At the beginning of 2019, several members of Nat Hab’s Green Team came up with green New Year’s resolutions to lower their environmental impact at home and/or in the office. These personal sustainability goals are part of our company ethos to practice conservation in our everyday lives so that we can each make greater contributions to protecting wildlife and wild places.
So how did Nat Hab staff do on their ambitious green resolutions? We caught up with a few of them to reflect on how the year went. Read on to learn about their successes along with some challenges they encountered. We hope that their experiences inspire others to adopt their own green resolutions for 2020 and beyond!
Adventure Director Sara Higgins
My sustainability goal for 2019 is to not purchase meat packaged in Styrofoam. While we don’t eat a lot of meat in our household (about two-to-three times per week), this is one of the items that noticeably fills our trash can (especially since we try to be as low-waste as possible). It seems unnecessary and wasteful to continue this habit.
My boyfriend and I were very successful in eliminating Styrofoam packaging from our meat consumption. We both committed completely to this. The ONE time all year we had to buy Styrofoam/plastic wrapped meat was during a family trip to the East Coast. There was one supermarket in the area and to go to the nearest Whole Foods would have been an extra 40 minutes of driving which probably negates our effect. I do want to start bringing in my own reusable containers instead of throwing the paper away each time. I also still want to look into a local CSA meat share.
This goal definitely had its challenges, the biggest one being driving to stores that had butcher counters with good quality meat. In the end, we found that Whole Foods was the best option for this (they wrap their meat in paper). However, it definitely was more expensive than the Styrofoam, plastic wrapped meat we could have purchased at other stores. Whole Foods was also not the closest supermarket and not directly on the way to/from work, so side trips were needed. We also found ourselves shopping for produce and other items at less expensive supermarkets and then also going to Whole Foods after. We’re not fans of multiple grocery store trips in the same day, but we made an exception. Also, we both travel a lot for work and personally. We found that we had to really think about where we were purchasing our meat from while traveling (if we had a kitchen).
Overall, this resolution added an extra layer of planning and cost, but we both agree it was worth it. We are eating better quality meat and making an impact. We are going to continue this practice indefinitely!
Air Travel Specialist Holly Glessner
To operate zero-waste daily in the Natural Habitat Adventures office during work hours.
I’m happy to report that my resolution was a success! My motivation behind this resolution was Nat Hab was running its first ever Zero Waste Adventure to Yellowstone in July of 2019. If our guides and staff could operate zero waste in the field, then why couldn’t I operate zero-waste in the office?
There are many definitions of zero-waste. For my purposes I followed the definition that Nat Hab outlined for our Zero Waste Adventure:
“Divert 99% of all waste produced as a byproduct of Natural Habitat in-office operations* by refusing, recycling, composting, upcycling, reusing and influencing our partners to do the same. “Zero waste” encompasses all employee-related activities that Nat Hab is responsible for throughout the normal work day – from the moment an employee steps inside to when they leave the office.”
* This does not include waste that involved personal hygiene items, posed safety risks, was legally required to be sent to a landfill, or resulted from employees actions outside of Nat Hab’s control (before work, en route, items of a personal nature, etc.). Nat Hab worked closely with its employees, partners and gear-related providers on this initiative. Where waste was created as part of a partner provider’s service (such as gear related packaging), Nat Hab encouraged them to provide alternative option
The first change I made was turning my desk trash can into recycling only. This eliminated any possibility that I could be lazy and not dispose of things properly. The second big change I made was adding a compost bin to my department, which also helped with making sure things were disposed of correctly. We’re lucky enough to have recycling and compost service at our office. Nat Hab has also signed up with Terracycle who offers plastic recycling that our local services cannot. With the combination of these 3 services I found it was very easy not to create waste that couldn’t be either recycled, composted or put in the Terracycle bin.
The biggest change I had to make in the office was choosing the right kind of tea to drink. After a lot of investigation, tea bags that I thought were compostable were not! After many phone calls and e-mails I finally found a company that offered compostable tea bags that contained no plastics and no individual plastic packages. I then committed to only using this one kind of tea at work.
Other changes included being conscious of eliminating single use plastic in my lunches, like plastic wrap, or packaging. I avoided waste associated with to-go food and drinks and all of this combined made me re-think the way I purchase food, avoiding plastic packaging whenever possible. I did end up with a few items that could not be recycled, sent to Terracycle or composted, however I didn’t even fill a mason jar full with trash after 12 months.
I feel very fortunate to live in a community that finds it important to offer recycling and compost services. I know there are many places across the United States where communities don’t offer the service or make it easy on their citizens to recycle or compost. Or offer solutions to plastic packaging like stores offering refillable options and bulk products. Making these changes at work will also help me at home where I look forward to putting these best practices into place. I also hope that what I’ve learned will be able to be applied office-wide with the end goal of a zero-waste work place. Here’s to 2020!
Adventure Specialist Corrin LaCombe
- I commit to re-filling all of my liquid soap, lotion, and laundry detergent containers! I found a new store in town that does this and they’ll be getting all of my business in 2019.
- I promise to use compostable dog bags only to prevent waste from going to the landfill.
- I’m 100% committed to buying natural biodegradable cat litter only—this stuff works great and is so much better for the environment.
- I also commit to using my reusable coffee cup and water bottle 100% of the time. If I don’t have the cup with me, then I won’t be drinking a coffee!
- I will also no longer be lining my smaller garbage bags with plastic—this is just unnecessary waste.
While most of these resolutions went extremely well, I did come across some unexpected challenges. Most notably, not all cat litter is created equally and I really had to spend the year finding the environmentally friendly brand that worked best for me and my kitties. Glad we went through the process, however, because we are now settled on a favorite that we will continue to use for life.
Another unexpected challenge was having several restaurants, airlines and airlines refuse to fill up my reusable cup. I found this strange, but it is important to note that due to some hygiene policies, not all companies can fill up cups we bring from home. Through this I learned that it’s important to do your research, make note of which companies will participate and to be ready to say “OK, I’ll pass on a beverage at this time” if/when the company won’t budge and fill your cup!
Refilling my detergents, shampoos and lotions, probably gave me the largest sense of reward throughout the year. The process of filling my bottles was fun and I felt great leaving the store with more product, but without producing more plastic. I even took this one step further this year and started bringing reusable containers to the bulk section at the grocery stores. Each time I would fill one of my containers instead of using a plastic bag, I would say out loud…”Well, there’s 3 less bags in the landfill today,” and so on and so on each time I visited the store!
Overall, achieving each of these goals was rewarding, informative and I feel made a difference in the world. And the best part? Because each action was easy and is now even more familiar, I will continue each of these actions for the rest of my life. Sometimes all it takes are those few initial steps and the push to get started.
Adventure Concierge Brooke Mitchell
In 2018, I bought my first home and immediately began remodeling. I quickly realized that every purchase resulted in excess waste and that my recycling bin was constantly full with leftover packaging. For (at least) the first six months of 2019, I want to purchase most, if not all, remodeling items from a local secondhand home store.
About midway through the year, I decided to take time off from remodeling. I was using almost every weekend to paint, build or plan and I started to feel burnt out. I am proud to say that the only new home remodeling items I purchased since setting this goal were paint cans, foam paint rollers and paint brushes.
Next year we plan to tackle the kitchen and master bathroom. I’m currently deciding on a cabinet paint color and door fixtures. Painting cabinets is significantly cheaper than a full remodel and can completely change the feel of a kitchen. Also, most of the secondhand home stores around me have door fixtures. I’m still trying to decide on an eco-friendly countertop alternative. To paint, purchase or let them be? Additionally, we happen to live beside a second hand appliance superstore and will purchase our kitchen appliances from there. Here’s to remodeling cheaply and sustainably!
Director of Sustainability & Conservation Travel Court Whelan, Ph.D.
I plan on significantly reducing my use of single-use things like coffee cups, sandwich bags, etc. First, I plan on always keeping a reusable coffee thermos with me so that I never have to use a disposable one. On the same theme, I aim to reduce my reliance on plastic zip bags at home (I’ve long not used plastic bags for shopping, but I do cook a lot, so leftovers sometimes end up in single-use plastic zip bags). I’ve recently found a number of silicon reusable zip-style bags online and just ordered a few in different quart and gallon sizes. And last, I aim to refuse any single-use plastic item offered when eating at restaurants. Whether that’s a plastic spork at a food truck or a plastic straw at my local café, I plan on having a reusable version with me if I really need it in the first place.
I think the most meaningful change was the elimination of single-use zip bags at home. I cook a lot, and constantly save leftovers for the next day’s lunch or dinner. I found that for those things I normally would use a zip bag, I just bought a couple silicon stasher bags (sold online or at most health food stores) and they did the trick! I estimate that I probably saved around 50+ zip bags over the course of the year. And then by bringing my own coffee mug during travels, along with my own camping spork for those times I needed food on the go (airports, business trips, etc.) I was never without a reusable utensil.
The biggest challenge was during those spontaneous café or restaurant visits where there is no other option than single-use items. Fortunately, most coffee shops do have “house cups” they will serve to you if you plan to drink your beverage at the shop. And this includes Starbucks, believe it or not! They don’t advertise it, but you can definitely ask and they’ll provide a nice warm ceramic mug to enjoy at their shop! Then as far as single-use utensils at smaller cafes or restaurants (where they’ll serve on reusable or ceramic plates, but have a stack of plastic, single-use utensils) the hardest part is having your own silverware with you at the right moment. I found that if I had one set in my car and one set in my work backpack, I’m never without the set.
I often say that one of the most important things we can do today is to learn the language of sustainability so we can think fluently about it. The more we think about it, the more simple steps become rote memorization, freeing up our minds to think about the next big thing we wish to accomplish. By simply thinking about sustainability consistently in my daily life, during a couple tasks a day, it becomes like a language, and I became more fluent. And as this is replicated with many other people across our planet, conservation cultures will emerge, where entire groups of people will think and act fluently in regards to sustainability. And this is where BIG change occurs! Exciting stuff.