EcoChallenge Helps Families Who Want to be Greener: Oregon Live Features the Lyles Family Sustainable Transportation EcoChallenge

Kerry Lyles, NWEI's Development Director, is using her bike instead of car to transport son to daycare
Kerry Lyles, NWEI’s Development Director, is using her bike instead of her car to transport her son to daycare

Last week Oregon Live shared the below article featuring NWEI’s Kerry Lyles and her husband Mark, who are opting to take their son Aiden to daycare via bike instead of car for the duration of NWEI’s EcoChallenge, which runs from October 15th-30th.

When it comes to environmental awareness, the Portland-based Northwest Earth Institute follows a mantra that many parents should be able to relate to: Baby steps. The “take it slow” approach is built into the 20-year-old nonprofit’s annual EcoChallenge, which started Oct. 15 and continues through Oct. 30. The EcoChallenge asks participants to choose one simple action to reduce their environmental impact for two weeks. Participants pick a challenge from one of five categories – water, trash, energy, food or transportation – or create their own. The EcoChallenge can be done individually, as a family or as a team, including school, workplace, neighborhood and church teams.

The ultimate goal of the EcoChallenge is to encourage long-term changes in behavior. Kerry Lyles, the institute’s development and communications director, says families can use the EcoChallenge – or create their own – as a way to develop more sustainable habits. In her case, for instance, she and her husband saw a big drop in how often they commuted by bicycle after their son, now 18 months old, came along. She decided to try resuming her bike commute as part of the family EcoChallenge and learned that it really wasn’t that hard to drop off and pick up her son at daycare by bike.

“I’m probably not going to do that every day,” she said. But she will definitely try to do it more regularly, perhaps two days a week.

Other families have tackled challenges such as taking shorter showers, which Lyles said seems to appeal particularly to parents of teens; going meatless or eating more locally grown vegetables; walking to school instead of driving; and switching to a smaller trash can.

Meghan Tust, 35, of Southwest Portland, a married mother of a 6-year-old daughter, Kaia, and 3-year-old son, Harlan, is doing the EcoChallenge with her family for the second year. Last year, Kaia chose to do art projects with only recycled materials. Her mother chose to use only reusable containers – baggies and cellophane were out – and her father, Rob, decided to take shorter showers. This year, Kaia and her father are trying to rely on the car less – she is walking or taking the bus more often, and he’s taking the bus – while Meghan Tust is taking shorter showers.

Here are lessons Lyles and Tust have learned:

Planning is crucial. Lyles said that with alternative transportation, for instance, “the logistics have to really line up for it to work…Planning ahead definitely is a new element.” Tust noted that when she and Kaia walk to school, they have to leave 45 minutes earlier than when they drive.

Perseverance is crucial. To keep EcoChallenge participants going after the novelty of the first week wears off, the NW Earth Institute schedules a raffle for the second week, Lyles said. And the two-week timespan was chosen carefully: “We want it to be long enough for people to start building those habits, but not so long that it’s intimidating.”

“Once you can integrate it into your lifestyle, it becomes second nature,” Tust said. “Look at the big picture. Families, and others, can find secondary benefits from moving toward more environmentally friendly habits,” Tust said. “Like me not using any baggies or cellophane last year (during the EcoChallenge) – I saved money,” she said. “Or us taking walks to school – that has a lot of health benefits for us.”

Ownership is key, especially for kids. Tust said that both last year and this year, she explained the different EcoChallenge projects to Kaia and let the girl choose what she wanted to do. “Kaia really enjoys thinking of her own way that she’s going to be involved and holding herself accountable,” her mother said.

Make it fun. If a family decides to try taking shorter showers, for instance, Lyles said, family members could set up a timer and create a contest to see who can take the shortest shower.

Talk about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Tust said walking to school “starts that conversation about why would we not want to drive to school every day? How are we helping the environment?”

More on the EcoChallenge:

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