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42 Ways You Can Help the Planet

AT HOME
1. ENERGY CONSERVATION. If every home in the United States replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL), the energy saved would prevent greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to taking 1 million cars off the road, says Arthur Rosenfeld, a physicist and member of the California Energy Commission. He also says that if Americans achieved a 2 percent reduction in energy use each year for the next 30 to 40 years a feasible rate we would be halfway to stabilizing our greenhouse-gas emissions.
2. MAKE SURE IT’S REALLY “OFF”. Household electronics account for more than 25 percent of home electricity use, according to the US EPA. Chargers for your iPods, cellphones, etc. use electricity even when not connected to the electronic item. Equipment with a standby light? Plug them into a power strip that is shut down when not in use. (Electronics qualified by the federal Energy Star program use lower wattage in standby mode.)
3. REDUCE, REUSE, and RECYCLE – in that order! In the book Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things, authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart an architect and a chemist who collaborate on developing ecologically-smart products and materials note that “more than 90 percent of materials extracted to make durable goods in the US become waste almost immediately.” So, consuming less that’s new, reusing anything you can, and recycling what’s left are the best options. Recycle what you can and ask your municipality to do more! This includes old computers, cell phones, and home electronics.
4. CONDUCT AN AUDIT. Over 20% of the carbon-dioxide emissions (that warm our atmosphere!) come from the US – energy used in homes, according to the federal Energy Information Administration! A professional energy audit is will identify and solve inefficiencies, which are going to save homeowners money on their energy bills! Some utilitie companies offer help setting up audits and provide rebates for weatherization upgrades and equipment improvements.
5. STOP WASHING DISHES BY HAND! Can you believe that using the dishwasher is better for earth than washing dishes by hand? The average energy-efficient dishwasher uses just 4 gallons per cycle, saving as much as 5,000 gallons of water per year compared with hand washing, as well as $40 in energy costs and 230 hours of washing time, according to the EPA.
6. REPLACE WITH ENERGY STAR. When you need a new major appliance, lighting, AC unit, or heater – get an Energy Star model. Keep in mind that there’s really two different price tags when you buy the product…the actual one, and what it costs to operate a device over its lifetime. The Energy Star promise is payback on your energy bills within five years or less they say.
7. POWER THE GRID. Going “off the grid” – living without power from central utilities – is great, but did you know that homes that use a decentralized renewable energy source (such as solar panels) are able to sell their excess power back to the public utility provider?
8. BUY RENEWABLE ENERGY CREDITS. Some electrical companies now offer customers the option to purchase renewable energy certificates through their utility bills. This doesn’t mean that the power delivered to your home will come directly from a wind turbine or other renewable energy source, but the money you pay usually a few dollars extra per month supports alternative energy projects sponsored by private energy companies. Some credits are tax deductible, depending on the clean energy certificate supplier. Just ask your utility provider.
9. CLEAN UP YOUR CLEANING PRODUCTS. With over 15,000 different chemical compounds sold in the US each year (according to the EPA), did you know that not all of them have been evaluated for human safety? Some household cleaning products contain known and suspected carcinogens and hormone disrupters, and many can induce asthma and other respiratory illnesses. It makes sense to avoid things such as air fresheners, optical [laundry] brighteners, and anything with artificial fragrance. Water vinegar and borax are a great cleaner!
10. GO NATIVE. Plants should be nursery-propagated, not taken from the wild, and be sure to avoid invasive species altogether. Yards will still flourish without the use of fertilizers or pesticides
11. COMPOST! Composting kitchen and yard waste is one of the best ways a homeowner can reduce the amount of garbage they’re sending to the dump. Your right in thinking that organic waste IS biodegradable, but covered up at the dump with no light and oxygen, anything can become virtually mummified in a landfill. For those readers who are living the apartment life, consider vermiculture which is letting worms make mulch out of your organic waste for indoor bin composting. Ask about it at a gardening store.
12. SAY NO TO PARTICLEBOARD. Indoor air quality is affected by formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOC), which are found in carpeting, plywood, paint, and your furnishings. Begin choosing lower-VOC options. Strong fumes are one indicator of harmful gases, but some products, including interior paints, indicate whether they are “low-VOC” on their packaging.
13. FARMERS’ MARKETS. Buy food at your local farmers’ markets to help support local agriculture.
14. WATER. Turn the water off while shaving and brushing your teeth. Use aerating shower heads and faucets. Insulate your hot water heater’s tank with an insulating jacket from the hardware store for around $20.
15. HEATING. Put on a sweater and turn the thermostat down to a comfortable 68 degrees during the winter. (Lower it to 55 while you’re out or sleeping.) Seal the gaps around your doors and windows. Use a clothesline if you can (see my Hanging Out Day blog). According to Energy Star, washers and dryers account for 6 percent of the average home’s annual energy bill.

IN THE COMMUNITY
16. TAKE AN ENVIORNMENTAL STAND. Do you have an environmental platform or plan? Run for town council, state senate, or a position in a civic organization! Reach out to a new audience!
17. JOIN AN ADVOCACY GROUP. Organizations may be world-wide, nationally, or local to you. Tackle issues close to your heart!
18. WAKE UP YOUR TOWN. Attend town/city meetings to bring up environmental issues that aren’t already on the agenda, or speak out on those that are. Many town and city council or board of selectmen meetings have dedicated time for citizen communications. Contact your representative or a member of the energy, recycling, solid waste, or other municipal commissions to request that your cause be placed on the docket, or send a handwritten note or call local politicians. Write a letter to your local newspaper, as they often feature guest commentaries from readers.
19. REACH OUT TO NEIGHBORS. Know something that other people in your community don’t? Trying to get a local ordinance passed? Set up panels, lectures, or start a community task force to spread education and awareness.
20. GET INVOLVED IN SCHOOL DECISION MAKING. By joining the school’s PTA, you can lobby for simple changes such as switching to nontoxic cleaning supplies, all the way to major changes, like building energy-efficient new schools which are made from sustainable, healthy materials. Schools certified by the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, known as LEED, cost an average of $3 more per square foot to build, but, payback is seen within as little as three years from the reduction in energy, water, and health-related costs. Also consider school food programs that work with local growers – by doing so, this reduces the carbon costs and packaging associated with shipping.
21. SIGN A PETITION. You no longer have to go door-to-door, it’s now being done online.
22. NETWORK WITH LIKEMINDED INDIVIDUALS. Greendrinks.org’s group will get you going out for a drink at your local pub to connect to neighbors with similar interests (see my blog on Green Drinks). MeetUp.org is another great group.
23. PRAY FOR CHANGE. Many religious traditions consider environmental stewardship to be a moral imperative.
24. VOTE. Cast your vote for eco-friendly policies and candidates.
25. CONTRIBUTE. Give money to a “green” nonprofit. If you are not sure how much to give, they say a good guideline is to pick an organization whose mission you like, and then donate the cost of the last pair of shoes you bought.
26. SPEND. You heard me correctly! Just put some extra thought into it when you open your wallet. Buy goods and services from companies that support a healthy planet and use organic ingredients and eco-friendly packaging.

AT WORK
27. WATCH THE THERMOSTAT. The US Department of Energy states that heating and cooling are the number one source of energy use in office buildings. Suggest that your employer keep temperatures set to 70 degrees in winter, 75 degrees in summer for energy efficiency. Programming thermostats to automatically reset temperatures at appropriate times after the workday ends, for example can also help increase efficiency.
28. START (OR JOIN) A GREEN TASK FORCE. Sustainability groups can help implement change throughout an organization. Start by simply buying recycling bins and posting signs that remind co-workers to use them. This may lead to influencing the organization’s decisions on issues such as purchases, renovations, power, and employee programs like telecommuting.
29. CONDUCT A WASTE AUDIT. Simply taking stock of everything going into the trash and recycling over a certain period of time. Knowing what materials are thrown away provides insight into ways a company can cut back or reuse,
Be sure to visit earth911.org. Their “Business Resources” section will explain the process.
30. USE LESS PAPER. The virgin pulp and paper industry is the largest industrial polluter of water worldwide, and one of the top emitters of global-warming pollution – according to the National Resources Defense Council. A typical US office worker goes through 10,000 sheets of copier paper each year, and less than half of it gets recycled, the council says. Begin to rethink what you print, make double-sided copies, send internal memos via e-mail, use scrap paper to take notes or print drafts, send faxes digitally…you get the idea. Recycling the paper you do use means saving forests and water, reducing toxic pollution, and keeping waste out of landfills.
31. CHOOSE RECYCLED PAPER. Choosing paper with high “post-consumer” recycled content at least 30 percent for copier paper – means less virgin pulp is used and more less waste going to the landfills. (Note: products marked with “post-industrial recycled content” are less beneficial, since the term refers to waste generated in production that never reached consumers and that manufacturers already reuse in order to save money.) For every 40 standard boxes of copier paper made from 100 percent post-consumer material, an office can save 24 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 4,100 kilowatt hours of electricity, and 60 pounds of air pollution, according to the National Resources Defense Council.
32. TURN OFF THE LIGHTS. Lighting makes up 30% of total energy consumption, according to the US Department of Energy. Utilize more efficient lamps, timers, and occupancy sensors to save, or simply utilize natural sunlight and window when possible! Be sure to turn off lights at night! .
33. GO ENERGY STAR. Yes, Energy Star ratings are available for office equipment! Energy Star rated copiers can save a bundle when compared to standard copiers as they automatically switch into power-conserving mode when not in use Visit energystar.gov for lists and rankings of computers, printers, water coolers, you name it!
34. MAKE MACHINES LAST. Keeping your equipment for one more year will cut back on hazardous e-waste and may save money. Other solutions, such as switching from individual desktop computers to machines that run off of central servers, can also help cut costs! (Note: Laptops also use less power, but are more expensive to buy and have shorter life spans.)
35. KNOW AND USE YOUR BENEFITS. Some companies offer incentives for going green on the job and at home. Whether your employer’s best offer is telecommuting or a buss pass, be sure to take advantage of it.
36. STOP USING STYROFOAM (expanded polystyrene) Styrofoam is still made from petroleum, is rarely recycled, takes hundreds of year to degrade, and can endanger wildlife. If your company has a cafeteria, talk with managers and enlist your colleagues to get styrofoam cups, plates, and containers taken out of the inventory or, at least, added to recycling programs. Then, insisting upon reusable plates, cups, and utensils!
37. BREATHE BETTER. The air inside buildings is typically at least two to five times more polluted than that outside and can cause headaches, fatigue, nausea, asthma, and other irritations, according to the EPA. The culprit? Furniture, carpeting, paints, and cleaning products especially when coupled with poor ventilation that give off harmful gases. Considering that people spend about 90 percent of their time indoors (another EPA figure), better building design and maintenance can positively affect our health. Work at greening your building.
38. FIND A GREENER GIG. I’m not suggesting you have to switch careers entirely – just think creatively. “If you want to be a green professional, learn about marketing, finance, biology, or whatever, then apply your environmental passions to the job!

PLUS
39. DRINK AT THE SINK. According to the Container Recycling Institute, Americans used nearly 30 billion single-use plastic water bottles in 2005, and most of them ended up in the trash (sad since you can recycle them!)…that’s roughly 845 bottles each second.
40. SHUT DOWN YOUR COMPUTER. It’s a myth that leaving a computer on overnight is more efficient than rebooting in the morning.
41. BRING YOUR LUNCH. Bringing your lunch from home helps cut down on waste related to disposables and packaging, and not driving your car to a restaurant saves carbon emissions, too.
42. MATCHING DONATIONS. Does your company offer to match your charitable contributions? Find out if the environmental organization of your choice could benefit.
HAPPY EARTH DAY!

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4 Comments

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Profile Photo Lori Windle

Happy Earth day to you too!
Here is another way: Purchase carbon offsets. Our non-profit, the Society of American Indian Government Employees (SAIGE) has partnered with NativeEnergy, the #1 Carbon Offset provider in the country. You can calculate your carbon footprint, estimate the cost, and purchase whatever amount you like by going to the website at http://www.saige.org
Take a look at the website while you are there too. You just might like the group- we are having a conference in June and are encourgaing attendees to offset their travel emissions.

Profile Photo Allen Sheaprd

Tricia,

Hi. Great post. Going off the grid helps test your disaster plans. Yes solar powered lights have a smaller carbon footprint than candles though do remeber to use candles for signifcant other! (Romance is good)

#43 and #44
#43 – Clean up space. Vacume your fridge cooling coils once a year. Clean out the dust bunnies from under or behind the fridge.
#44 – hang out more. Hand out laundry to dry.
#45 – replace heating/cooling filters indoors and get the AC unit charged now. HVAC guys want the business during the off season and a properly charged system works better. BTW you could save money, avoid a bad day/ night and more than just the planet.

Profile Photo Phong Mai

Thanks. If everyone of us just do the little things like turning off devices when not in use, then maybe it’ll take care of some big problems. It doesn’t always take big ideas to solve big problems.