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Read some recent Green Ideas tips

Common sense on a date - December 10, 2014

“Best Before” doesn’t mean “Unsafe After”

In Canada, “best before” dates are required on all food products with a shelf life of 90 days or less.  Most of us put great trust in them, with good reason – they give us an indication of a product’s quality and freshness.  However, “best before” dates may also cause us to waste more food (and grocery money) than necessary because many of us have come to unconsciously interpret them as “unsafe after” dates.

That’s not the case.  According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, “You can buy and eat foods after the "best before" date has passed.  However, when this date has passed, the food may lose some of its freshness and flavour, or its texture may have changed.  Some of its nutritional value, such as vitamin C content, may also be lost.  Remember that "best before" dates are not indicators of food safety, neither before nor after the date.  They apply to unopened products only.”

There’s plenty of room for interpretation in that advice, and the CFIA also counsels, “when in doubt, throw it out.”  (Read more here and here.)

So what’s the bottom line?  Most of us probably err acutely on the side of caution and throw out much more food than we should.  “Best before” doesn’t automatically mean “unsafe after”.  As with many other areas of life, it’s wise to apply a bit of common sense before acting – especially with something as sacred as food in a world straining to produce enough of it.

Can that thing be fixed? - November 12, 2014

Host a repair café in your neighbourhood

Many things that end up in a landfill these days would have been fixed in an earlier era of greater resourcefulness.  Unfortunately, in today’s society, the default seems to be forget about repairing; just throw it out and get a new one.

But a new trend is pushing back: Repair Cafés, where volunteers who can fix stuff hold an open house and invite their neighbours to bring in broken household items.  They’ll then repair them for free, teaching repair skills in the process.  It’s win, win, win: a community building exercise that helps people save money and keeps stuff out of the landfill.

Repair Cafés originated in Holland in 2007, and there are now hundreds of them in 15 countries, including a dozen in Canada.  Why not start one in your neighbourhood?  You can get everything you need at www.repaircafe.org, plus some additional tips here.

Thanks to David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, Lindsay Coulter, for sharing this tip.

Rein in that big energy hog in your home! - October 29, 2014

How to spend less on your clothes dryer

Nothing in a home uses more power than a clothes dryer when it’s running.  Most dryers use over 3000 watts when operating; some use over 5000 watts.  (For comparison, an energy-efficient CFL or LED light uses about 13 watts.)  A load a day will add $100 to your power bill over a year.  But there are plenty of ways to reduce that:

·        Clean the lint screen after every load (scrub it every now and then if you use dryer sheets; they leave a film on the screen) and use your vacuum cleaner to clean underneath the screen periodically, to keep air moving easily through the dryer
·        Periodically clean the vent pipe that leads from the back of your dryer to the outdoors, and inspect the outlet for lint or other obstructions
·        Don’t overdry clothes: if your dryer has an automatic moisture sensor, use it.  And use a cool down cycle to allow residual heat to finish drying clothes; some dryers do that automatically on certain cycles (IE permanent press)
·        Do loads consecutively to take advantage of remaining heat from an earlier load
·        Dry full – but not overfull – loads
·        Use dryer balls (or even tennis balls) to allow air to move more freely between clothes as they tumble, allowing them to dry faster
·        Dry lighter materials separately from heavier materials; they’ll be dry much sooner that way
·        Don’t add wet clothes to loads that are already partially dried
·        Remove clothes from the dryer while they are still slightly damp to save energy and reduce the need for ironing

And for 100% savings, use a drying rack or a clothesline!  (A bonus: clothes tend to last longer that way too!)

Time to install those ‘winter bulbs’ - October 15, 2014

Take advantage of cool weather to burn out those last incandescent light bulbs

If you still have some incandescent light bulbs hanging around and are unsure what to do with them, here’s a suggestion: use them only during the heating season.

In these days of efficient bulbs, that sounds counterintuitive, but here’s the story.  Of all the energy used by incandescent light bulbs, only about 10% actually produces light; the rest is lost as heat.  In warmer months of the year, that heat is unneeded and therefore wasted.  And in hot months, it’s even worse: that waste heat from light bulbs makes air conditioners work much harder.

But during cooler months, when heating systems are operating, the waste heat from incandescent light bulbs is actually useful: it allows heaters to run less.

So if you have some leftover old incandescent light bulbs, consider installing them just during the cool months, when their waste heat is not wasted.  

An important clarification: there’s no question that efficient light bulbs are the way to go – compact fluorescents or, even better, LEDs.  This is only a strategy to work through any remaining incandescent bulbs.  If you happen to be in New Brunswick, take advantage of this great promotion on efficient light bulbs.

(Quick insider note: my Mom has some old long-life incandescent light bulbs that, true to their name, refuse to burn out.  So installing her ‘winter bulbs’ has been part of our Thanksgiving routine for several years now, and removing them is part of the Easter routine…)

Swap and save at Halloween - October 1, 2014

Save by planning a costume swap

If you have young children, you know the excitement Halloween brings.  A few years ago, I overheard my sons enthusiastically planning their costumes – in late August!

This year, instead of buying a new costume for your little one(s), why not plan a costume swap with friends or neighbours, or at your school or church?  It makes sense for several reasons:

·        It will save you money

·        It reduces the need for manufacturing more ‘stuff’, and all the environmental consequences that come with that

·        It offers the chance to get more use out of something that might otherwise be worn only once

·        It offers an option for affordable costumes to those without the means to buy new ones for their kids each year

Know someone with a child the same age as yours?  Involved at your school or church?  Why not organize a costume swap, one-for-one or larger?  This article about an annual swap held in Toronto can help with the planning and logistics.

(PS Of course, the old fashioned way of dressing up – with makeup and old clothes you already have – is even more cost-effective and eco-friendly.)

Thanks to David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, Lindsay Coulter, for sharing this tip.

Sharing, an old idea with new relevance - September 17, 2014

Set up a neighbourhood sharing network

True story: I was working outside earlier this week when a neighbour stopped by.  “Do you have a chain saw?” she asked.  “I’ve got a new wood splitter and I’ll lend it to you if you can cut up a few trees for me.”  (Like many of us here, she’s still cleaning up from Hurricane Arthur two months ago.)

It was a timely exchange: not only is sharing is nice thing to do, but it’s also a sustainable thing to do.  Most of the stuff we own sits idle 95+ percent of the time; in fact, it’s said that the average drill gets used less than 20 minutes over its entire life.

Sharing makes sense for many reasons:

·        Less stuff needs to be manufactured; that equals a reduced carbon footprint

·        Less stuff needs to be purchased; that equals savings

·        Less stuff needs to be stored

·        Less stuff ends up in the trash

·        You get to know your neighbours better

So the next time you need a tool of some sort – whether a wood splitter, chain saw, ladder or just about anything else – why not head for the neighbours instead of the store?  Share!

Pour some sunshine into your cell phone - September 3, 2014

Get a solar charger for your phone!

Most of us rely heavily on our cell phones.  But what happens when a ready source of power isn’t available to charge them - IE when you’re out in the wilderness, or when the power goes out (as happened at our home for eight days thanks to Hurricane Arthur)?

Solar power to the rescue!  Small, lightweight chargers for phones and similar electronic devices are now widely available.  True, cell phones don’t consume a lot of energy – but every little action makes a difference.  And who knows when a solar charger may help you out in a fix?

You can buy online or at many electronics shops.  But before you do, here’s a quick lesson on what to consider when buying a solar charger, plus reviews of some of the best.

Simple laundry savings! - August 20, 2014

Tips for saving when washing your clothes

Here are four easy ways you can save on laundry day:

·        Big savings: choose a cold water detergent (like Dizolve and numerous others) and use cold water instead of hot

·        Wait until you have a full load; washing machines are most efficient when operated full

·        Don’t overdose with detergent; read instructions and measure carefully.  (Many detergents come with measuring cups that hold more soap than needed for a load... sneaky tactic, eh?)  

·        Big savings: use a clothesline instead of a dryer.  No way around it: dryers are huge energy hogs.

No need for extra heat in August! - August 6, 2014

Tips for saving when cooking

I’m no baker, but even I know stoves get really hot and use a lot of energy.  Here are seven tips to help you save while cooking and baking, and perhaps keep your kitchen a bit cooler this summer:

·        Cut foods and veggies into smaller pieces because they’ll cook faster

·        Keep lids on pots and pans to help speed up cooking

·        Use a microwave oven instead of a stove when possible

·        Resist the urge to open the oven door for a peek while something’s baking because the oven temperature can drop by 25 degrees F and you get an unwanted blast of heat in your kitchen; instead, use the oven light and window to check on progress

·        Save a lot by baking multiple foods in the oven at the same time

·        Use glass or ceramic dishes: they hold heat better, and you can lower the oven temperature by 25 degrees F

·        Don’t preheat the oven unless specifically called for in the recipe, and turn it off a few minutes before your food is done

Happy summer cooking and baking!

The dirt on dry cleaning - July 23, 2014

Avoid dry cleaning if possible

Dry cleaning isn’t really ‘dry’; it’s just that chemical solvents are used instead of water to remove stains.  The solvents work well, but they aren’t very environmentally friendly – particularly to groundwater if they are spilled.

So here are three ideas for using less dry cleaning:

·        If possible, buy clothes you can wash in regular laundry

·        If possible, seek out a company that uses a newer process called ‘wetcleaning’ which has less environmental impact

·        Consider wearing clothes more than once between cleanings

You’ll save money and do a good thing for the environment!  (For more information, read this excellent factsheet from the US EPA.)

Save on power when you're away - July 9, 2014

Turn Things Off When You Go On Vacation

Finally - summer's here, and for many of us that means vacation.  You can save money and energy while you're away by turning off or unplugging as many things as possible.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Hot water heater: why pay to keep water hot when you won't be using it?  Most hot water heaters can will heat a full tank in a few hours at most, so just turn it on when you get back and you'll likely not even notice a difference
  • Electronics: many electronics still use a bit of power when they are not on but are still plugged in, and collectively they add up.  So pull the plug on as many of them as you can before you go.  (IE entertainment electronics, cordless phones, even garage door openers)
  • Water main valves: not so much an energy saver as peace of mind, because a leak or burst can make quite a mess when no one is around

Enjoy your summer break, whatever it is - and turn things off before you go to get a break on your power bill too!

Bug off, nicely - June 25, 2014

A better insect repellent

For many of us, summer means mosquitoes, black flies and other annoying pests.  Most commercial repellents contain Deet as their active ingredient.  It’s approved by Health Canada, but with some cautionary words – like “prolonged use should be avoided in children under the age of 12.”  (More from Health Canada here.)

If you’d prefer an alternative you can make yourself with a few basic ingredients, here’s a recipe courtesy of Green Ideas subscriber Dab Napthine in Nova Scotia:

·        In a 16 oz bottle, combine 15 drops lavender oil, 3-4 tablespoons of vanilla extract and 1/4 cup lemon juice

·        Fill bottle with water

·        Shake!

Voila - ready to use as a topical spray!  Thanks for the tip Dab!

Help keep our food chain buzzing - June 11, 2014

Simple ways you can help bees

Bees are among the most important and hardest workers on the planet, pollinating an estimated one third of human food crops.  But their numbers have been declining in recent years.  Experts suspect diseases and parasites; exposure to pesticides; loss of habitat and food sources as land is converted from native vegetation to fields, lawns, subdivisions and cities; and a shifting climate are responsible.  

Here are ways you can help bees and other pollinators:

·        Avoid the use of pesticides, particularly insecticides.  When pesticide use is unavoidable, apply in the evening after bee activity has stopped; use products with lower toxicity to bees; and avoid spraying during flowering periods when bees are most active.

·        Help build bee populations by providing habitat and a continuous food supply.  Manicured lawns provide neither food nor habitat, so why not convert a corner of your property into a cluster of clover and other wildflowers (no mowing required!).  Consider planting a spectrum of perennials that flower all summer long; your garden center can advise you on bee preferences.

·        Create bee habitat by making a bee house or bee bath: perfect projects for kids and their parents!

Let’s not take our bee friends for granted – they’re workers we depend on!

Reduce packaging by buying in bulk… - May 28, 2014

…and save in the process!

If you’re a meticulous recycler, most of what ends up in your trash probably falls into one category: packaging.  Chip bags, candy wrappers, the bags inside cereal boxes, oatmeal packages and more: not recyclable.

One way to avoid some of that packaging is to buy bulk, either at a bulk food store or in the bulk section of your regular supermarket.  True, not all products are available in bulk, but many are.  And, true, you’ll need some sort of packaging, but usually that’s a soft plastic bag: a material that is perfectly recyclable (it’s in the same recycling category as plastic shopping bags).

So, the next time you have a choice, why not choose bulk?  You’ll use less packaging; what you use is recyclable; and you’ll likely save money since bulk food is usually cheaper than the packaged, brand name stuff!

Check your cupboards or visit your neighbours - May 14, 2014

Resist the urge to run to the convenience store for every little need

There’s no doubt that convenience stores are convenient.  But they come with three price tags:

·        Because they are always there and always open, they are a safety net we easily learn to depend upon; they remove the need for us to plan ahead.

·        Products are more expensive than they would be if purchased from a grocery store.

·        Convenience stores often involve stepping into a vehicle and going for a ride (and the cost of that trip often is greater than the cost of purchases).

The next time you run low on something and feel tempted to zip out to a convenience store, why not consider these two alternatives:

·        Check your cupboard, and improvise with what you have on hand

·        Visit a neighbour to see if you can borrow what you need.  (Comes with social fringe benefits too!)

Both of these alternatives (drawn from a great book I’m reading, Your Money or Your Life) fall within the definition of ‘resourcefulness’, a skill our grandparents knew well, and something we’d probably do well to rediscover.

Pick up that plastic - April 30, 2014

Keep plastic out of our waterways

Plastic is a blessing and a curse: it’s very durable for our everyday uses, but VERY persistent in the environment.  As well, because plastic is so light, it floats in water and is very prone to getting blown around by the wind.

As a consequence, littered plastic often ends up in our oceans – carried there by waterways and the wind – where it remains for a LONG time.  (Google “great Pacific garbage patch” to learn just how serious an issue this is.)  I first learned about this problem while canoeing in early spring several years ago – an otherwise pristine stream had more than its share of plastic floating around in it.

So at this time of year, when litter is emerging from under winter snow, the wind is blustery and waterways are running fuller than usual with meltwater, please help keep plastic out of our oceans by picking up whatever littered plastic you can.

That’s it; just pick up some plastic!

The difference a good tire makes - April 16, 2014

Save with Low Rolling Resistance Tires

If you’re in the market for new tires, look for Low Rolling Resistance (LRR) tires.  Here’s why.

When you drive, your tires flex a bit at the point where they make contact with the road, and then relax back into shape while they are not contacting the road.  The friction of this continuous flexing and relaxing is called Rolling Resistance.  It creates heat in the tire (touch a tire after a trip and you’ll feel the warmth), and makes your engine work harder to turn the tire and move your vehicle – thus affecting fuel economy.

Today, many manufacturers offer Low Rolling Resistance (LRR) tires, which can improve fuel efficiency by 4%.  That may not sound like much, but that can amount to $100 saved over the life of a tire – meaning the tires virtual pay for themselves!

Unfortunately, no standard or certification has yet emerged to identify LRR tires.  (Goodyear and Canadian Tire have their own logos; Bridgestone has a brand and Michelin has a neat one-minute video demonstrating Low Rolling Resistance.)  However, ask for them the next time you shop for tires – good for you, your wallet and the environment!

Can you spot the LED? - April 2, 2014

LED light bulbs, the next big thing in home lighting

When it comes to lighting, many of us are reluctant to let go of those old incandescent because we like the soft, warm light they give.  (Plus they come on instantly.)  Well, take a look at this picture and see if you can pick out which bulb is the incandescent and which is an LED.



They’re very similar, but there’s one big difference: the incandescent is using 60 watts of power (and is blistering hot) while the LED is using just 9.5 watts.  Plus LED light bulbs last as long as 25 incandescent bulbs, so they may well be the last bulbs you’ll ever have to buy – or change.  They’re more expensive to buy, but far cheaper overall because of their long life and efficient operation.  And if you happen to live in New Brunswick, now is the perfect time to switch to LEDs: there’s a discount of $6/bulb for the month of April; details here.

So choose LED light bulbs – like the one on the left.  (It’s a Cree soft white ENERGY STAR.)

A second life for your milk bags - March 19, 2014

Reuse milk bags for food storage and freezing

Of the three Rs, Reduce is the most important (by far, actually).  But Reusing is important too, and the bags that milk comes in are a great example.  They’re made of a sturdy #4 plastic so they are recyclable.  However, if sliced open at the top and washed out, they’re perfect candidates for Reuse, and that’s even better than Recycling.

For example, milk bags are great for storing food like half an onion or an open package of cheese in the fridge.  And, because they’re thick and tough, they’re excellent as freezer bags.  We use them that way in our home – for squash, beans, chilli and more – and we save because we never need to buy freezer bags.

So why not Reuse those milk bags?  You’ll save a bit of money, and do a good thing for the planet!

Is it really that urgent? - March 5, 2014

When possible, use regular mail instead of overnight courier services

I remember the bold lettering written across the last courier package I received: “EXTREMELY URGENT”.  But, honestly, the package really wasn’t very urgent.

When it comes to delivery services, it seems that many of us by default look to overnight courier services.  That’s too bad, because even though such services are very convenient, they have a huge carbon footprint.  For example, FedEx is one of the biggest airlines in the world – far bigger than Air Canada, British Airways, Lufthansa or Air France.  Instead of passengers, FedEx delivers hundreds of tonnes of packages every day.  FedEx also has nearly 100,000 delivery trucks.  So you get the picture – huge carbon footprint.  (And I don’t mean to pick on one company; FedEx’s competitors would have a similar profile.)  And much of what’s delivered truly isn’t that urgent.

So the next time you need to ship a document or package, or purchase something on line, why not reconsider whether it’s really urgent and ship via plain old regular mail?  It’s probably cheaper, and it’s definitely better for the planet.

From Powerless to Powerful - February 19, 2014

Small steps to solutions

Not long ago, I attended a climate change lecture given by a leading Canadian author and academic.  When he was asked what it would take to fix the challenges we face, he answered without hesitation: “Thousands in the streets.”

I’m guessing most Green Ideas subscribers are like me: concerned, not entirely sure about how we can make the biggest difference, uncomfortable with the prospect of being a so-called ‘activist’ – IE one of those thousands in the street – and unsure where to start.  If that sounds like you, here are a few online communities you might wish to check out:

1.     Avaaz, described as the world’s largest and most powerful online activist network.  Avaaz “empowers millions of people from all walks of life to take action on pressing global, regional and national issues, from corruption and poverty to conflict and climate change.”

2.     Leadnow, “an independent advocacy organization that brings generations of Canadians together to achieve progress”.  Started by a few youths in 2011, Leadnow has grown to include 300,000 Canadians.  Its focus is on climate change and strengthening Canada’s democracy.

3.     PowerShift, a grassroots-driven online community to help young people organize, collaborate and “advance our vision of a clean, just and sustainable future.”  Young people in Atlantic Canada might want to check out PowerShift Atlantic, coming to Halifax March 28-31.

All three are proving that, even when it comes to mouse-clicks, there is great strength in numbers; and that making a difference on important issues need not be complicated, difficult or risky.  Please check them out, and join whichever fits your style!

Planning a winter vacation?  Go Green! - February 5, 2014

Tips for a lower-impact winter vacation

At this time of year, many of us are planning breaks to warmer climates or mid-winter getaways.  If you’re traveling, here are a few ideas for lessening the impact of your holiday:

1.     Choose a Green hotel: look for certifications like Green Key or Green Leaf ratings (the more keys or leaves, the better); or other certifications like Green Globe, Audubon or National Geographic.  (Unfortunately, no global standard has yet emerged.)  And of course, participate in your hotel’s recycling / towel / linen / water reduction programs

2.     Travel light: air travel has a huge carbon footprint and more weight means more jet fuel burned and more emissions.  Consider buying sun block and toiletries at your destination, and why not use the hotel laundry so you can travel with fewer clothes?

3.     Where possible, use public transportation to get around – or rent the most fuel efficient vehicle available.

4.     Before you leave home, unplug electronics that use phantom power; lower your thermostat; and turn off your water heater.

More tips from the US EPA here.  Enjoy your Green holiday!

A greener way on a cold winter day - January 22, 2014

An efficiency Dream Team: block heaters and programmable timers

The depth of winter is upon us, and Baby it’s cold outside!  If your vehicle doesn’t have a block heater, perhaps it’s worth considering.  Block heaters:

1.     Improve fuel economy because your engine is semi-warm when you start it, and therefore runs more efficiently

2.     Reduce emissions because a semi-warm engine will burn fuel more cleanly and produce less toxic emissions like carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides

3.     Extend engine life because semi-warmed oil circulates better and lubricates an engine’s moving parts sooner than thick, cold oil

4.     Enable an engine to warm up quickly – meaning speedier defrosting and a warmer interior

Block heaters are standard equipment on some vehicles, or can usually be installed for a cost of $100-150.

Block heaters do use electricity – typically 400-450 watts, or as much as 30 compact fluorescent light bulbs.  If you plug in your car for 14 hours a night, that will cost $17-19 per month.  But since two hours are long enough for a block heater to warm most engines, one of the best investments you can make is an outdoor programmable timer that will turn your block heater on automatically while you're still sleeping.  Investment?  About $25.  Savings? Over 80%.  Payback?  About 2 months.

A trick to making recycling the easiest option - January 8, 2014

A simple recycling solution

So much of the trash we produce is recyclable, but sometimes recycling is a nuisance: different materials need to be put in different containers, which are often in different locations.  It's a nuisance, and often that nuisance factor is a key reason why recycling programs don't work as well as they should.

So here's a relatively easy solution: a multi compartment container that centralizes trash and recycling in your home or workplace: one container for trash, one for paper, one for other materials.  It's sized to fit neatly into typical under-the-counter cabinets, and it rolls out for easy access to all three bins.  This image comes from Home Depot's website (no endorsement intended) but many stores carry similar models or other models with fewer or more bins.

A simple solution to make recycling easier!

New lights with incredible efficiency! - December 11, 2013

The next lighting revolution: LED light fixtures and panels

In the midst of a home reno this fall, I discovered new, incredibly efficient LED light fixtures.  I took the three pictures below yesterday:



1. the model we're installing (no endorsement intended).  It's surface mounted (not recessed into the ceiling like a pot light) but only about 5 cm thick.    

2. what the light looks like: a warm glow, just like an incandescent light.  (If you're into the technical side of light colors, these are 3000K.)

3. the reading from my power meter when I measured how much electricity the fixture uses.  It produces almost as much light as a conventional 60 watt bulb, but uses just 11 watts – an incredible 82% saving.

There are no light bulbs; the LEDs are part of the fixture, and the fixture is permanently installed by an electrician.  With a rating of 50,000 hours, LED fixtures are designed to last as long as your house.  New lighting panels are available too, for commercial buildings; learn more in this 90 second video (again, no endorsement intended).

If you're building or renovating, forget about installing conventional lights – look to incredibly efficient LED light fixtures and panels.

Join the latest lighting revolution - November 27, 2013

Look beyond Compact Fluorescent Lights to LEDs

By now, most people are familiar with Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs), those curly energy saving bulbs.  They've become popular due to the energy savings they offer over old incandescent bulbs – but they're not perfect either: they take a few minutes to warm up, they're quite fragile and like all fluorescent bulbs they contain a tiny trace of mercury.

Light Emitting Diode bulbs, or LEDs, are a newer, far better type of light bulb:

·        They turn on instantly – no warm-up time

·        They have excellent colour quality

·        They work well outdoors and in cold temperatures

·        They're durable

·        They're as efficient as, or more efficient than, fluorescent lighting

·        They last for 25,000 hours (IE 20 years) so say goodbye to the nuisance of changing burnt out bulbs

So consider investing in LEDs when you look for new light bulbs.  They're a bit costlier up front, but when you pro-rate that cost over their lifetime, they provide convenience, efficiency and savings.  (And prices are coming down quickly.)

Read more about LEDs here, and always look for the ENERGY STAR logo when you buy.

Beware of that second price tag! - November 13, 2013

Efficiency, a small investment with a big return

If you were buying a new fridge, which would you choose?

·        Fridge A, which costs $1,000 to buy but consumes $40 a year in electricity; or

·        Fridge B, which costs $750 to buy but consumes $100 a year in electricity?

Here's the quick math on the above choice: after five years, Fridge A would cost a total of $1,200; Fridge B would cost $1,250.  After 17 years (the average life of a fridge), Fridge A would cost a total of $1,680; Fridge B would cost $2,450.  You can see what's happening: the efficient choice may cost more up front, but it's cheaper in the long term.  The fridge that appears cheaper is actually more expensive.

When making a purchase, we often look exclusively at the first price tag – the purchase price – and overlook the second price tag – the operating cost.  But efficiency, particularly in home appliances, is a small investment that pays.  If you're in the market for an appliance, efficiency is the wise choice.

Click to learn more about EnerGuide or ENERGY STAR efficiency ratings.  (Reminder: NBers can save and take advantage of special rebates on energy efficient appliances during the month of November.

Go veggie for a day! - October 30, 2013

Meatless Mondays: healthy, sustainable – and doable!

 

Meat has a dark side that's very difficult for any meat eater, me included, to acknowledge: it has a large environmental footprint.  That footprint includes:

·        On-farm impacts like emissions from trucks, tractors and both ends of animals, particularly cattle

·        ‘Upstream' impacts from the manufacture and transport of farm inputs like feed and fertilizer (plus, in some cases, deforestation to produce feed)

·        ‘Downstream' impacts from processing, packaging, freezing or chilling, transporting and retailing

It's estimated that it takes about 20 times as much fossil fuel energy to produce a calorie of beef versus a calorie of plant protein.  Ouch!

If you're among the many who are not quite ready to commit to a 100% vegetarian or vegan diet, why not try going Meatless on Mondays?  It's a simple lifestyle change that can have a huge positive impact, and it's a lot easier than you think!  Here's a 2 minute video of recipes, and here's a website with info, recipes, networking opportunities and more.

See you in the veggie burger lineup next Monday, or any day!

How are you spending your Life Energy? - October 16, 2013

Are your consumption habits dictating your lifestyle?

In Your Money or Your Life, authors Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez invite readers to:

·        Track every penny they spend for a month, and then tally those figures into spending categories like food, entertainment, vehicle payment, vehicle expenses, mortgage, clothing, etc. (it's possible to estimate, but honest tracking is much more accurate and revealing)

·        Determine what their net (IE after taxes and deductions) hourly income is

·        Calculate how many hours of work it is taking to pay for each of those spending categories

Here's the key point: when we earn money, we are trading our time – our precious life energy, and the only commodity we have that is exclusively ours – for dollars.  A simple exercise like this can help us realize just how much of our (irreplaceable) time we are trading away for the things we consume – and whether, upon reflection, those things are worth that time they are taking from us.

Today, it seems so many of us are busy to the point of making ourselves unhappy and unwell.  Perhaps working through the above three steps can help us reflect, step back and reassign our precious life energy to things that are more important, more meaningful and more fulfilling.  That's my hope for Canadian Thanksgiving Day.

(For more about Life Energy, check out Radical Simplicity by Jim Merkel.)

Efficiency in the kitchen - October 2, 2013

Simple cooking and baking practices to save money and energy

The stove is probably the biggest energy user in our kitchen; there's a reason for that massive power cord!!  But a few simple techniques can help most cooks save in the kitchen:

·        Use reflective foil drip pans under stovetop elements; in addition to catching spills, they reflect more heat up to where you want it

·        Use a microwave where possible; it uses less than a quarter of the energy of a conventional oven to do the same job

·        A small pot on a big element wastes nearly half of the element's heat, so match the pot size to the element size

·        Preheat ovens only when necessary; except for baking, most foods can be cooked without heating (and the oven is the biggest energy user in a stove)

·        Turn things off a few minutes before cooking is done, and ‘coast' to completed cooking; ovens can be turned off 15-20 minutes early

For many more similar kitchen tips, visit here.

Help eliminate trash at school - September 18, 2013

Reduce packaging waste with reusable containers

Food packaging is a big part of school waste streams:

·        Many materials used in food packaging are not very recyclable: foil wrappers; waxed liners, papers and cardboard; plastic/paper blends that are impossible to separate; and more

·        Even packaging materials that are recyclable (like plastic sandwich bags) are rarely actually recycled, due to lack of sorting facilities or recycling programs, or because of issues of cleanliness

·        Individually packaged single portions are especially trash-intensive

So what to do?  You can reduce lunch trash AND lunch costs by investing in:

·        A few reusable plastic containers (it's wise to forego the cheap ones and invest in top quality)

·        A spork, a reusable utensil that is a combination spoon-fork (widely available at sporting and department stores)

·        A reusable lunch box

The trash reduction is obvious; and you can save money when you buy larger portions and split them at home (for example, yogurt).

For many more tips for a better, greener back-to-school, visit the blog of Tovah Paglaro, the David Suzuki Foundation's Queen of Green.

Save money—and the environment—with the fuel-efficient five - September 4, 2013

Fuel-efficient driving techniques

Here are five driving techniques you can adopt to cut your fuel consumption (and emissions) by as much as 25%:

·        Accelerate gently (remember the ‘egg trick' from a Green Ideas earlier this summer?  If not, you can find it here.)

·        Maintain a steady speed

·        Anticipate traffic around you to avoid the need for sudden stops and starts

·        Coast to decelerate: take advantage of your momentum and extend the life of your brakes too

·        Avoid high speeds: optimum fuel consumption happens between 50 and 80 KMH

You don't have to spend a nickel to take advantage of these savings, just change a few driving habits.  For more details, visit the source of this information, Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency.  Read an article with more eco-driving tips here.

 

 

Making the magic of summer last all year - August 21, 2013

Five tips for simpler living every day

Ah, summer: long and lazy days, simpler living.  If only all seasons could be that way.

Perhaps they can be.  Here are five tips for simpler living every day, courtesy of Tovah Paglaro, the David Suzuki Foundation's Queen of Green:

1.     Acquire only what you need. And choose used before new.

2.     Buy the best your budget permits. Broken items are wasteful clutter.

3.     Clear out unessentials. Less stuff means reduced dust and improved environmental health. Fewer emails allows more time for baking bread.

4.     Share. The sharing economy connects communities, while cutting back on consumption and clutter.

5.     Donate.

Good for you, good for your community, good for the planet.  The original article elaborates a bit; you can read it here.

Shared wheels - August 14, 2013

Carsharing: an awesome way to save money, energy and the environment

If you're like me, your car accounts for a big share of your emissions and your budget. Globally, there are over a billion cars and light trucks on the road – arg for our pocketbooks, arg for the planet.

Carsharing is a system that enables people to timeshare a vehicle, and it's gaining popularity around the world, including in Canada.  Most carsharing models are pretty straightforward: users pay an up-front membership fee to join, and then another fee based on how much they use a shared vehicle.

The advantages?  No need to buy a car and get locked into monthly payments.  No need for parking, repairs or insurance – all are covered through the program.  And – people who carshare usually end up planning their trips better and driving less; that's good news all around.

Carsharing doesn't work for everyone, but it's perfect for people who can use public transit for everyday commutes, and as an alternative to a second car that is used infrequently.

Interested in learning more?  Here's a list of carsharing programs across North America; and another here.  (A new service is to be launched in Moncton, New Brunswick this fall.)

Manage that rain (or lack of it) - July 24, 2013

Rain barrels and rain gardens

If, like me, you're a gardener whose water comes from a well, no doubt you're reluctant to water your plants during summer dry spells for fear of running the well dry.

Rain barrels to the rescue – park one under your eavestrough, and you'll be amazed at how little rain it takes to fill it.  You can buy rain barrels at garden centers and other stores, or you can just get a used 40 gallon drum.  If you like, it's easy to install a tap with a drill and a few parts from the hardware store.  (Send me a note if you'd like a list of parts.)

This is a ‘home-built' from our home, under the downspout of our garage.  It and two others like it have provided about 99% of the water I've needed for my modest flower and veggie gardens over the past several years.

If your problem is too much rain, consider installing a rain garden to help reduce runoff and erosion.  Here's a great guide from Canada Mortgage and Housing.

With climate change bringing more weather extremes, rain barrels and rain gardens are both great solutions!

Wrap Rage, and what you can do about it - July 10, 2013

Get angry about excessive packaging

Have you ever had Wrap Rage?  Probably, if ever you've bought a product that came in packaging that was:

·        Way bigger than the product itself;

·        Attractive, but completely unrecyclable (or a blend of materials that were impossible to separate for recycling); or

·        Impossible to open without a pry bar, jackhammer or chain saw

Beyond causing grief, excessive packaging causes excessive waste.  Here are two things you can do to fight Wrap Rage:

1.     Make wise choices: when possible, choose products that are more reasonably packaged

2.     Nominate a product for CBC Marketplace's first annual Wrap Rage Awards.  Nominations are now open, and winners will be announced on television next season.  (There's nothing like a little embarrassment to coax a manufacturer to change.)  Learn more about the awards here (one minute video); or submit your nominee – and see David Suzuki's nominee (45 second video) – at CBC Marketplace.  Oh, and my nominee is here (100 second video)

Together, we can put an end to Wrap Rage!

The most unproductive crop we grow - June 26, 2013

Rethinking the lawn

Lawns have been part of our existence for years.  However, in spite of being green in color, they're not especially eco-friendly.  Consider:

·        Over 150 million litres of fuel are burned by Canadian lawn mowers annually

·        Mower engines lack the smog-reducing technology of cars so they produce far higher levels of smog-forming emissions; plus they tend to be pretty noisy

·        Cosmetic pesticides, which tend to affect a whole lot more than their intended targets, are still in use in many areas. (Surely applying poisons in the places your kids play is worth rethinking.)

·        Lawns are often fertilized with energy-intensive chemical fertilizers, and watered (lawn watering can increase summer domestic water use by 50%).  That makes them grow faster, so we can mow them even more!!

Here's a fun and catchy three minute video on the woes of lawns – and here are some practical alternatives:

·        Plant trees and shrubs, which provide many of the same cooling and carbon-absorbing benefits of grass

·        Convert part of the lawn to a veggie garden

·        Choose a drought-tolerant grass, and don't fertilize or water it

·        Convert some lawn into a wildlife garden to attract birds, bees, butterflies and more

·        Consider an electric mower, or if you're a tinkerer, a solar mower

·        Leave clippings on the lawn to recycle nutrients

Summer is way too short to spend it mowing the lawn!

A zero-cost way to knock 10-20% off your fuel bill - June 12, 2013

Take an egg for a drive

Here's a simple, zero cost way to improve your gas mileage by 10-20%: the next time you go for a drive, take an egg and tape it under the toe of your right foot.  Then try to get where you're going without breaking the egg.  It's a simple trick that will produce significant savings, guaranteed.

Here's why.  Much fuel is consumed when we speed up aggressively, and we waste our hard-won momentum when we jump on the brakes aggressively.  It's well documented that gentle starts and gentle stops can save the average driver 10-20%. That's like driving over a month for free every year.

So strap on an egg.  And if you happen not to have one with you the next time you get behind the wheel, good news: it works with imaginary eggs too!

Pleasant-smelling but nasty - May 29, 2013

Why it's wise to avoid commercial air fresheners

Some smells are not very pleasant: trash bins, dirty laundry, washrooms, pets and even kitchen projects gone wrong.  Air fresheners to the rescue, right?

Maybe not.  Commercial air fresheners are big business, but they're not an especially healthy choice.

·        Most contain nasty chemicals like formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.  (According to Health Canada, the biggest indoor sources of VOCs are paints, glues, cigarette smoke and air fresheners.)

·        They must be airborne to work.  In other words, they are designed to be inhaled.

·        They don't eliminate smells, they just mask them.  Some actually use a nerve-numbing chemical that interferes with our sense of smell; others coat our nasal passages with an oily film.  Yuck.

·        They can trigger asthma attacks in some people.  (There's a reason for those workplace signs advocating going scent-free.)

The worst culprits are plug-in and aerosol fresheners.

So what to do?

·        Opt for natural ventilation, especially in spring, summer and fall.  It's lilac season where I live, so it's wonderful to let that great natural fragrance waft in!

·        Use baking soda to absorb smells; if you'd like fragrance, add a few drops of essential oil (available in many stores).  Coffee grounds work well too.

Read more about indoor air quality here, from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Make a soup of it - May 15, 2013

Minimize waste and save on your grocery bill

Food is a very significant part of our carbon footprint:

- it takes energy to produce; that's especially so for meat and other animal products

- it travels long distances to get to our plate

- we often end up wasting A LOT of what we buy at the grocery store (up to one quarter of all the produce we buy, by one estimate)

In a world where we lose so many people to hunger every day, it seems obscene to waste food – so why not use leftovers to make soup?  Here's a blog with loads of ideas for soups and other yummy dishes made from leftovers.  And here's a link to Simply in Season, a favourite cookbook of the chief cook in our household; it's loaded with recipes for healthy living and a healthy planet.  So is the More With Less Cookbook.

And – here's a simple one-pager with suggestions on how to minimize food spoilage.  Happy nibbling!

Don't trash those electronics! - May 1, 2013

The special case of e-waste

Not long after the age of computers came the age of e-waste: unneeded, broken or obsolete electronics.  It's noxious stuff, typically containing toxic materials like lead, mercury, arsenic and chromium.  And we generate an awful lot of it: as much as 50 million tonnes every year, according to the UN.  (In particular, the global transition to flat-screen monitors and televisions has produced a big bump in the amount of e-waste generated.)

It's very important to keep e-waste out of our landfills where it can cause long-term contamination of the surrounding environment – so here are some options:

1.     Reduce, by buying less stuff and by using electronics until they wear out instead of upgrading frequently.

2.     Reuse, by donating your electronics for refurbishment or salvaging of useful parts; in Canada, check out Computers for Schools

3.     Recycle all electronics, to keep their toxins out of the environment.  Click here for programs in New Brunswick; here for programs elsewhere in Canada; and here for the US.

And – you can use Greenpeace's annual Guide to Greener Electronics to help you choose greener electronics brands.

Insulate those pipe - April 17, 2013

Save money by putting foam insulation over your hot water pipes

 

Often our hot water taps are a long way from our hot water tanks, so we need to run the water for a while until hot water arrives.  But all that cold water ahead of the hot was once hot; it was left stranded in the pipe when the hot water tap was last turned off.  Parked in uninsulated pipes, hot water becomes cold very quickly, representing a loss of energy and a waste of money.  (Hot water heating represents about 20% of the average home's energy bill.)

You can conserve energy and save money by installing foam pipe insulation over the pipes that carry hot water from your hot water tank to all the places it will be used.  It's very cheap - $1 or less a meter.  And it's very simple to install – here's a 2 minute instructional video.

So – insulate those hot water pipes and save!

The carbon footprint of a litre of gas - April 3, 2013

Just how much greenhouse gas does a litre of fuel generate?

We're often told that our vehicles generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, but how are we to know just what that means?

Here's a quick guideline: every litre of gasoline burned produces 2.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide.  That equals about 100 kilograms for a 40 litre fillup (typical for a compact car).

There's more.  The above figure doesn't include emissions from drilling, extracting, transporting and refining that fuel, and then trucking it to the service station where you buy it.  Factor those in, and it's more like 3 kilograms CO2/litre for gas.  If you consume 40 litres per week, that equals over six tonnes of emissions per year.  Many Canadians consume a lot more than 40 litres a week.

Every litre of diesel fuel burned produces 2.7 KG carbon dioxide; a similar 25% premium can be factored in for refining and other upstream emissions.

The bottom line: vehicle emissions ARE a huge part of our carbon footprint.  Why not reduce yours by walking, biking, driving less, driving an efficient vehicle, carpooling and taking transit.

1-800-fix-it-please - March 20, 2013

Call those toll free numbers

Recently, the packaging of my brand of oatmeal changed: it went from a soft plastic bag with a #4 recycling symbol to a bag made from a crinkly type of material labelled with the #7 recycling symbol.  Alas, #7 plastics are a catch-all class of materials that don't fit the other categories; they are for all practical purposes unsortable and unrecyclable.  Trash, hidden behind a recycling symbol.  (More on that here.)

Well, like most consumer products, my oatmeal bag had a toll-free consumer hotline – so I called it and to inquire why a company would change from recyclable to a non-recyclable packaging.  The person on the other end promised to forward my concern to the engineering department.

Alas, my oatmeal still comes in a #7 bag.  But if enough consumers called that toll-free line to question the packaging, I know the folks in the engineering department – and the boardroom – would take note.

Gandhi said, “We must be the change we seek in the world.”  Here's a simple way you can Be The Change: if you come across packaging that is labelled as a #7 plastic or that is an unrecyclable mix of materials (there's plenty of it out there), why not call that toll-free number and make your concerns known?  Enough calls = action and positive change!

Plastic in your soap, by design?? - March 6, 2013

Avoid exfoliating soaps with plastic beads

Imagine designing a product which, when used exactly as directed, releases tiny bits of plastic that can wind up in the ocean and persist for ages.  Crazy, right?

Crazy, but true.  For years, many exfoliating soaps have been laced with plastic microbeads.  They're an abrasive, to remove dead skin particles, but they end up going down the drain.  If they make their way into marine environments (and that's often what happens), they stay – for a long, long time.  Microbeads from exfoliating soap are contributing to the millions of tonnes of plastics swirling about in the world's oceans today.  But they're about the only plastic there by design.  What were they – or we – thinking?

Unilever, the maker of brands like Dove, Vaseline and Pond's, announced in January that it would be phasing out plastic microbeads – but only completely by 2015.  My quick search found no similar commitment by Procter and Gamble, maker of brands like Noxzema and Olay.  So what to do right now?  
•    Look at the ingredients of exfoliating soaps; avoid brands that contain polyethylene, polyacrylamide or “microbeads” or “microcrystals” of unspecified content; look for natural exfoliating ingredients like ground nuts, seeds, fruit, salt and even oatmeal and cornmeal
•    Choose brands that appear on this list compiled by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia
•    Make your own; the same EHANS site has recipes

Happy scrubbing!

A cultural shift - February 20, 2013

Safety is part of our culture; why not sustainability too?

This week's Green Idea truly is an idea: what if sustainability were to become part of our culture at work, home and school, just as safety is now?

Consider: we emphasize safety in just about everything we do.  Anti-slip warnings, fire drills, guardrails, de-icers, vehicle crash tests and much more.  Our emphasis on safety keeps it top-of-mind.

But sustainability is at least as important.  As the Lung Association slogan goes, “When you can't breathe, nothing else matters.”

So imagine the possibilities if we held sustainability to the same level of priority as we do safety, and it became everyone's responsibility?  “We should fix that dripping tap.”  “Let's put a zero-idling policy in place.”  “A programmable thermostat would sure save energy and money.”  “We should be recycling and composting.”  “Let's plan a lunch-and-learn to generate ideas.”

You get the idea: so much is possible, if only we make sustainability a part of our culture every day.  So – let's make it happen, in our workplaces, homes and schools!

A simple phrase to add to your restaurant routine - February 6, 2013

"A glass of tap water, no ice, no straw, please"

I try to make that line part of my routine when ordering at a restaurant, but I forgot once again last week.  So, in the depths of a January freeze, I was served a glass of water that was one-third ice, with a plastic straw that I didn't use.  That means most of the energy and resources that went into my drink were wasted, because they went into things I didn't want.

It seems the default in many restaurants is to serve water with lots of ice (no matter what time of year) and at least one straw.  That's tons of ice and hundreds of thousands of straws, every single day, just in this country.

Perhaps we can do better.  Imagine if all restaurant patrons made the same simple request: tap water, no ice (or one cube if you insist), no straw.  It's only a small thing, but what a difference small actions make when undertaken by many.

So the next time you eat out, why not try to remember, "A glass of tap water, no ice, no straw, please."

The simplest way ever to reduce the carbon footprint of your food - January 23, 2013

Just clean that plate

Back in 1956, the notorious US prison on Alcatraz Island had this simple rule for all inmates: "Take all you want, but eat all you take."

Most of us live in a world of plenty, so it is easy for us to take food for granted and to waste. A report last fall estimated that Canadians waste $27 billion worth of food a year, the majority of it at home. How do we waste? 1) we load our plates up with more than we can eat; 2) we're quick to discard things when they approach their best-before dates; and 3) food is cheap.

Food is a big part of our carbon footprint, and it would seem atrocious to waste it so when nearly a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry.

So perhaps the easiest way ever to reduce the carbon footprint of our food is to simply do what prisoners at Alcatraz were asked to do: don't serve up too much food, and clean your plate.

A resolution of resolve - January 9, 2013

Is climate change a problem of technology or politics?

Truthfully, it's probably both - but these days it may be more of the latter.

These days, we have many technologies available to help us solve the climate crisis - from wind, solar, tide and wave energy; to high-efficiency buildings that produce more energy than they use; to real-time ridesharing via smart-phones.

But solutions don't happen without political will, appropriate policies and strategic funding - all of which seem lamentably scarce these days.

That's where you and I come in. As astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, "Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet."

So - please make it your resolution not to sit this one out. I can't overemphasize how much your involvement, in ways large or small, is needed.  Here's more on the "why" plus some simple suggestions for "how".

Happy New Year 2013 - may it be a pivotal year for climate change action.

Rip ‘em apart and recycle - December 12, 2012

What do coffee canisters, cans for concentrated frozen juice and parmesan cheese containers have in common?

Answer: they all contain steel bottoms (and often tops too) that are recyclable.  But if you want to recycle them, you need to rip them out of the containers – a task usually only hard core recyclers might be inclined to do.

However, there's an easy way any of us can rip the bottom out of a frozen juice can: simply ‘unwind' the cardboard-like side all the way to the bottom of the can, and then tear it free of the steel.  It's hard to explain, but easy to demonstrate… so take a peek at this 2.5 minute video to see how it works.

Then happy separating and recycling!

(Gulp) Christmas is coming - November 28, 2012

Tips for a low-stress, greener Christmas

Christmas may be a boom for the economy, but it's a bust for the planet - from shopping road trips to disposable everything to low quality stuff shipped in from afar.

Here are a few ideas to help you go 'stuff-less' this year:

  •     For the foodie, a share in a local community supported agriculture operation that will provide a weekly box of fresh, local food
  •     Coupons for hair care, gym membership, home cleaning, snow removal, massages or dinner at a local restaurant
  •     For the driver, a printout of "10 Eco-Driving Tips For Everyone" (www.tinyurl.com/howtoimprovemileage2) that can help the average driver save at least 10% on their fuel bill every day
  •     Homemade items like knitted goods, baking, preserves and crafts

And:

  •     Shop secondhand shops for nearly-new clothing, books, music, electronics, furniture and more at a fraction of their original prices
  •     Make commemorative donations to organizations that share your values: a homeless shelter, food bank, nature trust, animal shelter
  •     Purchase carbon offsets for your friends. Learn more at www.tinyurl.com/COffsetInfo.

More ideas here - and lots of reasons not to go shopping in this one minute video. Happy green holidays!

Thanks to subscriber Alicen Thorne for this Green Idea!

When extreme weather comes to call - November 14, 2012

24 Hours of Reality: The Dirty Weather Report

2012 has been a year of crazy weather extremes: from the devastating drought that scorched much of North America last summer, to the destructive force of Hurricane Sandy, to the 80 mm of rain that caused flooding in my community three weeks ago.

If you're wondering about the link between weird weather and climate change, tune in to 24 Hours of Reality November 14-15. It's a marathon 24-hour program to be livestreamed globally starting November 14 at 8 PM Eastern. It will feature clear, science-based explanations of the link between climate change and extreme weather; climate news from around the world; and solutions. The finale will be presented live from New York November 15 at 7 PM Eastern by Hon. Al Gore.

Watch an 80 second promo here; and watch the event itself here (scroll down for the hour-by-hour schedule). You can watch as much or as little as you like. And please forward the links to your friends and share on your networks!

Vote green with your green - October 31, 2012

Spend your dollars at planet-friendly businesses

One of the best ways to promote sustainability is to spend your dollars at businesses that are making sustainability a priority.  But how to know who's really green and who's not?
Newsweek Magazine has compiled its annual Green Rankings of the 500 largest publicly traded companies on the planet.  You'll recognize some names near the top – like IBM (#4), Marks & Spencer (#10) and Bell Canada (#13) – and some near the bottom, like Exxon (#440), Halliburton (#421) and Suncor (#320).  The list is easily searchable by country or by industry sector.  Check it out here; read about Newsweek's methodology here; and then strive to make sustainability part of your shopping decisions!

Potato bag post-script

Here's a note I received after October 17's Green Ideas: “Potato & sugar bags are acceptable in our green cart compost program in the Fundy Region.  In fact, we encourage people to save the bags and use them to wrap things like meat & bones, or kitty litter before placing them in their cart.  The bags are then composted and returned to gardens and lawns in the region.”  Thanks to subscriber Brenda McCallum for the info!

Some paper is unrecyclable, but that doesn't mean you have to trash it - October 17, 2012

A second life for potato bags, sugar bags and more!

I love potatoes, but unfortunately the paper bags they come in are not recyclable: they're made of a special kind of paper because regular paper is just not strong enough.  The same goes for the packaging of other products like sugar: paper, but not recyclable.  So how to keep them out of the trash stream?

If you have a wood stove, here's an option to consider: rip the mesh window out of your potato bag (because it's not made of paper and definitely shouldn't be burned) and use the bag as a fire starter.  The same can be done for sugar bags.  And if you're ‘hardcore' about reducing the amount of trash you generate, you can also separate out other types of paper that are not recyclable but are good for burning (for example, the waxy paper under pizzas or around sub sandwiches; most cash register tapes), stuff them into your potato bag and voila: an easy way to get your wood stove started.  If you don't have a wood stove, maybe you know someone who does.

Here are a few key points to remember:
•    Please use paper only for starting fires, not as a replacement for well-dried firewood
•    Keep stove emissions low by proper burning practices; Natural Resources Canada's Guide to Residential Wood Heating is a good resource
•    If you're in the market for a stove, choose a model that is EPA-certified for cleaner burning
•    If you're unsure about the recyclability of any type of paper, you can do a quick check on the internet or with local authorities.  (Or send me a note and I'll do my best to help.)

It's true that burning non-recyclable paper is not a perfect solution, but by most accounts it's better than burying it in a landfill.  And – it's a bit of free heat as the heating season nears.

Pause, just for a moment - October 3, 2012

In Thanksgiving

One of the highlights of my year has been meeting Jim Merkel and reading his book, “Radical Simplicity: Small footprints on a finite Earth”.  It's a gentle, thought-provoking guide for living lightly on our fragile, limited planet.  

Jim's take on Radical Simplicity goes far beyond just living with less stuff.  It's also about learning to clear our over-stimulated minds of much of the clutter and anxiety of today's frantic lifestyles, and instead focussing our mental energy on our core values.  It's about reconnecting with what truly sustains us: this planet and its beautiful, complex web of life.  Jim describes once being on a team retreat where everyone, regardless of their personal spirituality, paused for a moment of gratitude, silent or otherwise, before each meal.

On this Thanksgiving weekend in Canada, perhaps that's one of the best things we can do: pause before we eat for just a moment to ponder the people, plants, animals and planet that make our existence and nourishment possible.  We live in a privileged part of the world, and it's good to be conscious of that.  Happy Thanksgiving Day!

Something YOU can have in common with Walmart, TD Bank, Air Miles and many other leading companies - September 19, 2012

Green power within your reach, TODAY!

What do the above companies, plus Royal Bank, BMO, Shaw Communications, Kraft Foods, Nissan, Home Depot and Google have in common?  They run part or all of their operations on green power – sustainable electricity produced from renewable sources.

No, they don't have power plants in their back yards.  They simply buy certified green power from a green energy provider, and have it delivered through the existing power grid.  

And you can too, for your home or business.  Just Google “green energy provider” to find a company that offers service in your area, and then sign up.  There are no wires or switches, and no worries about reliability.  

There is a small premium price for green power, typically a couple of cents per kilowatt-hour.  But if you're keen on green power, hopefully you'll agree it's a small price to pay for being carbon-free.  And – by buying green power, you are creating an incentive for the development of more green power, and helping transform the market.  A really good thing!

Here's a quick overview of how green power works, and here's a link to a leading Canadian provider (in which I have no personal stake, financial or otherwise).

Reducing our most glaring environmental transgression - September 5, 2012

Choose a better way to get the kids to school

For most of us, driving is one of the biggest parts of our carbon footprint. And until we have electric vehicles charged by wind or solar power, it's pretty much impossible to make driving 'green' or sustainable. Every tank of gas equals another 100 KG or more of greenhouse gases emitted.

School's in this week, and that means many of us will be tempted to fall back into the routine of driving our kids to school.  The US National Highway Traffic Administration estimates that 20-30% of morning rush hour traffic is people doing just that. At my son's elementary school last year, the principal counted over 100 vehicles on an average morning - and the school has just 300 students.

Unfortunately, by driving our kids to school, we contribute to inactivity and obesity; we make the streets more dangerous by adding traffic; we waste a fortune in fuel; and we produce tonnes and tonnes of unnecessary greenhouse gases.

As a parent myself, I can appreciate that some parents may be uneasy about letting their little ones walk or bike. But there are many creative ways - such as a 'walking school bus' - to make the trip safe, healthy, fun and eco-friendly. Check out http://www.saferoutestoschool.ca/ for lots of ideas and resources.

A way to measure your power consumption for free - August 22, 2012

Borrow a power meter from your library

Portable power meters are excellent tools for helping you save on energy, because they measure the power consumption of anything that plugs into a wall outlet.  Your power bill might tell you the total amount of energy consumed in your home, but it doesn't provide any indication of where it was consumed.  How much power does your toaster use? Or your PVR?  Or your hair dryer? 

A portable meter can tell you precisely.  As well, it can help you find phantom power users.  (Phantom power is the trickle of power used by many devices even when they are turned off; it can be eliminated with the use of a power bar.)

Here's some great news: many libraries now have power meters you can borrow like a book.  It's an excellent, zero-cost opportunity to do a little measuring so you can identify ways to lower your energy bills – and do the planet a favour.  It's great fodder for a school science fair project, or to stimulate a family discussion about ways to save energy.

(Of course, you can always buy a meter if you like – they're available in many hardware stores, including here, hereand here.)

Connoisseurs take note - August 8, 2012

Less waste from wine

It would be a HUGE stretch to call me a vintner, but I do enjoy going to a local commercial establishment where I can buy a kit and, with a bit of expert help, turn it into pretty nice wine.  However, I've always been uneasy about even the small amount of waste from wine making and consumption – labels, corks and foil seals.  (Not so much bottles, because they're reused or recycled.) 

If you make wine, here are some small steps you can take to reduce the eco-footprint of your beverage:
•    Forego labelling individual bottles and instead label cases 
•    Skip the foil seals
•    If you use synthetic corks, try not to pierce them all the way through with your corkscrew, and then save them for reuse again and again
•    If you use real corks, compost them and consider using (and reusing) synthetic corks

If you don't make wine but enjoy sipping it:
•    Compost real corks, and save synthetic ones to give to friends who make wine (you might get a gift bottle out of it)
•    Consider the distance wine has travelled and choose the most local one that satisfies your palate
•    If you're hard-core green: make a vineyard's green credentials part of your purchase decision

Some small ways you can say cheers to the planet!

Why it's so important to recycle soft plastic - July 25, 2012

Soft plastic: one of the few products that is truly, completely recyclable

Recycling is a good thing to do.  But it surprises most people to learn that most of what we put into our recycling bins is not actually recycled, it's downcycled: that means it's turned into products of lesser quality or reduced functionality.  (Example: water bottles are downcycled into carpet, not recycled into new water bottles.)

Not so for soft plastic – it can be truly, completely recycled.  As long as it's clean, it can be remanufactured into identical products over and over.

So what's ‘soft plastic'?
•    Grocery and shopping bags
•    Bread bags
•    Milk bags, including the inner bags (as long as they are clean)
•    Anything identified with the recycling logo and “LDPE” or the number 4
•    Most non-crinkly plastic, as long as it's clean



(Note: cling wrap used on food products is not recyclable; but stretch wrap used in warehouses for pallets is)


Plastic is made from petroleum, so every bit recycled means less oil consumed.  Please do your part, and recycle all your soft plastic.

A cooler kitchen and lower energy bills - July 11, 2012

Is preheating the oven before baking really necessary?

I'm no expert on baking, but this I do know: those huge elements in most kitchen ovens take a lot of power.  And they create a lot of heat, which can make a kitchen uncomfortably hot.  Plus, if you have air conditioning, that heat has a double impact on your energy bill because it makes your air conditioner work harder.

So what can you do?
•    Only preheat your oven when truly necessary for recipe success (cakes, pies and breads, according to my cookbook), and try baking other types of food without preheating.  (You'll likely need to experiment and adjust baking times a little, as ovens vary.) 
•    If preheating is necessary, do it “just in time”: turn the oven on just a few minutes before you need it.  If you turn it on when you start to prepare ingredients (as many recipes instruct), it will likely be hot long before you need it, and that's a waste. 
•    Finally, for further savings, turn off your oven 15 minutes or so early, and let it ‘coast' the rest of the way.  As long as you don't open the door, it should complete the cooking just fine.

Read more here.  Happy – and efficient – baking!

(Thanks to subscriber Margo Sheppard for this Green Idea!)

A quick guide to help you avoid pesticides in your food - June 27, 2012

The 'Dirty Dozen' and the 'Clean 15'

Pesticides are an unfortunate reality of conventional food production. They help farmers increase yields and keep food prices low. But that means most produce contains small residual amounts - and some fruits and veggies contain more than others.

How is a shopper to know the difference? The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmental organization specializing in toxic chemical research and advocacy, has released its 2012 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce. The guide ranks 45 types of produce based on results of pesticide residue testing done by the US Department of Agriculture. The Dirty Dozen are the 12 types of produce most commonly contaminated with pesticides; the Clean 15, at the same link, are least likely to be. All the others fall somewhere in between.

Organic food has no residues because it is produced without pesticides, but organic options aren't always available. So check out EWG's full rankings here, and you've got the information you need to make wise produce choices.

(You can read about EWG's methodology here.)

Having fun AND solving our global environmental challenges at the same time - June 13, 2012

19 climate change games that could change the future

Whether it's played on a board or on a screen, just about everyone enjoys a good game.  And great games can bring out a surprising degree of analysis, creativity, strategy and action –the very same traits that make humans uniquely able to overcome big challenges.  Like climate change.
ClimateProgress has compiled a list of 19 computer, role-playing and board games that put players into the heart of energy, economic and development issues that are at the core of climate change.  The list includes:
•    SimCity 5: a new version of the longstanding urban development computer game that incorporates sustainability and active transport
•    Climate Catan: a version of the popular “Settlers of Catan” featuring oil as a resource that fuels development but leads to environmental disaster (AKA reality)
•    “Stabilization Wedge” Game: based on Princeton University's ground-breaking research, offers participants real-world options, choices and tradeoffs for cutting global emissions
Check out the list of all 19 games at http://tinyurl.com/ClimateChangeGames.
Thanks to subscriber Paul Bulger for this great suggestion and link!

Be a nudgebreaker - May 30, 2012

A sensible, fuel-saving idea in stopped traffic

In stopped traffic, have you ever noticed that when one driver nudges ahead a meter or so, everyone behind usually does the same thing?  It seems we do that in any lineup, whether at the bank, grocery store or airport.

Does this ripple effect get anyone where they're going any sooner?  Well, no.  But everyone does end up burning an extra shot of fuel – and producing an extra puff of greenhouse gas – each time they press the gas pedal to nudge forward.

So why not be the ‘nudgebreaker' the next time you're in stopped traffic, and resist the urge to edge forward?  You'll save fuel for yourself and everyone in the line behind you – and you'll be doing your planet a little favour.

One of the very first Green Ideas from 2008 – worth repeating for a much larger audience!

Keeping Earth in Business - May 16, 2012

1% for the Planet

Have you ever heard of 1% for the Planet?  It's an association of over 1,300 businesses worldwide who put their money where their mouth is by donating at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes.  The reason?  Beyond demonstrating a solid commitment to the environment, it's their way of showing that the marketplace is a key part of the solution to our environmental challenges.  1% for the Planet has been called the ‘gold standard' of corporate philanthropy. 

So – if you're a business, why not join 1% for the Planet here

If you're a consumer, why not try to find what you're looking for from a 1% for the Planet member, here, or buy 1% for the Planet, The Music, on iTunes or Amazon, or encourage your favourite store to join?

Five ways to reduce food waste - May 2, 2012

Prevent ‘refrigerator rot', save money and do a good thing – all at the same time!

From the readers of Slate magazine, here are five ways you can save on your food bill and reduce waste at the same time:

1. Create and stick to a shopping list: so that you don't overbuy, especially perishable produce

2. Buy food with cash instead of on credit: to resist the urge to buy too much or to buy impulse items

3. Stick to a single cuisine: so that your leftovers don't look like the United Nations in a fridge

4. Limit your ‘experimental purchases' like exotic produce: they usually have a big carbon footprint, and can easily spoil before you figure out how to cook them

5. Schedule one night a week as leftover night: to use up all those leftovers

You can check out Slate's full list of food-saving tips here.

Another reason to love a sunny day - April 18, 2012

Is a solar hot water system in your future?

I love sunny days – and this picture shows another reason why:
 
That's the temperature gauge on our home's solar hot water tank yesterday (April 21).  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the solar system – which pre-heats water going into our electric hot water heater – was working so well it actually made the water hotter than my electric tank normally heats it!  In other words, free hot water from the sun.  The system works every month of the year, but works best in the spring, summer and fall.

My hot water is not entirely free, of course, because the solar system wasn't free.  But many energy efficiency programs offer incentives to help bring the investment down.  And because sunlight is free, solar hot water offers protection against rising power rates.

Here's a link to Thermo-Dynamics, the Atlantic Canadian company that manufactures systems like mine.

Rediscover a fast, efficient, money-saving way to cook better food - April 4, 2012

Rediscover pressure cookers

Years ago, pressure cookers were a popular way to prepare food - and maybe it's time for a comeback!  Here's why:

·         Fast: pressure cookers can cook food in 1/3 the time ovens, microwaves or other stovetop methods would take.  (That's because of a basic law of physics: the pressure raises the boiling point of water, and that hotter temperature makes for quicker cooking.)

·         Efficient: quicker cooking means you can reduce your cooking energy costs by 2/3.

·         Better nutrition: pressure cookers allow you to cook with less fat and oil, and they can help food retain more nutrients and flavours.  

·         Less waste: many pressure cooker recipes offer great ways to use leftovers rather than throwing them out.

Pressure cookers won't work for every dish, but they're excellent for staples like rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, soup, meat, veggies and more.  Many of them even come with recipe books to help you get started!  And here's a quick four-minute video of pressure cooker basics.

An especially offensive disposable - March 21, 2012

Stamp out Styrofoam

Cups, plates and other products made of polystyrene (IE Styrofoam) show up at parties everywhere.  But maybe it's time to tell them they're not welcome anymore.  Consider:

·         Polystyrene is made of petroleum.  ‘Nuff said.

·         Polystyrene is non-biodegradable; it persists for a long time in the environment.  It's especially troublesome in the ocean, where it doesn't break down but just breaks up into small pieces which then enter the marine food chain.

·         Polystyrene is bulky, so it fills up landfills – meaning new landfills are needed sooner.  That bulkiness also means more garbage bags and more trips for the garbage truck.

·         Polystyrene is recyclable – but don't be fooled.  Because it's so bulky, it's expensive to transport and very few jurisdictions actually do recycle it; most just dump it into the landfill.

The best solution?  The first of the three Rs – reduce – is once again the best strategy.  Try to avoid using disposables altogether, but when their use is unavoidable, choose paper products instead: at least they're compostable or recyclable.

Save money, energy – and WORK! - March 7, 2012

Dare to wear clothes more than once between washes

By habit, most of us are accustomed to throwing all our clothes into the laundry after we've worn them once.  But unless we work in situations where we sweat a lot or get physically dirty, most of us could easily get away with wearing clothes at least twice between washings.  The advantages are MANY:

1.    Clothes will last longer, because washing is a pretty punishing process
2.    Clothes washers and dryers will last longer because they'll be doing fewer loads
3.    Much less detergent will be used
4.    Much less water – particularly that energy-intensive hot water – will be used
5.    Less dryer use means lots of electricity will be saved, because a single dryer uses as much power as 350 CFL light bulbs
6.    IMPORTANTLY: wearing clothes more than once will greatly reduce your washday workload!

So – to save money, energy and work, dare to wear your clothes more than once between washes.  (Logical exceptions: socks and underwear)

A disease we need to eliminate - February 22, 2012

Cut out unnecessary idling to save money, energy and the environment

The disease: It's the Idling Disease, still commonly seen in driveways, parking lots and drive-throughs. 

The prognosis
: According to Natural Resources Canada, Canadians burn over 2 million litres of gas every day idling in winter and over a million litres every day in summer.

The potential
: If every Canadian idled just 3 minutes less per day, we would save 640 million litres of gas a year.

The cure
:  1) The best way to warm up your vehicle in winter is to drive it, not to let it idle;  2)  Even on the coldest day, 2-3 minutes of idling is enough time for an engine's oil to circulate; then you're good to go.  (Personal note: I still go by the old rule of 30 seconds and have never had a hint of car trouble.);  3.  When an engine is warm, idling for over 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more CO2 than restarting your engine.

A SURE cure
:  One business owner I know has developed an interesting way to demonstrate he's serious about his company's zero-idling policy: he just takes the keys out of any company vehicle found idling.  No words needed when the wrongdoer sheepishly visits his office to retrieve them...

Spread the cure
:  Start a campaign in your workplace, school or community, or even the local coffee shop.  NRCan's Idle Free Zone website offers awesome resources (including FAQs, videos, signage and more) for individuals, businesses and communities

A new holiday? - February 8, 2012

Take part in National Sweater Day tomorrow (February 9)

One of the biggest slices of Canada's carbon footprint comes from heating homes and workplaces – because most Canadian heating systems run on fossil fuels or fossil fuel-based electricity.  And one of the easiest ways to reduce that footprint is really simple: just turning a thermostat down 2°C can reduce heating bills by 5%.  Turning it down by 4°C saves 10%.  Savings just don't come easier than that!

What about comfort?  Perhaps it's time to fall in love again with that sweater your Grammy gave you.  In support of that notion, tomorrow is National Sweater Day – designed to encourage Canadians to wear a sweater and turn down the thermostat.  An initiative of the World Wildlife Fund, it has a fun side too – you can call ‘the Granny Call Centre' to learn more about why you should wear that sweater.  More info and a fun video at www.sweaterday.ca.

So please spread the word among your colleagues: wear a sweater and turn down the heat on the planet!

(PS: When it comes to climate change policies, I find myself frequently disappointed by our current federal government – but I KNOW our Prime Minister has what it takes to participate in this campaign...)

Environmental inspiration from across Canada - January 25, 2012

"What will be your environmental story for 2012?"

Bullfrog Power, a green energy supplier, asked that question of its customers last month, and they answered in droves: from individuals to huge companies like Walmart; from non-profits to large municipalities; and more.

And what kinds of things are they pledging?

  •     "To reduce household trash to one bag per person per year"
  •     "To join a co-operative, to buy used goods and to 'free-cycle' what I don't need"
  •     "To buy carbon offsets for all our air travel" (from a musical group)
  •     "To eliminate single-use boxes on most orders and save 76,000 boxes" (from a mail order company)
  •     "To be 100% supplied by renewable energy, and a zero-waste company" (from Walmart!!)

That's just the start.  Read more - and be inspired, as I was - at Bullfrog's website.  Then plan your 2012 environmental story!

Try to use less pish-pish - January 11, 2012

… I mean windshield washer fluid

Tis the season of pish-pish.  (That's my wife's nickname for windshield washer fluid.)  On cool winter days when busy roads are wet with slush, we use the stuff almost constantly as we drive.

Most windshield washer fluids contain methyl alcohol.  The good news is that it biodegrades quickly in the soil or evaporates readily in the air.  The bad news about methyl alcohol is:
•    Most of it is produced synthetically from – you guessed it – fossil fuels
•    In its raw form, it is both poisonous and flammable (and windshield washer jugs have ‘Danger' logos as evidence of that)
•    Once evaporated, it contributes to the formation of smog
•    We release SO MUCH of it across North America – imagine the millions and millions of litres every winter

What to do?
•    Look for windshield washer that is made from plant-based ethanol (though it too has its issues)
•    If possible, increase the distance between yourself and the vehicle ahead of you to minimize spray; drive in the driest part of your lane to reduce the spray you generate for the vehicle behind you; and avoid rush hour traffic if that's an option.  As well, strive to use only the amount of fluid you need each time you wash the windshield.  But please use good judgement, and NEVER compromise road safety!!

One Guiding Thought for 2012 - December 28, 2011

Strive to lighten your load on our planet in whatever way you can

Several years ago, I completed an on-line quiz about my footprint on the planet. It asked questions about how I live - house, vehicle, driving, food, waste and more - and then calculated how much land it takes to sustain my lifestyle.  I was shocked when it told me that if everyone on the planet lived like me, we'd need four planets.  I've worked really hard since then to reduce my footprint - but more recently I discovered that that ratio applies to all Canadians, right now: if everyone on the planet lived like us, we'd need four planets.

Of course, there is only one: this fragile, beautiful, precious and irreplaceable planet.

So perhaps the best New Years resolution any of us can make is this: to strive to use less of everything, in whatever way we can.

Here's to a happy - and sustainable - 2012 for all!

Make memories, not garbage, this Christmas - December 14, 2011

A trash-free holiday

For most of us, Christmas is a wonderful time for family, friends and gifting. But unfortunately, there's also a downside to Christmas: junk that's often in the landfill by Easter, and the biggest pickup day of the year for the trash man. So this year, why not give the trash man - and your planet - a break?

The Clean Bin Project is a wonderful initiative by three young Canadians to try to produce zero trash for a year. Their website has many litterless gift ideas for the holidays, such as:

  •     Tickets to a theatre, music performance or movie
  •     Passes to a gym or museum
  •     Classes
  •     Outdoor experiences such as snowshoeing or horseback riding
  •     Massages or other health and wellness experiences
  •     House cleaning services
  •     Homemade consumables
  •     Secondhand items

Read more great ideas here, to help you create more memories and less garbage this Christmas.

And: a one minute video on how to avoid bad gift giving (hint: you could end up adopting a coral reef!).

Light up your night without running up your bill - November 30, 2011

Nightlights that use virtually no power

If you like having a little bit of light in your home at night, you can save by switching to electroluminescent nightlights.

Typical nightlight bulbs use 4 or 7 watts. That's not a lot - but they're often on for long periods of time, and many homes have more than one.

Electroluminescent nightlights, like the one shown, are incredibly efficient: plugged in 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, they use just two cents worth of power. Yep, two cents a year, or about 99.5% savings over a 7 watt bulb.

They do provide a bit less intensity and a different glow than standard nightlights - but the savings are worth it. Ask for them at your local hardware store. (Mine have a lifetime warranty, and were purchased here.)

Measure, then manage – and save! - November 16, 2011

A portable power meter can save you energy and money

“If you can't measure it, you can't manage it” goes the expression.  It applies to electricity too, where our only indication of consumption is the monthly bill we get.  But by then, it's too late to do anything about it.  As well, power bills tell us nothing about what's running up our bill – so we have no way to distinguish the power hogs in our homes and workplaces from the power misers.

Portable power meters to the rescue!  They're simple devices that provide a real-time readout of the power consumption of anything that plugs into an outlet.  Once you know how much power is consumed by the different things in your home or workplace, you can zero in on actions that will make the biggest difference in your power usage – and bill.

Portable meters like this one, this one or this one (a bit more expensive, but very good and easy to use) are available for loan at many public libraries, or at many hardware stores. 

This is not hot air - November 2, 2011

Take a pass on Helium-filled balloons

Helium balloons have become part of birthdays, weddings and carnivals because they're fun.  But maybe we need to rethink them.

Here's why: Helium is a very limited resource.  We get it from within the earth - but there's only so much on our planet, and once it's lost to the atmosphere, it's impossible to recover or recycle.  Helium is vital to many industrial and medicinal uses, like welding, fibre optics and the MRI machines used in hospitals everywhere.  At our current rate of Helium use, however, shortages can be expected in 25-30 years.  Yikes!

Given that reality, conservation seems a wise strategy.  Most people would agree that MRI machines are probably more important than party balloons.  So perhaps we should collectively reserve our limited supply of Helium for the most important uses, and take a pass on frivolous uses like party balloons.

(Click here for more information on the coming shortage of Helium.)

Don't egg the planet this October 31 - October 19, 2011

An eco-friendly Halloween

Halloween is a much-awaited highlight for kids everywhere: a chance to dress up, spook the neighbours and get tons of tasty loot!  But Halloween has a pretty big carbon footprint, and that's a bit like egging your mother's house: not nice.

Here are five tips to make your Halloween celebrations a little greener: 

•    The single most important thing you can do: leave the car home, and have trick-or-treaters walk (escorted if necessary) around the neighbourhood

•    Use stuff you already have, plus a bit of imagination, to create your costume.  It saves money and results in less trash.  Everybody should have a ‘tickle trunk' like Mr. Dressup had! 

•    Don't distribute junk food or cheap low-quality treats from questionable distant origins.  Strive to give away treats that are healthy and nutritious, as well as good tasting.  (A challenge, I know – I clearly remember not being impressed with apples in my treat bag when I was a kid!)

•    If you want to be a real eco-hero, look for fair trade chocolate.  Cadbury's Dairy Milk Minis qualify, and you can find other brands here.

•    Be sure to compost your pumpkin when it starts to melt away!

Not jugs or cartons, but...  - October 5, 2011

Buy your milk in bags

Milk is a staple of virtually every household, but what type of milk packaging is the most eco-friendly?  All three types of milk packaging – jugs, cartons and bags – are recyclable.  But unfortunately not all are accepted by all recycling programs. 

As well, recycling isn't a perfect solution: collecting and transporting recyclables costs time, money and fuel - especially when the end destination of those recyclables is half a world away.  Where I live, jugs and cartons are recycled, but in China.  Yep – sorted, baled, stuffed into a container and shipped thousands of kilometres.

So what's a consumer's greenest option for milk packaging?

1. Check with your local solid waste authority to see what's accepted for recycling, and then choose accordingly.  In spite of its shortcomings, recycling is still better than trashing.

2. Choose the biggest size available; one big jug or carton uses less material than two or more small ones.

3. If all three types of packaging are recycled where you live, choose plastic bags:

  • they are lighter (less material and less weight to transport)
  • both the outer and inner bags are the same soft plastic as grocery bags so they can be mixed in with them (but inner bags must be well rinsed of residual milk)
  • they may be recycled locally (as they are here in NB) as opposed to being shipped to China; and
  • soft plastics (#4 LDPE) are one of those rare materials that can be perfectly recycled: that is, reprocessed back into the very same types of products over and over again.

Save on printer ink  - September 21, 2011

Make "draft" quality your default

Ounce for ounce, few things are more expensive than ink for the inkjet printers many of us own and use.  I recall reading a few years ago that manufacturers make more money through ink sales than printer sales! 

There's an easy way to make your printer's ink cartridges last longer: simply change your printer's default setting to the DRAFT (or fastest printing) mode.  That setting uses the least ink but still yields a print quality adequate for most everyday uses.  Also, choose greyscale printing over color printing when possible. 

In both cases, you'll save money, save ink and produce fewer empty printer cartridges (yes, they can be recycled, but less is always best).

Stop at the first click  - September 7, 2011

Overfilling that gas tank costs you money!

When filling our gas tanks, most of us ‘top it up' a bit: after the gas nozzle clicks to signal the tank is full, we add a bit more, to round it up to the next full dollar.

But usually that's not a good thing: it results in fuel dollars being lost as vapour coming out of the tank; it can result in a spill of some of that fuel we've paid for (and sometimes we don't see those spills because our vehicle may have a hidden overflow pipe); and on hot days it can result in spills later since gas expands as it warms.  Bad for the wallet, bad for the environment.

The solution is easy: believe the gas nozzle when it clicks, and choose not to top up your tank.  It will save you money, conserve precious gas and reduce damage to the environment.

Better fresheners  - August 24, 2011

Breathe easier without air fresheners

Most people like the smell of air fresheners, be they lemon, pine or something more exotic.  But many common air fresheners are also sources of airborne chemicals with potentially harmful side effects – things like phthalates and VOCs.  People with chemical sensitivities are particularly susceptible to artificial scents.  Additionally, plug plug-in fresheners use a steady trickle of electricity, and sprays result in empty spray cans that must be disposed of (or hopefully recycled). 

There are better ways to freshen air:

·         Open windows to let fresh air in

·         Clean up the source of the odour with non-toxic cleaners

·         Eliminate the source of the odour (IE empty the trash more frequently)

·         Use baking soda or potpourri

·         Choose air fresheners that are specifically labelled as organic

When you step back and think about it, spraying chemicals into the air we breathe just to mask odours (which may be unpleasant but are usually natural and therefore harmless) just seems like a bad idea.

Fresh air can save you fuel and money  - August 10, 2011

Roll down the window, turn off the air conditioner...

Air conditioners make cars bearable in the heat of summer, but they are HUGE energy users, increasing a vehicle's fuel consumption by 20%.  That means a vehicle that normally goes 800 kilometres on a tank of fuel will only go about 675 kilometres with the air conditioner on – and many of us have it on by default all summer.

The best solution is to just turn your AC off.  When driving 60 KMH or less, roll down your window and enjoy a bit of fresh air.  (Wise dogs have known the pure joy of fresh air for years.)  At speeds above 60 KMH, keep a comfortable airflow moving by using the fan to bring in fresh air and keeping a window or sunroof open just a crack to let it out.

On really hot days when that's not enough, alternate the AC on and off to get just the amount of cooling you need.  Just remember: it costs you every time you turn it on.

 

Be kind to your fridge, and save - July 27, 2011

The best way to thaw frozen food

Ice absorbs an awful lot of heat as it melts.  That's why we use ice cubes to keep beverages cold.  (Google “Latent heat of fusion” if you'd like to know the physics of it.) 

Frozen food works the same way – it absorbs a lot of heat as it thaws.  You can make that principle work in your favour by placing frozen food inside your fridge to thaw.  That way, it absorbs heat inside the fridge, making it work less and saving you a little money.  (Older folks may remember that, in the days before electric refrigerators, kitchens had iceboxes that worked solely on that principle.)

It takes a bit of planning to develop the habit, but it's worth it: thaw frozen food in your fridge! 

(Thawing frozen food in the fridge has a double benefit in the winter: if you let frozen food thaw on the counter, it actually cools your home, making your heating system work harder.)

Cleaning without poisons is easier than you think - July 13, 2011

Non-toxic cleaners: easy to make; safe and effective to use 

If you use conventional cleaners in your home, you are likely harbouring some pretty potent poisons in your cupboard... poisons with health effects that range from short term irritation to long term trouble.  Plus many of them aren't very good for the planet either.  That makes conventional cleaning a puzzling paradox of good and bad.

Fortunately, there are safe, green alternatives you can make yourself.  They may not have fancy fragrances (which are usually chemicals anyway), but they can be just as effective as commercial cleaners.

Don't be intimidated – all you need are a few basic ingredients and a few basic recipes.  Here are some great links to help you get started:

• Some background information on toxins in cleaners
• A short (80 second) video showing how easy it is to make your own cleaners
• A list of five basic ingredients you can use and what they can do
• Recipes (more extensive or one page printable)

Turn it off for the summer - June 29, 2011

... the Air Exchanger, that is 

Most airtight homes these days have air exchangers, or ‘heat recovery ventilators'.  They are often referred to by their trade names – Venmar and Vanee, for example.  But of all the appliances in our homes, air exchangers are perhaps the least understood.  They bring in fresh air and blow out stale air during those cold months when our windows are closed.  However, their controls can be confusing to anyone who might have missed that science class explaining relative humidity.  

The result?  Air exchangers are often left on during summer months when windows are open, wasting power.  As well, by bringing in heavy summer air, they may actually bring humidity inside.

There's an easy fix: just turn your air exchanger off for the summer – either by turning the control way down, or by just unplugging the exchanger itself from the outlet.

An alternative to paper tissue - June 15, 2011

Bring back the hanky! 

Years ago, everyone carried a handkerchief.  Then facial tissues came along.  They were initially marketed to help ladies remove makeup – but people started using them to blow their noses, and today that's the norm.

But maybe it's worth reconsidering hankies.  True, they need to be washed – but going paperless means less trees cut, less energy used to turn them into paper and, importantly, less trash to dispose of.  Read an analysis comparing hankies and paper tissue here.

And what about hygiene?  Our noses release a lot of germs when we're sick, so disposable tissue might be a better option then.  But in healthy times, hankies are perfect for everyday wipes and blows.  Plus hankies are non-allergenic: no dust to inhale.

A few tips: make hankies out of scrap fabric; have a different hanky for each day of the week; wash them in cold water and dry on a clothesline; choose organic cotton or hemp.  Happy honking!

Thanks to subscriber Trudy Mitic for this suggestion!

Don't flush the trees - June 1, 2011

Choose the right tissue paper 

Home tissue products have long been made from virgin fibre (IE straight from the tree; zero percent recycled).  That means we have cut LOTS of trees to make napkins, paper towels, facial tissue and bathroom tissue, which are designed to be used once and then trashed or flushed.  Even today, several leading brands of tissue products are still 100% virgin fibre.  Arg – we are flushing trees down the toilet.

Fortunately, the market is changing: many paper companies have started offering tissue products that contain recycled paper.  You can help speed up that market change (and save a tree) by choosing recycled tissue products the next time you shop.  Look for the recycled logo, and aim for as high a percentage of post-consumer content as possible

Click here for more background on this issue (dated but good information).  Click here (for Canada) and here (for US) to see how some popular brands stack up.

Nature's carbon offsets - May 18, 2011

Why not plant a tree this week? 

Trees are nature's carbon dioxide sponges: as they grow, they inhale CO2 and lock it up semi-permanently into wood and roots.  It's said that a single tree can absorb up to a tonne of emissions over its lifetime.

If you aspire to live a carbon-neutral lifestyle, make trees a part of your solution.  A typical Canadian household has emissions of over 20 tonnes a year, which can be offset by planting 20 trees annually.

Sort of – because there are two catches.  First, notice that's 20 trees annually, to offset 20 tonnes of annual emissions.  Secondly, trees do lock up CO2 for a long time, but not permanently, because most of that CO2 is emitted back into the atmosphere when a tree dies and rots.

So the best strategy toward carbon neutrality starts with reducing our emissions by consuming less fossil fuel.  But when we've made our carbon footprint as small as possible, the next best thing is to offset the remainder - and that's where planting trees comes in.  May, the month of returning life, is the perfect time.  June 5-11 is Canadian Environmental Week, with the theme, “Preserving our forests – protecting our future”.

You can obtain plenty of free tree seedlings in roadside ditches everywhere.  You can find great resources and information at Tree Canada.

Forego the fertilizer... and pesticides - May 4, 2011

Why not unpamper your lawn? 

Lawns have a significant carbon footprint.  Sure, they absorb a small amount of CO2 from the air as they grow, but that's far less than the emissions produced by fertilizing, watering and mowing them.  Nitrogen fertilizer – the stuff used to speed up greening – is derived directly from natural gas, as are many pesticide products.  It takes energy to pump water.  Mowers take fuel.  If not left on the lawn, clippings take energy to transport.  If they end up in a landfill, they end up emitting methane as they rot.

So – why not consider unpampering your lawn this year?  No fertilizer (or maybe a sprinkling of fine compost instead, and leave the clippings); no pesticides; and as little water as possible.  It may grow a little slower, but that means less mowing – not so bad either!

Check that label - April 20, 2011

Coming soon: carbon labels 

Most people read product labels to learn about the nutrient content of products.  But some leading retailers are working hard to make carbon labelling a reality. 

A carbon label is simply a label that reflects a product's environmental impact.  It's an estimate of how much energy, water and other resources were used in producing the product, and how much pollution was produced.

Today, carbon labelling is still under development.  But Wal-Mart and UK food retailer Tesco, two corporations with enormous market clout, are investing heavily in developing systems of carbon labelling that will allow consumers to instantly identify ‘greener' products, and then make their purchasing decisions accordingly.  You can be sure that once Wal-Mart has carbon labels on most of what it sells (slated to be within the next five years), its competitors will have no choice but to follow.  Voila – a transformed market!

So keep an eye out for carbon labels – they're coming soon!  Read more about Wal-Mart's plans here and Tesco's here.

"Apply poison, rinse, reapply"... - April 6, 2011

The poisons in personal care products 

The simple instructions on shampoo bottles – apply, rinse, repeat – belie the toxicity of some of the ingredients inside those bottles.  Personal care products are weakly regulated, and their ingredients often include known carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, reproductive toxins and more.  Yet we trustingly apply them daily to our skin, where they can be directly absorbed.  Yuck, and worse, poisonous.  For a frank overview, just check out The Story of Cosmetics, an incisive eight-minute video.

The David Suzuki Foundation has singled out the Dirty Dozen of cosmetic ingredients, and has developed a wallet-sized Sustainable Shopper's Guide to help you choose personal care products that don't contain toxins.  And if you'd like to check out how the products you presently use rank, the cosmetic database rates the toxicity (or non-toxicity) of thousands of brand-name personal care products.

Only so many fish in the sea... - March 23, 2011

...so let's make sustainable seafood choices 

Overfishing has become commonplace in a world where more and more people need more and more food – and our oceans are showing signs of strain.  A 2006 Dalhousie University study concluded that salt water fish will be essentially gone by 2048 if present fishing patterns continue.

Each of us can help prevent this from happening by choosing only sustainable seafood.  So what's sustainable?

Seafood Watch, a leading authority on sustainable seafood, has a handy downloadable card listing the best and worst choices, and a smartphone app that keeps you constantly up-to-date.  And David Suzuki's top ten sustainable seafood picks can be seen here.

Healthy oceans are vital to a healthy planet – so please make sustainable seafood choices.

Green your workout - March 9, 2011

A better way to exercise 

Staying fit is a healthy choice - but the way we do it may not be very healthy for the planet.  Consider the modern fitness center and its electric lights, electric fitness machines, electric air conditioning, electric televisions and electric sound systems.  Plus heating; plus laundry; plus showers; plus bottled water; plus the emissions of clients getting to and from the gym.  It all adds up to a significant strain on the planet's health, just to maintain ours.

Perhaps there's a better way.  In some places, pioneering efforts are underway to reverse that equation by generating power from fitness machines - check out this link.  But since that's not mainstream yet, for now, maybe it's worth bypassing the treadmill and... just going for a walk or run outside. 

Vote green every time you spend - February 23, 2011

Make a difference by practicing Ethical Consumption 

Most of us strive to get the best deal when we shop, and usually price is the way we measure a deal.  But often, the cheapest isn't the best deal, because it comes with hidden costs like toxic ingredients, unfair labour practices or environmental degradation.

Every time we choose to buy (or not to buy) something, we're giving a thumbs up (or thumbs down) to a vendor and manufacturer.  You could say we vote every time we open our wallets.

You can make a difference by practicing Ethical Consumption.  That means, where possible, consciously looking beyond just a price tag and choosing products that are healthy, local, environmentally-friendly or fair trade.  You might think you don't have a huge influence, but you do: just as at election time, every vote counts and enough votes can generate huge changes.

Good news: StatsCan indicates Ethical Consumption is on the rise in Canada.

Spend pennies, save money - February 9, 2011

Install foam gaskets under your outlet and light switch plates 

While painting a room last week, I removed a wall outlet cover plate – and was shocked (not literally...) by the amount of cold air leaking in around the wires and the box.

Fortunately, there's an effective and really inexpensive way to stop those drafts: just install foam gaskets like these under outlet and light switch plates on exterior walls.  They cost pennies apiece and take mere minutes to install, but they can put an end to most drafts.  For added benefit, you can also install child safety plugs in unused outlets to prevent air from leaking through the socket holes.

Installing them is so simple anyone can do it; here's a one-minute video to prove it!

Save energy and money in your kitchen - January 26, 2011

Four tips to improve cooking efficiency 

Just about everyone cooks, and cooking takes energy.  Here are four tips to help you use less energy and save money:

1. A slow boil is just as hot as a fast boil, but uses less energy – so get in the habit of setting your food to boil gently.  Use lids on your pots to keep the heat in.
2. Use flat, smooth-bottomed pots, and match them to the size of the element.  A lot of energy is wasted when small pots are used on large elements.
3. Use your oven as a last resort because it consumes A LOT of power; stovetop cooking, microwaves, toaster ovens and pressure cookers use far less.
4. When oven use is unavoidable, skip the preheating.  Make sure the seals around the door are in good shape to keep the heat in.

For more related tips, visit here.

The carbon footprint of a shower - January 12, 2011

Four ways to lower the environmental impact of that morning shower 

Consider this: every 10-minute shower you take under a conventional showerhead adds about 65 cents* to your monthly power bill.  That's about $20 per month if you shower daily.

Each shower also results in emissions from generating that power: in New Brunswick, over three kilograms of carbon dioxide; in Nova Scotia (where most power comes from coal), over five kilograms.  Ouch!  (You can check out carbon dioxide emissions per KWH of electricity in your province here or in your state here {fourth page}).

Here are four quick ways you can reduce those costs and emissions:

1. install a low flow shower head, a simple installation that will pay for itself in about a month
2. consider taking shorter showers
3. consider lowering the temperature of your shower a little
4. consider showering every second day instead of daily

*6.6 KWH @ 10 cents/KWH

Three quick resolutions - December 29, 2010

At New Year's, three straightforward resolutions for a better planet 

At this time of new beginnings, here's a challenge: three resolutions to make your 2011 the greenest, most sustainable ever!

1. Reduce: there are more of us than ever, consuming evermore, on a planet that's not getting bigger.  The single best thing we can do is pause before we drive, buy or consume, and ask ourselves two simple questions.  Is this really necessary?  Is there a better way?

2. Collaborate: mutual aid and sharing of resources are just two of the many good reasons to know your neighbours.  But collaboration within our larger communities, real or on-line, can be a great way to address larger issues too.  Consider that Wikipedia, one of the world's most popular websites, is a collaboration of volunteers lending their individual expertise to a collective good.  Now imagine the possibilities if that sort of approach were used to tackle our planet's biggest challenges.

3. Get involved: pledge to make your views known to political leaders at all levels.  They can do more with the stroke of a pen than most of us can hope to do in a lifetime.

For more on these three resolutions – and some further imaginings of a better world – please check out my New Year's column in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

'Shocking' savings within your reach - December 15, 2010

Just how much can those LED holiday lights save? 

Most people know that LED holiday lights are more efficient - but just how much more efficient?  Consider this:

  • an old-style incandescent outdoor light bulb uses about 7.5 watts
  • a minilight bulb uses about .5 watts
  • an LED bulb uses about .03 watts

Put differently, one kilowatt-hour of power would light:

  • an old-style incandescent outdoor light bulb for 133 hours or 5.5 days
  • a minilight bulb for 2000 hours or 83 days
  • an LED bulb for 33,333 hours or nearly four years

LEDs can save you 95%+ on your holiday lighting costs. 

So what to do?

  • invest in LED holiday lights; they'll pay you back quickly
  • discard your old non-LED light sets; or use them indoors (safely away from anything flammable) so all that waste heat they produce can at least help heat your home; or replace the bulbs with LED bulbs, available at hardware stores

Games to the planet's rescue? - December 1, 2010

Combining fun and solutions 

Many people spend at least part of their days playing games - whether solo or with others, whether face to face or across cyberspace.  So why not combine the fun of a game with the challenge of solving the world's environmental problems?  

Cool It is a card game from the Union of Concerned Scientists that teaches kids about choices that have to be made in solving climate change.  It includes a teacher's guide, and is available here.

Fate of the World is a new video game that challenges players to "manage a balancing act of protecting the Earth's resources and climate versus the needs of an ever-growing world population, who are demanding ever more food, power, and living space".  It's available here.

Here's a thought-provoking TED talk on how gaming can make a better world.

People like having fun - so why not make that fun time productive?  These and other games like them can help!

It's good to know your symbols - November 17, 2010

One of the symbols below means 'recyclable'. The other means 'recycled' (IE containing recycled material).

Q: Do you know which is which?

Recyclable Recycled Symbols

A: The one on the left means 'recyclable': the material can be recycled. The one on the right, with the circle, means 'contains recycled material'. (There are colour variations and the recycled logo sometimes indicates the percentage of recycled content.)

Why does this matter?

  1. If you specifically want to buy products that contain recycled materials, the logo on the left is meaningless; the logo on the right is the one to look for.
  2. The 'recyclable' logo on a product doesn't automatically mean that it ends up getting recycled; that depends on your local program. For example, Styrofoam© (polystyrene) is recyclable but is not accepted by most recycling programs.

The bottom line: it's always best to REDUCE, but when that's not possible, look for products that contain a high percentage of recycled material and are themselves recyclable.

The greenest coffee break ever - November 3, 2010

Eco-friendly coffee breaks 

Unfortunately, coffee breaks at the meetings many of us attend typically generate lots of trash.  But hosts of a meeting I attended last week laid out the greenest coffee break I've ever seen.  It featured:
•    Fair trade coffee with a lighter eco-footprint
•    Real mugs instead of anything disposable
•    Unrefined sugar from a sugar bowl instead of individual packets of white sugar and chemical substitutes
•    Real spoons instead of stir sticks
•    Milk from a pitcher rather than from small plastic containers
•    Snacks made from local and organic ingredients, with no plastic wrap or disposable aluminum trays with plastic lids

The next time you plan a meeting, why not ask your caterer to 'green' your breaks?  With the above small steps, you can make a big difference!

Congratulations to the Sustainability Education Alliance of New Brunswick for the greenest coffee break ever!

Please - not plastic! - October 20, 2010

A greener way to pick up after your pet 

Pets are usually walked for more than just exercise, and stooping and scooping is a good thing to do.   However, if you use plastic bags, you're putting one of nature's fastest degrading substances into something that degrades extremely slowly.

So it's far better to use paper bags or biodegradable bags made from corn-based materials.  Then you can:

1. dispose of them in your trash - they'll break down quickly in a landfill; or

2. compost them - but if you do, be sure to set up a separate compost for pet waste because it can carry some pretty nasty pathogens, and don't use the compost on food crops.  Check out these composters designed specifically for pet waste and read some excellent guidance from Green Calgary; or

3. if you have the space, bury them several centimetres in the ground where they'll quickly break down into plant nutrients (again, not in a food garden).

The key message: please don't use plastic bags for pet waste!

The heat is on - October 6, 2010

A quick way to make your baseboards heat more efficiently

With the chill of fall in the air, it won't be long before heating systems kick into gear - and energy bills rise.

Here's an easy way to improve the efficiency of your baseboard heaters, be they electric or hydronic (water filled): just pop off the front cover and vacuum them.  The dust and dirt that accumulate in baseboards decrease the amount of heat they produce, and therefore increase the amount of energy required to heat a room.  Simply vacuuming off that dirt will improve air flow around those fins, and help your heaters work most efficiently.  (Just be careful not to ding those fins because damaged fins reduce a heater's efficiency.)    

Find more great tips on baseboards and how to improve their heating efficiency here.

Paper towels or air dryers? - September 22, 2010

What's the most eco-friendly way to dry your hands?

Arg - it's not entirely simple.

This much is certain: drying your hands by waving them in the air is the most eco-friendly way to go.  You can also choose to wipe them on your (dark) clothing when no one's looking- but not everyone likes either option.

Dryers that use just a high-speed blast of unheated air have no power-hungry heating element, so they are by far the next best choice.  The Dyson AirBlade dryer is an example; here's one in action (25 seconds).

The other two common options, conventional heated air dryers and paper towels, are both far less eco-friendly - but which is the greater villain is less clear.  Most sources rank dryers as more eco-friendly than paper.  (Dryers use a lot of power, but produce no trash.  Paper towels come from trees, and lots of water and energy are used to make them.  Disposal of used paper towels takes energy too - think garbage bags, garbage trucks, landfills.  As well, most people don't use just one towel.)  But if paper is the only option available, one towel is always better than two.

Cash from trash - September 8, 2010

Turn some of your trash into cash for your school, charity or non-profit

Imagine if you could turn some of your garbage into dollars…

You can - with TerraCycle!  TerraCycle pays cash for certain items that are commonly thrown in the trash, like empty drinking pouches, cookie wrappers and yogurt containers.  True, it's just a few cents for each, but those cents can add up - especially in schools, where the daily trash can include hundreds of such items.

Here's how it works: you go to TerraCycle's website at www.terracycle.ca (and it has a link to affiliate sites in several other countries), choose which trash item(s) you'd like to collect, and sign up.  Then periodically send in what you've collected - TerraCycle and its sponsors pay the shipping, and will send you money for each item.   

Get started today - go to www.terracycle.ca, watch the video, and sign up.  It's simple and there are absolutely no fees!

Cruise control or not? - August 25, 2010

Will cruise control improve fuel economy?

The answer: it depends.

On level highways with light traffic, it is YES: cruise control holds a vehicle to a steadier speed than most drivers can, and that's more efficient than continuous acceleration and deceleration. 

However, in hilly terrain, cruise control 'tramps on it' when it encounters a climb, trying to maintain a constant speed - and that consumes a lot of fuel.  So in hilly areas, a driver with a skilled foot can easily get better mileage than cruise control.  (A skilled foot means allowing the vehicle to slow down on the upgrades instead of tramping on the gas, and then using the other side of the hill to pick up speed.) 

One caveat: safety first!  Always ensure your driving style is compatible with road and traffic conditions.

Thanks to Stephanie McClellan in St. Anthony, NL for the question that led to this Green Idea!

Standard or automatic? - August 11, 2010

Does the type of transmission in your vehicle affect your mileage?

It does!  Generally speaking, vehicles with automatic transmissions use more fuel than similar vehicles with manual transmissions.  A comparison of the 2010 models listed below produced the following results:

On average, manual transmissions will result in fuel savings of about $60 per year.

In city driving, manual transmissions will go about 7% further on a litre of fuel, or about 32 KM further per tank.

In highway driving, manual transmissions will go about 1.3% further on a litre of fuel, or about 8 KM further per tank.

Note that savings vary for every model of car, so it's wise to check NRCan's Fuel Consumption Ratings here before buying.  Also, some models now have continuously variable transmissions, which are often even more efficient than manual.

2010 models compared: Chevrolet Aveo and Cobalt; Ford Fusion; Pontiac G3, G5 and Vibe; Honda Civic; Nissan Frontier and Versa; Toyota Corolla, Matrix and Yaris

Save a chunk of rainforest every day, free and effortlessly! - July 28, 2010

With a simple click, you can save a square meter of rainforest every day

Most of us don't think about which website opens when we start our internet browser every day; it's usually Facebook, MSN or something similar.  But we can use our first click of the day to help preserve the planet's rainforests.

Here's how: make the Rainforest Site, www.therainforestsite.com, the home page you start from every day.  Then just click the box "Click here to give - it's FREE".  And with that simple action, you've preserved just over a square meter of the world's rainforests, the lungs of the planet that can absorb back some of the CO2 'exhaled' by our burning of fossil fuels.

It's not much, but those square meters add up - over 100,000 people click the site every day, and nearly 30,000 hectares have been preserved so far. 

The land is paid for by sponsors who advertise on the Rainforest Site.  If you visit, you'll also see similar sites in support of breast cancer, hunger, literacy and more - all causes you can support with the simple click of a mouse.

You can make The Rainforest Site your home page by going to it, then clicking Tools - Internet Options - General - Use current.

Make plans for the October long weekend - July 14, 2010

October 10, 2010: a day for local actions and global solutions
If you're yearning for solutions to climate change and environmental degradation, mark October 10 - 10/10/10 - on your calendar.

That's the day www.350.org is organizing work parties all over the world to tackle solutions through local actions.  From solar panels to community gardens to wind turbines to bike workshops: people will be working together to share information and implement the types of solutions our planet so desperately needs.  If you're ready to turn your good intentions into great actions, why not take part?  Your planet needs you! 

Register here to join or lead a local activity - in your community, school, workplace, faith community or home. 

Click here for great project ideas, big and small. 

And click here to see a slideshow about 10/10/10 and learn what the 350 stands for.

Help make 10/10/10 a turning point.  Think globally, act locally!

Tired of carrots and cabbage? - June 30, 2010

Fresh local produce will soon be hitting the farmers markets and grocery stores.  When you buy local, you're doing a good thing for many reasons:

1.  You're supporting neighbours and your local economy instead of anonymous, faraway suppliers.
2.  You're helping build local food production capacity because the more local food people buy, the more farmers will produce.
3.  You'll know where your food comes from, and can have confidence in higher standards of quality and food safety.
4.  You'll be doing the environment a favour, because long-distance food has a huge transportation carbon footprint.  One article I've read estimates that one third of trucks on the road today are carrying food.  The average item on a typical dinner plate has traveled more than most people travel on vacation!

So, if you're getting tired of the limited array of local veggies available, take heart: local produce is on the horizon, and it's a good choice all around!

Drive two months for free each year - June 16, 2010

Without investing a penny, most drivers can save 15% on their fuel bill - equivalent to almost two months of free driving a year.

It's all in how you drive, and here are the two critical habits for savings:

1. accelerate gently - resist that urge to 'tramp on it', because that's when your engine slurps HUGE amounts of fuel.  Then coast as much as possible, and brake gently.

2. limit your speed to 100 KMH or less.  Generally, the slower you go, the more you save.

Here's proof these two practices work: my Toyota Echo gave me 60 miles per gallon (21 KM/litre) last week, well above the car's official rating.

For more great fuel-saving tips, visit http://www.ecodriver.org/pages/Fuel-EfficientDriving.php.  And take a 2-minute ride (via YouTube) with the 'king of hypermiling': he gets twice his vehicle's rated fuel mileage!!

Just unplug it! - June 2, 2010

Many appliances in our homes and workplaces use electricity even when they are turned off.  Incredibly, they were designed that way - usually for convenience.  It's called 'phantom power', and dozens of items in a typical home use power 24/365.  The phantom power used in Canada is more than enough to power every home in New Brunswick

What to do?  Here are three suggestions:
1.  Learn to recognize things that use phantom power: anything with a clock, a remote control, a charger, one of those blocky-looking plugs, or a quick-on feature (IE most televisions).

2. Get into the habit of unplugging items when they are not in use, or use a power bar: when clicked off, it eliminates phantom power.

3.  When buying, choose appliances that use little or no phantom power; look for the ENERGY STAR logo, indicating best-of-class performance.

For more info, check out this great overview of phantom power from the Office of Energy Efficiency.


An audacious dare - May 19, 2010

Here's a challenge for you: skip a shower sometime this week.


When I issue that dare to audiences, I often hear a snicker and a murmur that sounds a lot like, "uh-uh".  Yet if truth be told, most of us shower every morning not because we're dirty; we shower because it feels good.  It's our wake-up therapy.

But our daily shower habit is one of the reasons we North Americans use more water per person than anyone on the planet.  And - even worse - much of that water is hot water, heated by fossil fuel-fired electricity.  Our morning feel-good isn't very good for the planet.

So here's the challenge again: skip a shower this week, and every week.  You can make a big difference for the planet!

Just how much can a clothesline save you? - May 5, 2010

What's good for the environment can be great for your wallet, and a clothesline is a perfect example.

Clothes dryers are among the biggest power hogs in your home, consuming about 4500 watts of power - equal to six microwave ovens or 350 compact fluorescent light bulbs.    If your power rate is 10 cents/KWH, a big load in the dryer adds 45 cents to your power bill.  One such load a day uses about $150 worth of power annually.

Then there are emissions.  If your power comes from coal or oil (as most of North America's does), one big load in the dryer equals 4 kilograms of emissions.  One such load a day for a year adds over a tonne of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Clotheslines make environmental and economic sense.  Springtime is a great time to get reacquainted with yours, or to install one if you don't have one.  Here's a great seven minute video that explains everything about planning and installing your clothesline (except they use a rope where most clotheslines are plastic coated wire).

The one best thing you can do this Earth Day - April 21, 2010

If you're ready to look beyond light bulbs and recycling, here is the one best thing you can do to help the planet: change the way you get to work tomorrow.
 
Transportation accounts for 200 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually in Canada and 1.8 billion tonnes annually in the US. Much of that is produced by cars and light trucks. Commuting to work is probably the single biggest environmental offence each of us commits: frustrated and tooting while idling and polluting.
 
Here are the most eco-friendly ways to get to work, in order:
1. Walking, biking or telecommuting (working from home);
2. Any form of public transit - take the paper or your laptop, and enjoy being chauffeured; and
3. Carpooling, a great money-saving option for people living beyond the reach of public transit.

For the health of our planet (and therefore us), perhaps the whole notion of commuting solo by car needs to be reconsidered.
 
If you are ready to make a big commitment to a better planet, change the way you go to work tomorrow. Call a friend, take the bus or hop on a bike. The timing couldn't be better: it's Earth Day.

A simple choice that can improve personal and planetary health - April 7, 2010

Taking the stairs is good for your health - but it's also good for the planet.

Many of us use elevators and escalators every day without thinking.  But both run on electricity, so they have an environmental footprint.  It's estimated that elevators consume 5% of the electricity used in a typical office building.  That might not sound like a lot - but there are over 700,000 elevators in Canada and the US, and all those rides add up to quite a footprint.

So if your daily routine includes an elevator or escalator ride, why not consider taking the stairs instead?  Good for you, good for the Earth!

The power of an idea - March 24, 2010

Earth Hour is a magnificent example of the power of an idea. It started in 2007, when people in Sydney, Australia were challenged to turn off all unnecessary lights and electrical appliances for just one hour.

Two years later, over 4,000 cities in 88 countries took part. The Sydney Opera House, the Eiffel Tower, UN Headquarters and the CN Tower were among the landmarks that turned out their lights. Across Toronto, power consumption dropped by 15%.

Earth Hour happens this Saturday, March 27 at 8:30-9:30 local time. Please take part: turn off lights, turn off appliances and unplug things that use 'phantom power' even when they are off. Find out more at www.wwf.ca/earthhour.

Let's show that, working together, we can make a HUGE difference. And when it's over, let's resolve to make every hour Earth Hour.

An easy way to use less hot water - March 10, 2010

The average person reaches for a faucet many times each day. Without thinking, we often grab the hot water tap - even when we need such a small amount of water that hot water never actually reaches the faucet.

But, regardless of its temperature, every drop that comes out of the hot water tap costs energy (and money). That's because every time the hot water tap is opened, hot water starts moving from the hot water tank toward the faucet. If it is 'stranded' somewhere along the way, it just cools and its energy is wasted.

So when you need just a little water, reach for the cold water tap - and save some precious hot water.

Small gadget, big savings - February 24, 2010

Toilets are huge water users.  If you can't change out the old toilet in your home, school or workplace (which probably uses 13-20 litres per flush) for a new one that uses just 6 litres per flush, here's a simple and inexpensive alternative.

It's called a a toilet tank fill cycle diverter - a tiny device that installs in a toilet tank in seconds, and limits the amount of water that flows into the bowl during filling.  It saves water every time you flush - potentially saving over 10,000 litres per toilet per year! 

Here's a three-minute video showing what a diverter is, how it works and how to install it.  You can find plenty of models and suppliers by Googling toilet tank fill cycle diverter

Two more strategies to save even more water:

- put a brick or bag of water in your toilet tank, so it uses less water every fill-up

- pour a few drops of food coloring into your toilet tank.  If any of the color seeps into the bowl before you next flush, your flapper probably needs to be replaced - a small cost for HUGE water savings.  Here's a one-minute video showing you how to do it.

Freecycling, a great way to clear clutter and keep stuff out of landfills - February 10, 2010

Every day, landfills across the country receive truckloads of things that are perfectly good but just not needed anymore.  It's an inglorious end for stuff that still has useful service to offer.
 
But there's a better way.  If you're looking to get rid of perfectly good stuff that's cluttering up your basement, garage or office, consider freecycling it.  Freecycling is making it available (via the internet) it at no cost to someone in your community who could use it.
 
Check out www.freecycle.org; there's a good chance you'll find a local on-line group you can join.  If there's no Freecycle group in your community, you can 'be the change' and start one!
 
You won't get rich freecycling, but you can unclutter your life and you'll do a good thing by keeping stuff out of the landfill before its time.  And maybe, you'll discover that someone's giving away something you want...
 
(If you prefer, there are plenty of charities across Canada that can use your used goods too.)

Sometimes one IS enough - January 27, 2010

In public washrooms, soap and paper towels are available for free - so it's easy to get into the habit of using lots of both.  Yet when it comes to clean hands, one pump of soap and one paper towel are usually enough to do the job.
 
I believe most people want to do the right thing - but often we need little reminders.  If every soap dispenser had a little sign next to it, "Please use just one pump" and if every paper towel dispenser had a little sign "Paper comes from trees - please use as little as possible", I bet a lot less soap would get used and many trees (and dollars) could be saved.
 
Agree?  If so, check out attractive, free signs here: www.changeyourcorner.com/documents.php.  Download them, print them and post them in washrooms at your school, office, business or other public place.  I'm betting you'll see an instant difference!
 
(Please e-mail info@changeyourcorner.com for information on mounted or laminated signs customized with your logo.)

Skip the button and pull the door - January 13, 2010

Automatic door openers are in buildings everywhere these days, helping provide access to people with mobility challenges.  But their popularity has led to an unintended side effect: many people with no mobility issues have gotten into the comfortable habit of pressing the button too.
 
Automatic openers use electricity, and they often hold exterior doors open long enough for a lot of heat to escape.
 
So to save a bit of electricity and heat, why not leave automatic door openers for those who really need them, and, if you can, open doors the old-fashioned way.

For the holidays, an easy reminder: keep that fridge door closed - December 30, 2009 

In this season of leftovers, it's worth being reminded of a common sense tip: you can save money and energy by opening your refrigerator as infrequently as possible and opening the door only as widely as necessary.

To help remember, imagine your fridge as being full of water.  It comes gushing out each time you open the door.  The more frequently and the wider you open the door, the more water that ends up on your floor. 
 
Cold air in your fridge is like that water: it's heavier than warm air, so it comes tumbling out each time the fridge door opens.  And the more cold air that escapes, the more your fridge needs to work to replace it.  That costs energy and money.

So the next time you open your fridge, imagine that it's full of water and act accordingly.  Your fridge will thank you by using less energy!

Snow and Ice can help me save energy and money?? - December 15, 2009

Several years ago, I worked with potato farmers - wise and pragmatic people.  In springtime, they would bring some snow into their potato storages.  Snow absorbs a lot of heat as it melts, so it kept the storage (and potatoes) cool, extending the life of the potatoes.

Just as snow keeps those potato storages cool, it can help you save a bit of energy and money at home:

If you take snow or ice from outside and put it into your fridge, it will absorb heat as it melts, meaning your fridge comes on less.  (That's how 'iceboxes' worked in the days before fridges.)
You can make ice cubes for free outside, giving your fridge's freezer compartment a break.  (When you pause to think about it, it's a bit odd that we use energy to make ice in winter…)

Take advantage of FREE snow and ice to save a bit of energy and money!

A Critical Two Weeks for a Troubled Planet - December 7, 2009

The long awaited Copenhagen Climate Change Conference kicked off yesterday. It's a critical moment, one that will test our global community's ability - and desire - to work together to solve a problem that will impact every single human on Earth.

This week, a few visuals worth watching:

From 1992, "The Girl Who Silenced the World", a twelve year old's powerful message to world leaders gathering for the Rio Earth Summit.

"The Story of Stuff", a frank look at where stuff comes from and where it ends up - worth thinking about during this 'season of stuff'.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak to 500 young people about climate change. To me, their bright, young faces represent hope and promise for the future. For their sake and the sake of all youth everywhere, let's hope our leaders gathering in Copenhagen get it right.

Hung out to dry - in winter even! - November 17, 2009

The clothes dryer is one of the biggest energy hogs in your home; clotheslines can save a heap of money and energy. But what about those cold winter days, when hanging clothes out isn't very pleasant?

Consider portable or retractable clotheslines: lines that can be set up indoors or in porches when needed, and neatly put away when not in use. There are many models available, from single strands that can be strung above your bath tub to room-length multiple parallel lines that can hold a full load of laundry. (If you have wood heat and a ceiling fan, you'll be amazed at how fast clothes dry indoors.)

You can see different models here http://www.urbanclotheslines.com/retractable-clotheslines or here http://www.breezedryer.com (note: not an endorsement, just examples).

One important note: it's good to dry clothes indoors, but beware that you're not creating excess moisture in your home, because that can cause problems such as mold. In many homes, the natural air leakage is enough to remove moisture. In more air-tight homes, air exchangers usually prevent moisture problems. But be aware, because it's important.

Greener Parking - November 4, 2009

Even something as simple as the way you park your vehicle can have an impact on the environment.  Here are small ways you can make a difference:

1. most important: pick the first available spot you come to instead of driving around looking for a spot closer to the door.

2. choose a 'drive-through' parking spot if possible, so you can pull out without having to reverse

3. turn off your engine and coast those last few meters into your parking spot (easier with a standard than an automatic).  For safety's sake, be sure the area is clear first, keep your foot ready on the brake, and remember that the steering wheel can lock if you turn the key too far and then try to straighten out the wheel!!

Small actions, but small actions by many = big results.

Happy Green Halloween - October 21, 2009

If your household is like mine, Halloween is one of the most exciting times of the year.  (It also results in a pillowcase full of treats which tend to last into spring.)  But even Halloween has a impact on the planet - mainly through treats, decorations and travel.  If you'd like to reduce your family's 'Halloween carbon footprint', here are a few ideas:

1. the best single action you can take is to leave the car home and walk around the neighbourhood.  Bundle up, and for added safety consider flashlights, reflective tape, face paint instead of masks, and, if the kids allow it, adult accompaniment.

2. minimize the use of inflatable decorations (they use as much power as 4-6 CFLs) and lights; use timers to turn them off automatically and save money

3. consider 'greener' treat options, food or otherwise.  Check out www.greenhalloween.org for lots of information and suggestions.

Save on soap while avoiding the flu - October 13, 2009

During this flu season, signs advising proper hand washing technique are posted everywhere: wet hands, apply soap, wash, rinse, dry.  I'm no expert in the matter, but it seems to me that the process can be tweaked a bit to get the same benefit with a bit less soap. 

Here's why.  When I wet my hands first then get a pump of soap, I find that much of the soap slips off my hands and down the drain unused - and so I need to get another pump of soap. 

So instead, my hand washing technique has become: get a pump of soap first, rub it around a bit, then wet my hands lightly and carry on with washing as usual.  Lots of lather, clean hands and a bit of soap saved.  True, it's just one pump - but if a million people do it...

Greener napkin etiquette - September 23, 2009

The paper napkin is part of just about every restaurant meal.  At fast food restaurants, we can even help ourselves - and it's easy to grab a handful without thinking, most of which end up in the trash unused or barely used.  Our napkin habit consumes millions of trees a year.  Millions.

But here are five simple ways you can save a tree:

1. At home, try to get away without using napkins in the first place

2. At restaurants, use just one napkin

3. Give extra napkins and napkins that have been lightly used a second life: use them as tissues (they're usually a lot stronger than regular tissues), or tuck them into your car's glovebox for a myriad of end uses.

4. When buying, choose napkins with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content

5. Compost used napkins when possible, so that they can become ingredients for the next generation of trees

Save a napkin, save a tree: it's nature's air filter.

Discover your inner activist - September 12, 2009

There are less than 100 days until "Copenhagen", the critical international meeting that will determine the follow up to the Kyoto Accord.  Many of the world's biggest emitters hold positions that are miles apart - yet climate experts tell us a strong successor to Kyoto is critical to solving our climate crisis.

If you've never been politically active before, perhaps now's the time to discover your "inner activist".  After all, could there be any more compelling reason than the well-being of our children?

Here are a couple of ways you can make a difference:

Tell your elected representative(s) what you think.  Contact information is available here http://webinfo.parl.gc.ca/MembersOfParliament/MainMPsCompleteList.aspx?TimePeriod=Current&Language=E (Canada) and here (US): Congress: http://clerk.house.gov/member_info/index.html and Senate: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

Use the power of technology to organize a 'flashmob', a spontaneous gathering to make a point to leaders at all levels.  You can use the template of www.Avaaz.org, a global web community planning a network of events September 21.  

(Check out this tactic being used in Quebec to put social pressure on people commuting solo: http://www.atsa.qc.ca/pages/encoreseuldanstonchar.asp.)   

It starts with an efficient vehicle… - September 4, 2009

When you buy a new vehicle, you're chaining your wallet to that vehicle's fuel appetite for as long as you'll own it - and the lifetime fuel cost of an inefficient vehicle can be higher than the cost of the vehicle itself. 

For example, Natural Resources Canada estimates the annual fuel cost for a Toyota Prius at $820.  For SUVs like the GMC Yukon, Chevy Tahoe, Cadillac Escalade, Jeep Cherokee and Dodge Durango, that cost is over four times as high.  That's at today's fuel prices - sure to rise in the coming years, making the difference even bigger.

Programs like Retire Your Ride or Cash for Clunkers are nice, but the biggest cash advantage you can get when buying a new car is to choose the most efficient vehicle that meets your needs.  By chaining your wallet to efficiency, you'll save every year!

Check out new vehicle ratings here http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/personal/choose_vehicle.cfm?attr=8 (for Canada) and here http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ (for the US).

Ever hear of "Dayburners"? - August 11, 2009

That's the technical term for streetlights that stay on all day.  They're not supposed to, of course, but occasionally they do.  Usually the problem lies with the electronic 'eye' that switches them on and off: either it's defective, or it's covered by leaves or other debris that fool it into believing it's dark.

But here's a downer: a single streetlight burning 24/7 for two months in the summer can result in up to 80 kg of unnecessary greenhouse gas.*

The good news about dayburners is that when you spot one, you can do everyone a favour by reporting it to your utility so it can be fixed.  A simple action with a planet-preserving result!

*Assumptions: a 100 watt bulb (the minimum streetlight bulb size) burning 15 extra hours daily for 60 days; and all power generated by coal.

It might be the dehumidifier… - July 29, 2009

…I said to some friends who commented over dinner that their July power bill was much higher than their June bill.  And a quick test with a portable power meter showed that that was indeed the case.

Summer is the time of humidity.  And while it's very important to keep humidity at bay to prevent the growth of mould, dehumidifiers - especially older ones - can consume a lot of energy.  My own dehumidifier (an oldie) uses nearly 500 watts, or as much power as three dozen CFL bulbs. Ouch!

So what can you do? 

1. manage your dehumidifier use: instead of turning it on in June and turning it off in September (as many of us do), set it to operate at a level that keeps humidity levels reasonable.  Trying to get humidity levels to zero is like swimming against a river: it takes a lot of energy, and the river always wins eventually.

2. when buying a new dehumidifier, look for the ENERGY STAR symbol, a sign of top efficiency. 

Are your electric baseboard heaters turned off for the summer?  Are you SURE? - July 14, 2009

It's summer, but your electric baseboard heaters may still be consuming energy and running up your power bill.

Here's why.  First, in spite of our best intentions, thermostats are sometimes not turned down.  We forget, especially in rooms we don't often use, or they get turned up on a cool day and aren't set back down later.

Secondly, thermostats often lose their accuracy - so even when you turn them down, they may still click the heat on during cooler periods.  For example, a thermostat that's off by 5 degrees may kick in when it's 15 degrees, even if you have it set down to 10 degrees.  That's heat you don't need and money you can save.

There's a simple way to be sure your heat is not coming on behind your back this summer: go to your power panel and turn off the breaker for your heaters.  Then just reset it in the fall when you want the heat.  Simple savings!

Air conditioning: a cooler me, but a warmer planet - July 3, 2009

Air conditioning feels great on a hot day - but it comes with a big environmental price.  In vehicles, next to driving, air conditioning is the biggest load on the engine.  In homes and buildings, air conditioning can be a big part of the summer power bill.  In Ontario and most US states, power consumption is actually higher in the summer than it is in the winter because of air conditioning.  Considering most power still comes from fossil fuels, well… you get the picture.

But we can stay comfortable, save money and reduce the impact of air conditioning with a few simple actions:

In vehicles, use open windows at speeds below 60 KM/h (about 35 MPH); use the fan with a window open a crack at faster speeds.

In buildings, set thermostats a few degrees higher (this simple action has a HUGE impact), and only cool places where there are people, when they are there.  Encourage people to dress for warm weather.  (Duh!!)

Reduce, Reuse or Downcycle - June 18, 2009

Most of us feel good about recycling, and for good reason: recycling helps us stretch more life out of resources and it can greatly extend the life of landfills. 

But recycling isn't truly recycling - it's actually 'downcycling', because products sent for recycling are never remanufactured into the same product - they are turned into something of lesser quality, lower down the chain of products.  Eventually, virtually everything ends up as trash.

So while recycling is much better than throwing something out, the best thing you can do for the environment by far is the first R: reduce.

You can read more about downcycling here: http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/rss/article/699330, and an excellent book on the subject is "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things".

It's a matter of faith - June 3, 2009

According to Statistics Canada, eight of ten Canadians count themselves among a faith community.  Faith communities - be they Christian, Jew, Muslim or other - can be tremendous forces for change and social progress.  Since environmental stewardship is consistent with the teachings of virtually every faith, faith communities can play a huge role in 'spreading the word' and 'being the change'.

If you are a member of a faith community, there are plenty of resources out there to help:

www.faith-commongood.net is an interfaith organization based in Toronto to provide guidance toward improved sustainability

www.theregenerationproject.org is a California-based interfaith group with similar objectives and an information-filled website

More ideas for ways faith groups can combat global warming are available here: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2009/04/faith_earth_day.html and a full column on the subject is here: http://telegraphjournal.canadaeast.com/magazine/article/684849.

Measure your mileage... then manage it - May 21, 2009

Most of us aren't exactly sure what our fuel mileage is - and that makes it hard to tell if changes to our driving habits are yielding results.  Here's an easy way to save 10-20% on your monthly gas bill:

1. the next time you fill up, make note of your odometer reading.  A glovebox notebook is best, but a slip of paper works too.  For your next fill-up after that, note the odometer reading and the amount of fuel you bought.  Then divide the distance you drove since the last fill-up by the amount of fuel it took to fill your tank, and you have your 'benchmark mileage', be it kilometers per liter or miles per gallon.

2. practice this one easy habit: drive as if you have an egg taped under the toe of your right foot, and your aim is to get where you're going without breaking the egg.  Gentle on the gas, gentle on the brake, maximum coasting.

3. repeat step one to get your new mileage.  If you're a typical driver, you'll see a 10-20% savings - just like that!

You can see your vehicle's official rating here http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/personal/choose_vehicle.cfm?attr=8 (Canada) or here http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ (US).

The difference between recycled paper and... recycled paper - May 7, 2009

Not all recycled paper is created equal: different words, different percentages and different certifications make buying paper a lot more complicated than it used to be.  But here's a bit of clarity.

Paper made from Post-Consumer Waste is made from honest-to-goodness recycled paper: material that has gone through one consumer cycle, been collected via recycling centers or blue boxes, and re-processed into new paper.  The percentage of Post Consumer Waste in paper varies, but if you find a product that's 100% Post-Consumer Waste, you've got the best - because it's made of material diverted (rescued?) from the landfill.

Paper made from Pre-Consumer Waste is made from scrap paper that never made it to the consumer:  trimmings from print shops and newspapers, surplus copies printed, etc.  Paper made from Pre-Consumer Waste is better than paper made from virgin pulp, but not as good as paper made from Post-Consumer Waste.

And since most paper available is not 100% recycled, look for an FSC (Forest Stewardship Council - www.fsccanada.org) or Green Seal (www.greenseal.org) logo that certifies that the non-recycled portion of the paper comes from sustainably managed forests.

In praise of Ecotarians - April 23, 2009

Are you an "Ecotarian"?  (You don't have to change your citizenship to be one...) 

An Ecotarian is someone who considers the environmental implications of their food choices, and selects a diet that has a minimal impact on the planet.  Since our food makes up big part of our personal carbon footprint, selecting wisely can make a huge difference.  High on the ecotarian menu: local food (especially from your own garden); minimally processed food; food with little packaging; organic food; food high in veggies and low in meat.  At the bottom of the ecotarian menu: food, especially produce, from faraway places; meat; highly processed and/or frozen food; food with heavy packaging; food originating from endangered or threatened species.

Be an Ecotarian: you'll do the Earth a big favour by making wise choices at home and wherever else you eat.

Burnt coffee and wasted power - April 15, 2009

I'm guessing anyone who's worked in an office setting knows about burnt coffee: the tar-like stuff that tasted great when it was brewed hours ago. 

Not only does burnt coffee taste terrible - it's a symptom of wasted power too.  Coffee makers use a lot of electricity - household ones use about 600-700 watts, but some commercial types use over 1000 watts, or as much as about 75 compact fluorescent light bulbs.  And they keep using power as long as the switch is left on.

The solution?  One: why not plan to make just the amount of coffee needed, and encourage everyone to enjoy it while it's fresh; and Two, just turn the pot off as soon as it's done brewing.  Plus - consider swapping that energy-hungry commercial coffee maker (especially the instant-brew ones) for a more efficient one. 

For great coffee and great power saving, it's as simple as that!

Precycling, a new word to know - March 25, 2009

Have you ever heard of 'precycling'?  It's way better for the environment than recycling.

Precycling is the practice of avoiding waste in the first place by making choices such as buying in bulk, choosing products with minimal packaging, using and reusing your own containers and avoiding throwaway items (such as paper cups, foam plates and plastic cutlery).  How much precycling you can do is limited only by your imagination and how far you're willing to go to protect our environment. 

Recycling is better than trashing, but it is still an energy-intensive activity, because recycled materials need to be transported and reprocessed.  Precycling is simply about thinking a few steps upstream, and making more eco-friendly choices.  You could argue it's a fancy name for Reducing, the most important of the three Rs!

Getting the most out of paper - March 11, 2009

Paper is part of everyday life at home and work, but it has a dollar and environmental cost.  Here are a few ideas to save on both:

1. Use your photocopier's double sided option.  If it doesn't have one, learn how to feed paper in so that you can manually copy one side, flip the paper and copy on the other.  Big paper saving potential.

2. Use your printer's double sided option.  If you don't know how it works, check with your IT support person or click Print - Properties and look for the options.  Or learn how to feed paper so you can print one side, flip the paper and then print the other.

3. Minimize the font on your e-mail autosignature so that e-mails you send that need to be printed out don't spill over onto another page.

4. Instead of discarding paper that's been used on one side (including incoming paper), put it in a bin, file or slot near your printer or copier, so the other side can be used too.

5. Print only what really needs to be printed; e-file when possible.

6. Choose post-consumer (important words) recycled paper to save a tree.

Second thoughts on flying - February 25, 2009

I used to love to fly, but it's not as much fun as it used to be.  Why?  Because I've learned that from an environmental perspective, flying is one of the worst ways to travel.  A round trip from my local airport to Toronto (1:45 each way in a small jet) produces about 450 kg of CO2 emissions - nearly half a tonne! (Note: this is the average of 4 sources)

What to do?  The BEST solution is to avoid flying altogether by using videoconferencing, teleconferencing and webinars when possible; and vacationing near home.

And when flying is unavoidable, fly light: critically assess every ounce you take with you, because every ounce has a carbon footprint in the air.  Plus buy a carbon offset to counterbalance the impact of your flight - a small premium for the health of the planet.When the trash man saves, we all save - February 10, 2009

 When the trash man saves, we all save - February 11, 2009

You probably already know how terrible stop-and-go-driving is for gas mileage; it's the main reason why fuel economy ratings are much worse for city driving than for highway.  A lot of energy goes into speeding up, and then it's lost and wasted when we hit the brakes.

The same thing applies to the trucks that pass by your home to collect garbage and recycling.  A stop at every driveway means an awful lot of fuel spent on stop-and-go driving.

So what if... What if we all got together with our neighbours, and did one small thing: agreed to put out our trash and recycling at the same spot each week?  We could cut the number of stops for the truck by half, or even more.  Way less fuel burned, way less emissions, better air for all, a happier trash collector.  No financial payback for us, but a warm fuzzy feeling for doing a good thing.

Why not talk to a neighbour, and try it this week - and every week?

Computer power - January 29, 2009

Does your computer run around the clock, 24/7?  If so, you're missing out on an opportunity to knock a few dollars off of your monthly power bill.

Just this morning I measured my computer's power use, and here's the result.  It uses 45 watts when it's just on - let's call that idling - and 105 watts when it's thinking really hard.  My monitor uses 55 watts.  Add speakers, printer (off but still using a trickle of "phantom power") and router, and the total power use of my system is 115 watts "at idle", 175 watts when it's thinking really hard.

That means that, if left on constantly "at idle", a system like mine would consume nearly $100 in power per year.  If that power came from coal, it would generate almost one tonne of greenhouse gases.

The solution?  You can use sleep and hibernate settings, so your system drops into a power-saving mode when not used for a few minutes.  (Click Control panel - Power options).  And for even more savings, shut down your computer when it is not in use, and plug everything into a power bar that you can click off to completely eliminate those trickles of phantom power.

Carbon-free greetings - January 14, 2009

According to the American Greeting Card Association, 7 billion cards are purchased in the US annually.  That's a lot of paper and a lot of trees!

But there's an environmentally friendly alternative: One Tree Per Card's attractive cards with striking natural scenes that are completely carbon neutral - or even 'carbon positive', producing a net environmental benefit.

How is this possible?  Simple - photographer/designer Phil Riebel has made a commitment to using only eco-friendly paper and inks.  But here's the big reason: one tree is planted for EVERY card purchased.  In the battle against climate change, trees are among our greatest allies.

If you enjoy sending greeting cards to family and friends, show your commitment to our planet by going carbon neutral!  Check out One Tree Per Card's designs here /www.carbonfreecards.com.  (And they cost no more than brand name cards.)

Not about me, but about us - December 29, 2008

When it comes to climate change, there are no exemptions: we're all in it together. If global warming could be compared to a Class 5 rapid on a river, every one of us would be a passenger in a raft headed toward the rapid. Getting through it means paddling together - a job made much easier when we think less about "me" and more about "we".

Christmastime shows us the potential for human hearts to help, share and work together. So may that same Christmas spirit that brings out our best stay with us every day, to help us meet the challenges we will be facing together.

Thank you for being a Green Ideas subscriber, and best wishes for a happy, healthy and GREEN 2009.

How to save on a cold start - December 08

For many of us, plugging in our car is a convenient way to ensure that it starts on cold mornings. But your vehicle's block heater is an energy hog: most use 400-450 watts, as much as 30 compact fluorescent light bulbs. If you plug in your car for 14 hours a night, that's costing you $17-19 per month.

Since it takes just 2 hours for a block heater to warm most engines, anything more is a waste of power. But you don't need to get up extra early each morning - you can just get a timer (available at most hardware stores), and program it to turn your block heater on automatically while you're still sleeping. You can save over 80%, and still be sure that your car will start in the morning.

Based on the above numbers, a $25 timer can pay for itself in about 2 months - an amazing investment! (Plus: a car that's plugged in will warm up more quickly, and produce fewer emissions while warming up.)

Guilt-free Christmas lights - December 08

Bah humbug - these days, it seems even Christmas lights can't escape scrutiny. How green are your outdoor lights?

If they're the old-style lights with the big 7 cm long bulbs, yikes: a string of 25 takes 175 watts of power - equal to 13 compact fluorescent light bulbs.

But if they are the new outdoor LED lights, phew: a string of 75 lights uses 3 watts or less. That's right - three times as many bulbs, a fraction of the power.

In dollars, that means using 75 LED lights 5 hours a night for 30 nights costs just 4.5 cents, compared to $7.95 for 75 old-style big bulbs. And many of us put up a lot more than 75 lights.

Make LEDs a part of your green Christmas. They use 99% less energy than old-style outdoor lights, so you can light up the neighborhood guilt-free for pennies!

A better way to flush - November 08

It sits there quietly, always ready when you need it. But it accounts for 30% of the water used inside most homes. "It", of course, is the toilet.

But not all toilets are equal. Years ago, toilets used 20 ltres/flush. But today's efficient models use just 6 L. Some even have dual flush controls, so you can flush with 3 or 6 L, depending on the needs of the moment.

The good news: you can now get a federal EcoEnergy grant when you upgrade to an eligible low flow toilet (and, in NB, assistance from Efficiency NB too). A list of eligible models can be downloaded from here (beware: there are MANY more toilets out there than you might have thought!). But remember, to get a grant, you need to get an EcoEnergy home evaluation done first.

Replacing an inefficient old toilet is the water equivalent of trading a Hummer for a hybrid - a great way to save!

With one easy click every day, you can help save the planet

Most of us don't think about which website opens when we start our internet browser every morning; it's usually MSN, your internet provider or something similar.  But there's a way you can use your first click of the day to help preserve the planet's rainforests.

Make the Rainforest Site, www.therainforestsite.com, the home page you start from every day.  Then just click where it says "Click here to give - it's FREE".  And with that simple action, you've preserved just over a square meter of the world's rainforests, the lungs of the planet that can absorb back much of the CO2 'exhaled' by our burning of fossil fuels. 

It's not much, but those square meters add up - over 35,000 people click the site every day, and over 40,000 acres have been preserved so far.  If everyone receiving this Green Idea clicked daily, we alone could preserve an area the size of a soccer field every week. 

The land is paid for by sponsors who advertise on the Rainforest Site.  If you visit, you'll also see similar sites in support of breast cancer, hunger, literacy and more - all causes you can support with the simple click of a mouse.

You can make The Rainforest Site your home page by going to it, then clicking Tools - Internet Options - General - Use current.

Idling less is 'low hanging fruit'

You've probably heard the expression 'low hanging fruit', referring to something that is easy to do - as opposed to tougher tasks, which are the 'high hanging fruit'.  In the big environmental picture, there are some pretty big challenges facing us - the 'high hanging fruit' - that need to be addressed at the very highest levels of authority and power.

But there is also plenty of 'low hanging fruit': there are things each of us can do to make a difference.  Among the lowest of the 'low hanging fruit': reducing the amount of time we idle our engines, whether waiting for someone or sitting in a drive-through.  It's estimated that Canadians waste more than $2 million worth of fuel a day by idling.

The easy solution?  The 10 second rule: it's better to turn off an engine than to let it idle for longer than 10 seconds.  A small step to a large solution!

Get Hyper!

High fuel prices are a bitter pill for every driver.  But imagine being able to drive the equivalent of 2 months for free every year.

It's possible, without doing a single thing to your vehicle or its fuel - no gadgets to install, no additives to pour into your tank.  All you need to do is get into the habit of hypermiling: driving in a way so that you stretch more kilometers out of every liter of fuel. Most  drivers can improve their mileage by 10-20% just by changing two key driving habits: 1) drive with a gentle foot on the gas and brake - no sudden starts and stops - and 2) drive a bit slower on the highway.  Just these two changes will give most drivers 10-20% improved mileage - the equivalent of 2 free months of driving every year.

You can learn many more tips and tricks here: http://ecomodder.com/forum/EM-hypermiling-driving-tips-ecodriving.php. 

Get hyper today, and start saving money, energy and the environment.

A pledge for Earth Day 

On Tuesday, April 22, the 39th Earth Day will be celebrated.  It's a bit like New Year's: a chance to look back at what was since the last Earth Day, and to look forward to what can be in the coming 12 months.

If you'd like to reduce your carbon footprint, here are the three best things you can do - for the planet, and for your pocketbook:

1. Get an EnerGuide evaluation done on your home, and implement the recommended upgrades.  Home renos are a pretty major undertaking, but they can produce VERY substantial savings on your heating bill... 20, 30, 40% or more, depending on the age and condition of your home.

2. Start planning for your next vehicle, and make it the most fuel-efficient that meets your needs.  Say no to 4 wheel drives or trucks if you only need their features or capacity a couple of times a year.  (Consider just renting a truck for those periodic times you need one - cheaper for you and better for the Earth.)  The Office of Energy Efficiency provides fuel economy ratings for all vehicles sold in Canada here: http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/transportation/personal/choose_vehicle.cfm?attr=8.

3. Drive less whenever possible.  Carpool, take the bus, walk, bike, hitchhike.  The best (and cheapest) litre of fuel is the one that you DIDN'T use.

Recycling is great, changing your light bulbs is excellent - but since our biggest impact on the planet by far comes from heating our homes and getting around, consider the above 3 steps if you want to make a really big dent in your personal carbon footprint.

"My chimney needs a PILLOW???"

Have you ever heard of a 'chimney pillow' or a 'chimney balloon'? You might want to look into one if you have a chimney in your home. You see, if you have a chimney (especially one with a fireplace), there's a good chance it's running up your heating bill.

Fireplaces can be cozy and romantic, but they are not very efficient at heating a home - most of the heat they produce goes straight up the chimney. But what's worse is this: long after the fire is out, a good bit of your precious home heat keeps going up the chimney. That's because the dampers in chimneys are not very airtight, and they allow much warm air to escape up and out. They often create a noticeable draft indoors too.

To stop this heat loss, you can stuff a 'chimney pillow' or 'chimney balloon' up into the flue when there's no fire on. Well installed, a pillow or balloon will stop drafts and save you significant heating dollars. You can buy one, or make your own with supplies from your hardware store. The internet has plenty of helpful information.

It's easy to stop the draft from your flue or chimney - but remember to take it out before you start a fire!

Where's the cheapest gas?

As consumers, we tend to really pinch pennies when it comes to buying gas. Often, we'll even go out of our way to save a fraction of a cent per litre.

But does this really make sense? Just for a second, consider the math. Saving one tenth of a cent per litre on a fill-up of 50 litres adds up to a nickel. Most of us would see a saving of 2 cents a litre as a big thing, but even that adds up to only one dollar saved on a tankful - about the cost of a cookie and some crumbs at the local coffee shop.

If we have to go out of our way to get "cheaper gas", the savings are usually more than offset by the amount of extra time we spend going for it, and the amount of extra fuel we burn in the process.

So where is the cheapest gas? All things considered, it's usually at the first station you drive past in the course of your usual travels. Even if it costs a few nickels more per tank, it likely will benefit you more than that in saved fuel and time. And saved fuel is always better for the planet!!

Be a 'nudgebreaker'

In stopped traffic, have you ever noticed that when one driver nudges ahead, everyone behind usually does the same thing? It seems we do that in any lineup, whether at the bank, grocery store or airport.

Does this ripple effect get anyone where they're going any sooner? Well, no. But everyone does end up burning an extra shot of fuel each time they nudge forward.

So the next time you're stopped traffic, be the 'nudgebreaker' and resist the urge to edge forward. You'll save fuel for yourself and everyone in the line behind you.