As we get settled into a new year, you may be looking for activities that help improve yourself and your surroundings. Volunteering is a great way to give back to the earth. In an age where environmental loss seems just around the corner, showing the planet some love can make a huge difference.
1. Plant a tree
Trees are the superheroes of conservation: they clean our air and water, reduce the effects of climate change, and protect vulnerable wildlife populations. Take care of the earth by planting a tree with the Arbor Day Foundation. If you become a member, you’ll receive 10 free trees to plant in your own community. The Arbor Day Foundation also hosts local planting projects in parks and forests across the country.
2. Keep our oceans clean
America’s waterways are some of the most at-risk environments when it comes to conservation. Trash and plastic waste are killing marine wildlife, destroying habitats, and polluting some of the country’s most scenic views. If you live near the coast, the Ocean Conservancy hosts an International Coastal Cleanup where millions of volunteers have already cleared 220 million tons of trash from shorelines. You can still join in if you don’t live near an ocean. Trash cleanups are necessary along rivers and lakes, as well.
3. Grow local
Got a green thumb? Get involved with your local community garden. Community gardens help bring green spaces to urban areas, make neighborhoods more beautiful, and build strong relationships as members work together with a shared goal. Urban farms give communities access to affordable, healthy food, and many also have programs for at-risk youth. Local food-growing projects are a great model for sustainability on a larger scale.
4. Learn the laws of the land
Advocacy groups like the Sierra Club, the Audubon Society, and the Natural Resource Defense Council protect our rights to clean air and water by advocating for environmentally friendly policy. Legislation like the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air Act is the result of hard work put in by these organizations. They partner with scientists, researchers, and businesses to build their campaigns, and they can always use volunteers at the local level.
5. Think big for a better future
If you’ve found a cause that you’re passionate about, don’t be afraid to think big! You can join organizations that use direct action to protect clean air and water, campaign for renewable energy, or support those who are harmed the most by environmental damage. You don’t have to be on the front lines to help out causes you believe in. Skills like photography, graphic design, journalism, and social media outreach are valuable to all organizations. Local grassroots projects are often understaffed and underfunded, so simply volunteering your time to help with basic tasks—like making posters or scheduling meetings—can be a huge help.
6. Dive into a new experience
If you’re up for an adventure, Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is an organization that lets you travel to eco-conscious farms around the world. While you’re there, you work for local farmers in exchange for room and board. This program allows participants to share cultures, farming practices, and environmental knowledge for the benefit of a sustainable community—with the added benefit of choosing your destination and fulfilling your travel dreams. This experience isn’t for everyone, but it’s great for students, recent graduates, and anyone who can take a little time off between jobs.
Volunteering helps us embrace all the things the planet has to teach us. If you spend time caring for the earth, these volunteer experiences are likely to give just as much back to you.