When it comes to planning for the future, most people focus on health and financially stability for themselves and their family. But what about the health and stability of our earth?
Although it might not be a priority of estate planning, instilling an appreciation of nature and working to leave behind a better planet for our families and future generations is an important goal to consider.
Years of research have shown the many benefits of spending time outdoors and exploring nature for people of all ages. As we get older, keeping both our mind and body in good shape becomes increasingly important; exposure to the natural world can help improve short-term memory, boost the immune system, and even reduce the risk of an early death by promoting higher activity levels and a reduction in stress. For children, spending time outside allows them to build confidence and relationship skills, increase creativity, and even help with attention disorders and hyperactivity.
Personal health and wellness benefits aside, fostering empathy and appreciation for our natural world is more important now than ever. It is impossible to ignore the fact that our planet is in the midst of major changes, many of which are the consequences of human activity. Massive efforts are being made to reduce our plastic use, resource consumption, and carbon footprint, and at times all the “go green” messaging can be a bit overwhelming. However, what is important to remember is that you do not need to make a complete lifestyle change to have a positive impact; making small, simple choices can add up and will make a difference.
If you haven’t already, switching to reusable grocery totes is one of the easiest and most important changes you can make. Plastic bags are used for an average of 12 minutes, but take more than 500 years to break down; in the meantime, many of them end up in our waterways along with tons of other single-use plastics, resulting in the pollution of our water supply and the death of over 100,000 marine animals annually.
Thinking of going through your closet for spring cleaning? Rather than throwing out last year’s fashion, donate to organizations like Goodwill or other second-hand stores. And when it’s time to upgrade your wardrobe, these same thrift stores can be a great place to save money and the planet. If you have items that are too worn out to wear, donate to organizations that can reuse or recycle the materials, such as a local animal shelter or Teracycle.
Speaking of clothing, consider switching to wool dryer balls to cut down on waste as well as wrinkles. Many newer appliances are already designed to use less energy and water, but choosing to run a load of laundry or the dishwasher only when they are full can help even more. And once the warm weather hits, installing dark curtains over large windows can reduce your energy bill by keeping the room cooler without having the AC blasting.
These small changes can help to leave behind an earth in which our children and their families can not only survive but thrive. And taking the time to get your family outside today is a simple way to improve your overall quality of life, build a connection and respect for our natural world, and create memories that will last long in to the future.
Laura Soder, Environmental Educator
Elmwood Park Zoo