And donate items you no longer need to one of these many places too! Plant. Plant native trees. They offer shade that can reduce the temperature in your home, habitat to native animals, birds and bugs, lots of great O2, and create a more beautiful community. Also plant native bushes, shrubs, plants, and grasses. They can handle our locally hot, dry summers and bitter,cold winter days much better and with lots less water and little or no fertilizer. So, you won’t need to replace them nearly as frequently as with non- natives. And like trees, they offer food and habitat to our Central Texas critters. Non-natives can be invasive and offer nothing to our local wildlife. Plus they take lots of management, water, fertilizer, etc. because they are not used to local soils and climate. Planting native is a feel good way to make up for all the times you walked out of a room and left the lights on. The long and short of it is, don’t worry so much about measuring your footprint or spending money on expensive products and appliances or even going to drastically extreme environmental measures! Make changes that you know you can make now. Make others gradually as you can. Stop feeling guilty. Just start watching your step.