Environmental Responsibility Travels with You, if you Invite it Along


Fundamental life principles don’t dissolve into thin air when you are traveling. On vacation, you might sleep in a little later than you otherwise would, and spend the day lounging around, indulging in rich, decedent meals that are definitely not within your monetary or caloric budget. You might find that it’s good for your mental health to take a break from the demands and obligations of everyday life.

But if you travel on a regular basis, for work or for pleasure, finding balance can get a little complicated. You need to find a way to balance the excitement of exploring new cities, and trying new things, with the need for healthy routines, some semblance of normalcy, and the comfort of structured, everyday home life. You don’t want to forget who you are, at your core, just because your “home base” changes on a regular basis.

As a case in point, if you are a card-carrying environmentalist at home (i.e. a mostly vegetarian Sierra Club member, whose townhome apartment carries the status of a “GreenSpot”), chances are you want to uphold such values while on the road. To do this successfully, you’re going to have to take some of your everyday behaviors along for the trip.

GreenSpot. . . . what exactly is a GreenSpot?

“Why join GreenSpot? For a couple of really good reasons, actually. One, it’s a small thing you can do to make a big impact on the health and future of Columbus. Two, it couldn’t be easier.

Our green community is growing daily and currently has more than 15,000 current members consisting of households, businesses, organizations, and community groups.

GreenSpot inspires, educates, and recognizes households, businesses, and community groups that adopt green practices. GreenSpot is a membership-based program that provides a framework to think about sustainability and a way to log your successes. It is free to join and there is no fee or cost. If you live in Franklin County or surrounding counties you are eligible!” (GreenSpot website)


My apartment is a GreenSpot! I compost year-round, make veggie broth from food scraps, repurpose cardboard boxes into elaborate cat condos, with the addition of packing tape, and spend months at a time doing my best to eliminate the use of single-use, “disposable” plastics. On occasion, I hug trees!

When I travel, I manage to take these practices with me.

I was recently reminded of just how many simple things we can do, to positively impact the environment, during a visit to the Ohio History Connection, previously known as the Ohio Historical Society. You might expect a museum with a name like this to focus on WWII memorials, archeological excavations of local, rural areas, and some sorry attempts at taxidermy. You might find these things OHC . . . okay, you will find these things, but you’ll also find a whole lot more!

On your way into the history museum is a small display that features the 2017 Women’s March in Washington DC. A question is raised, on a museum placard – does this count as history, in 2018? Is it too contemporary, too much about our lives today? Are we still discovering what the long-term impact of the march will be, and how it will shape American society?

It is history in the making, moment-by-moment, and we are lucky enough to see it unfolding. The human relationship with the planet, and the impact our everyday behaviors have on its future, is just as much a part of history. We may or may not be proud of what happens during this stretch of human history, in Ohio, the U.S., and around the globe, but let’s see what our contributions to the Environmental Movement can be, when we travel.


Drive Less

Okay – I’m pretty well on board with this bit of advice, when I’m at home. Not only do I own a variety of bikes, including a single speed beach cruiser and a workhorse for bike camping, but it’s not uncommon for me to use a bike as a way to get around downtown on a Saturday night.

When I started dating an avid cyclist, who was contemplating going carless, a friend asked “What are you two going to do? Is he going to toss you on his handlebars, to take your out to dinner?” Nope. I’ll be on the expedition touring cycle, a Salsa Marrakesh, right beside him, hauling the contents of my own panniers.

So, when I’m on the road, this translates into taking my bike along, whenever possible. If my trip is within driving distance, then that’s no trouble – I did take my bike along when I purchased my 2015 Subaru Forester, just to make sure it would fit! When I’ve had to fly to my destination, it’s not unheard of for me to rent a bike for the day, or make use of the city’s bike share program for a couple of hours.

Invest in Your Own Coffee Cup (or two)

I have a small collection of travel coffee mugs, some of which are capable of keeping my coffee at a piping hot temperature for several hours. I’ve discovered that it’s not that much of an effort to toss one into my suitcase, to use while I’m traveling. It’s a nice accompaniment to the collapsible water bottle that is already part of my travel kit, and it takes the place of the paper “to-go” cups that are so prevalent in hotel rooms, and at the hotel breakfast buffet.

Coffee is becoming more and more of a travel staple, so most hotel rooms do provide a personal coffee maker. At times there are a variety of coffee choices, and all the sweetener and creamer options you could desire. This makes it easy to bypass the Dunkin’ Donuts or the McCafé drive thru.

When my room offers a selection of non-recyclable coffee “pods,” I simply delay my first cup of morning coffee until I can make my way downstairs to breakfast. This isn’t easy to do, but the environment is worth it! At home, when I only want a single cup, I can use the refillable pod filter, in place of the mini plastic containers that are so popular today, and so damaging to the environment.


Use Reusable Bags for Your Shopping

This practice is just as easy to practice on the road as it is at home, with the use of Chico bags, which fold in on themselves, packing down to a size no larger than my fist. That is to say, it’s a challenge to remember to bring the bags into the store with you, once you’ve purchased them! Is it worth the mental effort? No question!

For the plastic bags that unwittingly slip into your life, make the effort to recycle them properly, by taking advantage of programs like Ohio’s “Bring Me Back,” and educational program to encourage residents to return plastic bags to collection bins at the stores they shop. Alternatively, travel to places like California and Hawaii, where the public and civic attitude towards plastic bags has discouraged, or banned, their use for years.

“In August 2014, California became the first state to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores. The bill also required a 10 cent minimum charge for recycled paper bags, reusable plastic bags, and compostable bags at certain locations.” (NCSL website)

Notable cities with plastic bag bans and fees include: Austin, New York, Seattle, Chicago, Boulder, and Portland. So, travel with your own reusable bags!


When I’m not on the road, traveling for work, my commute takes less time than it takes to pour my first cup of coffee. I walk across the hall, power up my work laptop, and dive into the emails that are waiting for me. I check my calendar for upcoming meetings, conference calls, and virtual classes I’ll teach, and then take a quick break to pour my second cup of coffee, into my favorite ceramic mug.

During times of inclement weather, many employers will allow office staff to work from home, on a company laptop. They may even require it, if there are high-level snow emergency conditions. Consider asking if this practice is feasible on a more regular, reoccurring basis, perhaps one day a week, and consider the positive environmental impact. You’ll be one less car on the road, and you may be able to skip the morning shower, blow dry, and environmentally damaging aerosol hair spray.


Ban Bath Time

Wait . . . . just a minute! What? This doesn’t seem right – I soak for hours in the tub each week, alternating between bubble baths and long soaks in lavender-scented Epsom salts. My dream house has a bathroom that is larger than the galley-style kitchen in my current apartment, and a tub I can soak up to my ears in, with my legs fully extended.

I do not struggle with weather to take a bath or a shower! There is, however, a regular, internal struggle in my mind over whether it’s safe to kick back with the Kindle in the bath, or whether that is a foolish, high-risk behavior, which I should swap out.

Who came up with this list anyway?

“According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a full bathtub requires about 70 gallons of water, while taking a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons. You might argue that very few people fill the tub to the top, but a simple calculation shows that either way, baths use more water . . .

But let’s not stop there. We can save even more water and money with another small adjustment: the low-flow showerhead. If every household installed one of these water-saving wonders, the United States could reduce its annual water consumption by 250 billion gallons, according to the EPA.” (Stanford Alumni Magazine)

Oh, okay – I’ll work on it. Using the bath at a chain hotel, with high room turnover, and not a lot of time to disinfect, has a slight gross factory anyway. But at home . . . I’ll work on it.

Shower with Your Partner

Let’s just leave that one out there, where it is. Water conservation is important!


Adjust Your Thermostat

Now, this is something I can get on board with – at least during winter months, when it is better for the environment to keep my apartment a few degrees cooler. Visitors have learned that they can pack a sweater or sweatshirt when they visit.

I can do the same when on the road, turning the thermostat down a couple of degrees when I check in, and keeping it that way for the duration of my stay. I may have to check it daily, to ensure that the hotel staff has not made adjustments, for their own comfort, but that’s Okay.

During warmer months this becomes more of a challenge for me, as it’s better for the environment to leave the room a tad warmer, so the thermostat doesn’t have to fight against the hot summer temperatures, to keep me comfortable. My solution – get out and explore! What am I doing sitting around in my hotel room to begin with?

Second-Hand Doesn’t Mean Second-Best

When work travel is for the purpose of professional conferences, corporate sales meetings, or the launch of a new national sales program, you want to look your best! At times, the most affordable and least environmentally impactful way to shop for clothes is second-hand. I recently picked up a pair of $120 dark denim Cabi jeans, stylish for dinner and drinks after the business meeting, for around $7 at Volunteers of America.

Consider how often coworkers even notice, or care one bit, about what you are wearing. A small, simple, stylish “capsule wardrobe” is trendy right now. Stick with neutral, natural colors, add a “statement necklace,” and exude class. (Is it obvious I don’t know what I’m talking about, since I work from home, in yoga pants, much of the time . . .? But I watch a lot of YouTube videos on Minimalism and Simplicity.)


Plant a Garden

Check! On my concrete patio, it’s a container garden, heavy on tomatoes and Italian herbs. That’s how I like to cook, so the garden supports my culinary adventures! While I may not take the garden with me when I travel, it’s planted out in front of my apartment, as a “Little Free Herb Garden.” So, it’s my hope that it is being used by members of my community, even in my absence.

While out on the road, it’s easy enough to research eco-friendly, organic, family-owned restaurants and markets to frequent. I can use my company per diem very creatively, anywhere I choose, so I try to make healthy, environmentally sustainable choices.

Consider doing the same, and incorporating a few of these behaviors into your next travel adventure, or your everyday life at home.

Call for Art:  “Are you an artist that uses recycled material and/or renewable energy sources for your works of art?  Yes!

Then think Columbus GreenSpot!

Art and sustainability are natural partners.  Whether using recycled materials, repurposed materials, or using renewable energy to power an art piece- the materials are there.  So let’s partner up! Here is how it works. Create your work of GreenSpot and the Arts art that uses recycled material and/or renewable energy. Next, take pictures of your art piece from all angles (minimal 4). Then email: GreenSpot@columbus.gov .” (GreenSpot website)

Join me on my next adventure

~ Kat

Related Links:

Green Spot Columbus: https://www.columbus.gov/greenspot/

Green Spot and the Arts: https://www.columbus.gov/Templates/GreenSpot.aspx?id=2147495941

Green Spot Kids: https://www.columbus.gov/Greenspot-Kids/

Ohio History Connection: https://www.ohiohistory.org/

Chico Bags: https://www.chicobag.com/

SWACO “Bring Me Back Program” (Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio): http://www.swaco.org/Facilities?clear=False

National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL): http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx

Recycle Right: http://www.swaco.org/332/Recycle-Right

Stanford Alumni Magazine: https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=28853

7 Questions About Capsule Wardrobes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgnZM90QcG8

One comment

  1. Your example is left behind……I try to follow it each day. One example not running water to brush my teeth. One good brushing does the trick. Also refilling water bottles from the tap. I have an 8pack of water bottles I’ve not used. Keep refilling the 2 bottles we use. Freezing them helps too.
    Anywho….trying at least. Some habits still remain….”old school”!
    BLOG ON! 👏


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