We've discussed a number of ways to reduce your electricity and gas bills through conservation measures. For low costs and shorter payback periods, efficiency enhancements are almost always the way to go.
You can take greening your power consumption up another notch, though, by purchasing, or even generating, clean renewable energy. Depending on where you live, you may have several options.
Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) are available to anyone, anywhere. Credits can be a little difficult to wrap your head around: essentially, you're purchasing the environmental benefit created by renewable electricity generation. As we note in the Green Life Guide, most buyers of renewable energy credits do so to "offset" the environmental impact of their own power use, which is likely generated from coal or natural gas.
Green Power Programs allow you to buy power generated from renewable sources such as solar power and wind (though many utilities "green" the power by purchasing RECs). The Department of Energy's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy division has a list of utilities throughout the US that offer such programs.
Renewable Energy Systems are available for purchase, of course. This represents a major investment for a home or building owner, but with tax incentives offered by the federal and state governments, you may find that your payback period on such a system is shorter than you imagined... and after that point, you're getting virtually free electricity. Renewable systems have to be evaluated on a number of criteria, including your geographic location, and the amount of power your want to generate. You also need to decide if you want to stay connected to the electrical grid. Your choices include solar, wind and geothermal systems.
Your Action for Today: Examine Your Clean Power Options
If you're in an apartment or other living space without available land, you probably do have a balcony or patio where you can put some pots or other containers. Home owners and house renters generally have more versatility. The main feature needed: lots of sunlight. If your soil's not in the best condition, don't worry - there are ways to fix it.
We've discussed one element of the energy consumption created by electronic devices: standby power. As we all own more electronics these days, we also need to think about the energy they consume while in use, as well as the toxins contained in most devices.
The other time we need to think about the impact of our electronics on the environment is at the end of their useful life. According to Earth911:
Electronic circuit boards, batteries, and color cathode ray tubes (CRTs) can contain hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and hexavalent chromium. If improperly handled or disposed, these toxins can be released into the environment through landfill leachate or incinerator ash.
Fortunately, electronics recycling services are widely available; some companies, like Dell computers, for instance, will take back and properly dispose of or reuse old equipment. Standards now exist to evaluate the environmental impact of new products: EPEAT, for instance, is a voluntary certification standard that ranks home computers on their environmental attributes.
Your Action for Today: Find Greener Electronics Options
If you're in the market for a computer, a television, a cell phone, or another electronic device, make sure to take a look at ENERGY STAR's database of products that qualify for its label. EPEAT standards tell you more about other environmental issues, such as recyclability and reduction of toxins.
Note: The Consumer Electronics Association's My Green Electronics site also contains a products database; unfortunately, the site contains no information on the standards used to label a product as "green" except for EPEAT standards for computers.
Really bad Beatles allusion aside, there are more reasons than ever these days to focus on fuel efficiency when shopping for your next car. If gas prices continue moving in the upward direction we've seen over the past few years, "summer driving season" may become a contradiction in terms! By making fuel efficiency a priority when you shop for your next vehicle, you can take a bit of the sting out of gas prices, and also green up your life.
Hybrid-electric vehicles have gotten incredibly popular for their high efficiency (upwards of 60-70 miles/gallon), but they still may be a bit pricey for some buyers (even with the tax credits offered by the federal government). The Green Life Guide points out a variety of more efficient vehicles that are available on today's market, including:
High-mileage vehicles - conventional cars that achieve higher-than-average fuel economy. These include the Honda Fit, the Toyota Corolla, and the Hyundai Accent (all manual transmissions, though).
Flex-fuel vehicles - cars that can run on multiple fuels such as unleaded gasoline, gasoline-ethanol blends (or gasohol), and natural gas. The cars themselves are fairly widely available; the fuels, unfortunately, aren't.
Electric cars - these require no liquid fuel, as they run on rechargeable batteries. Unfortunately, they're also not widely available on the market.
Of course, there's another option for some - do you need to own a car? Could you take advantage of carride-sharing services, or public transportation, or your bike, or your feet, and avoid the costs of insurance, gas and maintenance completely? Not owning a car is always an option... and
Your Action for Today: Look at Greener Car Options
You may not be in the market for a car right now, but it's certainly not too soon to start looking at your greener vehicle options. Some sources you might want to check:
When it comes to organic options outside supermarkets and natural-foods markets, Fort Worth and environs aren't exactly overflowing with options. Where in other cities, farmers markets are primary sources for local organic produce, you won't find any organic farmers at the Cowtown Farmers Market, the group of local farmers selling produce on Wednesday and Saturday mornings at the Benbrook Traffic Circle.
Ben Walker, president of the North Central Texas Farmers Market Corp., which operates the Cowtown market, says his group has just one organic farmer, who sells only at the Grapevine Farmers Market.
The dearth of organic-food providers was what motivated Jennifer Pittman to launch a fledgling organic and raw-food business from her home near Texas Christian University several months ago. Pittman had been running an "environmentally safe cleaning business" in Austin before she moved here and found the options for her goal of a raw-food diet suddenly limited.
Through her Blueberry Market Organic Rawfood business, Pittman brings in organic produce, seeds, grains, nuts and nut butters, oils, herbs, teas and skin-care products for pickup every two weeks. She gets most of her items from several national distributors but has recently added some produce from a local organic farmer.
She's looking for a storefront to offer a retail location in the future and eventually would like to be involved in the growing end of the organic-food business. For now, however, her business is mostly e-mail.
Pittman joins a short list of local organic co-ops that includes Monica Brown's Your Health Source co-op, probably the area's largest. Your Health Source, which Brown started four years ago, provides organic groceries for about 825 families. Brown lives in Weatherford, but her co-op is based in downtown Fort Worth, from which groceries are delivered to a network of "host" sites -- homes or small businesses -- for pickup within a two-hour radius.
At the host sites, members "sort the food and get it ready for the people to come pick up," Brown said. Each member family pays $25 to join and gets a basic box of fruits and vegetables -- some weeks include local produce -- every other week for $40. Members can order extra shares or whole cases of produce; many members split cases. Other groceries available for order include local pastured meats, eggs and dairy products, along with dry goods such as bulk grains, seeds, nuts and nut butters; local honey; and oils.
Members also have access to e-groups to discuss health issues and share recipes, and Brown does frequent cooking demonstrations at various sites.
All the co-ops operate a little differently -- some have fees to join; some require that their members work a certain number of hours sorting food or doing other tasks. But all buy in bulk to offer price advantages over retail outlets, and most deliver a basic box of produce at set intervals, usually every other week.
Joyful Living, Aledo: Kristy Bell specializes in organic grains and mills. Also produce, grocery items, dry goods. Every-two-week pickup; pre-assembled produce box $25; individual orders and on-site sales. No joining fee or minimum order. (817) 441-7074.
Wonderfully Made, south Fort Worth: Produce; frozen, refrigerated and dry goods; grain grinders and mills. Every-two-week pickup, produce box $20-$36 with a onetime $5 box deposit. No joining fee or minimum order. (817) 294-1873.
Your Health Source, Fort Worth: Produce, dry goods, groceries. Every-two-week delivery, produce box $40. $25 joining fee. (817) 793-3509; (888) 280-0494. www.yourhealthsource.org.
March 26 - SACRAMENTO - A Sacramento attorney is suing Sacramento's Main Jail, saying his client's civil and religious rights have been denied since he has been refused a vegan diet. The inmate has been on a hunger strike since March 8, his attorney said.
Sacramento sheriff's officials say Eric Taylor McDavid, 28, is free to discard what he finds inedible, and still get a diet that meets nutritional standards.
McDavid is accused of conspiring to blow up Nimbus Dam and a nearby fish hatchery in Rancho Cordova, and a U.S. Forest Service genetics lab in Placerville.
Mark Reichel, McDavid's criminal attorney who also filed the federal lawsuit Friday, said his client is suffering.
"He's not doing well, he's disoriented, tired and fatigued," Reichel said. "This really is beneath the dignity of a society that calls itself civilized."
Reichel is suing under a 2000 law that protects the religious rights of institutionalized people.
Reichel said McDavid has been a vegan for three years, and equates his avoidance of animal products to a religion.
"His vegan diet is based upon his strongly, sincerely and firmly held beliefs, which are the same as a religious belief," the lawsuit states.
Sacramento sheriff's legal affairs Lt. Scott Jones said he considers veganism to be a lifestyle choice. Nonetheless, he said, a dietitian has met with McDavid to determine that even if he discards animal products from his daily meals, his diet meets his nutritional needs.
Jones said McDavid has also been seen by the medical staff several times about his diet.
In general, Jones said, the department makes dietary accommodations for medical reasons, but not religious. He said people who keep kosher, halal and vegetarian diets can supplement their diets with items for sale in the jail's commissary. "They can not eat what they perceive as offensive and still get the minimum nutrition," he said.
Jerry Read of the Corrections Standards Authority, which regulates the state's jails, said his office does not regulate religious diets.
"Case law changes too often," he said. "It comes up a lot - I don't know how many lawsuits there are, but enough that we can't keep up with it."
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