10 things you can do right now to live a greener life

Cleveland is a city spoiled with natural resources. We have one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world with Lake Erie, our city is surrounded by an emerald necklace of parks that is the envy of our neighbors, and just beyond our doorstep exists a vast sea of fertile farmland.

And then there’s the Cuyahoga River, perhaps the greatest reminder of just how fragile our natural environment truly is.

Though the city has made vast improvements since the infamous fire that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act, there’s still plenty we all can do on an individual level to lessen our impact on the environment.

Forest City

The Van Sweringen brothers were well ahead of their time when they expanded their light rail system from downtown to the east side, creating an early form of transit-oriented development. That’s one of the reasons Los Angeles native, longtime Boulder resident, and Natural Vitality Living editor Anna Soref settled in Shaker Heights when she relocated here with her husband two years ago.

“When I got here, I was shocked by the natural resources,” says Soref. “It’s unbelievable the amount of greenery here.”

Marc Lefkowitz, web editor at GreenCityBlueLake, which covers the region's sustainability agenda, loves living in Cleveland Heights with his wife and son for similar reasons. And contrary to what some might think, both believe it’s easy to live a greener life in Cleveland. This is, after all, the Forest City.

Home: Energy Audit

An “easy first step” for Lefkowitz in his quest to green-up his home was to contact an energy auditor from Dominion East Ohio’s GoodCents program. For just $50, Lefkowitz received a detailed report on how his home was fairing in terms of energy consumption. “After all, 20 to 35 percent of our carbon footprint comes out of our living space,” he says.

“[Following the report] we decided to air seal and insulate our attic and basement,” he explains. And thanks to those projects, Lefkowitz experienced a 30-percent reduction in air loss. That means heat that previously was pouring out of the house during Cleveland’s notoriously frigid winters now is staying indoors, saving his family potentially thousands in long-term energy costs.

Transit: Ditch the Whip

There’s no concealing just how environmentally unfriendly cars are. For that reason, green-leaning Clevelanders should consider alternative forms of transportation whenever possible. The move isn't solely about ensuring a sustainable future for our city; it’s about keeping hard-earned cash in our wallets.

Lefkowitz suggests that more Clevelanders should leave the car at home and hop on a bike or train whenever possible. Some employers might even be encouraged to pick up the tab for your RTA pass.

“RTA has a program that provides employers with tax savings on transit passes,” he says. “Ask your employer if they’re interested in joining RTA’s commuter advantage program.”

Shopping: Fair Trade or Bust

“People perceive living green as deprivation,” says Soref. “Instead, look at it as empowerment to make yourself and your family happier with a simpler life.” For starters, Soref recommends axing any routine shopping trips, citing “Saturday shopping” days as unnecessary. “I think it’s important to teach that shopping isn’t entertainment.”

When shopping is a necessity, try and find a fair trade consignment shop. Revive on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights is one of Soref's favorites. “You can walk in there and know everything you buy is supporting local artisans, usually in developing nations," which is better than supporting mega-manufacturers that pollute the land, water and air.

“Take clothing, for example," she explains. "Chemical dyes, stain resisters, fire retardants and wrinkle resistors like formaldehyde are used and often even present when we buy them. These products are usually shipped to the U.S. from countries like India, Vietnam and China, which contributes to carbon emissions.”

Food: Buy Local

“Buy organic, buy local, buy in bulk,” suggests Soref, who says industrial farms use pesticides that pollute rivers and streams through groundwater, killing animals and insects while upsetting entire ecosystems.

Soref says that one solution is to support small family-run farms. “One thing that can’t be emphasized enough: If you can do it financially, join a CSA, community supported agriculture.”

Soref is a customer of Blue Pike Farms on E. 72nd. “A local farm basically grows organic produce, sometimes cheese, and they’ll have a delivery where you go once a week and pick it up,” she explains. “That supports local farms, and it supports the farmers themselves.”

Location: Drive Less, Live More

Clevelanders should think long and hard about where they choose to live, says Lefkowitz. Low-density suburbs are far less likely to be green or sustainable by their auto-dependent nature. Moreover, you’re less likely to walk -- the greenest form of transportation -- if you need to get in a car every time you need something. This brings Lefkowitz to one of his favorite expressions: “Drive less, live more.”

“Suburbanites can pay as much as 45 percent of their income on housing and transportation,” notes Lefkowitz. “Whereas, if you live closer to the city with transit and biking options, you can save about $200 per month on combined housing and transportation costs.”

Workplace: Form a Green Team

Soref believes every office should have a "green committee." If yours doesn’t have one, ask the boss if you can start one. “You can give awards for different tasks, like who biked the most miles to work in a month,” says Soref.

Along those same lines, treat your office like a home and turn lights off when nobody is using them. If you've ever worked in a cubicle, you know that workplaces tend to be too hot or too cold -- never just right. “Management might say that’s just how it is,” Soref says. “Don’t take that as an answer. You shouldn’t need a space heater in the summer.”

Entertainment: Make Your Own Fun

“Think about some ways as a family you can change how you think about entertainment,” suggests Soref, singling out activities that reinforce the myth that “stuff buys happiness.” She says that in a busy town like Cleveland, we should have no problem finding green forms of entertainment.

“Go to green events," she says. "There’s the Burning River Festival, outdoor concerts, simple things like that.” If nothing’s going on in your neighborhood, make your own fun.

“We do Thirsty Thursdays around here,” says Soref. “The grown-ups drink in the driveway and the kids play.”

Volunteering: Find Green Initiatives

A perfect way to both give back to your community and stay green is to find volunteering opportunities for green initiatives.

“Find local places that support the environment, like the botanical garden or the nature center in Shaker Heights,” suggest Soref. “That’s a great way to support and experience the environment."

Family: Get Everybody on Board

“It takes a personal commitment and getting your family on board,” says Lefkowitz, who suggests discussing environmental issues with family to get the best results. Lefkowitz offers an example that will be familiar to any family that has bickered over the thermostat. “Setting it two degrees higher or lower depending on the season can save thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide a year.” And hundreds of dollars, to boot.

Vacation? Staycation!

“Staycations are gaining momentum,” says Soref. “It’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Stay home and do local activities.”

Fortunately, we live in an area rich with outdoor opportunities. It’s far more environmentally friendly to stay close to home than travel to a luxury resort that uses unsustainable amounts of water and chemicals to maintain the guests and grounds.

National parks and state parks are a great thing to support and show you care about having those sorts of activities available," adds Soref.

Photos Bob Perkoski

Joe Baur
Joe Baur

About the Author: Joe Baur

Joe Baur is an author, writer and filmmaker who has worked for a variety of local and national publications including Matador Network, Yahoo! Travel, National Geographic and BBC Travel. In addition to freelance writing, he is the author of Best Hikes Near Cleveland and director of numerous travelogues from across the globe. You'll currently find him working in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica, because spending the first year of marriage where others vacation seemed like a good idea.