Archive for the ‘Impact Reduction’ Category


BeingGreen: Staying Warm & Cool Without Electricity: Part 1.

March 27, 2009

Well, it’s not exactly winter or summer, but a recent cold snap has brought to light a particular topic: how to stay warm (or cool) without using large quantities of electricity.

It’s human nature, of course, that when we get too hot or too cold we try to fix it.  And it’s human nature to look for the easiest method possible, which generally amounts to cranking up the thermostat.

And there are, as usual, a few problems with that.  For one thing, a single temperature is rarely suitable for everyone; someone’s liable to be too hot or too cold.  For another thing, air conditioning uses power, which costs money and has environmental impacts.  While it isn’t often feasible to lay off the air conditioning entirely (especially here, where temperatures can reach >100 degrees in the summer), you can usually reduce its running time and still keep warm fairly well.

To that end, I present Part 1: Staying Warm.

The first step is a big, looming one, of the kind that might terrify casual greeners, but is fortunately a one-time procedure: removing any window drafts.  This is best done when the outside air is cold, since cold drafts are very easy to detect when the house is warm; it may also be possible when the air is hot.

You should first go through your house, turn off all fans, and close all windows.  Make sure that they are tightly sealed, with no visible cracks; any window that cannot close fully should be noted as faulty and replaced.  Once the windows are tight, check for invisible leaks: stand in front of the window and feel around for patches of cold air or cold breezes.  Move around if necessary, and consider asking another person to double-check.  Any windows with leaks should also be replaced.

(Note: It is possible that, no matter how thoroughly you check, some leaks may go undetected.  The only way to discover these is to sit in front of the window for long periods of time, employing whatever methods you usually use to keep yourself at a comfortable temperature, and note if you are unusually cold anywhere.  Cold feet are a sure leak detector.)

(Second note: All leaks may not be in the windows.  Floors, ceilings, skylights, and vents can all let in cold air.)

Once you’ve completed Step 1 – or if, for some reason, you are incapable of doing so at the moment, but would like to save on electricity anyway – you can tackle the remaining steps, which are mainly small things you can do to increase your personal heat without warming the entire house.

  1. Wear footwear.  If you’re like me, and are usually more concerned with keeping your feet cool than warm, this can be a problem.  If you don’t want to track dirt around your house on your shoes, it can also be a problem.  The best solution I’ve found is to keep a pair of fuzzy slippers on hand and wear them when I’m really cold.
  2. Wear enough clothes.  Sweaters, longjohns, and the like can all be extremely useful, though it can be time-consuming and annoying to pile on the layers.  A warm, fuzzy bathrobe makes a good quick fix, and withstands a considerable amount of cold.  Frigid hands benefit from gloves, though you’ll want to leave the fingers off when you type.
  3. Drink warm fluids.  A cup of hot chocolate or coffee in the cold can be very soothing.  If you have it in a ceramic or glass mug, keep the mug around; it stays warm well after the drink is gone and can used to warm cold fingers.
  4. Acclimate yourself to cooler temperatures.  Start reducing the thermostat setting a little bit at a time, allowing yourself to adjust to each setting before you move it down again.  You may never get to a point where you really feel warm in lower temperatures, but you should find it easier to get and stay that way without cranking up the heat.

Of course, staying warm at work or in bed is a slightly different matter than during the day in your own home.  Some of these tips can be carried over, but some situations will require improvisation.  You’ll need to employ your own ingenuity to deal with these situations as they arise.

Good luck!

(Stay tuned for Part 2: Staying Cool.)


BeingGreen: Getting Rid of Petroleum.

March 13, 2009

Petroleum has become a ubiquitous ingredient in our everyday lives.  We run our cars on it (most of the time).  We rub our lips and babies’ rear ends in one of its byproducts (petroleum jelly).  And most of the candles available on the market are made from petroleum.

Unfortunately, like many other of our favorite products, petroleum is not such a great thing.  For one thing, it is not biodegradable.  For another thing, it tends to emit dangerous fumes when burned, and has been known to contain trace amounts of sulfur (and potentially other harmful chemicals, though this is unknown for certain).  Either way, it’s not very green, and it should be replaced as soon as practical.

Keeping it off your lips is pretty easy.  Several companies, including Burt’s Bees and Chapstick, offer natural lip balms without petroleum jelly.  Keeping it off your baby’s bum may be a bit harder; there are other moisturizers, but I have yet to hear of one with the greasy goodness of petroleum jelly.  Fortunately, the jelly is mostly harmless if not ingested; the only concern according to Skin Deep is potential contamination.

Candles are a bigger problem.  As stated above, petroleum (the rawer stuff, not the jelly) contains several chemicals which create nasty fumes when burned.  Your best bet is to get organic candles made from either soy or beeswax; soy candles are now available in several stores, though beeswax may be a bit trickier to come by.

Then there’s your car.  At the moment, there are only two things to run your car on: petroleum-based gasoline and ethanol.  Ethanol is said to be the greener of these options, although a recent kerfuffle suggests that it may not be as green as it’s cracked up to be – possibly because of the large amount of farming required to create it.  Rather than splitting hairs over which of these fuels to use, it’s best to cut down on your driving – which is better for the environment in several different ways – and consider obtaining a hybrid car, which will help to reduce the amount of gasoline used when you do drive.

These are the three biggest sources of petroleum in a home – and, without a doubt, the three most likely to pose a problem.  While it is by no means the most glaring threat to your health, petroleum does pose some long-term problems – most importantly, it is a non-renewable resource.  We can keep finding new places to drill for it, but eventually the supplies will be exhausted.


BeingGreen: Care2’s Click to Donate.

March 7, 2009

(I have got to quit doing this.  Either I need to start writing my BeingGreen articles on, say, Tuesday, and setting them to go up on Friday, or I need to start keeping better track of which day it is.)

Here’s an easy one for the aspiring greenie.  It’s free, it takes only a few seconds of your time, and it’s easy to access.  I’m referring to Care2‘s Click to Donate feature – a collection of links that enables you to generate money from various causes just by clicking each image and following the “Click to Donate” link.  There are ten different categories: Global Warming, Rainforest, Baby Seals, Oceans, Big Cats, Primates, Needy Kids, Pets, Stop Violence [against women], and Breast Cancer.  You can click each one once per day.

I realize it’s  not the most high-impact thing you can be doing.  But it is the easiest.  And if you can commit to doing even this every day, you may find it easier to start making other green changes in your life.


BeingGreen: Green Clothes.

February 27, 2009

Clothes can be both very easy and very difficult to green.  Easy to obtain – while new clothes may not be easy to get organic, pre-owned clothes are green regardless of how they were made.  Hard to keep that way – clothes are tenacious little pieces, difficult to make effectively clean without chemical-based detergents.  Without a squirt of dish soap, body oil causes clothes to smell foul after a few weeks of storage.  White clothes – at least the way we use them – do not come out white without plenty of bleach (read more about the lack of green decolorizers in Green Stain Removal).

Even commercial detergents, when made from environmentally-friendly products, are usually less effective than their toxic counterparts.  Those that aren’t can be higher-priced.  Care2 has a pretty good article on various green soaps and their pros and cons.   One exception is Arm & Hammer’s baking soda-based detergent, which we’re currently using out of frugality more than green intent.  It’s working well so far, but long-term tests are in order to determine its effects on stains, oil, and those white clothes.

Speaking of those white clothes…

Many of the things we bleach (such as towels) we do so not because we like them to look good, but for health reasons.  Wet towels and rags become quick homes for bacteria, which cause a foul stench and, I presume, unhealthy build-up in the linens.  For this reason, chlorine bleach is used to nix the bacteria.  I think it’s a fair trade-off, though I will look into alternate ways to keep our cloths safe and good-smelling.

So… head’s a bit fuzzy.  I’ve been spending too much time in the Blogosphere and it’s having an effect on my lecturing ability.  To wrap up:

  • Buying green clothes is easy: hit a thrift store.  As long as the fabric isn’t a complete environmental menace, you’ll be saving an enormous strain on resources.
  • For green cleaning of clothes, Seventh Generation and Arm & Hammer are said to be the best.
  • For stain and mildew… just bleach ’em, or start experimenting for a better solution.  I’ll get into that as soon as I have a bit more liberty – my mother runs the laundry scene, and she tends to get torqued if something turns out wrong.

Finally, remember to use the most scientifically effective method of filling your washing machine: fill machine, add soap, add clothes.  In that order.  The soap is better distributed through the water, so it cleans more evenly (and, we presume, effectively.)


Recycling: Part 2.

January 31, 2009

Now that we’ve taken a look at what happens to the things you take in to recycle (and learned that, yes indeed, it does get recycled) we can move on to the instructory phase: how to take your trash in for recycling.

First you need to examine your trash (not piece-by-piece; just glance at it and see what it’s made of) to find out which of it can be recycled.  Aluminum cans, glass bottles, pop bottles, and milk jugs are all a given.  Cardboard and gloss-free paper (including newspaper) are also good.  Plastic is a bit trickier.  Most of it can be recycled, but not every recycling center is equipped to take every kind of plastic.  To make this simpler, your recycled plastic should be marked with a triple-arrow with a number on the inside.  These numbers range from 1 to 7 and denote the type of plastic used.  1 and 2, respectively pop bottles and milk jugs, are the most common and the most widely supported (as stated above), but 3 and below are a bit trickier to process.

The next thing you should do is find a recycling center in your area and find out which materials they accept.  Many older facilities are not equipped to handle plastics 3-7 and will discard them.  If you cannot find a center in your area that takes these, you are better off to either discontinue purchasing the product that uses those plastics or finding alternative uses for the used containers.

Finally, prepare your trash for recycling.  This is probably the hardest part, as it requires you to segregate all of your trash by composition (metal, glass, paper, fabric, and the various kinds of plastic should all be separate from one another).  Anything that cannot be recycled (paper layered with metal or plastic, plastic that the center does not accept, and any kind of garbage not listed above) goes into its own container for regular trash disposal.  Once you have full sacks of recyclable material – as many or as few as the family vehicle will hold – you’ll need to drive them in to the center.  For convenience and gas savings, this is best done on your way to perform other errands such as grocery shopping.

Once you get it into the center, it’s a pretty simple matter of dropping the stuff off.  Often your things can be deposited outside, but it may be necessary for you to take your recyclables into the building proper.  From there, the center employees take over and you get back to your business.


Green Friday: Cutting Vampire Power.

January 9, 2009

Here we go: the first installment of what I hope to be a weekly… what do you call it?  Newsblog?  Blog letter?  Blewsletter?  Just… definitely not the last one.  I’ll go with “educational blog entry” for now.

Despite all the big, shiny words I used in my article a few days ago on being green, what it means to me, and the fact that we all should be doing it, the phrase “going green” still puts images into my mind of funny-smelling hippies in grass huts.  Well, obviously this isn’t going to work.  Very few people I know how to live like that, and methods to genuinely green yourself in your lifestyle seem to be few and far between.

Fortunately, in my time on the Internet, I’ve encountered a few methods – some of which are just as overwhelming as the green movement itself, but many of which are easy to do with just a few adjustments to your daily routine.

One of the very basics is cutting vampire power.

I touched on vampire power in my entry “Being Green: A Primer”, and now I’m going to expand on that.  (Most importantly, I’m going to explain what the heck it means and what you can do about it.)  Vampire power, sometimes called “phantom power”, is the electricity being used by an electronic device that is supposedly inert.  Like your Wii, after you turn it off.  See the little orange light on the front?  It’s a helpful indicator that the Wii isn’t completely shut down.  Rather, it’s in “standby” mode.  It’s not doing any actual work, but it’s utilizing electricity to keep it in a semiconscious state so that the next time you turn it on, rather than waiting for the machine to boot up you can go straight to processing.

If your Wii is anything like the one around here, it – well, for that matter, all of your power-hogging electronics – gets a decent amount of traffic during the day, so I’m not going to insist that you unplug it every time you get done with it.  But any time your family won’t be able to use it – at night, for example, or while you’re away – you should definitely pull the plug to keep it from sapping electricity.  The same goes for any other electronics: DVD players, computers, and any other non-critical device that is constantly running a little light or seems to boot up unusually fast.

Unplugging goes a bit beyond undercover power use, though.  Anything that you don’t actually need to leave running should be unplugged or at least switched off.  If you, like me, have a bedroom clock that never seems to be set right, either set it to the correct time or pull the plug*.  And while it may seem prudent to leave your TV running to ward off burglars, it may save more money in the long run just to invest in a burglar alarm**.

Lights are another energy-draining bear.  It probably goes without saying that nightlights – those cute little shaped thingies that you stick directly into the wall socket – are a considerable power waster, so unless you absolutely cannot sleep without its reassuring glow (try it for a few nights), take it out of the wall.  Also shut down any unnecessary¹ house lights, including your porch light, and any decorative lights you may have up¹¹ (such as Christmas tree lights).

At this point, you’ve probably got all your critical systems shut down.  The house is still, dark, quiet and maybe a little scary.  There’s still a bit more that you can turn off, though, if you want to go the rest of the way.  Plug-in clocks with a battery-based memory system can be unplugged, as can chargers for fully-charged electronics.  (Some of them don’t really pull power unless the device is charging.  If in doubt, feel the adaptor box after it’s been plugged in for a while; if it’s warm, take it out.)  Going beyond the nighttime realm, heated waterbeds may be unplugged during the day (provided they don’t get too cold; you might like to do some testing).  Christmas lights that you don’t get around to taking down until June should at least be shut off after the first of January.

The benefits of all this aren’t quite as apparent as those of other green efforts, but they are certainly there.  Cutting down on your power helps simply by reducing demand, leaving more energy out there for other to use.  It helps to reduce environmental impact, by cutting down on the work done by coal or nuclear power plants.  And of course there’s the part that you’ll really like: it cuts down on your power bill.  You might say that, in a way, you’re getting paid to do this stuff every night — and how cool is that?

*I’ll be doing one of those today.  Haven’t decided which one yet.

**The usefulness of leaving your TV running is questionable anyway.  It becomes pretty obvious after observing your house for a few days that no one’s actually using it.

¹Unnecessary house lights do not include those used to ward off burglars.

¹¹You can green these a step further, by replacing old-fashioned Christmas lights with LED lights.  Having tested them personally, I can honestly say that these look very Christmasy and otherwise festive.