By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now
One thing we learned in 2009 is that you can’t wait for big institutions to take the green lead. For every clean tech entrepreneur, there’s a climate change heel-dragger. We’re thinking of Copenhagen obstructionists, Congress and entrenched fossil fuel interests, as examples.
You can, however, do what you can.
And in that spirit, here are 11 ways to lower your carbon footprint this New Year. Adopting even one of them can help reduce the pollution that’s leading to dire consequences. And while some New Year’s resolutions are hard, and cost you money (gym fees aren’t going down you know), these resolutions are likely to save you money, reduce your exposure to toxins and help you lead a healthier life. We’ve included only those ideas that really make a big impact, and scuttled those that we consider to be “boutique green” — those non-starter nice ideas that matter, but just a little bit.
To help make this list something you can really use, we’ve included some nifty online tools that can help you find a greener track in 2010.
1 — Drive Less. If you live in the city, or in a small town, you can accomplish this easily. Hop on the bus. Use the corner grocery. Walk. In the suburbs, which were designed to disperse us, it’s trickier. But you can group errands, your kids may be able to walk to school. And maybe this is the year that you ask your employer about working from home one day a week, to cut your commuting costs.
Here’s some ammunition: If you work for a large company, it may soon be inventorying its greenhouse gas emissions. New EPA rules will require some 12,000 of the country’s largest emitters to inventory their GHGs in 2010, and while this mainly concerns utilities, power companies and other heavy industries, it is likely to launch a new era of transparency. Companies across the board could soon discover that a friendly work-at-home policy would cut their carbon imprint, as well as yours.
In the meantime, you can find many Ride Share programs already up and running.
Another sign that things may turn your way: Insurance companies may reward temperate driving with better rates. Check out MileMeter, a company based on giving preferential rates to those who take it easy on their wheels.
If you’re in the market for a new car, find the most economical ones at fueleconomy.gov.
2 — Buy Green Power. Do this and drive less and you’ll have cut a big slice out of your personal or family energy consumption total. Many power companies now offer menus where a consumer can select a green power package, or even power generated specifically by wind (especially in big wind generation states like Texas, Iowa and Minnesota). Some companies offer cleaner power packages that focus on hydro-power — not the greenest, but better than getting your electricity from a coal-fired plant. Use the EPA’s map finder to see what’s available by state. The EPA also puts out a Guide to Green Power.
You’ve probably heard by now that buildings — commercial and residential — account for nearly 40 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions produced in the United States. That’s largely because they use electricity produced by coal-fired plants, the most carbon polluting of all electricity sources. See the chart above, which shows that about half of our electricity is fueled by coal, the cheapest and dirtiest source of power. So hooking up with a green provider really does make a difference. You’ll reduce your personal carbon footprint, and you’ll be helping shift the market toward cleaner options that your children and grandchildren will need.
3 — Connect with Congress. Send your senator or representative a letter that you support action against climate change. This might take a little time, but the net, aggregate effect could be big. You could point out your personal efforts to conserve; special needs for clean air (like we all don’t need that) and maybe mention the kids and grandkids that you hope to protect from catastrophic changes brought about by human greenhouse gas emissions that are melting the glaciers, turning the oceans acidic, ruining habitat and agricultural lands. Congressional leaders are pretty easy to find these days on the Internet. Congress.org helps you connect. Just type in your zip code and voile! Congress.org also chronicles environmental bills, and their many permutations on its news pages.
4 — Buy Local, Organic Food (when possible). Used to be that this was touted as a way to strengthen the local economy, which frankly didn’t much concern most Americans over the past few decades as groceries burst forth with more and more far-flung, highly engineered foods and treats. But rather than get started on that, let’s just say that getting back to basics can be good.
There are two main points in favor of going local and organic: The first is better nutrition. Even though experts still debate whether organic produce is nutritionally superior to conventionally grown (with pesticides) food, this debate will soon go the way of the one over whether cigarettes are damaging. A 2008 review of recent studies comparing foods, found that organically grown produce and grains are indeed more “nutritionally dense” — which makes intuitive sense because organic farming doesn’t poison the soil with pesticides, allowing plants grown there to take up the full nutrient load from the ground. The study was done by the Organic Center, a group with a bent, but check out the candlepower of the experts involved and you may be swayed.
The second argument for buying local is indisputable. If you want to lower your carbon footprint, or your “foodprint” as it’s now called, buy food that comes from closer to home. It will come with fewer “food miles” and have contributed less to greenhouse gas emissions. And by the way, it will help the local economy.
5 — Reduce Harmful Chemicals. Step back from some of the toxic chemicals you buy for household use, and those you use to “treat” the lawn and you will be contributing to cleaner indoor air and healthier ground water, especially if you use no-phosphate laundry and dishwasher detergents, now widely available. Consider, too, trying Soap Nuts, the natural laundry soap that is highly concentrated and comes from, well, a nut. We also like Dropps, an eco-laundry detergent packed in individual pouches that dissolve in the wash. Presto — packaging gone!
Outside, try using corn gluten as a pre-emergent weed killer. You will be restoring life to the soil, which can then better sustain life. We won’t get into the debate about whether organic lawns look better than chemically greened turf, some do, but often they don’t have that same ethereal green glow. But a healthy organic lawn can look pretty good, and the availability of organic options in mulch, weed suppressants and other organic compounds is growing.
6 - Reduce the Personal Paper Products You Use. One word here: Forests. We need to cherish them again, not plunder them to wipe our noses. Look for personal paper goods made from recycled and unbleached paper. This simple step, if we all made a concerted effort, can go a long way toward saving forests. Even Kimberly-Clark, maker of virgin fiber Kleenex, is offering recycled tissues and paper towels and has pledged to take sustainable steps (after a three year tussle with Greenpeace). We’ve printed it before, but it’s worth mentioning here that the Natural Resources Defense Council has put together a guide to the brands using recycled paper. The list of environmentally conscientious products is growing! And one other thing, instead of even using paper towels, try a washcloth. We use one that’s made of hemp, which is naturally germ resistant.
7 — Buy in Bulk. This reduces packaging and can make shipping easier and more efficient. Look for large laundry boxes, wine in boxes and soup… in boxes. The packaging is more degradable and you can buy bigger, storable portions. Bulk products can help conserve energy in many ways, even beyond the savings in packaging. They can make shipping more efficient, and when the carton is degradable, recyclable or reusable, it can save on landfill space and pollution.
8 — Invite Wildlife into the Yard. This can be a tough concept for people who’ve spent a lot of time keeping wildlife out. And we understand. We don’t want moles or armadilloes digging up our garden either. But there are ways….set aside a brushy area in one corner of the yard to serve as a haven for small critters and birds. Plant native plants that feed butterflies and birds, and don’t forget shrubs that produce winter berries. Construct a water garden to support amphibians. The hows and whys here get pretty deep. We can recommend a book, Bringing Nature Home, for people with yards. People in apartments can do their part by hooking up with a local conservation project.
9 — Conserve Water. We assume you don’t let the water run when you brush your teeth or shave. This year, pledge to take shorter showers or install rain sensors for your lawn sprinkler. Set the dishwasher on economy and see if it doesn’t get the job done; wash only full loads of clothing. We found a new way to conserve this year by using waterless products to clean cars. The Baye’s High Performance Waterless Wash/Detailer produced a great shine — and used NO WATER.
10. Generate Your Own Power. This is still a pricey proposition, but the cost of residential solar installations came tumbling down this past year. And we saw neighborhoods incorporating solar power in ways that don’t even show, with tiles that mimic shingles. On-site wind is a growing option for homeowners with the space and the gusts to try it. Some wind installations have gotten more compact. And don’t count out geothermal, also available on a residential scale.
11 . Grow Your Own Food. Take a look at your yard, it’s probably not working for you, but it could. This past year saw a boom in home gardening led by the First Family, who installed a bountiful food garden at the White House. Without the Park Service to help, you might have to run with a smaller scale project, but even if you’ve only got a condo deck or windowsill, you can grow a few herbs and tomatoes. Urban dwellers also can find a rooftop garden to help with, like Brooklyn’s Rooftop Farms for instance. Or, provide the patch of ground and hire the garden help, as detailed in this story by KGO-TV.
Happy Harvest and Happy New Year!
Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media