What is an environmental steward? According to NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), an environmental steward is someone who practices responsible use and protection of the natural environment for the enhancement of ecosystem resilience and well-being through sustainable actions and practices.
NOAA has also compiled a list of different types of stewardship including: restoration and protection, everyday choices, community awareness, civic action, and stewardship science. All of these are achievable actions in which anyone can participate and to varying degrees.
The first part of being a steward is aiding in the restoration and protection of ecosystems that have been destroyed by human impact and further, creating a space where the ecosystem can grow with little influence. You can do this by volunteering to remove invasive species and creating rainwater gardens to collect excess stormwater. Restoration and protection can also be practiced by the ‘leave no trace’ method. This means not littering, picking up trash when you see it, and staying along the intended path. The importance of aiding in restoration and protection of ecosystems is often overlooked, as people do not see it as an “easy” thing for one person to do, but there are many organizations that work to get individuals involved in these initiatives. Here in Coastal Virginia, some of the groups you can volunteer with are Lynnhaven River Now, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Oceana, The Nature Conservancy, Back Bay Restoration Foundation, Friends of Indian River, Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge Society, and so many more.
The second part of being a steward involves making deliberate choices everyday with the environment in mind. There are many small actions that can be taken to make a meaningful impact. Simply, by switching to recycling and not throwing away everything, makes a world of difference. You can make conscious choices like bringing your own reusable containers to restaurants for your leftovers, which will cut down on the amount of single-use plastic of consumption. Making these conscious choices will not only cut down on your personal consumption levels, but will put you well on your way to becoming an environmental steward. Check out this comprehensive guide provided by the EPA entitled Everyday Choices: Opportunities for Environmental Stewardship that provides a variety of ways that you can change your everyday lifestyle for the betterment of all.
The third part of being a steward includes involving your community and making them aware of your efforts. These issues do not only affect you, but also your community! By demonstrating how the issues will affect others, more people are likely to get involved. You could put up signs, host community events and fundraisers to talk about the issues. Community engagement can also be often overlooked, but your community can often provide the most ardent of environmental supporters.
The fourth part of being a steward involves speaking out and showing others why these issues matter through civic action. This is one of the least used forms of stewardship, but it can be very influential. A few examples include, starting a letter-writing campaign or petition to your legislators, voting for people who support thoughtful environmental policies, and getting involved in your local politics. This is regarded as a difficult part of environmental stewardship because it often requires the most amount of effort, but this is work that needs to be done in order to see a change.
The fifth part of being a steward is creating a stewardship science educational component of every initiative. This could involve starting a data system that houses ecosystem data for scientists to measure and monitor its conditions. Another way to do this is by continuing education of environmental science and upkeep; continuous education allows people to get involved and always be knowledgeable about the most up-to-date information.
These actions can all lead to environmental stewardship, but it does not stop there. People are coming up with innovative ways to better the environment every day. All people can be stewards of the environment and change the way that the Earth is being handled. By coming together on important issues that affect all our livelihoods such as climate change and using environmental stewardship principles, the Earth can begin to heal.
Get involved and talk to people about these initiatives! The only way we can make the environment better is by coming together, despite all differences, and making a commitment to doing better.