How can an individual help the environment? Of course, there are many ways, from recycling to tree planting; but to really make your impact count, help an environmental group.
Maryland has them in all sizes and flavors: from chapters of national groups like the Audubon Society, to the 85,000-member Chesapeake Bay Foundation, to neighborhood groups like the Bay Ridge Trust south of Annapolis.
Their aims range from resuscitating urban stream valleys (Anacostia Watershed Society) to sustaining waterfowl (Chesapeake Wildlife Heritage) to helping trout (Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout-Unlimited).
Love unspoiled ocean beaches? The Committee to Preserve Assateague is why we still have some. Development threatening your local creek? Maryland Save Our Streams can help.
How to keep the family farm in farming? Call the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy.
This fall, for the first time, many Marylanders will have a simple and relatively painless way to help any or all of the above.
They are among 19 groups that several months ago formed the Environmental Fund for Maryland.
The Fund is running an October-to-December payroll-deduction campaign in workplaces, much like the United Way, which traditionally has not included environmental groups among its charities.
Noelle Richmond, a Chesapeake Bay Foundation official and one of the Fund's organizers, calls this fall "a start . . . we're just trying to build name recognition."
Still, she thinks the campaign has the potential to reach half a million employees and raise, she hopes, $100,000.
In other states, says Ms. Richmond, environmental funds began to appear in the mid-1980s, as private and corporate donations for the environment began to decline.
Maryland's is the 17th such campaign. Some of the more established ones, such as California's, are now raising more than $2 million annually.
The Environmental Fund for Maryland this year is limited mostly to federal and state government offices, which are more open than the private sector to campaigns other than the giant United Way.
But real success in the long run, Ms. Richmond acknowledges, will come from gaining entry to the state's big, private employers.
It won't be a simple matter. One reason some of the country's United Way campaigns have shied away from including environmental groups is concern about offending big contributors in the oil, timber and mining industries, who sometimes get sued by said groups.
And in Maryland, the state Chamber of Commerce's newsletter in August carried a cautionary interview on the new Environmental Fund with Elizabeth Bauereis, BG&E;'s director of environmental programs.
The interview called the Fund, and other alternatives to United Way, "the wave of the future," but warned chamber members that some of the state's environmental groups "view litigation and regulation of business and industry as the primary way to meet environmental goals."
You might wonder to what extent the new environmental workplace campaigns may undermine giving to United Way -- which could be greener but still benefits many of the nation's worthiest causes.
Fortunately, the evidence so far is that multiple campaigns tend to expand the total pot of contributions, rather than siphoning off money from the United Way.
Studies by Yale University and by the Washington-based Committee for Responsive Philanthropy have shown that total giving increases in the overwhelming majority of workplaces.
And, in the majority of places studied, including large corporations, big banks and metropolitan county governments, United Way maintained its annual rate of increased contributions, the studies show.
Pressure from workers is another interesting development; companies increasingly are opening up to environmental funds because employees are demanding a green alternative.
Some firms that have said yes: J. P. Morgan, Anheuser-Busch, Nike, IBM, AT&T;, Hewlett-Packard and Wells Fargo.
Workers, they say, appreciate having the choice.
In some areas, like Rhode Island and New Mexico, even the United Way campaigns are considering giving some of their take to environmental groups.
The way the Environmental Fund for Maryland works is pretty straightforward. All proceeds are split equally, with each of the current groups getting one-nineteenth, regardless of size.
Employees can designate all their money for a specific member of the Fund. But in Maryland, virtually anything done to preserve environmental quality helps our most important natural resource, the Chesapeake Bay, since nearly all the state is in its drainage basin.
To participate, environmental groups pay $2,000, or $1,000 if their annual budgets are less than $100,000 (about half the current groups are in the latter category).
Each group also agrees to contribute more than a hundred hours of volunteer time toward organizing the campaign. Ms. Richmond says the Fund hopes to add more groups as it gains recognition.
She says there are many advantages to making the Fund grow, including access to workplaces that not even the largest environmental group could reach on its own, and a stable source of income through monthly payroll deductions.
"What's been especially good is that [forming the Fund] has been a collegial process among groups that may share the same goals, but don't always see eye to eye when it comes to competing for money," says Ms. Richmond.
So this fall, remember the United Way, which helps a lot of people; but remember that it doesn't include the outfits that work so effectively to help the planet, which sustains us all.
And if the Environmental Fund for Maryland is not in your workplace, ask that it be included next fall.