The Journey of a Lifetime

My daughter lives in Auckland, New Zealand and I live in St. Louis, Missouri.  For those of you who are curious, that is a nearly 8,000-mile flight. I’m not sharing this fact as a mother who is sad her daughter misses family events and Sunday dinner get-togethers.  My husband, my youngest son, and I recently traveled to New Zealand to experience her world and see her in action…and it was amazing!

The culture.  The scenery.  The food.  The ambiance.  Totally a different space than what I’m used to.

Auckland is 19 hours ahead of St. Louis, so we celebrated New Year’s Eve before almost everyone else in the world.  Keep in mind we visited during our winter which is their summer.  The sun’s warmth felt fabulous compared to our typically rough Midwestern winter.

During our visit, the extensive fires in Australia had just begun.  On one of our last days in New Zealand, the entire sky turned a hazy yellowish-orange color, making me feel the intense fear that so many were experiencing only 1,300 miles away.  The smoke infiltrated its way into our lives and filled me with such compassion for these beautiful countries.  How would they ever recover from the devastation?

The Journey of a Lifetime 

My overall takeaway of our trip is pretty simple to define:  Our countries are very similar (wildfires are prevalent in the western U.S.) and yet extremely different.  New Zealand stands in stark comparison to our supersized American world.  Smaller coffee cups.  Smaller food portions.  Less waste.

As a visitor to this beautiful country, I noticed a common theme that every single action had an appropriate reaction.  These Kiwis were more considerate of their surroundings and truly appreciated their limited resources.  While I was there, I became much more respectful of our world…and I felt really good about my actions.

My daughter works at a huge retail company that is totally committed to reducing its carbon footprint, as well as promoting reusable bags at its more than 250 stores.  Her organization encourages less waste and more recycling.  It is the definition of sustainability and community.

It got me thinking about my daily life in St. Louis.  My world consists of plastic cups, plastic soda bottles, plastic utensils, plastic tablecloths…you get the picture.  How wasteful!  I feel terrible even sharing this with you.  It made me want to learn ways to become more eco-friendly and kinder to our earth.

A Global Reaction

This April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a unified response to environmental crises including oil spills, smog, and waterway pollution.  The first Earth Day in 1970 marked the passage of U.S. landmark environmental laws—The Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts—that many countries emulated.  Since then, the U.S. has rolled back these historic laws and many others pertaining to environmental rules.  This makes me sad because it seems lately we are moving backwards instead of going forward in protecting our planet.

Earth Day’s theme for this past April’s event was themed “Climate Action”.  In my mind, every day should be Earth Day and, with everyone’s support, it can be.

More R’s = Healthier World

Even the original Three R’s of Sustainability (reduce, reuse and recycle) have grown to encompass more options (refuse, rethink and repair) and even more choices (respect, remove, and rejuvenate) we need to consider in our quest to better control our lifestyles and our resources.  We are definitely trying…but is it enough?

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bases sustainability on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  In order to achieve sustainability, humans and nature must co-exist to support current and future generations.

Plastic Pollution

The problem:

According to the Plastic Pollution Coalition (, “plastic is a substance the earth cannot digest.”  This global alliance works toward a world free of plastic pollution and its toxic impacts on humans, animals, waterways, oceans, and the environment.  Its findings are staggering!

The numbers:

  • Americans alone discard more than 30 million tons of plastic a year with only 8 percent getting recycled. The rest ends up in landfills or becomes “litter”, and a small portion is incinerated.
  • Entanglement, ingestion and habitat disruption all result from plastic ending up in the spaces where animals live. In our oceans alone, plastic debris outweighs zooplankton by a ratio of 36-to-1.

The solution:

Mimic places like New York City where Mayor Bill de Blasio issued an executive order to end “unnecessary single-use plastic bottles” which prohibits city agencies—including food vendors on city sidewalks, parks, and sports facilities—from purchasing water, soda or other beverages in single-use plastic bottles and restricts the sale of plastic bottles on city property.  NYC government previously cut plastic straws and cutlery from every city location including schools and hospitals.  This is a small step forward that can have a huge impact on other cities and communities.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The problem:

Households’ carbon footprints continue to grow.  While we produce greenhouse gas emissions in everything we do—from burning gas when we drive to using electricity in our homes—we still can do better with our type of car and more efficient home furnaces.

The numbers:

Based on 2010 EPA data, the top four economic activities that lead to greenhouse gas emissions are electricity and heat production (25%); industry (21%) primarily involved with fossil fuels burned on-site at facilities for energy; agriculture, forestry and other land use (24%) for the cultivation of crops and livestock, as well as deforestation; and transportation (14%) for fossil fuels burned for road, rail, air, and marine transportation.  Keep in mind almost all (95%) of the world’s transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels, which are largely gasoline and diesel.

The solution:

Estimate (and then reduce) your carbon footprint with EPA’s calculator at  Visit to use its fuel savings calculator, as well as learn more about more eco-friendly alternatives to your type of automobile.  It’s easy to calculate, and the results speak volumes.

Simple Takeaways

By adopting a more sustainable lifestyle, we as individuals can do—and be—better than ever before.

Do more of this:

Walk.  Plant.  Recycle.  Unplug devices.  Compost.  Donate.  Advocate for the environment.  Eat local.  Borrow or fix.   Lower your thermostat.  Buy products with less packaging.

Do less of this:

Pollute.  Litter.  Straws.  Takeout containers.  Plastic bags.  Single-use items.  Water usage.  Chemicals.  Electronic (e-waste).  Paper.  Drive.

Changing My World

Since returning from our trip to New Zealand, I am doing my best to remember the finiteness of our world.  I purchased cloth napkins to use both on a daily basis and at our Sunday dinners.  I now bring a refillable water bottle to the gym every morning.  And I absolutely am more conscientious about my actions, both large and small, and how I impact the world.

What are you doing to make our world a better place?  I’d love to hear!


Rochelle Brandvein
Rochelle Brandvein
Rochelle is the owner of Brandvein-Aaranson Public Relations, a 30-year-old PR agency that shifted to solely handling nonprofits and companies with a philanthropic arm or foundation. She is a contributing writer for the bi-monthly publication Lead Up for Women, where her “A Pivotal Space” column focuses on nonprofits and their amazing work. Rochelle loves her family, her business, and—most definitely—a good piece of chocolate.

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  1. Climate change is a priority for everyone and each of us can act on the climate.
    By taking small measures at home (reducing and recycling waste, limiting the use of “disposable” items as much as possible, not overheating the water, taking care and improving insulation, purchasing energy efficient appliances, etc.) you can save energy and money and help protect the climate by reducing emissions.