How To Keep Your Cool With Eco-Offenders

By Craig and Marc Kielburger

Your next door neighbour is watering the sidewalk. Again. As the precious resource evaporates under the summer sun, the steam rising from the pavement matches the steam coming out your ears.

For many of us, poorly-aimed lawn sprinklers are an environmental pet peeve.

Drought shaming became a popular pastime in California last summer after restrictions, campaigns and written notices failed to curb water usage among residents during a prolonged drought.

Snitching became an outlet for frustrated citizens. Photos appeared online of sprinklers on lush grass (and sidewalks) and people washing cars, with the hashtag #droughtshaming. High-profile offenders included celebrities in gated communities with lush, manicured gardens and enormous swimming pools.

It's fine to shame the Kardashians online -- if you're lucky, you'll never meet one. It's another thing to approach your friends, family or neighbours when you feel compelled to say something about their real-world wasteful ways.

How do you tell someone to stop idling their car and not induce road rage?

Here are a few environmentally bad habits we've all observed (perhaps even been guilty of) and tips on how to step in.

1. Idle cars

Neighbours are packing for a camping trip while their car rumbles away in the driveway.

The woman next door probably thinks she's saving on gas while her husband and kids run back for the sunscreen. Many people still believe idling is fuel efficient, but any more than 10 seconds burns more fuel and releases more CO2 than it takes to restart the car.

Tip: Approach your local idler with: "Have you seen the prices at the pump?" Mention that, if you reduce your idling by just 10 minutes a day, you'll save 8.9 gallons of gas a year.

2. Mailbox full

Your friend subscribes to so many store flyers, they get more junk mail than actual mail. Weekly sale items blow down the street like colourful tumbleweeds.

Tip: Suggest the avid coupon clipper switch to online offers that they can scan from smartphones at checkout. Groupon or another daily deal site could be shared among friends or neighbours for eco-friendly savings. Some junk mail is unsolicited, without an address. This should stop if you post a "NO FLYERS" note on your mailbox.

3. Cold conspiracy

It's the dead of summer, but there's a cold front coming in from the ceiling. It's bad enough that you're shivering at your desk -- now the eager office air conditioner is destroying your daydreams of lying on a beach.

Besides wasting money and energy on electricity, cold cubicles deplete human power.

There are psychological and physical tolls to working in the cold. Studies show that people make more mistakes and focus less in colder temperatures, but work harder and are more engaged when temperatures are comfortable.

Tip: Tell your boss (or whomever controls the thermostat) that employees would take fewer sick days if your office was just a few degrees warmer.

4. Plastic baggage

Single-use plastic bags are a plague on the planet. They take huge amounts of energy to manufacture, they don't biodegrade (nothing biodegrades in landfills, but plastic bags break down into toxins), and many end up in oceans and waterways, threatening sea life. Still, your dear friend has a bottomless drawer full of them, and no plans to stop using the eco culprits.

Tip: If you're like us, you've probably accumulated more than enough eco-friendly cloth bags. Bring a few extra next time you visit. You can casually say, "I brought you this stylish canvas tote, and now you won't have to pay for the plastic ones." If that approach doesn't work, slyly put the tote in the trunk of their car for their next grocery run.

When it comes to eco-offenders, there's no reason to resort to heated arguments. August is hot enough as it is.

Craig and Marc Kielburger are the co-founders of the WE movement, which includes WE Charity, ME to WE Social Enterprise and WE Day.