Fall is harvest time at farms all over the country. My family recently joined a cooperative of organic farmers that provides fresh local food right to our neighborhood. The truck drops off the food at one place (our house this week) and neighbors come and pick up their share.
It’s a little more work when its our turn to sort through the just-picked turnips, onions, and heads of lettuce, putting them into equal piles for the 16 members, but it is a rewarding and very cost-effective way to buy fresh local produce. Best of all, the sorting and handling restores a connection to the food that you just can’t get in a supermarket aisle. It’s also great for our kids to see that food comes from a farm and was grown and cared for by a real person (usually the same person driving the truck). Plus, we have an open invitation to visit the farms, to actually see how the food is grown.
Finding a local farm-direct buying cooperative took all of fifteen minutes. A quick internet search at www.local.com revealed three “organic food cooperatives” within a few miles of my home. A call to the local allergy center, which specializes in chemical sensitivities, confirmed which co-op had the best reputation. A phone call to the organizer was all it took to join. If all else fails, visit your local farmer’s market (a full national list is available at http://www.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets and simply ask around.
We live with an incredible wealth of food choices, and late summer is the most abundant time of all. As you are stocking your pantry this summer, there is something very powerful you can do to improve your health while helping the planet:
Think globally, buy locally.
It’s a fact of life that our food is grown and transported by burning irreplaceable fossil fuels. Synthetic fertilizers are made from natural gas, and the tractors, boats, and trucks that harvest and then move food to your table all burn diesel or gasoline. Did you know that it takes 17 pounds of fossil fuels to transport one pound of asparagus from Chile to your table in the United States?
The concept of “food miles” is really catching on among enlightened shoppers who understand the influence that their purchasing power has on the entire food chain. Miles matter - and lower is better. Locally grown food, especially if it is organic, is fresher and more nutritious as a result. You can taste the difference. And, because locally grown food does not travel as far, it’s also meaningfully better for the global environment.
Ask the manager of your grocery store for more locally-produced foods. Most managers have discretion to bring in and display key items, and it only takes a few requests to make a change. Better yet, go to a farmer’s market and meet the person who grew your food. Buying locally is a practical step toward greater global sustainability.
Summer is here and living green is as hot as the weather. We all want to do our part to live lighter on the planet while enjoying the summer months, when global warming seems so much more obvious.
Our two major sources of personal energy use are home and transportation, and air conditioning and travel mean that both go up in the summer. The good news is that simple steps can add up to big savings to both the environment and your wallet when it comes to summer energy use.
At home, turning up the thermostat just two degrees can save you up to eight percent on your power bill. Installing a programmable thermostat that automatically cuts down air conditioning use while you are not home can save even more. Better yet, put a fan in the window at night and let the cooler night air lower the temperature for free.
Before you hit the road, get a tune up. This simple step will improve gas mileage between 4% and 14%, while changing you air filter can improve mileage between 5% and 10%. Check tire pressure weekly, since maintaining optimal tire pressure can improve mileage another 3%. Slowing down also helps. According to the DOE, every 5 miles per hour that you drive above 65 mph costs 7% in fuel efficiency. Finally, you can gain an infinite increase in fuel efficiency simply by not idling the car just to run the air conditioner, a zero mpg activity.
After reducing what you can, offset the rest of your carbon footprint with carbonfund.org or terrapass.com. Each of these services invests in offset activities like efficiency projects or renewable energy to counterbalance the carbon impact of a specific trip or even an entire household. Now that’s a cool idea for summer.
Summer is right around the corner, and everything is getting greener: the grass, the trees, and the even the people. That’s right. With the new “green consciousness” sweeping the nation, people from all walks of life want to know how they can make their lives a little greener. This column will show you how, providing monthly tips for bringing greater health and environmental sustainability into your life with simple steps.
This month’s tip involves a big part of summer: water. Whether you’re hiking, biking, beaching, or sitting at a desk, it’s important to stay hydrated in the summer heat. That means drinking lots of pure, clean water every day.
Each year in America, we throw away 22 billion plastic water bottles. Stacked end-to-end, these bottles would go to the moon and back 4,380 times or circle the earth at the equator a staggering 260,000 times. Plastic water bottles contain phthalates, a family of petrochemicals used to make the plastic soft that can leach into water and mimic the hormone estrogen in your body. You can both reduce waste and protect your health with a simple carbon filter (even a Britta pitcher is fine) and an infinitely-reuseable stainless steel water bottle. I use a Klean Kanteen that I bought online. It is no heavier than a plastic water bottle, does not impart that plastic taste to the water, costs far less than buying individual bottle, and is even a great conversation starter.
We take it for granted, but lighting accounts for almost 30% of the electrical power used in the United States. Unfortunately, traditional incandescent lights are terribly inefficient and convert more electricity to heat than light. You might have changed to fluorescent lighting in the form of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which look like little curly-cue screw-in light bulbs in an effort to save power. While these CFL bulbs are more efficient, they have a dirty little secret. Each bulb contains five milligrams of mercury, enough to make you and your family sick. Add them all up (plus the fluorescent tubes in your office or garage – which have many times the mercury of CFLs), and it’s an environmental and health disaster.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, if you break a CFL in your home you should evacuate the room with the windows open for at least 15 minutes, put the fragments in TWO plastic bags, and take them to a toxic disposal site. Do not vacuum, as this can spread the mercury throughout your house. And when one of these CFL bulbs burns out, it’s toxic waste, so don’t throw it away. Go to www.earth911.org to identify local recycling options. Do you really want to deal with that?
There is a better solution that is just hitting the market: LED (Light Emitting Diode) light bulbs. LEDs are a solid-state lighting technology with no annoying flicker that accompanies fluorescent lighting. LEDs are also about ten times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and unlike fluorescents do not contain any toxic mercury. Switching from traditional light bulbs to LED lighting is an effective, accessible change every American can make right now to reduce energy use at home and prevent greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change. ENERGY STAR qualified LEDs use up to 90 percent less energy than incandescent light bulbs, last up to 10 times longer. They cost more up front but provide a quick return on investment. This is an emerging field, so to see the latest LED bulbs available check www.ecoshoppe.com. Energy efficient lighting that’s good for your eyes, good for your power bill, and good for the planet. That’s living green.
When we hear the word “addiction”, we usually think of the ruin that can come from dependency on alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs. But we have another kind of addiction that is no less dangerous – the black liquid that comes to us from unstable parts of the world known as oil. Each of us consumes about 26 barrels a year, double the rate of our friends in Europe. New oil discoveries worldwide are far short of the increase in worldwide demand, driven in part by the rise of a middle class in places like India and China. There are many who argue very convincingly that we have actually already peaked in world oil production, and we will be pumping less and less of this energy-giving commodity each year, even in the face of increased demand.
So what can we do about it? Clearly, its time for rehab. According to U.S. News and World Report, if our cars got the same average gas mileage as European cars, we could save the full oil production of Iran – about 4 million barrels per day. So if you’re buying a car, build fuel efficiency into your purchase equation. Meanwhile, a simple tune up and new air filter can improve fuel efficiency in your current car by 6-12%, and proper tire inflation can save another 5% in gas. Better yet, combine trips, carpool, or even (gasp) walk or ride a bicycle for local errands. Small savings add up to reduced dependency.
Breaking our addiction to oil – a patriotic way to live green.
Many of us take our first step on the path towards a more sustainable life for the most selfish reason of all: our own health. We don’t want hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides in our milk, so we bite the bullet and buy organic. That first step raises our awareness, and soon we are buying organic vegetables, too. After all, now that we have clean milk, why eat lettuce with pesticides?
Then one day we bite into an organic apple and come to startling realization: What’s good for our health is also good for the health of our planet. That apple is not only better for our health, but dramatically better for the apple tree, the soil where it grows, and even the water used to nourish the tree. Suddenly the selfish desire for a healthier life becomes a positive force for planetary health.
This new awareness about the power of our consumer choices creates a powerful new way to look at our purchase decisions. We start factoring in the larger impacts of what we choose to buy, and find that this “better for you, better for the planet” rule does not stop with food.
Examples abound: Natural cleaning products work just as well as the ones that you have to lock up from your kids just before you spray them into the air that they breathe. Cotton uses 25% of the world’s pesticides on just 3% of the world’s crop land. Organic cotton clothing prevents pesticides from entering both the environment and your body as the cloth touches your skin. Natural personal care products are made without petroleum. Recycled products prevent destruction of natural resources, without any tradeoff in functionality. Driving a fuel-efficient car saves gas money and carbon emissions at the same time.
A healthier life for you and for the planet. That’s living green.
A recent wave of media coverage has driven home the message that 90+% of climate scientists now agree that global warming is a real and (mostly) man made threat to life on our planet. Now, most of us carry life insurance against the small chance that we will die this year, and property insurance on the very small chance that our home or property will be destroyed. The odds of these events are very small, but the impact catastrophic, so we carry insurance just in case. Today with 90% of the best-informed people on the planet agreeing that we are at serious risk, its time for some serious insurance.
The most practical way that we can “insure” against the risk to our atmosphere is through our personal lifestyle choices. According to the EPA, residential energy use accounts for 20% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and transportation accounts for 31% (the balance is commercial and industrial).
Improving efficiency even a little can make a meaningful difference. If you add up all the gaps, the average home as a 2’X2’ hole in it – easily fixed with a tube of caulk and some weather stripping. Changing the thermostat by just two degrees can save eight percent on heating or cooling energy use (and costs). Combining trips, carpooling, or public transportation can save transportation costs and the associated energy use. Everyone I know who has tried has found a cut of 10% in energy use can be achieved without any noticeable inconvenience. That would be 2.4 tons less greenhouse gas emissions each year, for every American household.
Taking proactive steps to insure a healthier planet. That’s living green.
Motor oil plays a critical role in your car’s engine – keeping the moving parts lubricated so that they won’t wear out prematurely. Every 5,000 miles or so, you have to change your oil. But where does all of that used oil go? It turns out that some 30% of used motor oil is dumped in the back field or down the storm drain, and obvious environmental disaster. The remainder, about 800 million gallons per year, is collected and burned, releasing its load of carbon and heavy metals directly into the air that you and I (and everyone else on the planet) breathes. Eventually it rains, and the heavy metals fall back to the ground and oceans.
Time for an oil change.
There is something you can do to keep the remnants of your motor oil out of your air and water. Have your oil changed at a professional shop that collects the waste oil, and ask where that oil ends up. In many parts of the country, from California to Wichita, collected waste oil is going to special re-refineries. These re-refineries take the waste oil as a raw material instead of imported crude oil, refine out the impurities, and create new, high-performance motor oil in a simple and efficient process. This re-refining process keeps waste oil out of the air and water while reducing our dependence on imported crude oil. To close the loop, ask for your re-refined replacement oil for your car or truck. Your choices as a consumer can reduce environmental impact while reducing the need for imported crude oil - a simple choice for a more sustainable life.
A lot of clothing manufacturers offer eco-friendly options, from recycled packaging to refurbished fibers. But there's one in particular that is taking style to a whole new level of sustainable. Based in Portland, Oregon, Nau offers a sleek and styled clothing line that incorporates eco-conscisous efforts into every stich, from sourcing fabric to creating positive change within the industry. Check out their stylie line here!