Save green by
| Is it better for the environment if you
carpool to work or take the bus?
Should you buy those apples labeled
Does unplugging unused appliances
Start at home
Environmentalism starts at home. The first step is conducting a home energy audit. Your utility company may offer a low-cost audit. If you are conducting your own audit, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), you should start by hunting for any obvious air leaks around windows, doors, electrical outlets, fireplace flues and other spaces with access to outside. Simply fixing these through proper sealing can yield an energy savings of 5 to 30 percent each year.
It’s also important to assess your home’s insulation. Older homes especially might not have insulation that meets today’s standards. Make sure there is a good seal between existing insulation and any pipes or ductwork.
“Turning off lights and adjusting thermostats are two examples of simple no-cost ways to cut utility bills while lowering your carbon footprint,” says Seth Mones, vice president of Sustainability Policy and Programs at Apollo Group, University of Phoenix’s parent company.
Another simple way to save energy at home is by increasing the efficiency of your heating and cooling equipment. Although today’s models automatically run more efficiently, you can help your older units along with minimal effort. Consider turning your thermostat up a bit in the summer and down in the winter to lower your energy usage and your bills. Also, make sure your units are properly maintained and change your filters regularly.
The way you illuminate your home also can impact the environment. According to the DOE, energy used for lighting accounts for 10 percent of a typical electricity bill. Simply lowering the wattage of your light bulbs—from 100 to 60 or 70—can add up to energy and cost savings. Also, choosing compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) instead of traditional incandescent lighting can save up to 75 percent of the initial lighting energy used. While CFLs cost more up front, this is offset by their long life and lower energy requirements.
One more way to trim your electricity consumption is to unplug any appliances that you are not using. Even when something is turned off—such as a microwave or a computer—it still draws electricity. This is known as vampire energy. Another option is using smart power strips, which are designed to automatically cut off the electrical current when an item is not in use.
Consider your transportation
While there are many clear-cut ways to save energy in your own home, it’s easy to become confused once you step out your front door. Is it better to use public transportation or buy a greener vehicle? Are electric cars more energy efficient than hybrids? And what about the carbon footprint associated with producing these vehicles versus keeping your trusty traditional car?
While green vehicles—think hybrids and electric cars—generally are considered to be best for the environment, don’t despair if you are stuck with a decade-old gas guzzler. There are still things you can do to lower your carbon emissions. “You can improve fuel efficiency by keeping your tires properly inflated and getting regular tune-ups and oil changes,” says Melissa Antone, Apollo Group Sustainability Director. The way you drive your vehicle also can make a difference. “You can save fuel by accelerating slowly from a stop and keeping your speed in check,” she adds, “and cluster your errands so you can make fewer trips.”
Beyond maintaining your car properly, there are other opportunities to increase its energy efficiency. “Carpooling is one way,” says Antone. According to the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), you can save 749 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year for each day you carpool to work with another driver, and carpooling every day for 50 weeks in the year can save nearly two tons over the course of a year.
Public transportation, if available where you live or commute, is another sustainable alternative. NRDC estimates that 1,167 pounds per year of carbon dioxide emissions are saved for every weekday you take a peak-occupancy bus to work. If you do so every day of the week for 50 weeks in the year, you’ll save almost three tons. Light rail and subways can achieve even greater environmental benefits.
Use water wisely
Whether you live in the sun-soaked deserts of the Southwest or the rain-drenched lushness of the Pacific Northwest, water should be treated as the precious resource it is. There are a few simple ways that anyone can reduce their water usage and save energy in the process. Taking shorter showers saves water and the energy used to heat it. You also can install faucet aerators, which mix air with water and decrease the amount of water coming out of a faucet while maintaining the pressure.
Look to common household appliances, such as dishwashers and washing machines, for other areas where you can save. Today’s models are energy efficient and use less water to get the job done. Whether yours are old or new, use your dishwasher and washing machine only when they are full. Also, using cold water when you run your washing machine will save energy.
Antone suggests exploring the use of drought-tolerant, native plants in your landscaping. “These plants already are adapted to your local climate, and they’ll thrive using fewer resources,” she notes.
The three R’s
No, not reading, writing and arithmetic. In today’s environmentally conscious culture, this acronym stands for reduce, reuse and recycle. “This old advice is still a sound guiding principle,” says Antone. “Reducing items you use, such as packaging materials, means less ends up in the landfill. The same goes for reusing things.”
Recycling is easier than ever these days, too. Many municipalities offer curbside recycling programs. These typically address paper, plastic, glass and aluminum. You can visit your city’s website for information on what specific items can be recycled through its program.
There are some items that shouldn’t be thrown away in the garbage or in your recycling bin. Things like paint and batteries should be disposed of properly. Search for local drop-off locations to recycle these and other items that aren’t appropriate for the landfill at a website such as Earth911.com.
You are what you eat
While many of us focus on how we power our homes and our vehicles, how we fuel ourselves is just as important. One smart choice for the environment—and our health—is to eat organic food. The food label “USDA Organic” indicates the item is grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. This method of growing food is kinder to the earth and our bodies.
Today, it is easy to buy foods that are grown and produced locally. These options often require less transportation to get to your table. This adds up to a savings in energy and
When it comes to increasing your green quotient, it’s best to let common sense prevail.
It doesn’t necessarily require a big investment.
There are countless simple ways that you can lead a more environmentally friendly lifestyle and save money in the process.