According to the online Merriam-Webster student dictionary, environmentalism is “the act or process of preserving, restoring, or improving the natural environment.” While many throughout the years have tagged America as the “the land of plenty,” its citizens have become increasingly aware that the natural resources of this vast country will indeed run out if not controlled and regulated carefully. The natural beauty and comfort of this nation will change (and already has) if its residents don’t make changes in their interaction with it.

Environmentalists and conservationists seek to discover and establish ways to keep Americans from abusing and overusing some of the very things that make this country appealing. While progress, technology and development have all contributed significantly to making the U.S. the world power that it has become, they have also seriously drained and strained its assets and strengths.

You will probably hear some form of the term “going green” during your stay in America. This expression refers to the attempts people and companies make to conserve natural resources and make lifestyle choices for the safety and benefit of the environment. It includes a move toward sustainable living, using environmentally friendly products and recycling what can be refurbished or reused.

Sustainable living refers to limiting the use of natural resources and increasing self-sufficiency by making changes to things like modes of transportation, diet and energy use. “Green” products minimize the effect of our lifestyles on the environment around us, including purchasing items made from recycled materials, selecting non-toxic products/cleaners, and choosing organic foods.

Different groups specialize in featuring and/or conserving specific things, like trees, animals, pollution, recycling, water, etc. For example, in an effort to preserve and sustain the trees and forests still left in America, many companies have worked diligently to use less paper, converting many of their processes to electronic format.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has coined the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” to encourage citizens across the country to reduce the amount of waste they generate, as well as to reuse what they can and recycle items made from reusable materials. In a country that has become accustomed to many disposable products as a matter of convenience, American citizens have to be retrained to think environmentally and consider how they can reduce their “footprint.”

This ecological “footprint” refers to the ways that we live that will affect greenhouse gas emissions and cause climate change that will influence future generations. The methods of transportation we choose, the ways we conserve energy in our homes and businesses, the foods we eat, the materials we build with; all of these choices determine our carbon footprint. For more information about calculating and decreasing your footprint go to The Nature Conservancy site.

In this world of ever-increasing population, we humans must take responsibility for maintaining a livable and sustainable environment for future generations. Schools, states and city governments around the country have begun incorporating environmentalism and conservation into their materials and procedures to increase awareness at every level. Every small step makes a difference, whether it means separating biodegradable garbage from recyclable trash before putting it out, or taking the bus or riding a bike instead of driving a car.

Many countries have far surpassed the U.S. in their efforts to conserve and protect the environment, probably because many of them have fewer natural resources to begin with and realized their need sooner. But as Americans gradually recognize that they have taken for granted and exploited so much, the U.S. slowly moves in the right direction. More and more children grow up with the literature, examples and systems of conservation all around them, so it should become more of a routine or habit in homes and businesses going forward. Americans in general care about their environs and whether they can go to a clean beach or drink non-polluted water from the faucet. It now becomes a matter of each individual doing their part to make a difference, even when it means sacrificing “the easy way” for “the right way.”