Reducing your carbon footprint and living a healthier lifestyle begins with waking up on the green side of the bed. It's easy to do, but you need to begin the night before with some simple adjustments to your nightly routine.
1) Healthy evening, healthy morning. It's important to set the stage for a good night's sleep with healthy snacks, relaxing activities and a relatively consistent bedtime routine that lets your body know it's time to wind down. (If you're not asleep yet, read on). Organic mattresses and linens may cost more, but can be a sound investment toward better health. Conventionally grown cotton is one of the most pesticide-laden crops in commercial agriculture — is that really what you want to be snuggling into at night? All organic mattresses are pesticide-free and many are made with latex, a renewable source taken from trees that replenish their supply the same day the material is cut. Finally, let your body see and feel the sun in the early morning to gain much needed Vitamin D and set your body's rhythm in motion.
Bedtime snacks: If you rarely jump out of bed perky and refreshed, take a hard look at what you did and ate the previous evening. A triple latte on the way to work may be an inexpensive way to help efficiency in the morning hours, but will turn against you when it matters most — at night. Raiding the fridge or wine pantry is equally dangerous — alcohol causes temporary relaxation for some, but can interfere with deep sleep later on.
Rich or heavy foods that cause heartburn are not a healthy bedtime snack — and certainly not a pleasant bedfellow. Consider a small organic, locally grown fruit that hasn't traveled the world or necessitated a ridiculous amount of packaging waste and fuel consumption before its entry into your kitchen. Remember, an apple a day keeps the doctor away — and it helps freshen breath, too, another pre-bedtime bonus.
Sleep soundly and breathe easy: Maintaining a slightly cool bedroom temperature is also key to a good night's sleep and conserving energy, so turn down the thermostat, crack a window or install a solar-powered fan to keep your house at a comfortable temperature. Relying less on the thermostat and more on nature can save you lots of green — the average heating bill drops 3 percent for every push of that down arrow and 4 percent for upping the ante even one notch on the A/C.
When you do need to rely on the HVAC unit, be sure it's functioning optimally with routine check-ups and use the highest-quality air filters available. Changing filters every two to three months improves functionality, saves energy and wear and tear on your unit, and allows you to breathe cleaner air.
Wake with the sun: Sunlight streaming through the bedroom window provides a natural alarm clock that helps your circadian rhythm get in sync. Before checking in for the night, turn off lights and set the blinds to allow in morning sun. If you're blessed with a window view of concrete or have a job that requires you to rise at an unearthly dark hour, consider one of these creative alarm clocks or one that mimics dawn's early light.
2) Bath vs. shower. Unless your shower is less than five minutes, you'll probably save more water by filling the bath and soaking till you're clean — no holds barred, with no time limits. If baths just don't do it for you, using a low-flow showerhead, shower timer and lowering your water heater temperature to 120° are fine ways to go green and clean. Try the plug test to determine the most efficient choice for your bathing needs.
• Lower the thermostat: Before you get into the shower, check the thermostat on your water heater. Changing the setting from 140° to 120° can save you up to 10 percent in energy bills and prevent scalding in your early-morning daze. Lower temperatures also slow mineral buildup and corrosion in your water heater and pipes, and make water heaters more efficient. Installing a timer on electric water heaters and setting it to be off during the night and at peak demand times can save an additional 5 percent to 12 percent.
• Install a solar water heater: A more significant environmental and financial move would be to install a solar water heater, with a whopping 50 percent to 80 percent saved monthly on water heating. For new home construction, this is a no-brainer since federal income tax breaks make the savings almost instant. But even switching older homes to solar can save you more than $400 a year after the initial payoff period of two to five years.
• Shorter shower/less water: If you're the type who likes to stand under the water till you resemble a prune, it's time to make some changes. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that a typical showerhead uses two gallons of water per minute — do the math and figure out how much water you consume to get clean.
Consider shortening your shower time using a shower timer, or at least give yourself a guilty conscience by using one that displays water usage on a running basis. The timers will beep at different shower intervals — say, when you should stop singing and start lathering — and some will even reduce water to a trickle and shut off when your time is up.
• Low-flow showerheads: If the water output numbers are staggering, it's time to visit your local hardware store for a low-flow showerhead. The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy recommends using those with a flow of less than 2.5 gallons per minute.
And finally, if you really want to take your morning's energy conservation to the highest level, watch and learn from David Gottfried as he sits on what will be a dual-flush toilet and discusses plans for gutting and outfitting a 90-year-old environmentally disastrous bathroom with the latest in sustainable bath fixtures and appliances.
• To 'poo or not to 'poo: Contrary to how it sounds, this has nothing to do with bodily function. There's a new wave in hair care, called the no 'poo movement, that calls for a boycott of all shampoo. Here's how it works: In the first few weeks, hair that has been shampooed for years will look awful. After that time, no 'poo-ers have reported healthier hair and scalps, richer and fuller-looking hair, and a pocketful of change that isn't being spent on shampoos and conditioners.
According to Audrey Schulman, a writer for the Boston Phoenix, a no 'poo 'do follows an old Mexican tradition of taking the scalp's natural oils and smearing them evenly through the hair using a wet washcloth. Sounds gross — but it gets better. As the scalp becomes less accustomed to having its nutrient-rich oils washed away with shampoo, oil production decreases and hair returns to its natural luster and shine. Now that sounds beautiful.
• Natural shampoos: If going no 'poo is too drastic for you, consider carefully what you do put in your hair. Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), contrary to popular belief, is not carcinogenic — although it still may not be the gentlest ingredient in your hair cleanser. The chemical is used as a foaming agent to create lather and convince us we're really getting clean. Other potentially harmful ingredients commonly found in shampoos and body soaps include lead acetate, petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin, coal tar and other elements that have mind-boggling origins.
A great way to save dough and ensure that your hair is getting the nutrients it needs is to make your own shampoo. This blog lists in detail what to use if you're going no 'poo, how to treat different hair types, and how to make your own all-natural shampoo, hair spray and gels. In addition to being able to hand select the perfect herbs for your hair type, you'll be helping fight research predictions that consumer spending on hair-care products will reach $42.5 billion by 2010. Sure, that won't all be coming out of your own pocket, but if you spend between $5 and $10 a bottle on shampoo and conditioner that last a couple months, the savings could add up to $120 a year — no small change.
"I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day."
— E.B. White, American writer