Spring seems like a great time to recharge and refocus on goals. Got any season-specific advice?
— Spring-lover in Vancouver
So, your New Year resolve is thawing? Spring is a great time to renew resolutions and make some essential changes — changes that are good for your wallet and Mother Nature. The warm weather, and the inspiring nature of spring, makes simple, positive green steps simpler and enjoyable. Take advantage, while it lasts.
• Improve your health, save money on gas, and keep CO2 and pollutants out of the air! You may be sick of hearing it by now, but walk or bike instead of driving. Half of the time we use a car it’s to make trips that are less than three miles – a distance that can be easily covered in a 20-minute bike ride. And, really, by the time you get in the car, negotiate traffic, find a place to park ... walking is often just as quick (or at least close.) The average car releases about 1 pound of CO2 for every mile driven so, by cutting back 20 miles per week, you can eliminate 1,000 pounds of CO2 emissions per year.
• If you feel you have to drive, increase your gas mileage by as much as 23 percent by slowing down and driving smoothly (no peeling out — quick stops and starts, etc.). My mom drives ... let's just say, not so smoothly. She has a habit of pumping the gas pedal: a minor, but constant, lurching. Her Prius tracks how many miles per gallon (mpg) it is getting at any given time, so I did a little experiment. That slight, unconscious tapping on the gas pedal gets her an average 30 mpg. Driving the same distance on the same roads, but driving smoothly, I was able to get 70 mpg. OK, so I may be showing off a bit, but you get the point. Speeding just doesn't pay. By sticking to 65 mpg you can keep 1,500 pounds of CO2 out of the atmosphere, and save a good $200 at the pump every year. Keeping your tires correctly inflated is safer, extends the life of the tires and increases your fuel efficiency. And keep your car tuned — a poorly tuned car can lose up to 20 percent of its fuel efficiency!
• Hanging your laundry to dry sound a bit too 20th century? Clothes dryers are among the most energy-hungry appliances in the home. A standard clothes dryer will use about 900 kilowatt hours of electricity, resulting in as much as 1 ton of greenhouse gas emissions, every year. By hanging your laundry to dry, you’ll be cutting utility bills, probably extending the life of your clothes, and even helping improve indoor air quality by limiting the moisture and mold that dryers can produce.
• About 90 percent of the energy used to wash clothes is spent on heating water. By using the cool water setting for your laundry, you can avoid putting 350 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. If we all switched to cold, or at least warm instead of hot, settings we would save enough CO2 to equal 3,316,442 cars taken off the road per year. Your clothes will get just as clean, plus you'll be saving money and reducing your impact on the environment.
• The next seven months will bring an abundance of fresh produce, so lay off the beef. Meat production accounts for a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the Environmental Protection Agency says animal waste pollutes our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. Mind-boggling amounts of water — more than it takes to grow our entire fruit and vegetable crop — is used in raising meat. The almost 5 pounds of grain that go into producing one pound of beef led Food First’s Frances Moore Lappé to ask people to imagine sitting down to an eight-ounce steak, and then, “imagine the room filled with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls. ... For the feed cost of your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of cooked cereal grains.” Meat is usually more expensive than produce, so you’ll save money, and — if you're like most Americans — cutting back on beef will improve your health.
• Eat local. Food travels an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 miles (ScienceDaily, 2008) to get from the farm to your table. Less distance travelled means less fossil fuels and other resources have to be used to transport, refrigerate and package the food. Eating food grown close to home not only saves resources, it helps build stronger local economies, supports family farms, and provides you with fresh — usually more nutritious and tasty — foods. Enjoy farmer's markets, and consider joining a CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture, and is basically a way of buying shares of a local farmer’s harvest. You receive a weekly bounty of everything growing. Localfoods.org and LocalHarvest.org both offer wonderful ways to find markets, farmers and CSAs. Just enter your ZIP code! And a quick internet search is bound to provide other local food resources — like Rhode Island's FarmFresh.org. Don’t stop there — start growing some of your own food. There are lots of great resources online and at the library to get you started. Check out Mother Nature Network's farms & gardening channel for tips and information.
• Install water-efficient low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators to save on water and energy bills. This is a real bang-for-your-buck move. They are easy to install, can save up to 750 gallons of water a month, and are the least expensive methods of saving water in the home. Except, of course, the entirely cost-free method of simply using less water.
Stay Green (and save some green),