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On the hunt for the right stuff to furnish your green home or office? When you’re looking to boost your decor, it behooves both you and Mother Earth to choose vintage furniture whenever possible. Buying secondhand furniture and decor is not only a fun way to express your unique style, it’s a great way to ensure that your hard earned dollars are not trashing the planet. Another bonus of vintage furniture: it can save you loads of cash for more fun stuff (like gadgets and new bicycles!)

One of the main benefits of choosing vintage is that you are saving all the raw materials and energy used in the manufacturing and transport of new furniture, known as embodied energy. By choosing secondhand, you’re helping to keep resources in the ground, reducing the amount of waste in your community, and encouraging recycling, upcycling, and resale.

vintage couchFinding the right vintage furniture can take some time, but checking out your local secondhand shops, flea markets, and Craigslist can lead you to the treasure you seek. Such vintage treasures might require a little elbow grease to make them look like new, but small fixes or some quick upholstery work can make a older piece better than new. You can get creative with couch covers or tapestries to cover up an especially “unique” looking couch or chair if you’re not feeling crafty.

Another good reason to choose secondhand is that new furniture contains dozens of chemicals that release into the air in a process known as “off-gassing.” New furniture, carpets, paints, and decor release dozens of chemicals (known as volatile organic compounds) into the room, leading to indoor air pollution. Choosing vintage furniture is a way to decrease the amount of VOCs in the home or office and keep your family safer.

But of course, one of the most pressing reasons to choose vintage is that is saves hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars. Newer couches can cost anywhere from $1,500-$5,000, while secondhand couches almost always come in under $1,000. The difference is not as huge – but there are definitely savings to be had– for other items like beds, chairs, dining sets and decor. If you’re not saving, you might be shopping at the wrong thrift store!

And if you’re on the other side and looking to ditch your furniture, you can make a big dent in your waste load by donating or sharing your used stuff. Some thrift stores will take furniture (some will even pick it up), but you can also check with local charities like Big Brothers, Big Sisters that collect furniture and household items for community members in need. Sometimes schools, churches, and other community groups can take items off your hands too. Avoid junk collection agencies like 1-800-Got-Junk, as they just trash the furniture. Unless your furniture has totally fallen apart or is otherwise damaged (infested with bugs or potentially hazardous), there’s probably someone ready to make your trash into their treasure.

Couch image from Flickr Creative Commons

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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

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A sneak peak at Oroeco's spiffy new Dashboard, which automatically tracks your personal climate impacts, compares you with your friends, and gives you personalized tips for saving carbon and money.

A sneak peak at Oroeco’s spiffy new Dashboard, which automatically tracks your personal climate impacts, compares you with your friends, gives customized tips for saving carbon and money, and rewards you and your friends for taking action.

Earth Day 2014 is upon us! We’re marking the auspicious occasion with the launch of Oroeco BETA, the world’s first service that automatically tracks your impacts on climate change, then rewards you and all your friends for taking actions that lead to a happier, healthier planet. The journey has really just begun. Oroeco’s team, advisors and intrepid beta testers have put in long hours to get us where we are now, but Oroeco is still only scratching the surface of the transformative tool for sustainability we think it can be. We’ll always remain a work-in-progress, as we hope to be adding a LOT more functionality and improving your user experience for many years to come.

Whether or not Oroeco puts a dent in climate change really depends on you. We’re only as powerful as the number of you using us, the amount you decide to take meaningful action, and the friends you encourage to do the same. So go ahead, sign up to take us for a spin; then invite all your friends. If you don’t have one already, you’ll also have to create a (free) Mint.com account to get started, and our About page and FAQ will fill in some details about how and why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’d also love to hear your feedback about what you like, what you don’t, and what we should add next to make Oroeco as awesome as can be!

And if you dig Oroeco BETA, stay-tuned for our first awesome mobile app, launching soon(ish)! OK, we’ll get off our self-promotional soapbox now…

We’ve been a bit delinquent about blogging while diving neck-deep into Oroeco’s web app, but we’ll be reentering the blogosphere soon. We’re planning to delve deep into the nitty gritty scientific details of personal sustainability, but we could use your ideas for what you’d like to see us research and write about. So tell us, what burning climate conundrums keep you up at night? Paper or plastic? Trains, planes or automobiles? Cow-fart collectors? We are at your blogging disposal!

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Keep cozy without your energy $s leaking out the window.

The average American family spends about $1,900 per year on home energy bills. Much of that goes out the window, quite literally. According to the Department of Energy, over half of home energy is wasted in inefficient appliance and under-insulated abodes. On the bright side, most efficiency improvements will pay for themselves quickly, and save you loads of cash in the long run. And there are plenty of free home energy assessment tools out there for owners and renters alike, as well as billions of dollars worth of state and federal incentives.

Heating & cooling make up the largest slices of the home energy pie.

A great place to start is the Home Energy Saver site, which will help you do a detailed home energy audit, then connect up with tax credits, rebates, and financing for efficiency upgrades. There’s also EnergySavers.gov, which has handy tips for greening both your home and your ride. Suggestions range from big investments (replacing windows and adding insulation), to quick fixes that pay for themselves in less than a year (or immediately), like weatherstripping, turning down your water heater, and slashing ~$200 per year off the vampiric tendencies of undead electronics with a power strip diet. If you prefer to be in the hands of a startup instead of government researchers, take a look at WattzOn, which hooks you up with personalized home efficiency and cash incentive suggestions.

Dear Not-So-White House, what’s the R-value of bulletproof glass?

If you want to go the high tech route, you can also take a thermal image of your personal palace with an infrared camera, which will give a stark visual of where heat leaks out while Jack Frost is nipping at your nose (which happen to be the same spots where heat sneaks in during the summertime). As a bonus, renting a thermographic camera will help you investigate paranormal activity, as well as spy on Obama’s R-values.

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Bottled water keeps selling BS by the billions.

At about $100 billion in 2010 global sales, projected to rise to $125 billion by 2015, bottled water is big business. The average American consumed over 28 gallons of the stuff in 2010, which starts looking low compared to an average German (34 gallons) or an average Mexican (64 gallons). But is that H2O in a bottle any better than what comes out of the tap? Well, first there’s the fact that you’re paying between 240 and 10,000 times the price you’d pay for the same quantity of tap water, despite the fact that over 25% of bottled water is actually just repackaged tap, and the bottled stuff is less regulated (and therefore often more contaminated) than fluid that flows out of your kitchen sink.

Then there’s the environmental footprint of making a bottle plus trucking that bottle around for your consumptive convenience. A 2006 Pacific Institute study estimated that just producing the bottles for water sold in the US consumed the equivalent of 17 million barrels of oil, emitted more than 2.5 million tons of greenhouse gas, and wasted 2 liters of water in the production process for every one liter that ended up on store shelves (and that’s NOT counting refrigeration and transportation energy). Of course these bottles can be recycled, but about 75% of them still end up in a landfill, and (as any enviro-hip elementary school student will tell you) it’s better to reduce and reuse to render that third “R” unnecessary. Adding it all up, the environmental footprint of bottled water is over 1000 times greater than running the tap.

But that refreshing bottled stuff tastes better, right? According to a highly unscientific televised study by renowned investigators (Penn & Teller), over 75% of people in a blind taste test preferred New York tap water (out of a hose) over “premium” bottled brands. So better taste is probably more in your head than on your tongue, and brands that claim otherwise are likely selling a load of BS (which, given the lax FDA oversight of the bottled water industry, bacteria from that BS may even end up in your cup). So forgo the bottles of blues, and equip yourself with a groovy green refillable canteen.

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Roses are red, violets are blue(ish); our heart is green, and yours can be too(ish).

Want to win the undying affection of that special green someone? If gifts are your style, there are plenty of guides to V-Day green goodies, ranging from fair trade chocolate, to organic wine and sexy bamboo lingerie. Heck, there are even eco sex toy options (jolly green fun for you and/or your significant other)! Of course, as we’ve pointed out before, it takes stuff to make stuff, so the simple gifts that show you care through craft and prose are often are best at expressing your love for both your beau and the planet (call us cheesy, but it’s true).

Activities and services are generally greener than products too, so go ahead and book that massage and take that long walk on the beach (provided you don’t fly half way around the world to get there). If you absolutely must take that romantic getaway to Micronesia, consider at least calculating and offsetting your carbon sins. And try not to get so liquored up on mai tais that you inadvertently bring a bundle of joy into the world. Turns out babies are the least green thing of all (though we still think they’re cute… at least when they’re not screaming, releasing bodily fluids, and belching GHGs).

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A few tips to ensure our world doesn’t come to an end this year.

We’re not really the gloom and doom types, so despite what some apocalypse-happy interpreters of the Maya calendar may say, we’re pretty sure our wonderful world didn’t come to an end in 2012. More likely this 3rd rock from the Sun is sticking around for at least the next 7 billion years, all the more reason to make it a more pleasant place to reside. Resolutions in 2013? We’ve got too many, but (keeping in theme) here are 13 to kick off the new year and round out a baker’s dozen. Unless noted otherwise, numbers below are based on calculations from UC Berkeley.

1) Eat What You Buy, Buy Only What You’ll Eat (or Compost)

The average American family throws away $2,100 worth of (what was once) perfectly delicious food each year, according to NRDC. All that wasted food annually sums to a tremendous amount of wasted resources: 25% of all freshwater, 4% of US oil consumption, $90 billion in economic losses, and 31 million tons of landfill waste (which releases the potent greenhouse gas methane as it degrades). If that moldy can of cranberry sauce has truly transcended the bounds of edibility, toss it in the compost bin instead of the trash (which won’t revive the wasted resources, but will significantly reduce methane emissions).

2) Become a “Weekday Vegetarian”

We’ve written before about how meat makes up the largest part of food’s footprint for most of us. So the less (red) meat (and dairy) you eat, the better your dinner looks for the planet. If you don’t already have vegan tendencies, start with meatless Mondays and work your way up to become a weekday vegetarian, which allows you to eat as omnivorously as you please over the weekend. Besides cutting support for inhumane factory farms, weekday vegetarianism should save you over $1,000 and ~2 tons of CO2 per year.

3) Live Close to Work (&/or Telecommute)

The closer you live to your place of employment the better it is for all of us: you waste less time commuting, save energy, save money, and contribute less to congestion. So live within walking or biking distance of the office, if possible, or scheme up ways to telecommute. If you can’t cut out your fuel-fueled commute entirely, carpooling and public transportation are the next best things. Here are some tips to help you calculate how your options stack up.

4) Bike for Buns of Steel (& a Better Tomorrow)

That’s right, biking is not only the greenest way to roll around town, it’s also great for your gluteus maximus (and pretty much all your other parts, assuming you can avoid agro taxis, rail ruts, and car doors). Who knows, pushing pedals may even inspire you to become the next Danny MacAskill. If not, you’ll at least look less ridiculous than these guys.

5) Take the Pedal Off the Metal

When you do have to drive, try to resist the hot inner Indycar driver. Cutting down on speeding, excess cargo weight, sudden acceleration and deceleration will save both gas money and break pads (and perhaps your life as well). Just reducing highway cruising speeds from 75 to 65 MPH will save the average driver about $500 and 2 tons of CO2 per year. Properly inflating tires and changing air filters can lop off an additional annual savings of $200 and 0.75 tons of CO2.

6) Cash-in That Clunker (for a Fuel-Sipper)

Upgrading from a car that gets 20 MPG to 35 MPG will save the average driver about $750 and nearly 3 tons of CO2 per year. Really want to blow your neighbors’ minds in a cacophony of cognitive dissonance? Try an electric Hummer HX-T. Euro pop techno music apparently comes standard!

7) Cool Water + Warm Sun = Lasting Laundry

Your clothes really don’t need hot (or even warm) water to clean, thanks to the miracles of modern laundry detergent chemistry (including the best biodegradable brands). That’s good, since washing hot means 90% of the energy in a load of laundry goes to heating water. Then there’s the dryer, another major energy hog. Line drying (either outside, or indoors on a rack) saves not only energy and emissions, it also extends the life of your clothing, avoiding up to $70,000 over 30 years (if you believe estimates from The Daily Green).

8) Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

It’s cliche to say, but the less stuff you buy the less of a footprint you leave behind. When you do buy, try to buy reused (Goodwill and Craigslist being great places to start). If you’re not motivated by things like climate change, resource scarcity, and habitat loss for cuddly critters, consider the human cost of making cheap stuff via the Slavery Footprint calculator. Recycling is great too, though many products can only be recycled into lower value materials, so even better to have less to recycle to begin with.

9) Slay Your Energy Vampires

We’ve already warned you that your DVR and satellite/cable box may be sucking more energy than any other appliance in your home (refrigerator included!), even when you think they’re switched off. You may also have plenty of other appliances out there sucking electrons in stand-by mode, adding up to hundreds of dollars of wasted energy. The only real way to stop the energy vampires is by putting everything you can on switchable power strips, which you turn off whenever you’re not putting gizmos to use. There are now even smart strips that cut phantom power to other plugged-in electronics once a controlling device (like a TV or computer) is turned off.

10) Don’t Procrastinate, Insulate (& Go Solar!)

A well-insulated home is a happy home, since over half of home energy use leaks out the cracks. If you really want to upgrade your crib into the green stratosphere, ask your utility about buying green power or put some solar panels on your roof. With prices below $1 per watt, solar PV has never been cheaper, and you can virtually eliminate your home’s carbon footprint with the right set-up. Group buying services like 1BOG can help you get the best deals out there.

11) Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is

If you’re a lucky ducky with a nest egg to hatch, make sure it’s incubating in companies you believe in. We’ve compiled a few tips to help you green your 401(k) portfolio. Give ’em a gander (or a goose, if you prefer).

12) Take a “Staycation”

The more scientists look at aviation impacts, the less friendly flying looks for the planet. It’s not just CO2 emissions from jet engines that are a problem; high altitude NOx, soot and water vapor also directly contribute to global warming, potentially doubling to quadrupling the impacts from CO2 alone. So a roundtrip flight across the US is at least akin to driving a 15 MPG Chevy Suburban all by your lonesome, or worse. Perhaps a staycation is in order instead? Just kick back, relax, catch up on your blog reading, and enjoy the fruits of your post(poned)-apocalyptic resolutions!

13) Kill Your Catalogs

Each year about 19 billion catalogs are mailed in the US, chopping down 53 million trees and guzzeling 56 billion gallons of wastewater to produce piles of paper that mostly go straight to a recycling bin. Go to catalogchoice.org to stop the madness in your mailbox.

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