Dear Umbra,

I am a teenager and so I live with my parents. We recycle paper and some other products (mostly milk containers), but I don’t think our house as a whole is very eco-friendly. Since I’m not in charge, I can’t really go out and buy new appliances or anything like that. Should I try to convince my parents to do things like switch the type of light bulb we use, or are there other things I can do to help without overstepping my authority?


Liberty, Mo.

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Dearest Lindsay,

Whatever you do to improve the eco-friendliness of the house, it will probably cost a little money, which will probably need to come from your parents. But, if money is available, time is the main barrier to eco-izing a home. Weather-stripping is easy, but boring. Who wants to spend a weekend pressing caulk into tiny cracks? Here’s where a little teen enthusiasm and willingness to work can be substituted for a lot of authority. I bet your folks would be bowled over if you expressed an interest in weather-stripping those windows.

Your biggest challenge will be proving your ability to commit and follow through, which teenagers are not renowned for, to put it delicately. I suggest you think of yourself as a project manager and your parents as a potential funding source. To add an air of legitimacy to your plans, schemes, and dreams, you need to create a clear, feasible, and worthy project proposal, and then approach your folks as funders.

Start small. Pick something that will be affordable and quickly implemented. Light bulbs, composting, caulking, setting up an easy-to-use recycling system — all these things would be good first steps. A little research will help you impress your parents with your knowledge and convince them that you mean business. Any good project pitch educates the audience about the perceived problem (for example, paying garbage fees for food that can easily be kept out of the waste stream) and the potential solution (composting systems). You might be able to come up with a cost/benefit analysis: Compact fluorescent bulbs are expensive, but pay for themselves easily through reduced electricity costs.

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Suggest yourself as the best person for the job by being prepared with a materials list, timeline, and measurable outcomes. The pitch might be: “I’ll replace the six bulbs in my bedroom and the living room by March 25 and our April electric bill will be lower.” (The electric bill would be the measurable outcome.) After you have pitched the idea and gotten whatever funding is necessary, stick to your planned timeline. Nothing impresses funders like promises delivered in a timely manner. In other words, if you bail on the plan and go bowling instead, your borrowed authority will go down the toilet.

After winning the confidence of your family on simple projects, it’ll be easier to sell them on more advanced ones. Not to mention that you might see some nice extra perks from your added credibility and responsibility around the household — you know, curfew, car keys, candy, etc.

Very truly yours,

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