30 ways to save the planet with anything you do
IN THE HOUSE
Focus on Fluorescent
If just one lightbulb was replaced with a compact fluorescent bulb in every
American home, it would save enough energy to power 3 million homes for a year, prevent the emission of green-house gases equivalent to that of
800,000 cars, and save over $600 million in energy costs. Other bright ideas: dimmers to reduce your wattage, as well as devices that automatically turn on and off when you enter or leave a room, like the BRK Screw-In Motion Sensor Switch ($30; smarthome.com).
Get an Energy Audit
Curb energy use and costs by having a conversation with your utility company.
Many offer rebates to encourage customers to trim consumption, as well as meters and displays that show you how much energy your appliances suck up. You may even be eligible for a time-of-use program, in which you'll be billed differently for electricity used during peak and off-peak hours. In other words, you could pay a lower rate for showering at night or doing laundry on weekends.
Pull the Plug
A whopping 75 percent of energy consumption by home electronics, like cell phone chargers, DVD players, and printers, occurs when the devices are turned off but plugged in. But fear not: There are gadgets, like the Kill A Watt EZ from P3 International ($60; amazon .com), designed to pinpoint those energy guzzlers. You just enter pricing data from your electric bill and then plug the appliance in question into the unit for a tally of operating costs by week, month, and year.
Shorten the Showers
You use an average of 2.5 gallons of water for every minute you're in there. Reduce your showers from 15 to 10 minutes and you'll save an incredible 375 gallons of water per month. Also be sure to turn off the faucet while you shave your legs, loofah your skin, or wait for your conditioner to soak in. Check out greenIQ.com, a Web site that calculates your environmental footprint, to see the amount of natural resources you use and harmful greenhouse gases you produce as a result of your daily activities.
Lower the Heat
Most water heaters are set at 130°F or 140°F, but you can easily turn yours down to 120°F. You'll use less energy to heat your water and save up to 5 percent per year in water-heating expenses.
Rescue Your Mail Carrier
About 19 billion catalogs are mailed in the U.S. each year-many of which go directly into the recycling bin. For an easy fix, visit catalogchoice.org, a Web site that contacts companies on your behalf to request you be removed from their mailing list.
(Dry) Clean Up Your Act
About 85 percent of dry cleaners in the U.S. use perchloroethylene, a volatile organic compound linked to respiratory problems and increased risk for several types of cancer. Go to greenearthcleaning.com to find a cleaner near you that uses earth-friendly processes. If you can't find a green alternative, at least forgo the clear plastic bag-both to save resources and air out the chemicals-and return the wire hangers for reuse. (More than 3.5 billion wire hangers end up in landfills each year.)
Replacing your toilet? Opt for a low-flow model like the Toto Aquia Dual Flush (from $395; totousa.com for stores). Or, trick your toilet. Most standard models require 3 to 5 gallons of water to function properly, but you really only need 2. By placing large rocks or a sealed 1-liter bottle filled with sand in the tank, you can displace a couple of gallons and use less water.
Make Your Bed with Bamboo
If you're in the market for new linens, consider a sustainable material like bamboo. The fast-growing plant is cultivated without pesticides and requires less water than conventionally grown cotton. Bamboo sheets look and feel like satin, wick moisture, and are naturally antimicrobial.
Become a Locavore
There's a reason the Oxford American Dictionary made this term-defined as someone who eats only food grown or produced within a 100-mile radius-its word of the year. The average American meal travels 1,500 miles to the plate. When you consider how much fuel is consumed and greenhouse gases are emitted as a result of that travel, eating foods grown closer to home is a smart move for the planet.
Be Selective About Seafood
It's vital to know how and where the fish you're ordering was caught and how well the populations are doing, so you'll have that fish well into the future. Seek out varieties that are low in contaminants, like mercury, PCBs, and dioxins, and have been caught with hooks and lines (which has a minimal impact on the ocean habitat). Consult nrdc.org/mercury or seafoodwatch.org for tips on choosing healthy, sustainable fish.
Commit to COmposting
By keeping food scraps like fruit and vegetable waste out of landfills, you can reduce greenhouse gases on two fronts. One of the benefits of composting is that it can replace petroleum-based fertilizers, which generate pollution and contaminate the water supply. Get a backyard bin, such as the Gaiam Spinning Composter ($179; gaiam.com), or place a trash can-size container like Naturemill's composter ($300; naturemill.com) in your kitchen.
Rethink the Sink
Hand-washing a huge pile of dirty dishes can require up to 20 gallons of water, more than five times the water used by most EnergyStar-certified (deemed energy-efficient by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy) dishwashers in a single load. But rinsing them before you load them can suck up almost as much.
Most dishwashers today are strong enough to remove the food residue from plates. If yours isn't, take advantage of your appliance's rinse cycle, which uses less water than hand-washing. And always wait until the dishwasher is full before running it.
Switch to Recycled Paper Products
It takes 40 percent less energy to make paper from recycled stock than from virgin materials. Easy swaps to make today: Use paper towels and toilet tissue from earth-friendly companies like Seventh Generation.
Get "Green" Electronics
Computers and other gadgets gobble more energy than you might think, and many are made with materials that can be hazardous to the environment after they're thrown away. To help you find better alternatives, the Consumer Electronics Association has put together a guide to earth-friendly devices. So if you're thinking of buying a new laptop, cell phone, or TV, go to mygreenelectronics.com to study up. There you can calculate how much it costs you per day to run the machines you currently own-that will probably persuade you to spring for a greener replacement or two.
IN YOUR YARD
Keep the Climate in Mind
For green lawns or gorgeous gardens, we use a lot of natural resources and put loads of chemicals into the soil that end up in our water and food supplies. Ask your local nursery to direct you to drought-tolerant plants that are adapted to your local climate so you don't have to rely on excess watering and fertilizing to keep them healthy.
Make Over Your Mowing Routine
Burn calories instead of fossil fuels with a push mower, and set your blades to trim grass to 2 inches. At this height, the grass stays moister, so you'll need to water it less. Plus weeds, which need light to grow, are prevented from sprouting.
Weed with Abandon
Weeding every time you see even one pesky plant is worth the effort, since you'll reduce your need for pesticides. If these botanical intruders are out of control, consider Espoma Earth-tone 4n1 Weed Control ($7; neeps.com), which uses fatty acids and synthetic food-safe agents instead of harsh pesticides to kill weeds.
Plant a Tree
Just one can offset up to 1.33 tons of carbon dioxide over its life cycle. Plus if you plant it strategically, you can score some extra shade for your house, reducing the amount of energy you use for air-conditioning. Trees also help with irrigation and water runoff, keeping your lawn healthier.
IN THE GYM
Fill and Repeat
Remember the water bottle you tossed after Spinning class last night? It may behoove you to know it will take about 1,000 years to biodegrade. A better bet: Pick up a water-filter pitcher or a filter that attaches to your faucet, as well as a refillable aluminum bottle from Sigg (from $16; mysigg.com).
Throw in the Towel
The next time you grab a stack of towels while showering at the gym, remember that coal is required to run every load of laundry, which pumps CO 2 into the air. Limit yourself to a single towel at the gym, or carry a small one in your bag so you won't need to crank out paper from the dispenser to wipe down equipment
or your sweaty face.
Give Old Kicks a New Life
Donate any brand of athletic shoes to Nike's Reuse-a-Shoe program and the company will recycle them into materials that will be used in sports surfaces, such as playgrounds, basketball courts, and running tracks, for underserved communities around the world. Go to letmeplay.com/reuseashoe for the drop-off location nearest you.
Fresh air and a new view aren't the only benefits of hitting the pavement for a run or walk-you'll save $6 and 45 kilowatt hours of electricity a month by not operating that treadmill (based on an average of 15 hours of use).
AT THE OFFICE
Always ask yourself, "Do I really need to print now?" If so, make sure you retrieve your paperwork right away, so you don't fall prey to the out-of-sight-out-of-mind reprinting cycle. Also tighten your margins and use both sides of the page whenever possible. And be sure to recycle your printer cartridges. Most major office-supply stores accept them now.
Bring your own coffee mug instead of relying on the disposable variety in the break room. By purchasing a cup of coffee in a throwaway cup every day, you create about 23 pounds of waste each year.
Pack your lunch in reusable containers. If you can't break away from baggies, try Mobi's reusable, biodegradable ones with vegetable-dyed prints from designer Todd Oldham ($5 for 20 sandwich bags; mobi-usa.com). A portion of the proceeds from the bags goes to the NRDC.
ON THE ROAD
If you need to warm up your car engine on a cold winter day, try to limit idling time to less than 30 seconds to keep your fuel emissions low.
"Dry Wash Your Car
Though the bucket and sponge method may require less water than the local car wash, it may also be as environmentally unfriendly, introducing toxins into the ground-water that winds up in our drinking supply. Instead buy a waterless plant-based cleaner like Dri Wash Envy ($38; driwash.com).
Pack It Up
Stashing sample-size bottles of your health and beauty products in your carry-on is one way to comply with the TSA's liquid limits, but it's better for the earth-and your wallet-to snag a set of reusable containers.
Travel by Train
Planes produce 19 times as much pollution as trains do. When you do fly, offset your carbon emissions by going to terrapass.com and purchasing "credits" to fund clean energy projects, like those using wind and farm power. For more eco-solutions, check out idealbite.com, a Web site that delivers free green-living tips to your e-mail in-box every day.