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The Solar Greenhouse Gets Built

Monday, October 5th, 2009

I will spare you the entire thought and building processes and show you what we finally decided on.

remodelimg_3285 Since this is southwest orientation, my main concern was getting extra light and heat, since the winter sun does not come around to that side until late morning. I put three fixed skylights along the lowest part of the ceiling, which has worked well. The sun comes through them a few hours before it gets to the front.

In the New Hampshire house, the south facing windows were floor-to-ceiling. I wanted as much sun coming in as possible for daytime heating. Here in Taos, I wanted a planting bed close to the windows for maximum light, so the windows are in the 5′ space above the 3′ deep planting bed. In both instances there is a 1′ spacer between them for support.

Ventilation is as important as heating. Plants and people don’t like temperatures that are too hot, as much as they don’t like them cold. To keep everyone and everything comfortable, I installed:

  • A glass door flanked by two double-hung windows. This allows more sun in winter and serves double duty to ventilate in summer.
  • Two double-hung windows in the end wall
  • Two VeluxR operable skylights in the upper part of the ceiling. This is where heat will rise, which made it the most logical place for a moveable vent. Air moves in through the windows carrying the heat out of the top vents. Moving air is cool air, so opening the windows and the vents cools off the greenhouse, even if it is hot outside.

The soil in the bed is to be part of the thermal mass. It will absorb the sun’s heat to keep the temperature levels even and keep the plants warm. The concrete floor and an adobe-lined wall on the northern side are also mass that will absorb sun and ambient heat to radiate back out at night.?remodelimg_3526

The ceiling is super insulated, and exterior doors lead into the four rooms of the house. There is no supplemental heat in the greenhouse. In the event there are many cloudy days in a row or old-timey winter temperatures of 40 below, I will sacrifice the plants as the greenhouse gets cold, but the heat in the other rooms will not be lost. The girls have small gas heaters in their rooms for the coldest days and nights.

remodelimg_3531 The work was done enough by Thanksgiving to start seeing the benefits. My fuel bills that following winter were half of what I’d been used to paying. I cut my wood consumption by half with the new ceiling insulation and double pane windows, and my natural gas bill was about $40 a month at it’s peak with the girls using their heaters.

Come spring, I got an energy audit and a surprisingly good HERS (Home Energy Rating System) score.?remodel.gh.1.09_3880

As Winter Approaches: Minimizing Energy Costs

Thursday, September 24th, 2009

As winter fast approaches, so does the cold, and with it rising energy usage, taking a toll on the environment and your wallet. aswinterapproachesAs a child, I used to love winters for those days at home when I could curl up on the couch with a book, a heavy blanket, and a hot cup of hot chocolate or tea. It didn?t bother me that the air was colder.

So steam heat up some tea or chocolate and start using these basic tips to keep energy consumption low when upgrading your home is not possible.

The Air – A lot of your energy consumption comes from heating costs. Install a programmable thermostat to maintain different temperatures when you are home and when you are away. When running heaters with automatic control, close doors leading to empty rooms. Open curtains facing the sun when it is shining to take advantage of passive solar heating, and at nighttime or on cloudy days keep them drawn to hold in the heat, especially if you don?t have energy-saving windows.

Also, keep your furnace nice and tuned. Replace or clean furnace filters once a month. You can save up to 5 percent on heating costs by keeping your furnace lubricated and stocked with a clean filter. Turn your central heating down by 1 degree and you can save up to 10 percent on heating costs. Replace weather stripping on windows and caulk drafty air leaks to make sure you?re keeping warm air in and cold air out.

The Water – I know…I know. The last thing anyone wants is give up hot showers when the air is chilly. Still, most people keep their water too hot. Keep your hot water heater set at 120 degrees. Many manufacturers set their heaters at 140 before sending them from the factory, but this is completely unnecessary in the average home. You can also insulate your hot water heater to keep the heat from dissipating. Click here for some tips.

Another great way to make your heated water usage as efficient as possible is to install a hot water heater timer so you it is only warm at the times of day when it is needed. It is crucial to most of us to have hot water flowing in the winter, but it is it really necessary 24 hours a day? Here are some great tips on insulating.

Your Body – When it comes to warmth in the home, you’re really worried about yourself. Make the most of your body heat and bundle up. Get comfortable when hanging around the house – no one is going to see you. Wear a beanie, nice warm pajamas, and wool socks. Keep some down comforters near the couch for when you’re watching television.

aswinterapproaches2Keep in mind that layering provides more warmth than thick clothing. The first time I went to Europe I found this out and made it through a month of backpacking in snowed-over German cities without a jacket. And where I?m from it doesn?t even snow.

Also, there is a common misconception that people sleep better when they crank up the heat, but research shows reasonably cool temperatures to be more conducive to healthy REM. If you?ve ever tossed and turned in sweaty blankets in the summer heat or the tropics, this makes perfect sense. Don?t go too extreme though?really cold temperatures can be disruptive?and keep your socks on because having cold feet will not make you sleep better.

Most importantly, stay active. When you?re home, work around the house. Get involved with the community when you?re not working. Play sports or join a club. When you?re constantly on the move, you don?t have time to get cold, and it is a lot healthier in many ways than sitting around all day in a heated home watching television.

By employing these simple tips, you can have a comfortable winter without cranking up the energy costs. You will find that you don?t even notice the differences in the water temperature, and even if you drastically reduce the air temperatures you will soon get used to it. Staying warm as the weather fouls doesn?t have to mean Neanderthals hunched around a fire in a small cave – just use your brain.

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A Car-Free Lifestyle: Is it Realistic?

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

carfreelife1Before you dismiss this article and insist there is no way you could live without your vehicle, hear me out. I was back in America holding down a job, running a business, and excelling at the university when I sold my truck to use a bicycle for transport. It was the best decision I ever made. There are a lot of reasons getting rid of your car is an awesome lifestyle choice. Even where I lived at the time, where nowhere worth going is less than a fifteen minute drive and the city transport system begs for an upgrade, I immediately saw improvements in my quality of life.

Here are some reasons why ditching the automobile is a good decision:

Your Social Life – Without a car, you now have to depend on others more often. Depending on other people for rides makes you associate with others more often. Your socials skills get better and you end up getting invited to a lot more social events.

Even if you’re walking, riding a bike, or taking the bus, you are forced to talk to people more. I often got off the bus and before my bike ride home I’d pop in to see a friend who lived nearby or stop at my favorite brewery for a quick beer and some hot wings. On the bus, I found myself talking and associating with amazing people I never would have met sitting in my air-conditioned truck with the windows rolled up.

This constant companionship is great for your health – humans need this kind of social interaction. As with anything, a balance is good, and being around people so often can be a test in patience, but patience is a skill many people need to cultivate.

Good for your Health – Possibly the most obvious of benefits to not having a car are to your health. Being forced to walk or ride a bike gets you outside in the fresh air and all that pedaling is great exercise. You will soon find there is no need for going to the gym.

Good for your mind – Using the older forms of transportation slows you down. You get a completely different sense of time and place. You see the world in differently. You see the plight of people less fortunate than you and develop a new sense of how your community functions – what it would be like without it. Moving along in a fast-paced world at a slower pace gives you a perspective you would not otherwise have.

Good for your Spirit - Now that you have put new challenges upon yourself, you have to rise and meet them. As you pedal everywhere you go or sometimes struggle to juggle a ride, you find you often earn every small step of your life. This may not seem attractive to some, but it is great for the human spirit.

When I would get back from an exhausting day of school or get off work at two o’ clock in the morning and face the uphill ride home in the rain, I would sometimes doubt my decision, but as soon as I walked in the door to my house I felt a sense of triumph, accented by the fact that I was finally living in line with my beliefs. Which brings up the last point?

Good for Your Soul – Not having a car is better for the environment, of course, and you are participating in the act of change. People around you will see the changes in your life. Some may resist those changes, but others will admire you and eventually follow suit. Living out your principles gives you a sense of purpose.

Adjusting to a car-free lifestyle is not an easy process, but for those who live in cities, this kind of living can even be easier than the former option. With a new emphasis on sustainable city planning, we will see more and more cities and towns built around the idea that living without wheels is a healthier choice.

In my own experience, giving up the my limiting vehicle and all the chains that came with it gave me the freedom and courage to throw some of my things into a backpack, move out of my home, and take off to see the world. Not everyone’s decision will lead to such a drastic change, but I assure you, with a little patience, a little effort, and a little lateral thinking, a car-free lifestyle will change your life. For the better.

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Make a Zero Waste Fashion Statement

Monday, July 20th, 2009

One thing I spend a lot of time thinking about for this site is what it really means when we call a product, company, or service “green,” “eco,” “environmentally-friendly,” or “organic.” It seems that there are an increasingly large number of companies jumping on the “green” bandwagon, but how do we know if what they are offering is actually green or simply marketed as such?

When I research and write about green companies and products for this site, I try to pay attention to the each company’s environmental and human rights policies, look up sourcing information on the materials used to make products, and concern myself with the entire life cycle of a “green” product – from conception to delivery. In doing so, I’ve certainly thrown out some “eco” products that weren’t all that green upon further examination.Mark Liu Dress

I’ve been reading more and more recently about the “Zero Waste” movement. Zero waste is a concept whereas all of the materials required to manufacture products are used in various ways. In doing so, the externalities of the manufacturing process are significantly reduced, waste is removed from the manufacturing process, and new goods are created using materials that would otherwise be tossed into a landfill or incinerator. By creating zero waste products and working within a zero waste manufacturing system, companies can ensure they are participating in the highest form of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” possible.

If you’re interested in finding clothing that’s been produced using the Zero Waste mentality, there are a few cutting edge designers and organizations out there in whom you might be interested. London-based designer Mark Liu rolled overUluru Dress (2) his Singularity Point Collection at the London Fashion Week in February of this year. By employing a unique cutting technique, Liu saves over 15% of the fabric needed to create his designs, and therefore reduce the amount of fabric needed and waste produced in the manufacture of his high-end clothing line. Liu’s fashions aren’t cheap (they fall into the – “if you have to ask you probably can’t afford it” price range), but are fun, eco-friendly and very sexy!

Another of these cutting edge Zero Waste designers is Caroline Priebe of the 5 in 1 Studio in Brooklyn , NY. Priebe designs under the Uluru label, and works in cashmeres, silks and hemp fabrics. When creating pieces, Priebe saves every scrap of fabrics and “upcycles” all of the previous years’ scrap remnants into the details and finishings on her new garments. By ensuring that every possible piece of fabric is used in some way, shape or form, Priebe is able to bring her Zero Waste collections to market. I like the $200 Cashmere Dress (on the left). It’s made with 100% cashmere and finished with a black silk scarf that was most likely salvaged from the trash!

The Zero Waste philosophy of fashion design is still in its infancy, and the cost of these products reflect the fact that this may become the next big thing for high-end fashionistas. Like most fashion trends, Zero Waste clothing will probably come down in price over the next few years – and like most things – is most affordable if you can make create your own personal Zero Waste line! I’ve listed a few sites below if you’re interested in learning more about this emerging trend and finding out about other designers who are turning their minds to reducing waste and designing the most eco-friendly clothing possible!

Zero Waste – The Newest Eco-Fashion from Planet Green

Zero Waste Designers by Laurel House of White Apricot

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Green Your Gardening Habits

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

We’ve entered that special time of the year when the smell of lilacs fills the air, when trees and bushes explode in pink, yellow and white blossoms, and when gardens need your love and attention after another long winter. For those of us who love gardening, now is the time that we pull out our wheelbarrows and rakes, map out where we want to plant new flowers, and get our hands dirty working in beds.

In caring for our gardens however, it’s important to consider how your actions are impacting the environment. While it seems contradictory that your gardening activities chummingbird-attractionould have a negative impact on the earth (you are gardening after all), you might be surprised to find out how many seemingly innocent products and practices are actually eco-adverse.

By incorporating a few “green” practices into your gardening habits, you can create a more healthy outdoor ecosystem and have a truly “green” garden this season. And while you may have to compromise a little bit (after all, it’s hard to have perfect green grass if you don’t use chemicals on your lawn), but at the end of the summer you’ll feel better about your yard and have reduced your negative enviromental impact on your own land.

Change your Mowing Habits

For a nation trying to reduce its dependence on foreign oil and petroleum, Americans use an awful lot of it when mowing their lawns. There’s no need to power mowers with petrol however, and one way to redpush-moweruce your footprint is to go petroleum-free when it comes to your lawn. If you have a small patch of grass, consider investing in a push-mower. Clean Air Gardening offers several types that range in price from $109 for a Scotts Classic Reel Push Mower to $1300 for a?Putting Green Reel Mower that provides that manicured and finished look found on golf course.

If you have a larger yard, try buying an electric lawn mower instead of one that runs on gas. Electric mowers still require the use of electricity and power cords, however, they only consume about $5 in electricity annually. Additionally, electric mowers are quiet and don’t contribute to the buzz-saw sound of gas mowers that’s often prevalent on warm weekend afternoons. Sears has electric mowers that range from $160 for the Black and Decker 18 inch Electric Mower, to $239 for the Craftsman 19 inch Premium Electric Mower.

Mulch, than Mulch Some More!

Mulch is a great water saver in the garden as it prevents water from evaporating, keeps your plants’ roots cool, and holds water for longer, therefore requiring that your water your plants less often. Mulch also gives your beds a well-kept and finished look, and improve your soil by adding organic matter to your mix. Learn more about the benefits of mulching by visiting The National Resources Conservation Service.

Buy Heirloom Plants and Seeds

Not all seeds are created equal – especially when some of those seeds have been genetically modified in a lab! When planting a garden, consider only using heirloom seeds and plants – those that were introduced before 1951, when plant breeders introduced hybrid plants developed from inbred lines. Heirlooms are old, open-pollinated plants, and have not been altered by science.daisys

Many people also feel that heirloom fruits and vegetables taste better and are easier to grow than fruit and vegetables from hybrid plants. Regardless, when you grow heirlooms you are growing the same plants that your grandparents grew, and contributing to an environment filled with naturally-propagated plants instead of those created in a lab.

Go Organic!

When growing vegetables, fruits, herbs, flowers, shrubs and trees, there is no need to add chemical fertilizers, fungicides and pesticides. You can still produce a bumper crop of tomatoes or prize-winning flowers without dumping chemicals into the ground. Check out these tips for organic pest control from Organic Garden Pests, or Extremely Green’s Organic Pest Control Guide. Remember too, whatever you dump on your herbs, fruits and vegetables will eventually make its way back to you – so think twice before pouring Miracle Gro or other chemical foods and fertilizers all over your gardens.

I hope these simple tips will help point you in the right direction this spring. There are tons of other green gardening tips out there that I can’t address in one post – keep tuned though and I will try to bring you more tips for the garden as we get deeper and deeper into this beautiful non-winter weather. Happy Gardening!

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Making the Most of the 2nd “R” – Reuse

Monday, April 20th, 2009

This weekend – in a burst of spring fever and massive procrastination – I decided to completely rearrange my living room. For the past few months I’ve been working on a large project (with an impending deadline), and constantly staring at my computer screen was starting to take a toll. I figured it wouldn’t take too long move my office to the dining area, and the dining area to the office area – no big deal…

Clearly, it was a big deal…

In the 24-hours since I decided to pick up everything I own, clean it all, and precycle_signut it all in new places, I’ve come to realize the following:

1. If your floors are uneven and make your furniture wobble, you can use the cardboard from old shoe boxes as coasters. I like to cut the tops off of boxes (since the tops are thicker than the boxes), and add layers to steady my furniture exactly as needed.

2. Fondue forks can be used to support floppy plants. You can also use chopsticks, old silverware, and sticks (you know – the kind you find on trees).

3. Old bookshelves (not the cases, but the actual shelves) are great for creating flat surfaces. Even if I toss an old bookcase, I always keep the shelves. I have one old bookshelf underneath the legs on one side of my desk (the floors in this place are really uneven), and have used another as a makeshift table top.

4. Old folders can last forever. To spruce them up (and hide random doddles, musings and notes), I taped photographs and cool cards on their covers, than filled them up with my project notes.

5. Pint glasses make excellent pen holders. So do coffee mugs, mason jars and vases. Really, is there ever any reason to buy a pen holder…lovethisplanet

6. Reusable shopping bags (the kind we should all be using for groceries and other goods) are great for storing recyclables. They have the added benefit that, when full, you just pick them up and dump their contents into your outdoor bins. And if the bags get sticky or smelly, you can always throw them into the wash.

7. Instead of buying new pots for your plants, turn vases, bowls and ceramic dishes into cool planters. If you need to put your plants on trays, use old plates and platters to catch the runoff.

8. With a little imagination, you can transform almost anything. Instead of tossing a shoddy filing cabinet (purchased at Staples and made of corrugated cardboard), I covered it with a table cloth and turned it into an end table.

9. If you have walls to cover and are lacking in the art department, hang up maps of your favorite places. If maps don’t suit your tastes, you might consider using album covers (vinyl album covers that is), pictures from old calendars, and postcards instead.

10. When lovingly cared for and well maintained, antique, hand-me-down and used furniture will last indefinitely. My desk chair, filing cabinet (turned end table) and mattress are the only “new” pieces of furniture I own – everything else has been passed down or somehow scavenged. I have 2 comfortable hand-me-down couches, bookcases from yard sales and a dresser bequeathed to my parents 40 years ago – and all of it works. And while nothing really “matches,” when put together, everything basically works…

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I would love to go out and buy pre-made coasters to fit beneath my desk, pot all of my plants in new planters, and find a desk, bookcases and end tables that all match… I think we all feel this way sometimes, but the point is that we all need to start letting those feelings pass without rushing out and snatching up more stuff.

Look around your house – chances are good that you already own most of what you need – it may just be that you have to think about using what you own in different ways. I’d love to hear your tips on reusing household items, and welcome tips on how you ruse goods to reduce consumption.

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Revisiting My Green Guilt

Monday, April 6th, 2009

Last June I wrote a blog post about my personal Green Guilt. The post detailed my eco-sins, and at the end of it I promised that I’d try and make some meaningful changes and work towards reducing the negative ecological impact I was causing with these actions. In the 9-months since publishing that post, I am happy to report that, all-in-all, I’ve done a pretty good job at changing my behaviors and lessening my impact on the Earth. So without further ado…

1. The first item on last year’s list was the fact that I was driving 500+ miles per week. Between my 70-mile daily commute and trips back and forth to visit friends, I drove 26,000 miles? in just one year’s time! And while I do drive a relatively fuel-efficient VW Jetta, keep its tires properly inflated and get the oil changed regularly, I drove more than double the national average. According to the EPA’s Household Emissions Calculator, my driving haJettabits in 2008 produced a whooping 8.3 tons of CO2 last year – 3.7 tons more than the average driver!

Since the beginning of 2009, I have made an effort to reduce how much I drive, and so far I’ve stuck to the plan. While I still have the same commute, I work at home 2-3 times each month, and I visit my far-flung friends less often during the week. I’ve also been taking fewer trips to visit my family (who live about 50 miles from my house), and am staying longer (often overnight) when I do visit. In making these minor changes, I’ve shaved off 500 miles a month from my total – and am producing 1.92 fewer tons of CO2 annually.

2. Next on Recyclemy list was my lack of recycling at work. Because my workplace does not participate in mandatory recycling (on any level), I would often toss my plastic bottles and paper into the garbage bin beneath my desk. Since June, we’ve not yet implemented an across-the-board recycling program in our offices, but I have started recycling more and more on my own. And having cut down on purchasing beverages packaged in plastic bottles, I’ve reduced the overall volume of what I consume. In terms of work, I also essentially stopped printing anything, started turning off my computer more often, and do more lunch-time carpooling with co-workers.

3. My next sin was the fact that I threw away all kinds of food. This one killed me. I would buy beautiful fruits and vegetables with the highest intentions, only to let them rot in the fridge while I ate with friends, in restaurants or not at all. Since June I’ve gotten a lot more careful about not wasting food. I’ve started buying smaller amounts of food, cooking at home, and making sure that my veggies are chopped up and ready to eat when I load them intNHPRo the fridge.

4. When I would go out on the weekends, I used to leave NHPR playing on the radio (for the plants perhaps?). Now I simply don’t!

5. Another of my previous guilt-inducing actions was that I didn’t always being a reusable mug when filling up at the local coffee shop. I am proud to say that, since June, I’ve probably filled up with reusable mugs 95% of the times I’ve enjoyed java from my local coffee shrei-mugops! If I leave the house without a mug I go back and get it! And in an effort to further reduce my waste, I try to reuse the paper bags that come with the scones that I so love (thanks Popovers!).

6. OK, so I do sometimes (though not as often) buy coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. When I do however (and it’s really only 2-3 times a month that I do), I have started going into the stores (instead of using the drive-through), and filling up with my reusable mugs.

7. Number 7 on my list was the fact that I liked to drive around with the windows open and the air conditioning on when it was hot outside. Honestly, it’s been cold for so long now that this seems like a moot point! And while I honestly can’t remember if I was still doing this at the end of the summer – I’m pretty sure I wasn’t. Most of my driving is on the highway, and it’s nearly impossible to be comfortable while doing 70 with the windows open.ski-pants

8. The next item on my list dealt with my purchasing less-than-green clothes. In addition to the fact that I bought clothes made from synthetic fabrics, I would also buy goods manufactured by companies with sub-par eco-policies and processes. I’ve made some improvements in this area of my life, but my actions still aren’t as green as they could be.

My winter coat, ski hat and ski-pants are made by ecologically-conscious companies (The North Face, and Obermeyer), and about 50% of the clothes I’ve purchased since June have been second-hand. I will admit that I’ve bought a few Van Heusen shirts however, and their messaging on Corporate Responsibility includes one sentence on the preservation and improvement of the environment. I doubt the adorable Marc Fisher heels I mattar-paneerbought last week are eco-friendly either!

9. Purchasing pre-packaged organic meals was another eco-sin on my list. And while I have reduced the amount of pre-packaged meals I’m buying (in large part because I’m cooking more), I still love Amy’s Kitchen organic meals – especially the Mattar Paneer! All I can say is, at least it’s organic!

10. Last but not least on my list was my love of Polar Seltzer and the countless plastic bottles produced through my freakish seltzer consumption. And while I am enjoying a bottle of the Black Cherry Seltzer as I type this, I have gone from drinking 2 bottles a day to about 2 bottles a month. The build-up of plastic bottle induced guilt was just too much, so I did what was right and put the bottles down.

While I can’t say I’ve changed all my bad habits and rid fully rid myself of green guilt, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making changes that make a difference. I’m driving less, recycling more, reusing whenever possible, and remaining consciously aware of what I buy and how those products are sourced. My recycling bins have fewer plastic bottles kicking around, my closet is filling up with more second-hand treasures, and my plants seem perfectly content even though they no longer listen to NHPR when I leave the house.

Hope you’re having luck changing your habits too, and I would love to hear about the changes you’ve made for the planet!

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Green Guilt – Greg

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Jessica pointed out that we all have Green Guilt. What she really brought to light was that even people who hold green issues near and dear to their hearts can not do everything possible to live a greener lifestyle. But just doing some things will help make the world a better place. One way to know what you can do better is to look at what you are doing now and list your sins.

My list of green sins include:

1) I own a van. This in and of itself is not really a green sin if I was using it for what it was designed for. Carrying more than 4 people a good distance and reducing everyone’s carbon footprint. However, I usually am the only person in the van at any time and I only do short trips around the city. This could easily be accomplished with a smaller car or even by moped. In fact, the van was bought with the idea that a much larger family would be using it but life throws you a curve ball sometimes. I know I should get something smaller, I know it is too big for my needs, and I know the price to fill the take is pushing $70 now and will be well close to $100 by the end of the year. But people have odd attachments to vehicles. I love driving the van and the extra space has come in handy for multi-state moves and hauling big things. I should part with it but I can’t bring myself to do it.

2) I eat out way too much. When you think about all the things that go into eating out and how much energy is wasted just to provide me a “cheap” and quick meal it really doesn’t play into the idea of being green. From the gas emissions, to the electricity, to the packaging, to the huge waste generated, our fast food restaurants need to do more in terms of helping the planet and not destroying it. One good example of this is our local McDonalds this week switched back to styrofoam cups because they are cheaper for the owner. The plastic cups were actually a greener choice because while they use more oil based products, they were completely recyclable. But on the whole, I am encouraging this bad behavior by giving them more money so I don’t have to cook.

3) Big Box Stores get my money more than local farmers. Vermont has a very high number of local farmers who produce milk, corn, beef, and other products that are better for me and i know it. But convenience has me going to the local supermarket and buying processed food from who knows where over local produce. Several people have started eating only local products and have termed themselves as “Localvores“. While I can’t say I am totally comfortable with that I know I should be buying my meat from the local butcher and getting corn and other products from the produce stand. Cost and extra chores is the only thing stopping me.

4) Some things I am not willing to deal with in the name of conservation. For example, I hate being hot and I use air conditioning. Even tho this is one of the more northern states and I should be able to deal with just using fans I still click on the AC in the house. I also have no problem with filling up the van with a tank of gas and going for a drive. It is wasteful and increases my dependency on oil.

There are some good things to go with the bad. I telecommute so I have eliminated the 1.5 hours I used to spend in the van going back and forth to work. I recycle constantly because our community massively supports it. When I bought a washer and dryer, we went to Recycle North and CraigsList to buy used appliances.

The idea here is even if you do something small like turning off the lights when you leave a room, it will have a much larger impact than you realize. Also, not everyone will be Super Green and do everything. Just do your part and change the things you can. Every little bit helps.

Becoming an Ethical Consumer

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

When you make purchases, are you careful to buy goods that are ethically sourced, Fair Trade, certified organic or made in the USA? Are you conscious of the path your dollars take once you’ve handed them over to a sales clerk or entered your credit card number in an online site? Do you care about where all of the materials used to manufacture the things you buy come from? If you answered yes to these questions, than you’re already on the road to becoming an ethical consumer, and following the principles of ethical consumerism when spending your hard earned money.

According to Knowmore.org (a site dedicated to raising awareness of corporate abuses and directing grassroots action against unsustainable corporate practices), Ethical Consumerism is “…a movement toward corporate reform, through which individuals recognize their own role in systems of oppression, and take personal steps toward resistance and positive change.” Ethical Consumerism encourages people to recognize the significance of collectively organized individual actions, and use that power to alter the landscape of traditional economic systems.

Knowmore.org encourages this kind of thinking by offering an online space for like-minded individuals to exchange ideas and find resources focused on combating corporate abuses. One useful tool on the organization’s site is called “Behind the Logos.” Knowmore.org assigns an “ethical rating” to global corporations like Volkswagen, American Express and De Beers that’s meant to help people understand where the products they purchase are sourced and manufactured, and whether the companies making those products are doing so according to ethical principles. With one quick click, you can find out that AT&T received positive ratings for Worker’s Rights, Human Rights and Environmental Issues, but has areas of concern around their Political Influence and Business Ethics.

Another resource for those interested in Ethical Consumerism is the Responsible Purchasing Network (RPN), an international network of buyers dedicated to socially responsible and environmentally sustainable purchasing. The RPN is a member-based organization that provides consulting services and resources for paid members, but also publishes helpful guides for the everyday consumer. You can download Responsible Purchasing Guides that provide information about purchasing sustainable products, finding environmentally-conscious vendors, and working with governments to introduce eco-friendly goods into your state’s procurement policies.

If you’re interested in learning about European businesses, UK-based Ethical Consumer is an organization that researches the social and environmental records of companies, publishes free buyers guides, and scores companies based on how well they’ve incorporated ethics into their business models. You can become a member of Ethical Consumer to gain full access to their resources and services, otherwise you might have to pay a fee to access some of the research and information that’s on the organization’s website.

By educating yourself about the consumer choices you encounter on a daily basis, you take control over how you use your spending power to transform business practices and the greater economy. Once enough people realize that they can impact the process by only giving their money to ethical businesses, than real change can take place. If people continue letting big companies off the hook, and spend money with those businesses who practice socially irresponsible manufacturing, who invest their money (which is really your money) in corrupt organizations and governments, and who ignore the working conditions of their laborers, than those companies will keep on acting unethically.

Spend your money wisely and make sure you educate yourself before you open your wallet!


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Eco-Facts To Make Al Gore Cry

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

With so much attention focused on environmental issues lately, it seems as if we are constantly barraged with stories about the environmental impact of our actions and the damages done to the planet Earth. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by this kind of ever-present data, so I have broken a few choice facts down into digestible chunks of information for easy reference.

The facts aren’t great, and this isn’t a “look how good we’re doing” piece, rather, it’s the black and white of our impact on our planet. Each fact is backed up with the source I used to find it, so feel free to do a little digging of your own if you’re skeptical or if you’d like to learn more about these issues.

According to Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist, a typical online ‘Search’ generates about 7 grams of carbon dioxide. (Measuring Your Google Search’s Carbon Footprint by CNET.com). Overall, the IT industry produces 2% of global carbon emissions, or the same amount as the airline industry!

Each year over one hundred million trees are harvested and turned into junk mail. (Just the Facts: Junk Mail Facts and Figures from New American Dream and Conservatree). The production and disposal of all of this junk mail ends up using as much energy as do 3 million passenger cars!

Even though phone books are recyclable, people throw 660,000 tons of them into landfills annually (The Story of Phone Books from Earth 911). For every 500 phone books that end up in landfills, we needlessly waste 7000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 17-31 trees, and 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space.

In 2005, almost two million tons of e-waste were disposed of in landfills. Comprised of old cell phones, computers, television sets and batteries, this e-waste contains hazardous materials including lead and mercury that were never meant to be disposed of in landfills, and pose significant risk to people and the planet. (E-Waste: Harmful Materials from Earth 911).

Of the 215 billion plastic, glass and aluminum beverage bottles and cans sold in the US during 2006, a full 66% (2 out of 3, or 143 billion) were thrown out instead of being recycled. (Beverage Market Data Analysis from The Container Recycling Institute).

There are over 87,000 flights (commercial, cargo, private & military) in the US every single day of the year. (Air Traffic Control: By the Numbers from the National Air Traffic Controllors Association). And according to Boeing’s 2008 Environmental Report, aviation accounts for a full 2% of global man-made carbon dioxide emissions. (Boeing 2008 Environmental Report – page 3).

I’d like to give thanks to Brendan for constantly reminding me of the little things that make for huge environmental problems, and that also probably make Al Gore cry!

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