By Falon French
Greenwashing. While it might seem to be a good thing, greenwashing is actually a marketing ploy designed to make household goods and cleaners seem “greener” than they actually are. Using Green Works from Clorox, for example, is better than the original Clorox wipes; Green Works wipes are 100% cellulose fibers, derived from renewable farm grown trees, and said to be biodegradable in typical compost conditions.
The key problem is that they are single-use cleaners – once you’ve used it, you have no choice but to compost it or, like most users, throw it away. It’s simple economics, really. If you sell single-use items, people have to buy more of them. But even though the wipes might be less harmful to the environment (and Clorox should get credit for producing an eco-friendly line) that doesn’t make it the best possible choice.
With all of the hype about “going green,” it can be hard to know the right choices from the wrong choices. Today’s enviro-conscious consumers are constantly bombarded with ideas. Reduce your carbon footprint. Use less gas and electricity. Commute to work. And, of course, the right environmental choice IS the right economic choice. But what are the best ways to make your home and your office more sustainable?
Ever since I was a kid, I’ve heard the famous mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle. Believe it or not, if you apply this code to any choice, it will lead you to the right decision. Say you’re in your office, looking at your printer. That printer takes a lot of resources to operate. It’s obviously powered by electricity – and here in Indiana, that electricity is almost entirely generated by coal burning. In order to print, you need paper – derived from trees and often bleached as well. And you need ink – which is petroleum-based. And all of these resources cost money.
Use the code to “green” your printer. Reduce: don’t use your printer. If you are reading a report, or sending documents to a colleague, keep it all online. Whenever possible, avoid printing documents. Reuse: always print two-sided. If you have documents that are one-sided, reuse the back side as scratch paper, to take notes from meetings or phone calls, or for your grocery list. Recycle: when you are done with the paper, don’t send it to a landfill. Recycle it! Of course, if you want to make your printer even “greener,” you can buy 100% post-consumer recycled paper, invest in soy-based ink, or even buy an energy efficient printer – a good black-and-white laser printer will use about one watt of electricity for each page printed and cost about $22 every year to operate.
Below is a how-to-green guide that you can use in your home, office, classroom, dorm room, or any other place you find yourself. These tips are broken down into categories and include a brief description that will help you understand why each step is important.
There are specific steps that everyone should take at their home/office. These steps are the first foray into eco-consciousness, and are simple and easy for anyone, anywhere, to take. Most homes, offices, dorms, and even schools should have no trouble making these changes:
1. Recycle! Utilize the receptacles on our floor and all over campus. If there is not an existing recycling program, start one. Online programs can teach you how (http://earth911.com/how-to/how-to-start-a-recycling-program/).
2. Look at your light bulbs. Turn off the lights whenever you leave a room, and switch out the bulbs. Replace a 75-watt regular bulb with a 20-watt compact fluorescent for the same amount of light at 1/3 the energy. If you change all the bulbs at once and remember to turn them off, you will notice an immediate difference on your monthly energy bill.
3. Buy a Brita. Most bottled water is not purer than regular tap water run through a Brita or Pur water filter, but it does have BPAs – an estrogen-like chemical – that has been shown, in cases of early life exposures, to affect the development of the prostate and mammary glands and trigger earlier puberty in females. As if that isn’t bad enough, it takes roughly 17 million barrels of oil and 2.5 million tons of CO2 just to make the bottles, and it takes 3 liters of water just to produce 1 liter of bottled water.
4. Dump the junk. Remove your name from “junk” mail lists. Those mailings take a lot of paper, ink, and gas to print and ship, and most end up in landfills. Save yourself the trouble of going through junk mail and unwanted catalogues – and save resources at the same time.
5. Take the stairs. To travel a total of 40 floors, an elevator takes 100 kW of power – the same amount of power it takes to run a desktop computer and monitor for 30 minutes. Save this energy and get fit at the same time by using your legs instead.
Energy efficiency is the cheapest and easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint and electricity bills. The concept is simple: reduce your energy needs. Here are the best ways to reduce your energy usage:
1. Unplug appliances. Make sure to unplug your cell phone charger, laptop charger, hairdryer, and other small appliances when you are not using them. When still plugged in, these appliances still draw small amounts of electricity – known as “vampire” electricity – so cut that cord! Metaphorically, that is.
2. Use power cords. Plug computers, printers, televisions, and other large electronics into a power cord with an “off” switch and flip it at the end of the day. These appliances are harder to plug in, because of the many cords and the location of appliances, and draw backup power when they are off – up to 20% of the electricity it takes to power them when they are on! Make sure to stop that energy leak before you walk away from your electronics.
3. Turn down the thermostat. Or turn it up, depending on the season. Lowering the room temperature by 2 degrees in winter, then raising it by 3 degrees in summer will prevent the emission of nearly 700 pounds of carbon dioxide a year!
Thanks to the rising cost of gasoline and the recent explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon, most people want to avoid the gas station at all costs. Of course, without commuter options such as light rail in our state, most people have no choice but to drive sometimes, but you can still take steps to save gas, save money – and reduce the carbon footprint of your home or office:
1. Put air in your tires. The right pressure can boost gas mileage by 3 percent. If you drive 10,000 miles a year, you’d avoid emitting hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide into the air—and save $600 to $900 in gas!
2. Carpool. Every gallon of gasoline burned emits 19.4 pounds of carbon dioxide. If you take just one co-worker with you, 100 days a year, for a distance of 10 miles, you can save at least 600 pounds of CO2 and up to $100 in gas…add more co-workers, more days, and more miles and the numbers just keep going up!
3. Ditch your car. If you live only a few miles away from your office or grocery store, walk or ride your bike instead. If you’re farther away or the weather is bad, take the bus. Start in increments; make Fridays your “commuter” day and gradually decrease your time behind the wheel.
Using less water does not just conserve resources, it also conserves power. Reducing water consumption reduces the demand on wastewater treatment plants and drinking water utilities, which are run on electricity (usually coal-powered in Indiana). Find little ways to save water:
1. Stop the leaks. If a sink or toilet leaks, get if fixed right away. By stopping a leaky pipe, you can save as much as 400 gallons of water per month.
2. Use native plants and mulch. Most businesses and even homes have vast expanses of flat grass, which is watered nearly every day. Instead, use native plants to form ornamental lawn designs and site your gardens where they will catch storm water runoff (rather than right up against the house). Put a layer of mulch around trees and larger plants to conserve water. Mulching alone will save 750 to 1,500 gallons a month.
3. Skip the car wash. Many carwashes use water filtered by reverse osmosis to rinse (which takes 3 gallons of water to make 1 gallon of rinse water). The average carwash will spray 37 gallons of water on your car to get it squeaky-clean, but the heated water, the reverse osmosis rinse water, and the lack of water recycling add up to a big environmental impact. Wash your car yourself, make sure it is on the grass (so the water gets naturally recycled, and don’t leave the hose running!
Not tuberculosis, this kind of consumption is so common that people don’t even think about it anymore. Consider this scenario: an average employee stops at a coffee shop on the way to work. One large cup of coffee with two sugars and cream – from disposable containers – and a muffin wrapped in wax paper and stuffed in a paper bag with several napkins later, said employee heads into the office. At lunch, this employee picks up a sandwich and chips (in a plastic bag) all in a Styrofoam container, stuffed in a plastic bag, with a plastic or styrofoam cup full of soda. After work, this employee heads to the grocery store and buys a week’s worth of food, all stuffed into plastic bags. Then this employee runs through a drivethru on the way home and gets yet another round of Styrofoam and waxed paper containers, all stuffed into a paper or plastic bag with a handful of napkins and several single-serve packets of condiments. Sound familiar?
There are many reasons to change this routine: health, money, and environmental concerns are all valid excuses to start making changes. From an eco-perspective, here are the best changes to make:
1. Carry a reusable coffee mug. The disposable cups and sleeves have a huge environmental footprint. If every Starbucks customer used a re-usable coffee thermos instead of a disposable cup, it would save 1,181,600 tons of wood, 2,040,061,237 pounds of carbon dioxide, and 4,441,093,624 gallons of water every year. Plus, many coffee shops now offer a discount to customers with their own cup – it saves the owners the cost of cups. So in the long run, your investment will save you money.
2. Get a reusable tote. When someone asks you, paper or plastic, say NO! Plastic bags have a huge impact on the environment – just like plastic water bottles. The U.S. goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually. An estimated 12 million barrels of oil is required to make that many plastic bags. Paper bags are made from – surprise – trees. In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans that year alone. Plus, it takes a whole gallon of water to produce just one paper bag.
3. Don’t O.D. on frozen foods. Aside from health concerns about sodium and nutrients, the process of making and transporting those frozen meals, while keeping them frozen, is very energy intensive. In fact, it can take up to 10 times more energy to produce them than fresh food. Instead, make your own “TV dinners” with leftovers, using reusable Pyrex containers. They’ll be healthier, cheaper, and better for the environment.