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:
Congratulations! You're now nearly halfway through 30 Days to a Greener You. You should also have several more items that you can add to the Greener Life Plan you created in lesson 7:
Recycling: You should have your system in place. Now, update your plan to show activities you'll need to take on a regular basis. You'll probably need to sort daily, and deliver the sorted recyclables weekly, either to a convenient drop-off point, or to your curbside.
Eating and Drinking: You've committed a portion of your grocery budget to greener food, and will probably want to make shopping for it a weekly event. If you can make it part of your regular grocery shopping, great - add that to your plan. If not, identify a point during the week you can do your green shopping, and try to combine it with other trips you would normally make.
Energy, Transportation and Consumption: While light bulbs only need to be changed occasionally (especially now that you're using longer-lasting, more efficient bulbs), you may want to make a habit of checking other energy uses in your home: thermostat and hot water heater settings (especially if someone in your home has a tendency to adjust these!). You'll want to start replacing your furnace/AC filter monthly, as that will help those systems run more efficiently.
Have you scheduled regular trips by mass transit, bicycle or "foot power?" Have you taken note of car trips you can combine? If not, get those into your plan!
You may also want to have a standing weekly appointment with your new favorite swapping site - you never know what might show up!
Your Action for Today: Update and Revise Your Greener Living Plan
Of course, once you've done this, you'll want to engage in another activity that should be on the plan: using your Green Journal! Put your updated plan in your journal today. Take a look at the plans others have revised. Finally, enjoy your success - you're already living a greener life!
In lesson 6, you spent some time looking at the options available in your community for buying local, organic and seasonal foods. That's the first step, of course, but unless you commit to incorporating greener food choices into your diet, it's easy to just continue the routine of buying what's available at the supermarket. Commit to incorporating more sustainable food into your diet with the following steps:
Identify a source of greener options for the food you buy. If you're lucky (and this may be the case), your grocery store already carries some of these items. If you unsure, ask the manager of the produce, dairy and/or meat sections.
If your grocery store doesn't offer such options, go back to the list you created from Local Harvest. Which of these farmers' markets or co-ops is convenient, and could be combined with other trips that you might make (don't want to add food miles on your own!).
Commit to spending a percentage of your regular food budget on local and/or organic foods. This doesn't have to be huge: 10% is a good place to start, and you may be surprised at how much you can buy.
Your Action for Today: Commit to Buying Greener Food
In your Green Journal, commit to spending 10% of your grocery budget on local and/or organic foods. Keep in mind that organic foods keep harmful chemicals out of the soil, and local foods keep CO2 emissions out of the air. Let others know where and how you plan to keep this commitment.
After you make that first shopping trip (or receiving your first allotment from a CSA), make another entry in your Green Journal about the experience. What did you buy? What did you think of the quality and prices? Will you continue shopping at this location, or try another?
Tomorrow: Review your progress and update your plan.
While driving a car may not be the greenest option available, it's a necessity of modern American life. Unless you live in an urban area with plenty of amenities close by, and a reliable public transportation system, you probably have to drive.
Regardless of where we live, we can operate our vehicles in ways that lessen the impact of our driving trips. The US Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency's FuelEconomy.govtips for driving more efficiently. Among the practices they suggest: website offers
Avoid rapid acceleration and braking - less aggressive driving uses less gas.
Obey the speed limits - driving faster than 60 mph decreases your fuel efficiency.
Avoid idling - why would you want to burn gas while sitting still?
Your Action for Today: Commit to Greener Driving
For the next three days, start observing your driving habits. Do you tend to accelerate quickly from a stop? Do you assume that the highway patrol won't pull you over unless you're driving more than 15 mph above the speed limit, and drive accordingly? Observe your habits, and record them (obviously, not at the same time!). Make a commitment (in your Green Journal) to adjusting these habits... and do it!
Hopefully, your first six lessons have you thinking about ways that you can green your life. Today, you're going to start shaping that thought process into a plan of effective, manageable actions that you commit to taking on a regular basis.
Don't worry - the plan you create today is a draft. You'll continue to tweak it as you move through later lessons, and apply the knowledge that you've learned.
Your Action for Today: Create Your Greener Life Plan
As with any new way of doing things, living greener requires developing habits. Repetition is key to developing these habits, but knowing what actions you plan to repeat comes first.
On a new post in your Green Journal (make sure to title it appropriately), create three headings: Daily, Weekly and Monthly. Under each, you want to list at least two actions you can take on this schedule based on what you already know.
Once you've got your plan in place, you might want to send private messages to friends and fellow students asking them to take a look. You'll benefit from their support as you implement your plan.
Start following your plan. In the first week or two, keep a close eye on what you do (and what you don't do) - it's important to pay attention to what's working for you.
According to the Annenberg Foundation’s Garbage exhibit, the average American generates 4.6 pounds of trash per day - that’s 1460 pounds per year! Less than 25% of that waste is recycled, with the rest going to landfills (which are becoming harder and harder to create) or to incinerators. Decreasing the amount of garbage you put into the waste stream is an easy way to lighten your footprint.
Everyone Can Recycle
Recycling has become the green gold standard for most Americans – if they know nothing else about contributing to a healthy, more sustainable environment, they’re aware that the can recycle aluminum, paper, glass, and plastic. Many communities have curbside pick-up services available for recyclables, and a few cities have even mandated recycling to deal with shrinking landfill space. If you don’t have a pick-up service available, there are likely locations for dropping off recyclables. You may even be able to pitch those cans, newspapers and bottles at a location that benefits a non-profit organization you support.
Your Action for Today: Learn About Recycling in Your Community
Earth 911 is your one-stop location for details about recycling services in your community. Visit their recycling page, and find out how easy it is to dispose of recyclables without throwing them in the trash! While you're at it, also take a look at the Recycling section of the Green Life Guide.
Start your Green Journal! The Green Journal is your space on the Green Options web site to record your daily actions, to publicly commit to larger actions (as we’ll ask you to do in later lessons), and to discuss your efforts to live a greener life with other GO members. Starting a journal is easy:
You do have to be a member of Green Options to start a Green Journal. Creating a membership is easy and free, and we won’t fill your inbox with junk email.
Title your journal something like "Bob & Amy's Green Journal." Feel free to be creative (within the limits of the forum rules, of course!).
Every time you complete one of your daily actions, create a post in your journal for it. Write as much or as little as you like. Ask questions of other users - they can often be one of your best sources of information. By writing in your journal, you'll also be helping them with their own green journey.
Welcome to Day 1 of 30 Days to a Greener You, a month-long e-course from Green Options that will help you lighten your environmental footprint while maintaining the comfortable lifestyle you love. Over the next thirty days, you’ll learn to save energy, reduce wastes, and lessen your carbon emissions. Many of the strategies you’ll learn will cost you little or nothing, and can be put into practice right after you learn them. Many of them will even save you money!
While 30 Days to a Greener You is designed to be self-paced, that doesn’t mean you have to go at it alone. You can discuss these lessons with your fellow students, or see how they’re implementing these lessons on the course’s discussion forums. If you have questions or concerns, you can always email us at email@example.com.
So, What is "Green Living?"
A green lifestyle is about living comfortably with a smaller environmental impact. It’s about having the best of both worlds: a modern American existence that doesn’t take such a large toll on the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, or the climate that maintains all of these things. It’s about taking responsibility for our relationship to the natural world, and also about lowering our costs of living by using natural resources more wisely and efficiently. Ultimately, green living enhances our health, happiness and well-being, while often saving us money in the long run.
Some have said that green living involves “freezing in the dark.” Nothing could be further from the truth. By considering the many available options, you can lower your environmental impact while still living a life of convenience and even luxury.
You may have other questions about green living, including why you’d want to do it, and what does it cost. You’ll find many of those questions answered as we progress; if not, dig into the Green Options Green Life Guide, or start a conversation in our Discussion Forums.
Begin Living the Green Life!
Today, you’ll begin your journey towards a greener life. This won’t involve buying fancy products or getting rid of the convenience items that we all rely upon. It will involve starting to think differently, and building new habits. The green life involves thinking about the environmental impact of our actions, and doing what we can to lower that impact.
Your Action for Today: Turn off a light that’s not in use
A couple of years ago, a homeowner in Seattle decided to take extreme action against the moles that had turned his lawn into a complex network of raised grassy veins. He poured gasoline into the mole holes, tossed a match and incinerated his yard.
Many of the approximately 60 million Americans with lawns can understand the feeling. A well-tended yard is not only personal territory, to be defended unto death, but also a work of art. Like a painting, it has form and color. Like a child, it is alive. No wonder feelings run high, and the lawn, as a canvas for personal expression, engages the suburban American male at the deepest possible level. Americans like Jerry Tucker, who turned his yard into a replica of the 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club.
The often-crazed love affair between Americans and their lawns is Ted Steinberg's subject in "American Green." Mr. Steinberg, an environmental historian at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, likens this relationship, and the insane pursuit of lawn perfection, to obsessive-compulsive disorder, and he may very well be right. That would at least explain the behavior of a homeowner who clips her entire front yard with a pair of hand shears, or Richard Widmark's reaction on waking up in the hospital after a severe lawn mower accident in 1990. "The question I asked the doctors was not 'Will I ever act again?' " he later recalled, "but 'Will I ever mow again?' "
How did a plant species ill suited to the United States, and the patrician taste for a rolling expanse of green take root from the shores of the Atlantic to the desiccated terrain of Southern California? The short answer is that it didn't, not until after the Civil War. Although Washington and Jefferson had lawns, most citizens did not have the hired labor needed to cut a field of grass with scythes. Average homeowners either raised vegetables in their yards or left them alone. If weeds sprouted, fine. If not, that was fine, too.
Toward the end of the 19th century, suburbs appeared on the American scene, along with the sprinkler, greatly improved lawn mowers, new ideas about landscaping and a shorter work week. A researcher investigating the psychology of suburbanites in 1948 observed shrewdly that the American work ethic coexisted uneasily with free time, and that "intense care of the lawn is an excellent resolution of this tension." At least until the moles arrive.
Mr. Steinberg cannot decide whether he is writing a cultural history, an environmental exposé or a series of Dave Barry columns. As cultural history, "American Green" is relentlessly superficial, a grab bag of airy generalizations and decrepit clichés about the cold war and the conformist 1950's. As environmental exposé, it is confused and poorly explained. It is impossible, reading Mr. Steinberg on lawn-care products, to assess risks. At times, it sounds as if any homeowner spreading the standard lawn fertilizers and herbicides might as well take out a gun and shoot his family. A few pages later, the environmental threat seems trivial.
Sometimes, he simply punts. Building a case against power mowers, which Mr. Steinberg regards as unsafe at any speed, he introduces the story of a "lawn professional" who lost the fingers on both hands while trying to keep a wayward mower from rolling into a lake. This might be a damning piece of evidence if Mr. Steinberg did not then add, sheepishly, that "perhaps this is a suburban legend." Half-serious, intellectually incoherent, "American Green" shambles along like this, scattering bits and pieces of history, sociology and consumer advice as it goes.
There are just enough fascinating bits to keep the pages turning. It is gratifying to learn that grass really is greener on the other side of the fence. An observer looking down at his own lawn sees brown dirt along with green grass blades, but only grass blades next door, because of the angle of vision. It is useful to focus on one of the pet claims of the lawn-care industry, that a lawn 50 feet square produces enough oxygen to satisfy the respiratory needs of a family of four. This is probably true, but, as Mr. Steinberg points out, superfluous, since there is no oxygen shortage on Earth.
Mr. Steinberg does make the case fairly convincingly that the pursuit of the perfect lawn cannot be explained without golf, which has played on the homeowner's weak sense of self-esteem by rubbing his face in fantasy images. Perfection at Augusta requires a team of specialists and a multimillion-dollar investment in infrastructure. The average golf green gets more pampering and primping than Heidi Klum's cheekbones, but that is the lawn that suburbanites want. Companies like Scotts have convinced them that to achieve it, they need to follow a regimen of constant seeding, watering, fertilizing and herbiciding.
The future looks troubled for the American lawn. Some homeowners have given up entirely, paving over their yards to create more parking space. Others are embracing the native-plant movement and turning their lawns into miniature prairies and meadows. Nellie Shriver, of the Fruitarian Network, stopped mowing for moral reasons. "It is impossible to mow the grass without harming it," she said. "We believe grass has some sort of consciousness, that it has feelings."
Even more alarming, for the lawn-care industry, is the kind of post-lawn sensibility exhibited by an Atlanta real estate broker. "When something bores me, I get rid of it," she said. "Lawns bore me."
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