Making a conscious effort to change your day-to-day lifestyle — whether it’s eating plant-based foods, composting all your scraps, ditching plastic, or all three and then some — is an awesome thing to do for the planet. But if you want to take your environmental stewardship to a new level, one way is to share your passion with your community.
Volunteering as a means to help conserve and protect the environment has a lot of upsides. Of course, the first is that you’ll be taking care of our planet, and it badly needs a little love given the myriad ways in which we’ve become adept at destroying it. But beyond that, volunteering for a cause you care about is a great way to meet like-minded people, make friends, and pull yourself out of the blues that sometimes accompany caring a lot about something important – especially if you feel alone in your endeavors.
And then, of course, there’s the ever possible chance that you’ll learn something from the experience. Whether you’re a seasoned environmental champion or just getting started, there are people, animals, and even habitats that have a lot to teach us all.
1. WWOOF at an Eco-Conscious Farm
WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is an organization made up of a loosely connected network of host farms and volunteers in just about every country around the globe. As a WWOOF volunteer (“WWOOFer”), you’ll help a farm — usually small-scale and family-owned — by offering your labor in exchange for room and board. Host farms vary incredibly from country to country and farm to farm, but you’ll be able to look for one that meets your desires. Many adhere to the principles of permaculture, in varying degrees. Wherever you end up, you will learn something about the world’s broken food systems while meeting interesting and innovative people committed to fixing them.
2. Plant Trees with the Arbor Day Foundation
Trees are like nature’s superhero. According to the Arbor Day Foundation, trees help combat climate change, clean pollutants from the air, produce oxygen, reduce pollution caused by water runoff, prevent soil erosion, provide vital wildlife habitats, save us energy by providing cooling and shade, and even reduce violence in urban neighborhoods. That’s pretty incredible. Get involved in the tree-planting movement by organizing a tree-planting party (here’s a great guide on how to plant trees properly), or see if your city or town is already part of Arbor Day’s Tree City USA network and, if so, help strengthen the movement.
3. Become a Volunteer Trekking Guide
Sound too good to be true? We thought so too, at first. But turns out there are plenty of organizations, all over the world, that seek volunteer tour guides to lead eco-conscious expeditions through beautiful natural landscapes. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast with experience in things like first aid and backpacking safety, this may be your dream adventure. So how does this help the environment? In addition to showcasing the natural beauty of a nature haven, non-profit eco-tour organizations use the money they make from eco-tourism treks to pay for environmental education programs, advocacy, or land restoration in their community. Some organizations to check out: Sonati Tours in Nicaragua, Condor Trekkers in Bolivia, and the American Hiking Society right here in the USA.
4. Help Out on an Urban Farm
If you live in a city, spending some time helping out on an urban farm can be a wonderful way to get the nature fix you need. Most accept individuals or groups, for a one-time gig or on a regular basis. You’ll do anything from planting, weeding, and pruning to greeting visitors or selling fresh produce at a farmer’s market. Non-profit community farms often focus their efforts on educating communities about food systems and nutritious diets, sustainable farming practices, and giving back to the community. As such, they’ll often sponsor educational programs for at-risk youth and donate fresh, nutritious food to low-income families.
5. Find a Local River Cleanup
While this might not seem like the most innovative way to bring about environmental change, it’s one of the most rewarding. Since there are no government agencies regularly responsible for cleaning trash from a river, it will usually only happen if a community gets involved. Removing trash can make a river safer for wildlife and humans and improve water quality while protecting aquatic habitats. According to the EPA, as many as 2 million seabirds are killed every year due to debris ingestion and entanglement. Another 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from the same cause. While ultimately preventing pollution in the first place is a better solution, most of us don’t want to sit around and wait while our waterways become trash pits. You can join a locally-sponsored cleanup or find a National River Cleanup through American Rivers. Or look for your local Riverkeeper chapter and sign up!
6. Work with an Advocacy Organization
Environmental advocacy organizations develop and lobby for laws and policies that protect the environment on federal, state, and local levels. Ultimately, policies, such as the Clean Water Act or the Endangered Species Act, as well as successful efforts to change the behavior of companies and individuals have some of greatest impacts on the future health of the environment. Volunteering for an advocacy organization can take many, many forms depending on your skills and interests. You might canvas on the streets, organize events, help draft policy, write letters to the editor, promote the organization’s campaigns on social media, work on a documentary, or design a website. Some national-level advocacy organizations with lots of volunteer opportunities are Sierra Club, National Audobon Society, Greenpeace USA, and The Nature Conservancy.
7. Teach a Class on Your Eco-Friendliest Talent
Are you an amateur plant-based chef with a lot of experience? Do you know how to transform an old t-shirt into a trendy new addition to your wardrobe? Maybe you’re a master mixer of DIY beauty products? If you have an eco-friendly talent, the best thing you can do is share it with the world! Community education centers are always looking for teachers — especially volunteer teachers — to teach classes and expand their course offerings. If that sounds like too much commitment, or you’re worried about your teaching abilities, start small with a group of friends, coworkers, or a campus club.
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