A Parent’s Paradox: Staying Green While Staying on a Schedule

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Published on October 20th, 2009  |  Discuss This Article  

Ben-on-walk-to-school-day-Oct-2009

“This is so much fun!”

So shouts my three-year old, Erin, as she peddles her tricycle along the Main Street sidewalk toward her pre-school. My son Ben is walking, proudly wearing his bright red backpack like “the big boys do.”

It’s Walk to School day at Ben’s elementary school, and my husband John and I – along with several other families in our neighborhood – are joining in the fun. And it is fun; we see cats and squirrels and start picking up the prettiest fall-colored leaves.

Why don’t we do this every day? I wonder.

Walk-to-school-day-Oct-2009

The answer – I’m embarrassed to admit – is that during my busy mornings I often make choices based on speed and convenience. Like so many others, John and I feed, dress and transport to school two young kids and then head to our own jobs. We do it all in reverse at the end of the day.

And even though I’m more aware of – and concerned about – the implications of climate change now that I have kids, it’s easy to be less vigilant about my carbon footprint while trying to keep myself and my family on schedule.

Most days I’m tempted to leave the house a little later, drive my kids to school and park at the train station. But after seeing the results of the Conservancy’s recent ClimateWizard report and the potentially devastating effects of climate change on many of the United States in just one or two generations, I know that now is not the time to let my “green guard” down just because I’m busy. It’s better for me, my kids and the planet if we walk to school and I catch a bus from there.

How much better? my internal devil’s advocate asks. I decide to figure it out.
It’s a three-quarter mile walk to bring Ben and Erin to school. From there, I can take a bus to the train station that brings me into Boston. At the end of the day, that same bus can take me back to school and the kids and I can walk home.

In a 180-day school year, I’ll have driven 270 fewer miles, saved more than $900 in parking fees, burned about 10,000 extra calories and emitted 0.1 ton less carbon. For just one person making one small change, that’s a big impact.

But just as valuable to me is that I’ll be giving my kids a morning routine that – based on their reactions to today’s walk – they’ll love.

That, I hope, will be motivation to stick to a better, greener schedule.  But since walking to school takes longer, how can I save some time – and carbon as well – at other points in the day?

  • Frozen as a fallback: On my next trip to the grocery store, I’ll stock up on frozen meals. That way, if it’s time to leave the house to walk the kids to school and I haven’t eaten breakfast or packed my lunch, I can grab something from the freezer. I won’t be tempted to skip the walk in order to make a sandwich.
  • Leverage my lunch hour: Once or twice a week, I find myself heading out to the grocery store after picking up my kids because we’ve run out of one staple or another (I’m out of milk right now, in fact). If I walk to the convenience store near my office during lunch, I’ll save some time and miles at the end of the day.
  • Double up on errands: This morning, I taped a note to the inside of my front door that reads “What else?” If I’m heading out for an errand, what else can I do? Return a library book? Pick up dry cleaning?

These are small changes, but knowing how they add up over time to save carbon, money and time will help quiet that devil’s advocate for good.

Kerry Crisley is a senior media relations manager for The Nature Conservancy based in Boston, Massachusetts. She is also the newest member of the Greenwood Elementary School’s environmental awareness committee.

(Images courtesy Kerry Crisley/TNC.)

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Comments: A Parent’s Paradox: Staying Green While Staying on a Schedule

  •  Comment from Nancy

    But everything’s a tradeoff, isn’t it? Frozen meals have more packaging and are almost inevitably less healthy for you than homemade meals. And staples purchased at a convenience store are probably more expensive than those bought at a larger grocery store. We all need to find the things we can do to protect the planet but there are almost always tradeoffs. Thanks for this post!

  •  Comment from Elizabeth Grimm-Howell

    The author’s concerns sound like my own, but the devil is in the details – her kids’ school is less than a mile away, whereas my kids’ school is 3 miles from our house. Because of the limited rail lines in St. Louis, my commute to work on the train takes twice as long (due to transfers) as driving. Thanks to lots of investment in highway improvements, the highways are relatively uncrowded even at rush hour and get me to work within 25 minutes, whereas the train would take over an hour. At the end of the day, I find myself concluding that timewise I cannot afford to be “greener” than I am about our transportation issues – my only option seems to be buying a “greener” car like a Prius (which at the moment I can’t afford). Unfortunately, the public transportation infrastructure in the St. Louis area is inadequate and discourages people from using it. Too bad we didn’t put all of that money spent on highway construction into expanding our light-rail system…..

  •  Comment from Dave

    I walked to school (and home) every day from sept 1936 to June 1949. I enjoyed it. BUT, we live next to a school (in the country) and our neighbors’ kids are REQUIRED to ride on the bus even two blocks away. I’d be afraid to allow my children to walk now-adays for fear I’d be arrested for endangering the welfare of a minor! What to do about beaurocracy?

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