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Perhaps many of us have a love-hate relationship with public transportation? Waiting for buses and delayed train schedules can certainly be frustrating, but choosing public transport whenever possible is a great step to take for the planet and for your bank account.

How much of a difference can public transport make for your carbon footprint? Almost a third of our nation’s footprint is guzzled by our transportation sector. Of that chunk, individual vehicles are responsible for 64%! This means that changing the way you move around town is one of the quickest ways to cut your footprint down to a manageable size.

san francisco bus

get on the bus!

The American Public Transportation Association estimates that one person can reduce their daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds, or more than 4,800 pounds a year, just by switching from driving to public transit, which translates to 10% of the entire household’s emissions. If you can’t get on the bus or train, carpooling is another great option, saving you money, time and dropping your emissions impact in a big way.

Which forms of transit are the best for the planet? The US Department of Transportation calculates that heavy rail transit like metros and subways produce roughly 75% less in greenhouse gas emissions per passenger-mile than single-occupancy vehicles, while light rail systems produce 57% less, and bus transit 32% less. Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley also conducted a full life cycle assessment for public transit and found that even when taking into account emissions from infrastructure, manufacturing, and upkeep, public transportation still provides consumers a greener option. Innovations in hybrid or renewable technology continues to make public transport ever greener, giving us more reasons than ever to ditch the car whenever possible.

As an added feel-good bonus, public transportation has also been shown to help conserve land, reduce travel time, and spur economic development. Since public transit eliminates the need for large parking lots and highways, businesses can be closer together, helping to reduce travel time between destinations. Instead of being chopped up by ugly freeways, public transportation helps create more close-knit communities where people are more comfortable on foot or on bicycles. Foot-traffic is instrumental in the success of small retail and food spots, so next time you have the choice to take the bus, remember that you’re helping support the local economy thrive on various levels.

Perhaps most importantly to many of us, taking the rail, bus, or ferry can also make a huge positive change for your budget. Vehicle maintenance, parking, and fuel adds up quickly. See how much money you could save by using public transportation with the APTA’s Fuel Savings Calculator. One writer on Treehugger shares how he has saved about $10,000 each year by using public transport. Even though public transit may require a little extra time and planning, it has the big potential to save you some serious cash for more organic food, sustainable wine or gadgets.

Need more information about the incredible benefits of public transit?

US EPA: Calculating Emissions of Greenhouse Gases: Key Facts and Figures
American Public Transportation Association: Public Transportation Fact Book 2014
American Public Transportation Association: Average monthly savings report for 20 cities

San Francisco bus image from Flickr

Single-use plastic and paper pervade our life: a latte, a take-out lunch, a quick snack from the local co-op, a cocktail at a picnic. We’re all complicit in this because a few cups here and there don’t seem like a big deal, right? Wrong.

Data from the EPA show that Americans generate over 251 million tons of trash a year, with paper constituting 27% and plastics coming in at 12.7%. Most importantly, of that 12.7%, 7 million tons of plastic are from disposable cups and plates alone! The EPA successfully recovered/recycled 87 million tons of trash in 2012 (no small feat, to be sure), but because recycling is energy intensive and often pricy, it’s much more important to find ways to reduce waste at the source… which is us!

It can be a challenge to fight against our ingrained throwaway mentality, but there are lots of benefits to choosing reusable lunch boxes, mugs, and utensils as often as possible. Bringing your own containers might seem weird at first (and you might get a few looks from your coworkers). But it can be healthier, cheaper and help you drop your trashy habit of single-use food containers.

resusable mug

sip in sustainable style with a stainless steel mug for your coffee or tea.

The easiest place to start? Begin using a reusable mug for your morning beverage and a water bottle for your hydration. Whether you choose fair-trade coffee or organic tea, your personal mug will keep your beverage warmer/cooler, will show off your sparkling personality, and will easily transport on your bike or car. Find mugs and water bottles of glass or stainless steel from thrift stores or splurge on some eco-luxury brands like HydroFlask. Most cafes offer a small discount for your drink when you bring your own mug. Doesn’t seem like much, but if you drink coffee each day for a year, that’s $36 of savings.

When you’re ready to take the next step, choose a reusable container for your meals. The best option for carrying food to work and school are stainless steel or glass containers with tight fitting lids. Both glass and steel are safer than plastic, they transport safely, and don’t contain harmful chemicals like bisphenol A, styrene, vinyl chloride, and phthalates, which are all often found in plastics. If you don’t feel like splurging on new containers, simply reuse the jars and containers you already have at home until you find the ones that work best for your lunchtime solutions. You will also be feeling better too, as studies show that homemade food of any type is a healthier option than restaurant food!

resuable containers

bring lunch, snacks and more in these study and sustainable containers

This action has a small upfront cost, but offers important benefits for a healthier lifestyle and decreased waste. Carrying your own food and beverage containers around town might seem a bit wacky, but once it becomes a habit it’s hard to go back to formerly wasteful ways. You’ll also be flying your sustainability flag high, and inspiring others with your super conscious choices.

reusable mug image from Amazon; Pyrex containers image from Target

water wise yard drip irrigation

Drip irrigation saves water and reduces runoff

As climate change threatens to make both energy and water resources increasingly scarce, it’s important to find ways to reduce water usage and thus reduce our energy needs — making the drop to watt connection. According to research, over 12 percent of all US energy consumption is directly related to water use. There are dozens of easy green ways to commit to reducing both energy and water in your yard and garden.

Committing to a greener land-scaping plan is one of the ways we can make a big difference in our water-energy use. An average lawn uses 10,000 gallons of water a year (not including rainfall). Taking steps to redesign your yard to include more native, drought-resistant plants, instead of (or in addition to) grass, is a wonderful way to reduce your water usage and keep your landscape beautiful. Native plants adapted to your region’s climate and soil require much less upkeep, are resistant to pests and diseases, and can help with erosion. Building a yard of native plants can help reduce pesticides and fertilizers, leading to a healthier ecosystem for other plants and animals too.

water wise yard

A water-wise yard can include a variety of plants and features.

Not ready to redesign the landscape just yet? There are still plenty of ways you can ensure your garden makes the most of its water. When possible, nuture old growth. Maintain those plants and trees already rooted in your yard to reduce the resources, nutrients, and water to needed to establish new vegetation. When choosing new items, focus on trees and shrubs when possible. Bigger plants can absorb more rainfall, reduce runoff, and absorb larger amounts of carbon dioxide (bonus: your trees can discourage your nosy neighbors from peeking in). Reduce runoff and erosion by adding compost and mulch to your soil. Compost will enrich your soil for healthier, happier plants, and work as a carbon sink for your yard.

Changing up your watering techniques can be instrumental in saving water too. When possible, it’s better to do the work of watering yourself. It’s much more efficient to manually water your plants with a garden hose or watering can; take a happy, meditative gardening break to give your little greens some water. The EPA estimates that you generally use 33% less water doing it yourself, rather than through an irrigation system. If manual watering is too impractical for your schedule and you have the spare funds, use an automatic irrigation system, specifically a drip irrigation or a water-efficient spray head, which are the most effective in getting water straight to the roots. The final tip: hopefully you’re an early bird, because the best time to water your plants is in the morning. It’s the coolest time of day, best for optimal absorption and decreased evaporation. Be mindful of the changing seasons, changing your watering routine as rainfall, heat and humidity change throughout the year.

The tips above will have you well on your way to a water-wise yard, and the great resources below can help you build a flourishing backyard ecosystem.

drip irrigation image from Flickr Creative Commons; xeriscape yard image from EPA

bicycle commutingChoosing two wheels instead of four to make your way around town goes a long way to reducing your carbon footprint. Transportation is the fastest growing sector of greenhouse gas emissions according to the Clean Air Council, with total vehicle emissions responsible for 31% of overall carbon dioxide, 81% of carbon monoxide, and 49% of total of nitrogen oxide emissions in the United States every year! Making a bicycle part of your weekly routine, whether for your daily commute or short rides around town, can make a big difference in your overall impact.

While some of us have longer commutes, studies show that 25% of car rides are used for commutes less than one mile from home, while 40% are within just two miles. The studies also show that half of workers travel a mere five miles or less to work every day. Discovery News says that if a community takes just half of their car trips by bicycle, it would reduce healthcare costs by $7 billion and result in an estimated 1,100 fewer deaths each year because of better air quality. Biking has a social justice component too: read here about how safe bike infrastructure makes our communities more secure for everyone. Studies show that biking is good for everyone, not just bikers, but for the whole community. With numbers like these, it seems that we could be doing more to support bicycle commuting for many more people.

biking for a better planet

bike your way to a better community, a better planet, and a better booty

How much of a difference could bike commuting make? Worldwatch Institute has calculated that a bicycle commuter riding four miles to work five days a week can eliminate about 2,000 pounds of CO2 emissions each year, nearly a 5% reduction in the average American’s carbon footprint. The good news is that bicycling is making a bit of a comeback. Biking has been commonplace in many European cities for decades, but it’s becoming more popular — and more necessary — in US urban planning designs. Many cities are actively working to build biking infrastructure, including safer lanes and better parking access.

Want to build up biking in your community? Connect with your state department of transportation, city council and local biking advocacy groups to see what’s happening in your ‘hood and find ways to get involved. Here are some other great resources:

orange bike image from Flickr Creative Commons; bike rack image from Flickr Creative Commons

Rechargeable BatteriesThinking of making the switch to rechargeable batteries? Like other energy efficiency tweaks, rechargeable batteries have an upfront cost, but the long-term benefits are very worth the investment and pay for themselves in just two years. One set of rechargeables can replace hundreds of single-use (disposable) batteries, billions of which are used each year in the US alone. Most of these disposable batteries are not recycled and there is no way to reuse them, making batteries quite the climate mess!

The good news is that rechargeable batteries work great, outperforming regular batteries in most situations (except when used in cameras). Rechargeables also consume up to 23 times fewer natural resources than disposable batteries. Upgrades in technology have allowed rechargeables to become slightly more affordable and better functioning over the years, too. There are now batteries that can be charged using a USB port, eliminating the need for a separate battery recharging station.

Here are some tips to make the switch to rechargeables:

  • Choose high quality batteries to power your life: Here’s a list of the best rechargeable batteries for 2015. Many of the same battery brands you are accustomed to using also offer rechargeables, and there are lots of new companies making great options. Stock up on a few sets, get a charger, and get started with the savings!
  • Don’t forget to charge ‘em up: One of the hassles with rechargeable batteries is that they need to charge, sometimes for a few hours each. Having backup batteries charged and ready to go can help alleviate the stress of an important toy or game that suddenly stops working (doubly important if you have kids who want to play NOW). Many rechargeables also come pre-charged for last-minute needs.
  • Be aware of the power slide: As batteries age, they may not store energy for as long as newer batteries. Rechargables also tend to lose juice as they sit, so charge a batch of batteries every few weeks if you find that you’re running out of power often. If you use a lot of batteries, perhaps keep a few regular batteries around as you get accustomed to regularly charging up your rechargeable stash.

Want to learn more about rechargeable batteries? Check out these great resources:

Join the community of Climate Heroes: click here to join our newsletter!

battery image from America’s Best Organics

carpooling and rideshareThink carpooling is relegated to busy parents shuffling their kids to school? Not anymore — carpooling is gaining traction as a great green weapon for your impact-reducing arsenal. Coordinating rides with friends, family, and coworkers will solidify your social networks (the real-life ones), help you save money, and reduce your carbon emissions.

Transportation is responsible for a huge chunk of the total carbon footprint in the United States — latest figures estimate about 30%. According to the smart folks at the EPA, this makes transportation the largest contributor to greenhouse gases, second only to the energy industry. But how can we reduce this huge percentage? Just like your mama taught you, the solution is to share.

Cars emit roughly one pound of CO2 per mile, so sharing the carbon weight by carpooling with even one other person will automatically reduce your impact by half! According to Rideshare, each carpool with four riders can reduce greenhouse gases by about 12,000 pounds annually, which is the equivalent of 500 gallons of gasoline. Aside from decreasing your emissions and fuel costs, carpooling offers other bonuses like decreased need for vehicle maintenance. And if you are not the one driving, you can make new friends, finish up a few minutes of work, or make up for last night’s party with a little nap.

carpooling and rideshare

Does your city have carpool lanes to reward drivers?

Check out your city and/or state department of transportation to learn about carpool options in your area. Find vanshare, rideshare, or other options to help build your commute with neighbors, or start your own car share program in your community. Most big cities reward carpoolers with HOV lanes to accelerate the journey, special parking spaces, or discounted rates for parking.

Not the organizing type? There’s an app to help with that! These carpooling and car share apps will help you jumpstart your green driving routine by connecting cars with drivers and passengers in your community:

  • Carma Carpooling: An easy app that lets users choose their carpool in cities around the world
  • Zimride: Carpool solutions for university and corporate networks
  • Carpooling.com: Europe’s most popular carpooling website, now available in the US
  • Rideshare: Carpooling and fleet solutions for office, campus and more!
  • Share rides via Lyft, Uber, Ridescout and Sidecar

Join the community of Climate Heroes: click here to join our newsletter!

energy efficiency for computersMost of us are pretty dedicated to the digital lifestyle, and with good reason. Who could possibly edit a photo, find the way to the bar, or make a meal without all the wonderful websites that make our lives so much easier? As you might suspect, our fascination with all things screen-based requires a lot of energy for both the source but also for the data: about 10% of global electricity usage is for the digital economy alone. According to Greenpeace, “if cloud computing were a country, it would rank sixth in the world on the basis of how much electricity it uses.” Yikes!

While there’s no way to truly eliminate our use of digital technology, there are some ways that you can make your computer and devices work smarter for you and for the planet.

Here are some tips to reduce the energy use of your computers:

  • Use the energy settings on your computer: Set up your energy saving mode as soon as you get your computer, as they are not set automatically by the manufacturer.
  • Put it to sleep or shut it down: Tucking your computer in for sleep mode (if it’s not automatic, see above) is the most efficient thing to do if you’re going to step away for a coffee break. If you are done for the day, you should turn it off completely. Energy.gov says that most computers will not wear out their on/off capabilities in their lifespan. These actions can save you up to $75/year in energy costs!
  • Use a smart strip: A smart strip is like a power strip but has “master” plugs that turn on other plugs. For example, if your desk has a computer, a printer, a charger and speakers, the computer would be the “master” that limits when the other items turn on and draw power, reducing the vampire power of the other items. When the computer turns off, all other items immediately turn off and are unable to draw any power. (Here’s more info about smart strips.) You can unplug all phone and tablet chargers when not in use to avoid the vampire power they suck up, too.
  • Darken the screens: For Androids and other devices with non-LCD displays, setting your screen (and themes in apps) to black or other dark colors can make a difference in battery usage and thus electricity use.
  • Skip the screensavers: They are mesmerizing indeed, but screensavers don’t actually save electricity. In fact, Energy Star says they can actually increase the energy usage of computers! Instead, turn your screen to black, put your computer to sleep, or turn it off entirely.
  • Clean up your cloud: The data that we store in the cloud seems safe and far away, but it is creating serious energy demands every day. All those apps, games, Instagram photos, and everything else saved in the cloud means your iPhone uses more electricity overall than a refrigerator! To reduce your overall cloud impact, delete what you don’t want and keep your files clean.

Want to learn more about how to decrease your digital footprint? Check out these great resources:

keep calm86054Leaf computer image from here; keep calm image from here

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