The Power of Choice

We warmly welcome John Lanier, Executive Director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, as he discusses in this guest editorial the power of choice, consideration for the choices we make, and how our decisions affect those around us. 

— Pete Krull

Recently, I’ve been thinking about choice.

We have more choices than we realize. First, there are the obvious ones we are capable of making:

  • What should I wear for the day?
  • What strikes my fancy on the menu this evening?
  • Do I swipe left or right?

Those are all the “what” choices of our lives. They are conscious decisions that have observable results and consequences. However, what we decide to do is not the only thing that matters. The “how” is equally important, if not more so.

How do you comfort someone who has just lost a loved one? How patient are you with your children when they ask the same question for the fortieth time? How sincere are you when you congratulate the person who received the promotion you wanted?

Frequently, these choices don’t feel like we have control over them. Too often, we simply call them “emotional reactions” and take them as a given. I think we sell ourselves short when we dismiss these choices so easily. We can choose to be kind, generous, brave, resilient and moral. Those decisions are hard or easy depending on our circumstances and our personality, but they are still our choices.

Every day, I make a choice about how to do my job, a job that I love dearly and for which I am so grateful. I am the executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, a private family foundation that is committed to advancing the legacy of our namesake. Ray was the founder of Interface, Inc., the world’s largest carpet tile manufacturer, and he was committed to making his business as environmentally sustainable as possible until his passing in 2011.  He was my grandfather, and I hope to honor him by supporting environmental initiatives with grants from the estate he left to this Foundation.

Simply put, I have the responsibility to give large sums of money to certain organizations, as well as the responsibility to decline grant requests from other organizations that don’t align with our priorities.

I’m very aware that a lot is at stake. Our grants fund important work and employ passionate, committed individuals. The grants we don’t make might very well mean that other important work can’t be pursued by equally passionate, committed individuals.

Who am I to be worthy of making those decisions? I didn’t earn the dollars that we give away. They came from my grandfather’s hard work and dedication. How could I possibly earn the right to be a philanthropist in this way?

The short answer is that I can’t earn it. Rather, this work of carrying on my grandfather’s legacy is a gift, and how I receive that gift is reflected in how I do my job and the choices I make.

I strive to be humble. I never stop learning about the environmental challenges and opportunities that our societies face. I embrace a spirit of gratitude, because our Foundation doesn’t do the work of enriching our natural systems. Rather, our partners do that work, and they do it so very well.

I am not entitled to do this work. This work has been entrusted to me. I accept it willingly, but with the understanding that I have an immense responsibility to be a good steward of that which is not mine. I hope that how I do this work makes my family and my grandfather proud.

John Anderson Lanier is the Executive Director of The Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

Lanier’s passion for environmental stewardship was sparked by Ray’s example and story, and he never tires of sharing this story with others. Lanier currently serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Southface, the southeast’s nonprofit leader in the promotion of sustainable homes, workplaces and communities through education, research, advocacy and technical assistance. He also serves on the Board of Directors for Project Drawdown and Chattahoochee NOW. Finally, he serves on the Committee for Service and Spirituality for the Marist School Alumni Association in Atlanta. Learn more about the Ray C. Anderson Foundation here.


Plastic Reduction for the Already Savvy Environmentalist

Every day, millions of Americans do it, teach their children about it, and quite possibly think they’re doing enough of it. It’s plastic reduction, and the truth is, there’s more we could be doing. Right now, the biggest plastic-waste landfill is not on land. It’s in the Pacific Ocean, and it’s estimated to be the size of Texas or bigger.

Toting our recycle buckets to the curb on trash pick up day isn’t enough. We have to keep renovating what the word recycling means. Here are a variety of ways to expand our plastic reduction efforts beyond water bottle recycling.

Take your own bags to the store

With up to 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags used annually worldwide, combined with the fact most recycling programs do not consider them acceptable recyclables, plastic bags are the number one villain in the plastics reduction fight. There’s no good way to safely dispose of them. Solution? Don’t use them. Stores have been selling cloth alternatives for years, for as little as a dollar each. But don’t stop with the bags at the checkout counter; most of us put our produce in plastic bags without thinking about it. These are thinner and break into smaller microplastics faster, but they still do not biodegrade.

Familiarize yourself with what kinds of plastic are recyclable

Most recycling centers accept plastic Nos 1, 2, and 5, which make up water bottles and leftovers containers. Plastic Nos 3, 4, and 6 are moderately recyclable, like disposable cups and shower curtains. This leaves plastic No 7, a mishmash of different types of plastic nearly impossible to recycle. Total avoidance of 7 and careful usage of the others according to their recyclability can help.

Make liberal use of bulk bins

Purchasing items like cereal, rice, pasta, nuts, coffee, beans and even dried fruits limits the amount of packaging you’re taking home. Many stores have various methods of deducting the container weight, so you can often bring in your own bags to transport your bulk items home.

Plastics are in things you’d have never considered

Did you know chewing gum contains plastic? Gum started out as a tree sap known as chicle, but scientists in the mid-century began to replace it with synthetics. There are places that will recycle your gum, but perhaps it’s better to avoid it—and the plastic packaging it comes in—altogether. Face washes and scrubs and toothpastes also contain little beads of plastic, added as exfoliators. Wastewater plants aren’t equipped to filter them out, so they end up in our water supply. There are sustainable alternatives, however, so check ingredients lists on the products and avoid the ones with polypropylene and polyethylene.

Bring your own thermos or refillable bottle and straw

Most paper cups are coated in a layer of plastic intended to preserve the cup for the time it takes to consume the drink, so while you think you’re drinking green, you’re not. Not to mention the lids and stirrers people think nothing of discarding. Bringing your own thermos eliminates this problem, and asking your waiter or waitress at a restaurant to skip the straw is usually no skin off their nose.

Recycle electronics responsibly

We all love getting a new camera or laptop or TV, but what do we do with the one we’re replacing? It depends on how functional it still is, but if it’s broken, take the time to find a responsible electronics recycler who’s just as concerned about the environment as you are.

It’s easy to reduce plastic use on a regular basis with a little practice. Ensure good habits and encourage your family, children, and friends to do the same.

How to Minimize Your Environmental Impact While Flying

As you begin to plan your trips for the new year, rethink the way you fly. While flying can save you hours of travel, planes are the worst modes of transportation when it comes to CO2 emissions. Additionally, the manufacturing, processing and fuel transportation associated with mass flights has a negative impact on the environment. Liquid fuels such as oil or petroleum make up 36% of total carbon emissions. Here are five ways you can lessen your carbon emissions and still enjoy your trip.

Go for the direct flight.

Cut out the connecting flights whenever possible. The myth is that direct flights are more expensive, but it can actually be lighter on the wallet, depending on when you book your ticket. Reducing the number of flight connections will reduce fuel usage and manufacturing impact.

Fly during the day.

Rise and shine, travelers! Flying during the day is better for the environment, so book your travel to fly from dawn to dusk if possible. Contrails caused by your plane will reflect some sunlight away from the Earth in addition to securing warmth in the atmosphere. Contrails add to the greenhouse effect, according to researchers. This happens more at night.

Pack light.

Try a carry-on backpack that extends into an overnight bag, or one suitcase. The more baggage you bring, the more baggage the plane has to accommodate which can burn more fuel and thus more carbon emissions. Why? Because the heavier a plane is, the longer it takes to land and take off. An average of 50% of TOTAL carbon emissions come from takeoff and landing!

Buy carbon offsets

Purchasing carbon offsets ahead of time (or after) is another way to take the extra step toward conscious travel and making a difference in the environment. Carbon offset credits are purchased by you through an organization or third-party who has researched, selected, and verified a variety of renewable energy projects where your carbon emissions will be “offset” by these other projects elsewhere. So while you’re flying from North Carolina to California, you can rest assured that your carbon emissions from your flight will be offset by a project such as a hydroelectric grid plant in another state. Check out Carbonfund or TerraPass as two of many third-party organizations that offer carbon offset purchase options.

Take a train instead.

Another scenic route option is to take a train instead of flying. Trains are about 70% more efficient than planes when it comes to environmental impact. For short trips, this can be cost-effective, too.

With a little planning and your new know-how, you can fly in style and help the environment at the same time.