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Global Ideas

'Walk lightly on the earth'

Doing your bit to help the environment doesn't have to mean large-scale innovations. It can also mean making small changes in your life. Every little helps.

Tucked away in a narrow, nondescript street in Mexico's bustling capital, just around the corner from soaring modern skyscrapers, is a modest hostel with a difference. The #link:http://www.casadelosamigos.org/en/:Casa de los Amigos# provides temporary accommodation to refugees, works in the local community to combat poverty - and does its bit to protect the environment.

Established by the #link:http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/subdivisions/quakers_1.shtml:Quaker religious community# in 1956, the organization tries to "live out the values rooted in the Quaker tradition of community, equality, simplicity, integrity and stewardship of the earth," Hayley Hathaway, Casa director told DW.

"In the last few years, the Casa has really worked to reduce our ecological footprint or walk lightly on the earth, as we say," says Hathaway.

The idea of "walking lightly on the earth" has manifested itself in a number of ways for the Casa employees and the people who do stints volunteering with the organization. Initially, they started small - switching old light-bulbs for energy efficient ones, recycling and using their bicycles more often.

Leading by example

"Little by little" they switched to bigger projects, says Hathway. The Casa now has water-saving showers and toilets, and makes compost to use in its rooftop garden of native and hardy plants. More recently, they installed a solar water heater and rainwater catchment system because, as Hathaway explains, "Mexico City faces a huge water crisis and that's one way we can contribute."

A group of people looking at earth

Even small actions contribute to the bigger environmental picture

The Casa wants to lead by example, and hopes anyone who volunteers there, stays in the guesthouse or just comes to a classe or activity will get start to develop a sense of how they could be more green at home.

The organzisation takes a manifold approach to raising awareness. "We have tried to connect with some of the larger ecological movement in Mexico City by having movie nights about the water crisis, for example. Every Thursday, we have what we call Jardineros when people from the community come and learn about urban gardening," Hathaway explains.

Still, as is the case for most of us, it can sometimes be difficult for the Casa members to be good environmentalists all the time. For instance, signs in the bathroom act as a reminder to use buckets to collect water that would otherwise be wasted while waiting for your shower to heat up. But, says Hathaway laughing, they've "never been able to keep the buckets in the showers, even though it seems like it should be the easiest thing."

To try to keep up the momentum to stay green, the Casa has added a little healthy competition to the mix.

"Sometimes we do different campaigns, especially with the team that lives on the premises. We have contests about who can take the shortest showers or who can bring all their own bags to the market," says Hathway. "We always try to start with ourselves."

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