30 tips to go green

August 23, 2011 

How green are you?

Knowing where you start from is a good first step to finding out where you need to be if you really want to go green.

Try earthlab.com and click on the Calculate your carbon footprint link. After you answer the initial questions, you'll see a base number. Then click the ECP (Earth Conservation Plan) tab where you can add things you already do or pledge to do and it recalculates. I initially scored almost 496, but because we already compost and recycle and do some other things that weren't in the initial questions, it dropped to 271, below the national average of 356. But I'm not done. It has great ideas for what else we can do, some easy, some not. It takes about 10 minutes to go through the whole thing.

Or, check out National Geographic's calculator to get your "greendex" score, then see how you compare to other places. I scored a 47, higher than the U.S. score of 43.7, and about the same as Canada, which scored 47.5. The highest score? India, at 59.5, in large part due to types of foods they eat and their mode of transportation: motorcycles and motorbikes vs. cars and trucks.

How did you do? Need some help getting started?

Try these easy tips first

Junk mail:

1. Reduce the amount of junk mail you receive and recycle what you can't eliminate. Go to www.DMAchoice.org and sign up to stop catalog and other junk-mail offerings that flood your snail-mail box. If you can, pay bills online and have bank statements sent electronically.

Plastic:

2. Stop using plastic bags. You can do it, just stop. Get inexpensive — and often free — canvas bags and put them in your vehicle so that when you are at the store, you'll have them. And guess what? No one cares if you use a competitor's bag.

3. Use refillable water bottles and stop buying plastic ones. If you have some now, refill them with tap water and keep reusing.

Energy:

4. Change those old incandescent light bulbs.

5. Unplug electronics that aren't used all the time either manually or plug them in to a power strip for easy on/off. Does it save a bundle of money or energy? Probably not, but it is easy to do and it is a positive step.

6. Start recycling. If your local government doesn't have a program, set up your own boxes and find places to take them. Get your kids involved or make it part of their chores to separate out the materials.

Cleaning:

7. Read this article with all sorts of ways to green your cleaners from the laundry room to the kitchen and bath (inexpensive and green) with homemade cleaners from the National Geographic Green Guide. Making your own cleaners will save you money and eliminate chemicals from your home.

Water:

8. Turn the water off when you brush your teeth. Think it doesn't matter? Try this experiment: Put a large measuring cup under the faucet the next time you brush and leave the water on like you normally do. Take the number of cups and multiply that by the number of times a day you brush. Then multiply that amount by 7 to get a week's worth of water. Take that number and multiply it by 52 for a year's worth. How many people live in your house? See how it's adding up? Do the same thing the next time you wash your hands. You are washing your hands correctly, aren't you? (That means using soap and lathering your hands up — away from the water — for at least 20 seconds before rinsing.) If you leave the water on, you're wasting electricity to heat water that's just going down the drain.

9. Make sure the dishwasher is full before you run it, and wash full loads of clothes in cold water to save water and electricity.

Local local local:

10. Food that is grown/raised locally requires less transportation to get to you, it's usually better tasting and it helps local businesses. A win for everyone.

The next 10 steps

OK, you've mastered the basic steps and are ready to move on. Good for you.

Gasoline:

11. Reduce the amount of gas you need by a) Car-pooling, using public transportation, walking or biking where possible b) slowing down and appropriately inflating tires c) combining errands to reduce the number of trips d) stop warming up your car in Kentucky winters. Really, it’s ok.

12. When you are ready to buy a new vehicle, check out the hybrid and more fuel-efficient options in your price range. Read this story about hypermiling and see if works for you.

Energy

13. Dry your laundry outside if possible or hang a clothesline inside. Clothes smell great, but if stiffness bothers you, fluff them in the dryer for few minutes when you bring them back in. That will use much less energy than running a full load.

14. Schedule an energy audit from your local utility. The cost is reasonable and the energy/money savings may be little or they may be huge. Do the little, easy stuff first and always calculate the savings before you jump into a big project. Some big-ticket items might require a lot longer to recover costs. But every step helps reduce energy used.

15. When you need to replace appliances, look for ones with the federal Energy Star rating. And make sure the company you buy from will haul off and donate the old one for reuse.

16. See if you can go a whole week without using a printer at home and at work. How bad was it? Now try it for a month, saving energy and paper.

Misc.

17. Use cloth napkins instead of paper. How many paper towels do you throw away every day? Yes, cloth must be washed, but use cold water and use them to help fill up the load, then, see #2 above.

18. Low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints are becoming available in more places and more colors. Look for these the next time you feel the need to paint, especially in a child’s room.

Outdoors:

19. Attract "beneficial bugs" to your garden. According to This Old House's Web Site, attracting good bugs to defeat the ones destroying your garden and landscaping isn't that difficult. The easiest way is to have the plants that attract "good" bugs. Here are some recommendations from the Web site: sage, parsley, clover, foxglove, cosmos, marigolds, and sunflowers. What could be better and easier if you are already planting?

20. Start composting your vegetable and other non-meat food wastes and see how little trash you throw away (especially if you are recycling everything you can). Learn how to do it with or without a commercial compost bin and use the resulting fabulous soil in your new garden.

Extreme Green tips

21. No 'poo. Ok, you've switched to green household cleaners (#7). Now it's time to go green with your shampoo, or as numerous bloggers call it: "no poo". This recipe works: Mix 1 Tsp of baking soda in 1 cup of hot water. Easiest way is to mix it in the shower. Rub the mix onto your scalp and let is sit a minute. Rinse off. If you have long hair, you may need to increase the baking soda. And, if the ends of your hair don't feel as clean as the scalp, or they are too dry, mix 1 Tbsp of cheap apple-cider vinegar with 1 cup of water and put it in a spray bottle. Spray it onto the ends, or if you want to live dangerously (just kidding) spray it all over. Comb it through and let that sit a minute or two, then rinse. Yes, you will smell like a pickle for about, oh, 30 seconds. The smell is gone by the time you rinse it out. I've been using it for about a year and my hair has never felt cleaner.

22. Make a commitment to do something green, or stop doing something that's not and carry it out faithfully for a week. When you've mastered that, add something else the next week. But don't stop what you did in week 1.

23. Take a CLEAN coffee cup/travel mug with you the next time you are at StarBucks or another coffee shop. If they won't use it, walk out. That's the extreme part, giving up the java if they insist on giving you a cup that's going to end up in the landfill. Better yet, buy that expensive coffee at the grocery store, fill the mug before you leave the house and you'll save a bundle while helping the environment. Just make sure it's fair trade and organic, of course.

24. Go solar. If you are planning to live in your current house for decades and you are loaded with disposable income, get solar panels installed and hook up to the electricity grid. We've tried checking on leasing solar panels, but that's mostly on the West Coast at the moment. A company is planning to release a portable solar unit next year, we'll watch for it and tell you about it if it happens. Have you already gone solar? Send me an Email and tell me how well it's worked, if it has.

25. Hypermiling. It's not for everyone, but maybe for you. Read this story about how to save gas with the vehicle you have and see if helps.

26. Tackle your kid's school and help them go green with: the food they serve, how much they recycle and reuse and get the kids involved.

27. The school will be easier to tackle than where you work, but give it a shot. I know everyone is working harder and longer with fewer folks around these days, but that can't be an excuse. And yes, I know we're ones to talk. We use lots of paper that doesn't get recycled. We're trying, but it's very slow and hard here, too.

28. Build a green home or modify the one you have. The U.S. Green Building Council has great ideas for both, including LEED certification standards. But some folks — mostly out west — are taking it a step further. They are building "Earthships" which builders say have the least carbon footprint, but also include include onsite sewage treatment and food production.

29. Stop buying stuff, just to have stuff. It's harder than it sounds for most people, and if you don't believe me, watch people in the mall on any given Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

30. Go vegan. Don't know where to start? Here's a definition from www.livevegan.org<.a>: Vegan (pronounced VEE-gun) is a way of life that seeks to end the exploitation of animals. It also protects the environment and helps people. Vegan foods are free of all animal products including flesh, dairy, and eggs. Besides food, there are other animal products that can be avoided including animal skin (leather or fur), feathers, and other products that cause animals to suffer.

Do you have other tips? Comments? Ideas? Complaints?
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