Monday October 23rd 2017

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Walking Lightly (er)

I thought I would share some of the changes and/or choices we (me and my partner) have made to try and reduce our impact on the planet. We are always looking for new ways to reduce the amount of energy that we consume, to reduce the amount of materials that we use and for ways to extend the life of the goods we already have.

Why is this important? Well, if everyone on the planet consumed the way we do in the United States we would need FIVE earths. We have one (for those of you keeping score). We use up materials as if trees, water, and minerals were unlimited. In just 100 years we have wiped out much of the earth’s stocks of natural resources.

In order to avoid catastrophe we must fundamentally change how we live our lives. Few people are prepared for this message. It challenges everything we think we know about life. It challenges and calls into question the very core of our national and personal identities’. Some very heavy emotional and intellectual lifting indeed, but for today, let’s focus on the “easy” stuff.  Let’s focus on reducing energy use, consuming less, and looking at diet.

There are LOT’s of links in this posting.  Take your time and work through them if you can.  Lot’s of good information and ideas to be explored.

Reduce Energy Use

Drive Less: In America 30-40% of all energy use, and climate change inducing carbon emissions, come from the transportation sector.  That is because our society is so dependent on the private automobile.  Do everything you can to drive less.

Car:  We have made a commitment to being, at most, a one-car family. We have a small car which at times is inconvenient and we have considered getting a larger second-hand car for those times when more space is needed.  In the end we decided that if a larger car is needed, we will trade in the first car.  If and when public transportation improves in this country I would love to have no car and just rent a vehicle from time to time.

Location:  When we moved to Washington DC we very consciously chose an apartment that is within walking distance of a metro station.  This allows us to use public transportation to go to work each day and for any excursions into the city (In fact, with my new job, I can actually walk to work – even better!).   Our apartment is within walking distance to two grocery stores (Giant and Whole Foods).  We have a cart that we use to carry our groceries back and forth.  We get some exercise and we don’t use the car.  Love it.
Facilities:  We also specifically chose an apartment complex that has tennis courts and a gym.  Finding tennis courts in this semi-urban area can be difficult and can require driving 5 to 45 minutes to public courts depending on the location and time of day.  I save a tremendous amount of time and fuel by having courts that I can walk to.   We can go weeks at a time without using the car.

Promote Integrated Communities: In many communities across the U.S. we passed zoning laws that separate our schools from our homes and from our work place.  We spend much of our lives cut off from the world as we drive from one errand to the next.  Get involved in your local political scene and get those zoning laws changed to create a move livable environment.  Arlington Virginia did just this and it is thriving. (Read about it here and here.)  If you are looking to move to a new area use this site to find a “walkable” community.

Reduce Home Energy Use: (here is a good list also)

    1. Choose a smaller home:  A smaller space requires less energy to heat and keep cool.
    2. Get an Energy Audit: The best way to find out where you are losing energy (and money).  Focus on the biggest energy hogs in your home (good list here)”
      1. Insulate your home
      2. Get triple pane windows
      3. Get a more efficient Refrigerator (the fridge is a major energy hog)
      4. Get a more efficient water heater
      5. Get low flush toilets
    3. Use Efficient Technology:
      1. Use compact fluorescent bulbs.  They can reduce your energy use by 80%.
      2. Only use appliances with the Energy Star symbol.  Energy Star approved products can use 2 to 10 times less energy than non-approved models!  (Find energy star appliances here)
      3. Use smart power strips that cut off power to appliances when not be used.  Many appliances drain energy even when off (“Energy Vampires”).  Anywhere from 5-10% of all energy use in the U.S. is from these vampires.  Unplug!!
Appliances:  Although our rent includes the cost of electricity and water we do as much as we can to reduce our use of these resources.
  1. All light bulbs are low energy.
  2. We use power strips that cut off the current to appliances when not in use.  We unplug appliances not on power strips.
  3. When buying appliances we make to purchase the most energy efficient model currently available.
  4. Laundry:  We wash all our clothes in cold water.
  5. Dish washer:  If used properly a dish washer can save in water and energy.  We fill the machine to the maximum before each load is started.

Consume Less
Our entire society is set up to promote consumption.  We are bombarded by messages every day that create the “need” to buy, buy, buy.

Reduce the Temptation

Turn off the TV ( research shows that for each extra hour of TV watched, a person spends an extra $220/year).

Stop Mail Order Catalogs

Over the years I ended up on the mailing list of many mail order shopping catalogs (LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, etc).  I rarely needed anything but I would just page through them for the fun of it.  Invariably, from time to time I would find something that caught my eye and I would buy it.  I have stopped all the catalogs and save all that paper and avoid impulse buying.  I don’t miss it.  You can stop catalogs by calling the company directly or by using this free website.

Stop/Reduce Paper use

    1. Stop using paper towels
    2. Use tissues from recycled paper
    3. Use toilet paper from recycled paper
Paper Towels:  I love the convenience of paper towels but cutting down virgin forests for such convenience is too high a price to pay.  We now have a collection of dish towels that do the same job and can just be thrown in the wash.
Paper Napkins:  Same idea.  We have cloth napkins that we wash and reuse.
Toilet Paper:  Only from recycled paper.
Water bottle:  We each have a durable water bottle that we take with us everywhere.  We never need to buy bottled water.  We use a water filter at home.  Watch this fun video on bottled water.
Tailor:  We take clothes when they have small tears or don’t fit so well to the tailor and for $1 to $10 we can extend the life our otherwise perfectly fine clothes.
Paper:  We normally print on both sides of paper.  We reuse all single side printed sheets.  I also save all paper from work (I get a lot of memos, handouts, draft documents, etc. that are printed single sided) and reuse them at home.
E-statements:  I have converted all my financial statements (bank, credit cards, mutual funds, etc) to electronic statements.  It has cut down significantly on the amount of mail I receive.  I used to have binders and binders of all these statements that I never looked at.  Saves me time in filing and saves trees.
Receipts:  I have boxes and boxes of receipts that I never used.  If you buy online or use a credit card then you already have an electronic receipt.  I no longer ask for receipts at the gas station.  When I have choice, I normally decline getting a receipt.

Recycle:  We separate our trash and recycle as much as we can.

Avoid Plastic:  Every piece of plastic ever made still exists.  In the US we buy about 30 Billion plastic water bottles each year!!  Most end up land fills.  Not to mention all that other plastic we consume every day as packing materials for the stuff we buy, Ziploc bags, shopping bags, etc, etc.  Plastic doesn’t go away easily — it can take 500 to 1000 years for plastic to break down.  Nobody knows for sure.  And every day we learn of more risks associated with the chemicals that leach out of these plastic products.  Plastic burned in incinerators emit carcinogenic fumes into the air.  Plastic is evil. Do everything you can to remove plastic from your life.

Plastic shopping bags:  We have a collection of canvas bags that we use for all shopping.  We keep a set in the car.  We have small portable ones that we keep in our backpacks or travel bags.  It took us a while to get in the habit of remembering to take the bags with us but now it is second nature and now we never use plastic bags.

Ziploc bags:  We try and use as little as possible and if we must, we gently wash and reuse to extend their life.  To replace ziploc bags we have purchased small Pyrex containers to protect our food.  Works great.

Reduce exposure to chemicals

Cleaning Products:  We have experimented with a range of “Green” cleaning products.  After trial and error we have managed to find products that get the job done using less toxic chemicals.  We like Method products for:
  1. toilet cleaner
  2. bathroom tile cleaner
  3. floor cleaner
  4. window and glass cleaner
  5. dishwasher soap
  6. dish washing machine soap

The nature of our diet has a tremendous impact on the planet.  Our industrial food system is heavily dependent on fossil fuels and is unsustainable on many levels.  Watch the great documentary “Food Inc” to learn about how our food system fails us. The American diet is rich in meat, a very inefficient way to feed a growing population.  It takes 2,500 gallons of water to make a one-pound steak in the U.S.!  More than 50% of the entire corn harvested in the U.S. is fed to cows to make beef.  Fast food is also becoming a staple of the American diet with disastrous effects on our personal and planetary health.  Read more on this here.

Eat less Meat:

  1. We eat red meat very rarely and when we do we buy only organic, grass fed beef or grass fed buffalo meat.
  2. We try and have at least a few “meat free” days each week.
  3. We buy eggs that are free-range and organic and endorsed by the Humane Society
  4. We buy organic chicken (free range) and pork
  5. We buy fish according to environmentally friendly list (printable version here) – avoiding sea bass, farmed salmon etc… focusing on tilapia, wild salmon….

Buy Local

We buy as much of our vegetables from local farmers and we go to the farmers market regularly.  We buy organic vegetables and fruits as much as possible.

Well, that is a start.  Drop me a line if you have some other good ideas or examples of steps that you have taken to reduce your footprint.

The longest journey begins with a single step….

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One Comment for “Walking Lightly (er)”

  • Maggie Fleming says:

    What a great post! Thanks for sharing the methods you are using to reduce your footprint and hopefully some of us are doing the same thing. I know your neighbors across the street are doing much of the same on your list. One of the things I enjoy doing is using my laundry rack to dry clothes rather than throwing them in the dryer. Clothes do take a little longer to dry this way but you cannot replace fresh clean scent left behind in the apartment. :)

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