Archive for July, 2012

The home office space is becoming more vital.  Telecommuting is on the increase.  Awareness is increasing around the benefits of telecommuting, such as less congested commutes and decreased energy use office buildings.  Employers are touting the option to telecommute as a recruitment tool and it is a trend that does not appear to be reversing anytime soon.  With this trend, the importance of being able to access your files electronically from various locations is essential. You need a paperless office.  But there is another, more sustainable benefit to electronic files – less paper – which also means less purchasing, printing, and storing.

Going paperless often means “less paper” (at least at first), but the benefits remain.  From an environmental perspective, the two major benefits include using less paper, and ultimately, requiring less space, which directly relates to less energy used for heating, cooling, lighting, etc..  Think of a typical office building and the amount of space dedicated to file cabinets – this space is heated, cooled, and lighted (at least to some extent).  On a smaller scale, and in your own office, the space dedicated to file storage may not be great, but moving towards paperless will help you avoid future clutter and stacks.

A key step in reducing paper in your home office is managing unnecessary postal mail – this includes junk mail, catalogs, marketing efforts, credit card offers, etc.  You can research efforts on removing yourself from unsolicited mail and telemarketer lists – there are services that will help get you off these lists for a small fee.  Here’s a great guide to remove yourself from junk mail lists.

Instead of making a paper copy or printing out a duplicate and storing the item in your paper filing system, invest in an office scanner.  Utilize electronic fax technology as opposed to traditional paper-based fax machines.  Get comfortable with digital signatures – this can save countless print outs and they are easily filed away in your digital filing system.  Implementing these measures will get you on the way to your paperless office.  As a final note, invest in a back-up system, such as an external hard-drive or a remote online storage service – this is an essential component to minimize your risk associated with computer failure, natural disasters, etc.

There are several variables determining the best-fit green car option for you.  Fuel costs, performance, and vehicle cost are primary drivers in choosing a car.  Vehicle technologies have developed rapidly over the past decade and accessibility to technology has increased.

The most commonly available advanced vehicle technology on the roads today includes alternative fuel vehicles, electric vehicles, and hybrid vehicles.  We have also seen an increase in production of more fuel efficient models, which certainly should not be discounted.

Pros and cons exist with each option, but investing in a vehicle that burns less fossil fuel is a positive step to:

  • help reduce air pollution
  • lessening U.S. dependence on foreign oil
  • save money spent on fuel

Choosing to drive a green car represents an individual choice that yields communal benefits.

An alternative fuel vehicle is considered a dedicated, flexible fuel, or dual-fuel vehicle.  An alternative fuel green car is designed to operate on at least one alternative fuel.  Hybrid vehicles are powered by an internal combustion engine that runs on conventional or alternative fuel and an electric motor the uses energy stored in a battery.  The battery is charged through regenerative breaking and by the engine and is not plugged in.  Electric vehicles use a battery to store the electric energy that powers the motor.  The battery is charged through plugging the vehicle into an electric power source.  Plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology also exists (the battery is charged through an electrical power source rather than regenerative breaking).

Before Buying a Green Car

  • Consider your driving habits  – how much city versus highway driving, do you plan on doing?
  • What is the availability and proximity of alternative fuel stations or charging stations where you live?
  • What can you afford?  Putting yourself in debt to get a green car is not sustainable living. (Don’t forget to factor in Federal an State incentives.)

Find more on tax incetivs at  FuelEconomy.gov -  tax incentive information center,

Where you live or grew up is bound to shape your perspective of trees and nature in general.  You may not necessarily notice them because there are so many, or you may seek out shade and protection of the few that are around.  Whether you are in a rural, suburban, or urban setting, trees play a large role in your environment and function as a living infrastructure for green living.  The benefits of trees are broad and cover environmental, social, communal, and economical areas.  As a result, nurturing, planting, or supporting groups that advocate for trees, is an excellent way to promote sustainability within your community for generations to come.

A basic benefit to trees is that they provide an aesthetic, natural component to our lives.  But beyond that trees can add value to your home (i.e. trees are factored into home appraisals and tend to appreciate in value as they mature), help to cool your home as well as neighborhood, and provide protection from winds.  Trees alter the climate you live in by improving air quality, supporting water conservation, reducing energy demand, and attracting birds and wildlife.

The green living benefits to air quality cannot be emphasized enough – trees absorb carbon dioxide, and in turn produce oxygen.  They also absorb other pollutants such as ozone, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide.  The leaves of trees and bushes also function to remove dust and particulates from the air.  The benefits to water management should be emphasized as well.  Trees can help with water absorption (avoiding flooding) as well as help to purify the water on the way down by catching certain pollutants.

So plant a tree or some shrubs!  Either on your own property or organize a group.  Schools, churches, or community centers are a great place to organize a planting event that often offers access to land and eager volunteers to help with the planting and nurturing.  If that is not an option, support non-profits or groups that advocate for trees and urban forests.

Wondering what kind of tree to add to your landscape?  The Colorado State Forest Service has a great downloadable guide to Trees for Conservation.Want to identify tree species on the go?  There’s a smartphone app for that: Leafsnap.

 

Conserving water is a simple way to contribute to the resolution of a complex ecological issue.  A general estimate is that the average American uses 100 gallons of water per day, including showers, hand washing, dishes, toilet usage, laundry, etc..  This equates to roughly 3,000 gallons a month.  Extrapolate those numbers out to community, state, and national levels, and you can see where even reducing household water usage levels by 2 – 3 percent a year (or 2 – 3 gallons a day) could have a significant cumulative impact on water conservation efforts.  Not to mention if you conserve water you also lower water bills.

The bathroom and kitchen are two areas of the house with the greatest water consumption.  Some common bathroom and kitchen water efficiency efforts simply include being aware of running water and modifying your behavior accordingly.  Upgrading to more efficient equipment and implementing water flow controls is also an option.

For example, leaving the water run while you brush your teeth (or shave) can quickly add to your monthly usage.  Consider that the average bathroom tap runs at 2 gallons a minute, leaving the tap run while you brush your teeth (assuming brush time at one minute, two times a day) could equate to an excess of 4 gallons of water used per day (or 120 gallons per month).  Along this same line, shortening your showers by a just a minute or two can shave gallons off your water usage.  Choosing showers over filling the bathtub also provides another option to conserve.  As for the kitchen, if you are washing dishes by hand, fill the sink or a bowl with water, rather than washing dishes with the tap continuously running.

Another large water hog is the toilet.  Upgrading to a newer, more efficient toilet is an effective option.  Some older toilets can use between 4 – 7 gallons of water per flush, where as the more efficient, low flow toilets use on average 1.5 gallons of water per flush.  While replacing equipment may not be an option, identifying and fixing your toilet for leaks is another way to potentially save water and money.  A common and inexpensive test involves putting dye in the tank, waiting roughly 30 minutes, and then checking the bowl for dye – if dye has leaked into the bowl without flushing, you have a leak that is wasting water and costing you money.  Check your seals if you’re a do-it-yourself-er, or bring in a plumber to take a look.

For both the bathroom and the kitchen, installing a low-flow faucet shower head and/or low-flow faucet aerators provides a relatively simple and inexpensive means to conserve water.  High efficiency dish-washers and laundry machines also provide a great opportunity.  While these upgrades are more capital intensive, you can realize significant water (and utility) savings over the long haul.  A high-efficiency dish washer also means less pre-washing or rinsing of dishes up front.  Also, minimizing garbage disposal usage helps to reduce water consumption.  For regular tips on ways to conserve water – visit Water Use it Wisely or 25 tips on water conservation at earthyeasy.com.

As a final note, if you are thinking of upgrading to more efficient, water-wise equipment, you should check with your local water utility as some offer discounts or rebates on high efficiency equipment.

What’s your best tip to conserve water?

Purchasing locally grown foods provides a simple way to support sustainable development in your community.  While you help support economic development and sustainable use of local land through your purchase, you also benefit from access to a variety of fresh, peak-season produce.

Often times, seeking out a local farmers market or locally produced foods exposes you to a wider, more unique variety of produce.  The reason being, through local delivery, farmers are not necessarily restricted to producing only hearty items with a shelf-life known to withstand a lengthy farm to market logistical process.  Even more importantly, local production and purchase means your food travels less miles, positively impacting the effort to reduce fuel consumption and improve air emissions.

Of course, there will always be items that are not locally available due various reasons such as climate, land availability, season, etc.  Realistically, there are certain areas with less access to local farmers markets or locally produced food.  However, as the local production movement continues to gain momentum, access to local food markets and the ability to locate these services and products has increased through use of technology, social media tools, and the development of websites or apps dedicated to the local food movement.

As a final point of clarification, local food does not equal organic food.  While locally grown food can be certified organic, it is not a given.  If you are concerned with the production process, speak with the farmers at the market (a unique benefit to knowing the person that produced your food!).  You can inquire on how (or if) pesticides or chemical fertilizers were used in the production process.  From there, you are free to make your own informed decision on whether or not to purchase the local produce.