07/31/2007 11:06 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Not a Green Day at the Beach

There are days when I feel optimistic about the ability of the American people to deal with our environmental problems (they're buying organic food and hybrids!) and then there are days like today.

I'm in Bethany Beach, Delaware, on a working vacation, if there is such a thing. Today was a 70-something, cloudy, drizzly day, not suited for the beach, so my brother Noel and I packed lunch and set out on a bike ride. (Don't worry, this post will get around to corporate America and its impact before long.) Here are three things we came across...

Air conditioning turned down to freezing. In the Giant supermarket, in the Wawa convenience store and, worst of all, in a small museum inside the Delaware Seashore State Park, where they should know better, the AC was turned way, way down. Here's a situation where it is presumably in a business's interest to save money by not blasting cold air all day and night. (The Giant is open 24/7.) But everywhere you go here, every on a 70 degree day, it's really cold! Why? Could it be that customers want it that way? Gosh, I hope not...

A mass transit system not worthy of its name. We rode our bikes north to Rehoboth on Route 1, a coastal road, figuring that if the rain came down too hard or we got tired, we could return by bus. We'd seen signs around here promoting DART, the Delaware area transit system, (It's High Tide You Ride!). Given that the ratio of oversized SUVs to cars out here is about 3 - 1, I thought it might be interesting to try the bus. My first disappointment came when I found a schedule. A bus back would take us back to Bethany at 3:17 p.m. --or we could wait for the next one at 5:37 p.m. Frequency of service is clearly not the selling point of DART, but the fare was only $1 and the schedule said that "all vehicles have bike racks." Cool. And, when the bus pulled up at our stop at about 3:30, it did have a bike rack -- with room for two bikes, both firmly locked in. Could we take our bikes onto the bus? No, the driver informed us cheerfully, "they won't let us do that." We ended up riding back, a total of 40 miles, 12 more than planned, which is good for my health and my carbon footprint. But that's the last time I try to ride on DART.

Litter. OK, that's nothing new. But along Route 1, we literally (no pun intended) passed a beer can, soda can, water bottle, empty bag of chips or cardboard coffee cup every few feet. Hundreds and hundreds of them. Why? What is it that leads someone to roll down their car window (because we know they are running AC) and toss trash onto the side of the road in a coastal area that is environmentally sensitive? Is it really all that difficult to toss a beer can into the back seat, and then throw it away (or recycle it?) at home? My friend Kate Krebs runs the National Recycling Coalition, and she's working very hard to find ways to persuade more people to recycle. We all need her to succeed. But how are we going to persuade people to recycle when they won't even throw their own trash in the trash?

OK, I'm ranting here. But to deal with global warming, as well as other environmental issues, we're all going to have to learn to live smarter, to conserve energy and resources, to recycle and the like. Who's going to deliver that message to consumers?

Maybe big business. Although I wrote skeptically last week about GE's new Earth Rewards credit card, it could well serve an educational purpose, if only as a conversation starter. (Like the Prius, it's a very public statement about green cred.) Stonyfield Yogurt and its CEO, Gary Hirschberg, are trying to teach people about global warming with their Climate Counts program (and the messages on their yogurt caps). Home Depot and Wal-Mart, too, are recasting themselves as green.

Corporate responsibility all well and good, but until we learn to take individual responsibility for our actions, it's not going to take us where we need to go.

This post first appeared here.