Thursday, May 22, 2008

Environmental Actions you can take

Environmental Actions

One of the goals of the Blackoutsabbath event is to provide some time to think about concrete actions we can take to better care for our home over the next year. So here's a recent brainstorming list I came up with. Some of these I do, with varying degrees of success, and some I only think about doing. Obviously everyone's list is going to be different and personal. My list was written from the perspective of someone living in New York City. I've tried to generalize a bit, but you'll have to tailor your list to your environment.

1. Consume less. This one is probably too broad and big to get a handle on. What I mean is DON'T SHOP. Now, I don't mean don't buy the necessities (only you can decide what that means), but don't engage in that mindless sort of wandering-around-buying-things-mode that the marketing and advertising wonks are trying so hard to get us to do. For myself, I know that there are just certain stores I can't go into. Think about whether you really need that item before you buy it (or even worse, charge it -- pontificating on the evils of unsecured debt will have to be saved for another rant).

2. Install low energy lightbulbs. Compact fluorescents use a lot less energy. Usually, they last longer than incandescents as well. The quality of light has improved too! So, go out and replace all those incandescents. Save the old bulbs for emergencies. Someday LED lighting may be practical and affordable.

3. Finally, there appears to be a growing recognition that the plastic shopping bag, introduced to the world within the last 30 years, is a tremendously bad idea. Buy reusable bags and bring these shopping with you. Many supermarkets are now selling reusable bags. They are showing up with greater and greater frequency. Check out this great website with tons of resources and facts for breaking the plastic bag habit: There are even nylon bags that fold up into tiny pouches for easy storage in one's purse or briefcase. It's not a choice between plastic and paper: neither is what we should aim for.

4. Have perfectly usuable stuff you need to get rid of? Doubt it's worth the trouble to try to sell on eBay or craigslist? Use Freecycle ( to dispose of and to obtain needed items, and keep perfectly serviceable items in circulation -- reuse, don't buy new!

5. Bring your own coffee mug and water bottle wherever you go -- eliminate reliance on paper cups and disposable plastic bottles. (New York City tap water is of excellent quality; most bottled waters are little more than filtered tap water -- don't buy into the marketing propoganda!)

6. Where possible, use a bicycle or mass transit instead of an automobile. New Yorkers could try cycling around town for commuting and simple errands -- it puts you in greater touch with your surroundings/environment, and keeps you fit as well! The bicycle friendliness of the Big Apple has improved tremendously in the past 19 years! Other cities are way ahead of it. If you live in suburban sprawl-land ... well, I'm sorry. Good luck.

7. Electricity use at home: See how low you can get your monthly kilowatt hours! See your utility bill for how much energy, measured in kilowatt-hours, you use per month. Perhaps make it a friendly competition with friends, etc. Look around the house/apartment for little things that are using power needlessly: cellphone chargers left plugged into the wall, stupid little electric geegaws Aunt Betty gave you for Christmas, whatever. Put all electronics, computers, TVs, etc. on a power strip so you can cut the power to them when not in use -- many of these devices continue to consume electricity when off, since they are made to respond to remote controls. Turn down the fridge(in other words, turn the temperature setting up), especially in winter, so it doesn't have to work so hard to keep your food cold (use common sense here -- don't turn it up too high, or your milk will spoil).

8. If you have your own hotwater heater, turn it down a notch or two in the summer and when you are away for a trip in order to reduce water heating costs.

9. Use air-conditioning sparingly or not at all. I'm sorry folks, but standard electric powered air-conditioning is an inherently wasteful technology. Electric fans can be quite effective and consume much less energy. There are other, more elaborate methods of cooling, but I'm trying to keep it simple here.

10. Donate usable clothes, books and other household items you no longer need to a charity that can find them a new home or sell them for fundraising. Housing Works has several great thrift shops in NYC.

11. Shop for needed items at thrift shops instead of buying brand new.

12. Recycle batteries. There are valuable heavy metals in them. These are toxic, and perfectly recyclable. An increasing number of businesses are accepting batteries for recycling. Whole foods has a great recycling center in their stores.

13. Buy food locally, in season, as much as possible! This one is really important. Sorry, Whole Foods, I just don't want to buy your stuff, organic or not, if it's coming all the way from Chile or wherever. New York has a great network of green markets. Another great thing to try is Community Supported Agriculture. Check out this CSA info for New York City, or research CSAs in your area. I think local production is more important than organic, by far. (Of course, both, simultaneously, would be nice.)

14. Carpool when possible.

15. Bring your own [re-usable] bowl to work to use at the office cafeteria salad bar/buffets -- to avoid using the styrofoam or paper containers. Perhaps put together a little travel kit with utensils and a bowl or two, and cloth napkins, etc., so that plastic utensils and disposable containers don't need to be used.

16. Bring your own coffee mug to work to use instead of disposable cups. Some of the office coffee makers have a low clearance, so make sure to find a smaller mug -- the jumbo ones may not fit.

17. Many office coffee makers use these plastic disposable individual serving filter bags -- why not bring your own individual serving french press to work? All you need is hot water and you have better coffee than the machine could ever make!

18. Investigate composting. It's even possible to compost indoors with Earthworms! Composting will not necessarily attract rodents or smell, if you do it right; extra care needs to be taken to avoid fruit flies (or, just learn to accept fruit flies -- they're kinda cute, don't you think?). Alternatively, find a garden or other composting center that has the capacity to take your scraps. If you have a garden, then compost away!

19. For drivers: According to an article in a recent article in the AAA magazine (sorry folks, I lost the reference), using air-conditioning when traveling below 45mph decreases fuel efficiency; on the other hand, driving with the windows rolled down above 45mph decreases fuel efficiency more than running the AC would. So: when traveling below 45, roll down the windows. When going above 45, close the windows and turn on the AC!

20. Be mindful of water use, and find little ways to conserve at home. This is critical in drought-prone areas. If you live in such an area, you know way more about it than I do. While water is usually plentiful in the Northeast, with climate change this may not always be the case. So: don't run water when brushing teeth; fill the sink when washing the dishes instead of running the water; find some low-flow shower heads.

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