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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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energy-star-logoEnergy efficiency for electronics is a big action that can make a big difference. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) says that the average house has about 25 different electronic gadgets, including televisions, phones, video game consoles, cable boxes, computers, and probably many more if you have little kids! All these gadgets and electronic items consume lots of energy throughout their short lifetimes — including when they are powered off, leading to several billions of dollars of wasted energy yearly.

Here are some actionable tips to help you make your gadgets as efficient as possible:

    • Do your research: Energy Star is a starting place for more efficient gadgets, but it can also be helpful to do some research to find which item is truly the best for your needs.
    • Choose second-hand carefully: Electronic technology evolves so quickly that an item only a few years old could be light-years behind technologically. Compare the energy needs of secondhand televisions, blenders, toys or other gadgets with their newer versions before making the purchase.
    • Be vigilant with the vampires: Even efficient and Energy Star electronics will use juice when they are turned off, so squash the vampire power by using a power strip, a smart strip or simply unplugging all your electronic items when not in use. 
    • Check the charge: Use a watt meter to determine how much energy your item is using, then make adjustments to reduce the flow. Learn about stand-by modes for gaming consoles and other gadgets. Some gadgets (like cell phones) will have built-in energy meters so you can see what’s using the most power. Take advantage of the energy-saving settings, and find hacks to continually reduce your usage.
    • Don’t forget to recycle the goods: At the end of their useful life, gadgets can give back by being recycled. Check out the EPA guidelines for e-waste recycling and read more about why electronics recycling is so important in our blog post.

Here are some more great resources for getting the best bang for your electronics buck:

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Making compost is gratifying and wonderfully filthy, since it turns garbage into gold. Food waste, yard waste, and even human waste can be made into compost that boosts the fertility of gardens and farms, removes biodegradable matter from landfills, and helps reduce climate change. It’s a winning trifecta.

composting compost pile

composting turns green to (black) gold

How can funky, mucky compost help us build a better climate? Let us count the ways:

composting compost pile

build your compost bin to fit your life

  • Reducing food waste: Composting helps reduce the amount of food waste and green waste headed to landfills. Both food and green waste breaks down into methane, a potent greenhouse gas. NRDC says that the average American wastes 40% of food grown and produced each year. Learn more about food waste here.
  • Compost reduces the need for water and synthetic fertilizers: A healthy, compost-rich garden or farm can improve moisture retention, saving water and reducing runoff. Beneficial microorganisms and nutrients within the compost will ensure plant health by boosting nutrients and deterring pests.
  • Compost can build and maintain healthy soils: Due to monocropping, over-application of pesticides and other agricultural missteps, soils around the world are being depleted of their natural components. Compost can help bring balance and restore farms and fields to a healthier state. Compost also functions as a major carbon sink: compost adds carbon back to the soil and, with increased plant growth, pulls more carbon from the atmosphere in a virtuous cycle.
  • Compost is FREE and EASY: Like most of our Actions, composting is accessible to everyone, whether you’re a townie or living off the grid in the forest. Compost can be as complicated as a DIY compost bin for a big yard, or a small worm compost bin for your apartment balcony. Many cities offer green waste and food waste collection too, making it easier than ever.

Want to learn more about composting and making “black gold” from your food waste? Here are some great resources:

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

Compost image from Flickr Creative Commons; compost sign image from Flickr Creative Commons

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LED light bulb green livingTurning off your lights is an Action that is incredibly simple, yet incredibly important. Just how important depends on which type of light bulbs you have in your home or office. According to the US Department of Energy, incandescent and halogen lights should be turned off any time you leave the room because of high consumption of energy. Compact fluorescent lights (CFL) should be turned off if you are not going to be using them for 15 minutes or more; the longevity of CFLs is affected by how often they are turned on/off and they wear out with quick on/off switches. If you have invested in LEDs, the most efficient option for long-term energy and money savings, you can save even more by turning them off each time you leave a room. The longevity of LED lights is not affected by switching on/off too often.

The Energy Collective puts it into perspective: “leaving lights on [while you’re gone for eight hours] costs you roughly 6 cents for a normal light and a bit over 1 cent for modern bulbs. Obviously this isn’t going to break the bank, but if that light switch you forgot to flick off actually runs five lights in the kitchen, we’re talking 30 cents a day, and that bad habit adds up to $110 per year!”

If you want to nerd out and calculate exactly how much you can save by flipping off the switches, the Department of Energy has detailed directions on their site. Keep in mind that daily or even weekly costs will be minimal. However, it’s important to look at all calculations in yearly cost and yearly energy savings. Extrapolating that data to your whole home, your office, your neighborhood, your city, and beyond can demonstrate how powerful a simple action like this can be for saving energy and reducing your footprint.

Can’t remember to turn out the lights? The image below is a fun way to help kids big and small remember to turn lights off. And this article has some great tips for teaching children about energy efficiency and reasons for turning off the lights.

If your family just can’t remember to flip the switch, invest in sensors, smart strips, or other automated home technologies so that you can turn the lights off automatically or remotely.

how-get-kids-save-energy_9411042c76bb513fdea8eef1a788fd6c_3x2lightbulb image from here

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sports and sustainability how to green the games

How can we rally the passion and dedication that people feel towards sports into a passion for climate change? Working for climate change can seem pretty boring compared to a deflated football scandal or game between rival universities, but what if we we able to combine the passions for sports and sustainability? Can we harness the power and dedication of sports fans to make a positive change for climate action?

No doubt sports evoke passion, inspiring powerful emotions before, during, and after games, and can bring people of all backgrounds together, acting as a universal language. Collegiate athletic events include millions of students and fans, the Olympic Games reach over two-thirds of the planet, and the FIFA World Cup was estimated to have had over seven hundred million people watching the 2006 championship game. Seen in this way, sports are a great way to leverage collective passion to inspire change and elevate environmental awareness.

Despite this power, many sports do not coexist sustainably with the environment: thousands of gallons of water is needed to maintain fields, tremendous amounts of energy is used to power stadiums, and millions of pounds of fuel is used to transport teams around the world. When I played collegiate soccer just a year ago, there were few environmental actions associated with our athletics department. We were provided with unrecyclable gear, plastic waterbottles and unhealthy food, and frequently traveled in airplanes and busses that were far from fuel-efficient.

However, many teams and groups have started to take huge steps to green their sport. For example, environmental factors are now a key component when selecting Olympic host cities, and Games are to be held in ways that “promote sustainable development in sports.” Additionally, the Seattle Mariners introduced “sustainable Saturdays” by creating an environment-related trivia contest requiring fans to check out various recycling points around the stadium. The National Hockey League recently made headlines for their environmental initiatives too. The most recent Superbowl was played under LED lights, reducing energy by 75%, and dozens of other stadiums are being powered by solar. And it’s not just at the professional levels. At Yale, student athletes created the nation’s first Green Athletics Team Certification program for teams.

Despite these examples of professional and college sports teams going green, there is still much need to recognize the dynamic relationship between sports and the environment. Coaches, players and fans need to leverage the power that sports events and team affiliates have to create a more sustainable world. Groups like Sustainability in Sport and Green Sport Alliance are connecting the passion of fans with their favorite teams.

You can also help bring sustainability to the sport events and teams that you are passionate about! Something as simple as taking public transportation to sporting events or bringing your own waterbottle can make a difference. You can create or become a part of a Green Team at sporting events, or lobby for the implementation of recycling bins in stadiums and arenas. Bringing petitions to your own teams, schools and community to encourage universities and team affiliates to adopt sustainability plans can make a huge statement. Learn more using the links above to inspire your local and university level teams to bridge the gap between sports and sustainability. Together, we can share knowledge about the tangible relationship between sports and the environment, and take steps to ensure a win for us all.

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

Stadium image from Flickr Creative Commons

maddie wienerAbout the Author: Maddie Weiner is a writer and activist based in San Francisco. She is a recent Brown graduate with studies in International Development, Environmental Studies, Social Entrepreneurship and Spanish.

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divest from fossil fuelsThis year, thousands of people around the world made Mother Earth their Valentine by celebrating the first annual Global Divestment Day. On February 13 and 14, people banded together to ask their schools, institutions, and local governments to break up with Big Oil, sending a clear message throughout the globe that it is no longer morally, politically, nor financially acceptable to support companies that profit from the destruction of our home sweet home called Earth.

The argument for divestment is pretty simple. About  two-thirds of the reserves in the ground must stay there to keep climate change at bay, but the oil, mining, and coal companies base their financial projections on burning it all up. This is just not feasible, as burning all existing reserves has the potential to ruin the planet as we know it, at which point the economy would fall apart.

But can divestment really work, and is it a sound financial move?

dinosaur divest imageindex

Keep it in the ground!

Most academics and analysts agree that divestment of schools and public institutions will not itself weaken the capital of fossil fuels. If by divesting you sell your stock to the next investor, capital is just changing hands. However, divestment is not just about the money — it starts climate conversations where there were none before, and sets the tone for what is morally and socially acceptable in our communities. Historically, divestment from Big Tobacco and divestment from companies during the South African Apartheid were extremely successful in shaping public discourse and making big changes.

It’s abundantly clear that burning the fossil fuel reserves in the ground will totally devastate the planet upon which the economy is based. There is no cost for fossil fuels that can make up for the future loss of natural capital: the price of losing our agricultural land, the damage to ecosystems worldwide, or the health of the population. By divesting now, we stand a chance to diminish the costs that future generations will have to pay, and can fuel the movement towards a cleaner planet today.

In every era, we know that industry and progress follow the money, and the case for divestment has recently gotten stronger with the sharp decline in worldwide oil prices. To top it off, the environmental and human costs of new modes of fossil fuel extraction like fracking are making fossil fuels a less promising investment than in decades past. And the nail in the coffin of fossil fuel investment? The cost of renewables like solar is decreasing each year, and the job market for renewables is seeing a steady increase. In a study done by the banking firm Lazard, solar energy is roughly 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour and wind is as low as 1.4, whereas natural gas and coal come in around is 6.1 and 6.6 respectively. Any smart investor can see where the future fortune lies.

But perhaps the best argument to convince our cities, schools and communities to divest is that it makes great financial sense. Reports show that in the past five years, funds divested from fossil fuels have outperformed the conventional funds. In fact, Business Spectator says that a divestment strategy “can make perfect financial sense. The fossil fuel free index also showed less volatility than the conventional [funds].” So, better returns on investment, less risk of climate disasters, and a healthier world for future generations? It seems like divestment is the sweetest Valentine of them all.

Here’s how you can break up with fossil fuels:

  1. Join millions at GoFossilFree.org. Add your name to one (or several) of the 450 different petitions across 60 countries. The more your public institution(s) see that climate change is an issue of concern for the community, the sooner we can start a discussion about the long-term consequences of climate action. If there’s no divestment organization in your community, start your own!
  2. Divest yourself. A recent study done by the Sierra Club and Rainforest Action Network found that major banks and credit card companies, like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase, and Morgan Stanley, give hefty contributions to fossil fuels. If you pay annual fees, transfer fees, or interest to these banks, your funds are supporting coal and oil investment. Consider moving your money to a credit union or a community development bank in your area. To find out how your bank rates, check out Green America’s scorecard.
  3. Learn more and support the movement. Below are a few great resources to help you learn more about divestment and help us build a greener future for all! Learn more about divestment from the following resources:
  • Bill McKibben of 350.org discusses why student-led divestment movements are changing the landscape of fossil fuels. Read more on Rolling Stone.
  • The Financial Case for Divestment of Fossil Fuel Companies by Endowment Fiduciaries by  The Huffington Post.
  • The country of Norway divests from fossil fuels: learn how and why here on Clean Technica.
  • Why the discussion is now Peak Carbon instead of Peak Oil by GoFossilFree.
  • Learn what happened on Global Divestment Day in February 2015: watch the video from GoFossilFree.

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

Dinosaur image from Go Fossil Free Campaign Solana Beach, divest image from Resilience.org

Rachel GoldbergAbout the Author: Rachel is a recent graduate of the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, and is the RISE Intern for Oroeco. She is excited to pursue a career in environmental sustainability, and is thrilled to promote Oroeco’s vision of saving money and the planet simultaneously!

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price of electrity in each state

Average electricity price per state (cents/kWh) as of April 2014, compiled by data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration; screenshot from Huffington Post

Sometimes we all need a little nudge to do the right thing. Choosing to reduce your energy consumption is great when it’s good for the polar bears and the rainforest, but you probably don’t think it affects you directly. The good news and the bad news is that rising electricity costs make it so that doing the right thing for the planet is also the right thing for your budget. It might just be the nudge some of us need to be more conscious of our electricity usage.

We all know we can easily reduce our impact on the planet and our budget by reducing our energy use in various ways. But how much difference does it really make? How much money can you really save by reducing your electricity usage? Turns out it depends on where you live. As you can see in the image above and the table below, the cost of electricity varies widely between states.

New York 19.56
Hawaii 38.08
California 10.17
Kansas 12.62
Michigan 14.62
Alaska 19.03
Texas 12.07
Florida 11.76
Washington 8.75

An interactive version of the image is available in the original article from the Huffington Post, but above is just a sample of how widely costs can vary between states. Why the range of prices between states? Varying local infrastructure, climate, availability of sources, pervasiveness of renewable energy technology, and other factors account for the variation. And rates will continue to climb. According to the New York Post, electricity rates will likely increase about 4% each year as coal-fired power plants shut down and are increasingly regulated in the coming years.

In another graphic in the article, the electricity usage by state is shown. And guess what — the states with the highest energy costs also have the lowest use! High-cost Hawaii has one of the lowest collective uses of electricity (it helps that it’s always pretty warm there), while some of the states where electricity cost is low have some of the highest rates of usage (such as Washington, Texas and Arkansas).

how much electricity used in each state

How much electricity is used in your state; screenshot from Huffington Post

What does this mean for you as a user looking to reduce your energy costs? If you live in Hawaii or New York, cutting energy costs makes sense for your own wallet AND those polar bears. Those living in the states that have the highest cost of electricity are actually double incentivized to reduce their consumption: not only is it better for the planet, it’s a quicker return on investment when they see reduced costs on their electricity bill in a short time period. But, if you live in Texas where electricity rates are incredibly low, it’s a bit harder to convince everyone to reduce energy just for the sake of reduction, since it doesn’t impact their personal budgets as swiftly or as greatly. The upfront costs of LEDs and appliance upgrades might deter those living in states with lower electricity rates, and it might be harder to see the benefit of the upfront costs. However, as noted by Forbes, even though a incandescent bulb costs about one dollar compared to a new LED bulb at $25, the lifespan and operational costs make it the cheapest option for the long-term, both for your personal carbon footprint and your budget. To upgrade appliances, consumers can get incentives from the state and federal governments to help reduce the cost of new Energy Star refrigerators, fans, air conditioners and other high-cost items.

Just as the once high cost of solar power has been reduced to make panels more affordable and the payoff period shorter, innovation in products and increasing energy rates will continue to shorten the return on investment for all upgrades. Even in states where energy rates are low and the return on investment might be a bit slower than high-cost states, there are still many incentives for consumers to make efficiency upgrades, which benefit all consumers (and polar bears!) immediately and in the long-term.

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andrea head shot circleAbout the Author: Andrea Bertoli helps to spread awareness of personal climate impacts via social media, blogging, advertising and community outreach for Oroeco.

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