Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reduce your power use

Let’s start with the easiest change you can make: reduce your power use.

Most of us can reduce the amount of power we use without affecting our current lifestyle. Not to mention that reducing your electricity bill won't only be good for the planet, it’s also good for your wallet. Many of us are paying for electricity that we don't even use and eliminating these wasteful sources has many benefits.

1. NEVER again buy regular light bulbs. The energy-efficient light bulbs may be a little more expensive, but they last longer and on average save you more money. Not to mention that many stores, utility companies and governments are offering discounts on energy-efficient light bulb purchases. Both CF and LED lighting options produce less heat than regular light bulbs, reducing the amount of energy wasted and in turn reducing your power bill.

2. Turn off lights that are not being used. What is the point of having a lamp on in your bedroom, if you are in the living room? This one seems self-explanatory, but we all take electricity for granted and it is really easy to forget to turn off lights. I can't tell you how I often walk into houses where lights are on in multiple rooms, but everyone is sitting together in one room. If it's on and not being used, it's being wasted!
Ask my boyfriend, I have walked out of a room and left the light on often enough, although I have to admit that I have gotten much better at this!

3. Many of us don't like getting home in the dark, but instead of turning on a light all day, put a light on a timer so it turns on by itself when it gets dark. Timers are cheap and easy to use and avoid the problem of getting home in the dark, while also saving the 8 hours of wasted electricity.

4. Another power waster is our heating and cooling system. The easiest way to save some money is to turn your heat down and your AC up if you are leaving your house for more than just a few minutes. While it sucks to come home to a semi-cold/warm house, it sucks even more to spend 50% of your heating and cooling bill on energy that you are not even using. When you are home, consider turning your heat down and your AC up 1-2 degrees and when possible consider turning the system completely off when you don't need it (like in the Fall and Spring).

5. Get rid of as many of your phantom loads as possible. While I don't expect you to unplug everything, consider that phantom loads account for anywhere from 4 to 10 billion dollars of power usage per year in the United States. That's a lot of wasted power and money!

There are many websites out there that can help you figure out which appliances use the most electricity when not in use, but I think the best rule to follow is "if you don't use it frequently, unplug it." In other words, keep your fridge, dishwasher, washer/dryer and primary TV plugged in, but consider unplugging additional TVs, cell phone chargers, microwave, coffee maker (unless you program it for daily use), shredder, Playstation, X-Box, DVD player etc. etc. At my house, we've got a lot of these appliances on a power strip that we turn on and off as needed. Initially, it takes some getting used to and I've had my moments when I get annoyed that I have to turn on the surge before the appliance works, but in general it's worth the extra 5 seconds to save some money and more importantly reduce my carbon footprint and live more sustainably.

6. If you have an extra room or live in warm weather, consider hang drying your clothes whenever possible. I often hang dry my clothes and toss those that need to be unwrinkled in the dryer for 10 minutes when they're almost dry.

7. Lastly, if you are purchasing new appliances and electronics, first decide if you really need them and second, buy energy efficient appliances.

For more tips,check out No Impact Man's blog where he shares tips by one of his readers, Millie Barnes. She talks about using a broom to clean floors instead of a vacuum cleaner, which I didn't even consider, because I didn't even realize anyone would do this! Both Colin and Millie also mention doing one candlelit evening a week, something I've never done, but am considering experimenting with. And I know Colin has recommended going to bed 1 hour earlier (which may not work if you go to bed at 9, but could save tons of money if you stay up until 1 am watching TV and surfing the web). Which leads me to the last of my suggestions, turn off the TV and computer at least one evening a week and play board games, have a dinner party or pick up a book instead.

Being energy efficient isn't just good for the planet, it's good for you and your wallet!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Ripple Effect

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus and it’s not at all because I’ve giving up on sustainability and resorted to my old ways, but I have been struggling with some demons. Mostly I have felt a bit discouraged to continue writing about sustainability because a few incidents made me question my ability to make a change in the world and encourage others to follow my lead.

The first one happened about a month ago when I was picking up a prescription at the pharmacy. I had specifically asked them to not include the plastic blue sleeve with the refill, because I already have many of those at home. Of course when I picked up the prescription it was in a brand-new plastic blue sleeve. I told me pharmacist to make a note in my account to not include this sleeve anymore and she told me that wasn’t possible, because they need it to put the prescription sticker. I promptly responded, “How about I just bring my old one back for you,” to which she responded “Well, we can just give you a new one.”

Had she just missed the entire point of my request?

I calmly stated that I felt I would be causing unnecessary waste to which she nonchalantly replied “I don’t see a problem with that.” I had no response…she could not care less and there wasn’t anything I could do in the brief time we had together to convince her otherwise, so I mumbled “landfills aren’t endless” and left with the daunting realization that the problem is not that people don’t care or don't want to care, the problem is that the majority of people in this country have no idea WHY they should care.

That incident led me to question my ability to cause change. Can my actions really make a difference?

As that question lingered in my mind, my boyfriend and I got into our ongoing discussion about whether or not humans can change their ways before it is too late. The earth has tipping points. Ecosystems have tipping points, species have tipping points and our climate has a tipping point which on our current path we are slated to reach mid-century. While we don’t know exactly what reaching these tipping points will mean, we do know that once a tipping point is reached, there is no way back.

The problem was no longer whether or not my actions could make a difference it was about whether or not my actions could make a difference before it was too late. Could I reach out to the millions of people who didn’t know why they should care and convince them to start caring before it was too late? Was the ripple effect I hoped to start strong enough to go past my circle of friends?

I wasn’t sure and to be quite honest, I was a bit discouraged….until a few days ago when I walked into a client’s house. This family is the definition of electricity overuse. I’m talking all lights on, all the time, two to three TVs on all day and night and the heater set to 78 degrees. But when I walked in a few days ago, I was surprised to see less lights and only one TV on and best of all the heat turned to 73, which she then proceeded to turn off because their house gets a lot of heat from the sun. The ripple had spread and it continued spreading as my co-workers proudly showed me our new paper recycling bin and we discussed the possibility of adding a can/bottle recycling bin. Another co-worker gave me a bunch of binders she was going to throw away, but decided to reuse. And yet another co-worker proudly expressed how, thanks to me, she had started recycling and was trying to convince her husband to recycle too.

This whole month, as I doubted my ability to inspire others to change, the ripple had spread and people were changing. Who knows maybe I had even planted a seed in my pharmacist's head...

I don’t know how many people I can reach, but I do know now that I am not giving up. It just matters too much to me and it’s not because I am an environmentalist or a tree hugger. It’s because I am an educator, a future parent and most importantly a human being. So whatever you believe in, please consider the little things you can do to make a change.

Don’t know where to start? Look no further. I’ve got a million easy tips coming your way one day at a time.