Sustainability is the buzzword right now. Everyone talks about it, and the news are full of Fridays-for-Future demonstrations – at least in Germany. Even though this movement has not received the same amount of attention in the States, I have been interviewing one American family about their aspirations to live greener for several weeks now.
The Morgans, a family of six from western Pennsylvania, opened up about their eating, shopping, and travel habits as well as the sustainable options they considered while building their house. But actions speak louder than words and so I wanted to know what are actual changes they have observed in the U.S. during the last years. For this interview, Bane’s sister Sheryl joined us again. Her job at a large American retail corporation offers another, different perspective about American ambitions to go green.
Lea: What are changes that you have seen over the last years that have happened here in the U.S. in order to go green?
Carla (14): There are a lot of social-media-based campaigns going on about saving the oceans and demonstrations.
Julia (12): It feels like people are trying to get the word out about it.
Carla: I feel like there are some demonstrations in bigger cities, but it is mainly social-media-based.
Bane (42): I think, for the first time, it’s a discussion. And for the first time, it’s looked at and thought about: What’s the sustainability of this? And I think, that never was a discussion. So, I think, that’s the first step in it, having the discussion.
And I think, something that Europe is way ahead of the United States on is recognizing everything from straws to all these things. They are just ahead of it. And simple things that I always think of when I come back from Europe like in the 90s you’d have a bag of milk that you would put in a multi-use plastic pitcher* and that’s how you’d use your milk. Now, when it’s gone, you have this little empty bag that would compress* down to nothing. Why doesn’t that happen in the States? I have no idea. The States have to have this big, thick plastic thing!
Typical milk jug found in U.S. grocery stores (Risheehan/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Sophie (41): We used to get milk delivered in glass containers, and you had to set the glass container back out.
Bane: But that’s awesome, because they are taking them, washing them, and reusing them.
Sheryl (48): You can still do that at Marburger*.
Bane: So, I think you create change by making the globe smaller and having kids travel and see this!
Sophie: And then they’re like, “Let’s do this!” And they’ll do it.
»So, I think you create change by making the globe smaller and having kids travel and see this!«
Bane: I think the most recent* change in the last year is single-use plastics. Truly, within the last calendar year, it went from “they’re everywhere” to “you’re a bad person if you use them”. And really, I think within a year. Which is so cool. It’s straws, lids*, water bottles. You’re using, you know, corn-based forks. And this is recent, and everyone is on with it. This is super cool!
Sheryl: At work, we have to do it. We have no choice. They removed all plastic from our building. Gone - one day – gone. They gave us all reusable coffee cups. Now, there is aluminum. So, if you forget, and you need to buy water, and you don’t have your cup, there’s aluminum bottles you can buy. But they made them super expensive. And then they turned all of our silverware and all of our to-go containers to the plant-based ones. So, don’t put it in the microwave! But it doesn’t taste bad. Then you don’t feel guilty taking your salad to go.
Sophie: If every company starts doing that… I feel like it’s just gonna happen. It’s gonna start changing.
Sheryl: Yeah, we didn’t have an option. And refillable water stations… But that cost the company money. We put asignificant* investment in. Pretty soon, we’re gonna get rid of* all plastic bags. But what happens when you come in and you have four balls that you are buying and your hockey thing and this and that ,and you don’t have your bags? So that’s what we’re trying to figure out* right now.
Bane: But I think the first step in that is: Less people, even in the last five years, will grab a bag. “Oh, I’m buying one thing, leave the bag. I don’t want it!”
Sophie: I say that.
Plastic ban legislation in the United States (green = ban; yellow = charge; purple = partial charge or ban on municipal or regional levels) (Delusion23/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0)
»Millennials won't work for companies that aren't good corporate citizens. So, it's your generation that's driving it.«
Sheryl: It’s starting with companies. Companies are starting to get there. And sustainability is really becoming a buzz with this election cycle. We weren’t quite there, yet. But corporate social responsibility* (CSR) as a whole… millennials* won’t work for companies that aren’t good corporate citizens. So, it is your generation that’s driving it. We are asked a lot about our CSR. We put out our first CSR report. And sustainability is just one pillar* of it. But that has really changed it a lot.
Bane: But a Fortune 500 company* that has a president that is strongly democratic is pushing that agenda.
Sheryl: Oh yeah.
Bane: Now, in a small business people buy… we don’t do it. Right now, I guarantee if you try to find paper vs.styrofoam* coffee cups, styrofoam ones are so much cheaper. So, economics still drives it. Most people are gonna buy the cheap one. Picture the guy that is making 10 bucks* an hour trying to feed his kid. He’s gonna go into the gas station* to get his 99-cent coffee in whatever they put it in. And that is what he’s gonna take. And that is most of America.
Sophie: And that doesn’t make him a bad person. It’s just hard.
Bane: No, he just came by*.
Lea: What climate change solutions are you most excited about?
Carla: Solar panels. That is the biggest one we are exposed to, at least.
Bane: Electric cars. ‘Cause I think it is a no-brainer. I think they’re there, and as soon as they get easier… My goal is for Clara to not drive gasoline*.
Lea: Do you know if the power you use is green?
Bane: No. But … and Elon Musk said this, too, You have to believe that a power plant* is more efficient than the power plant under your hood*. Cause all a combustion engine* is a small power plant. It has to be less efficient than what a company gets paid to produce. And if you can get green energy, even better.
to compress: to press or squeeze something together or into a smaller space; to be pressed or squeezed in this way
Marburger: a dairy business in western Pennsylvania
recent: that happened or began only a short time ago
lid: a cover over a container that can be removed or opened by turning it or lifting it
significant: large or important enough to have an effect or to be noticed
to get rid of: to do something so as to no longer have or be affected or bothered by (something or someone that is unwanted)
to figure out: to think about somebody/something until you understand them/it
corporate social responsibility: the idea that a large company has a duty to treat people fairly and to play a positive part in society
millennial: generation of people who were born in the years right before 2000 and are now adults, over 21 years of age
pillar: a large round stone, metal or wooden post that is used to support a bridge, the roof of a building, etc., especially when it is also decorative
Fortune 500 company: annual list compiled and published by Fortune magazine that ranks 500 of the largest United States corporations by total revenue for their respective fiscal years
styrofoam: used for an expanded rigid polystyrene plastic
gas station: a retail station for servicing motor vehicles especially with gasoline and oil
to come by: to make a short visit to a place; to gain or obtain
gasoline: a volatile flammable liquid hydrocarbon mixture used as a fuel especially for internal combustion engines and usually blended from several products of natural gas and petroleum
power plant: a building or group of buildings where electricity is produced
hood: the movable metal covering over the engine of an automobile
combustion engine: a type of engine used in most cars that produces power by burning petrol/gas or other fuel inside
See the Complicated Landscape of Plastic Bans in the U.S. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2019/08/map-shows-the-complicated-landscape-of-plastic-bans/
The U.S. Has 1 Million Electric Vehicles, but Does It Matter? https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-u-s-has-1-million-electric-vehicles-but-does-it-matter/
Going Green – What’s Good For The Planet Is Good For Businesses https://www.forbes.com/sites/natalieparletta/2019/05/14/going-green-whats-good-for-the-planet-is-good-for-business/#22150f113201
Video on 12 Cheap & Easy Tips for Reducing Your Waste https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9ojpJBSTw8
Sustainable Development Report of The United States 2018 https://www.sdgusa.org/uploads/SDGreport2018.pdf
- The most recent change is cutting out single-use plastics. In your opinion, how far are we in avoiding the use of plastic in Europe?
- Keep a diary for a day, and note down how many single-use plastic products you use.
- Brainstorm with a partner. In your opinion, what are the most recent sustainability changes in Germany?
- What are some sustainability tricks you have learned from other countries (through travels, the news, friends)?
Meet the Morgans How one American family is going green
In Going Green, you come across different cases of sustainable lifestyles on both sides of the Atlantic. And in times of globalization—easy mobility between nations, expanding trade relations, communication through social media in real-time—we're led to believe that we already know exactly what life in another country looks like. But is that really so? Luckily, Lea Meimerstorf was able to visit and interview a family of six from western Pennsylvania during the past few weeks and she got an interesting glimpse into their daily life. The Morgans welcome us into their home and along their daily routines. Over the next couple of weeks, we are going to explore what steps this American family takes—or doesn't take—to go green, including the areas of housing, transportation, food, shopping, and more. What do you do to go green? And how do your family's efforts compare to those of the Morgans? Stay tuned and find out in this mini-series.The views and opinions expressed in these interviews are not necessarily reflective of Teach About U.S.'s mission.
Lea Meimerstorf is a primary school teacher student in the 2nd Master's semester at Leuphana University Lüneburg. Her subjects are English and German. She has been supporting Teach About U.S. as a project assistant since 2019.