Category Archives: living green

Top 5 Green Actions

Lately I’ve been noticing that I am easily distracted. I get my mind set on doing something based on what an “expert in the field” is saying only to turn around and hear another “expert” telling me I need to be doing something else. With all the modes of communication available to me it’s easy to be bogged down with excessive information. I feel like they are just throwing bits and pieces of stories at me and hoping something will stick.

This is especially true when it comes to living green. There are about a hundred thousand things everyone could be doing to build a better world but it would be impossible for every person to do each of these things. I’ve narrowed it down to what I believe are the top five things. These are the actions I personally can see myself continuing to do or working toward doing more often.

1. Buying less stuff

We live in a culture where buying and having more stuff and a bigger place to keep it all is marketed as the fastest way to find happiness. I believe this to be wrong. Work on finding happiness within yourself through relationships, hobbies and activities. Collect only things that you actually need, rather than things that are advertised to make you think you want them.

2. Buying products from socially responsible companies

There are certain things you will probably never stop buying and for each person these special items may be different. Be sure that you are purchasing your favorite items from socially and environmentally responsible companies. Follow the links to my guides below for more information:

And be sure that when you do make purchases you bring your reusable bag.

3. Using alternative forms of transportation

The most significant change an individual could make toward reducing their carbon footprint is to cut down on how much they drive. Trains, buses, bikes, carpool. Avoid spending time in a vehicle occupied only by yourself and your imaginary friend. Read more in Getting Around.

4. Eating less meat and more sustainably grown and harvested food

Meat
Recognize the importance of knowing where your food comes from and what is being used to grow or raise it. Find out more, read Buying Food: The Naked Truth about Local and Organic. Decide for yourself whether fish should be on your menu: 

5. Conserving energy and water at home

When it comes to conserving energy and water, small adjustments can have a big impact. Protect the environment by conserving energy and water with these 100+ tips. Additionally, check out The Pros and Cons of Wind Power.

Earth Angel: Make-Up

I am completely surprised by what I have learned today. The cosmetic industry is shockingly unregulated to the point that consumers are practically being used as test subjects. Cosmetic manufacturers can put just about anything into their products regardless of health or safety concerns. Though there isn’t always definitive evidence that a given chemical can cause adverse health affects, the fact that so few have been studied for safety is of significant concern. Plus, there’s the effect over time of all these chemicals we’re applying to our bodies to consider.

http://fotogrph.com/cosmetics-379547934/

To protect your body and reduce your impact on the environment, make sure to follow these guidelines.

Labels are not to be trusted and are no indicator of safety. 
Words like “natural” and “hypoallergenic” may look appealing but both have practically no meaning in the world of cosmetics. “Natural” includes products which may contain natural ingredients but there are very likely synthetic harmful ingredients. “Hypoallergenic” simply means chemicals, which are irritants have been removed.

Scrutinize ingredients list.
It’s easier than ever to check the safety of over 7,500 products using the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Skin Deep online database. There’s even an app for that.

Skin Deep App

Check companies that have made a commitment to safe products.
The Compact for Safe Ingredients is a pledge to not use 450 unsafe ingredients. Find out who has signed the compact here. View the Story of Cosmetics video below.

“Best Option” Cosmetics Companies
The following companies have signed the Compact for Safe Cosmetics and either use organic ingredients or are members of Green America’s Green Business Network™.

-XOXO-

50 Energy Saving Tips

Much of the energy consumed in the U.S. each year is wasted through inefficient technology and transmission. This causes families and businesses to pay higher energy bills and results in increased carbon pollution. Energy efficiency is a simple and cost effective solution to combat climate change, prevent further air pollution and reduce the cost of energy for consumers. 

Sometimes there is great need to consider your impact on the planet. Sometimes you can change the way you are living in order to promote cleaner air. Sometimes you set out to write a great blog post describing all the wonderful things you can do to create a better world. Sometimes your blog post is just a list. Sorry, I’m not sorry.

General

  • Consider powering your home with renewable energy. Many companies offer partial or full renewable energy plans.
  • Get off the grid by adding solar panels to your home. You may actually make money by selling energy you don’t use to the power company.
  • Be sure your windows seal properly and are energy efficient.
  • Check for air leaks, fix the ones you find.
  • Make sure your home is completely insulated.

Lighting

  • Switch to low-energy fluorescent lightbulbs. They last up to 10 times as long as regular lightbulbs.
  • Use motion sensing bulbs for your outdoor lights. They are both efficient and convenient.
  • Save energy (and lower your electric bill) by turning off the lights when you leave a room.

Appliances

  • If you’re in the market for new appliances, opt for energy efficient ones to save energy and money on your bill.
  • Clean the lint filter in your dryer regularly. A dirty filter uses up to 30% more energy to dry clothes.
  • Better yet, instead of using the dryer, try a drying rack, especially on sunny days. You will save energy AND your clothes won’t shrink.
  • Do all your laundry in one day so the dryer doesn’t have to heat up again for each load.
  • Set the temperature of your refrigerator to between 30 and 42°F, or use the energy save function if available.
  • Check the coils behind your refrigerator for dust. The refrigerator doesn’t have to work as hard when these are clean.
  • A full freezer full uses less energy than one that is empty.
  • After the rinse cycle, turn off your dishwasher and open the door a crack to let your dishes air dry.
  • Only run your dishwasher when full.
  • Use less energy by heating up leftovers in a microwave or toaster oven instead of the oven.
  • While in use keep your oven closed – every time you open the door the oven loses 25°F of heat.
  • Turn your oven and burners off toward the end of baking and cooking. It will continue cooking using existing heat without using additional energy.
  • Use copper-bottomed pots and pans, which use energy more efficiently.
  • Conserve energy by keeping your pots and pans covered while cooking.
  • Match pots and pans to similar sized burners to prevent energy loss around edges.

Electronics

  • Unplug your chargers and kitchen appliances when not in use – they draw energy just by being plugged into the power outlet.
  • Better yet, plug your electronics into a power strip and turn it off when not in use.
  • Instead of a desktop, purchase a laptop if you are looking to buy a new computer – it will require less electricity to run.
  • Come to that, don’t forget to turn off your computer when you aren’t using it to save power. Or if you prefer to leave it on use the hibernation option instead of a screensaver.
  • Look for energy efficient televisions, if you are looking to buy a new one.

Heating

  • Cover bare floor with area rugs for insulation and comfort.
  • Raise heat gradually by a couple of degrees each time instead of jumping the heat up.
  • In winter, set your heater between 68 and 70°F during the day and 65 to 68°F at night.
  • When not in use close the flue to your fireplace and install glass doors to keep heat in and cold out.
  • Change the filters in your heating system every month.
  • Let the sun help you heat your home by leaving blinds and curtains open during the day and closed at night.
  • Lower your thermostat when you are out. If you go on vacation don’t turn it below 55°F to save energy and to prevent pipes from freezing and bursting.

Cooling

  • Consider installing an evaporative cooler instead of air conditioning. How Stuff Works has written an article outlining the pros and cons of each.
  • Keep your exterior doors and windows closed when AC is on. Keep them slightly open if you have a swamp cooler to promote air flow.
  • Keep interior doors open so air flows freely throughout your home.
  • Change your AC filters once a month.
  • Turn your thermostat to the highest possible comfortable temperature and set it to “auto.”
  • Close air vents and doors to rooms you aren’t using.
  • Use ceiling fans to circulate air more efficiently. Additionally, the breeze from ceiling fans can make you feel 3-4° cooler so you can set your thermostat a little higher and still feel cool.
  • Provide shade over your home with trees. Plant a new one every Arbor Day.

Water Heating

  • Always launder with cold water or make sure you only wash a full load if you use hot water.
  • Install low-flow shower head and faucets.
  • Turn off your water heater if you are leaving town. Most heaters can reheat water in a few hours after you return.
  • Set the temperature of your water heater to 120°F.
  • When buying a new water heater, look for one that is energy efficient.
  • Take shorter showers and only allow the water to run while you are wetting your hair and rinsing off.
Check out Energy Savers: Tips on Saving Energy and Money at Home from the U.S. Department of Energy for further, more detailed information about these ideas and quite a few other ideas to help you save money and energy in your home.

Which of these tips are you willing to try?

Greening Your Home Part 3: Cleaning Supplies

 An unquestionable certainty of life, much like death and taxes, is that your home will always need cleaning. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought to myself, “But I’ve just cleaned this!” And like so many other things that we use without really thinking conventional cleaners are not very good for the environment. They release volatile organic compounds and other toxic chemical’s which remain on surfaces in your home and evaporate into the air.

Read: Part 1 (Big Purchases) and Part 2 (Decorating)

Did you know that the air inside your home, if you use conventional cleaners, is two to five times more polluted than the air outside your home? What’s more is that these chemicals are seeping out of our homes — not that we really wanted to keep them inside — and polluting ground water and air. Additionally, these chemicals are related to 10% of the toxic exposures, through contact or ingestion, reported to US poison control centers.

If every household in America replaced one bottle of conventional cleaner with an ecofriendly product, that would prevent 11 million pounds of VOCs from entering the environment.

Pinterest is always a great source for homemade cleaners, using various combinations of lemon juice, vinegar, borax etc. for specific household chores (if you do make your own products, NEVER mix with conventional cleaners as this can have fatal results, and be sure to label any leftovers). But if you’re an all-purpose cleaner gal like I am, good news: the market for household cleaners that are both effective and earth-friendly is booming!

A few brand of cleaners to check out:

  • Method
  • Seventh Generation
  • Planet
  • Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day
  • Greenhome.com is a great place to look for paper products, cleaners, and detergents as well as everything from vacuums to armiores

Use cleaning products that:

  • list their ingredients
  • contain no chlorine, anything that starts with chlor, or ammonia (hydrogine peroxide can be used in lieu of bleach)
  • are certified biodegradable and free of synthetic chemicals
  • come in recyclable packaging
  • for soaps and detergents – no phosphates or anything derived from petroleum

 
How are you planning to change your cleaning habits for a healthier body and Earth? 

Green is the New Black: An Info Guide for Fashionistas

About a week ago I read an article about consumerism. Basically the author was suggesting that in order to be sustainable you should stop purchasing. Anything. My response was that this is an unreasonable request. This may work for some people but it isn’t practical for the majority. Being green should be an attractive lifestyle to all kinds of people. I think the more important lesson for the green fashionista is to be conscience of WHAT your buying and both the quality and quantity of these items.

In Greening Your Home Part 1 (Big Purchases) and Part 2 (Decorating), I talk about learning your personal style for home decor instead of following every current trend. The same applies to your wardrobe and this an info guide for all you fashionistas because green is the new black (I always love in books or movies when a character says the title).

Make the cuts

The first step to a greener wardrobe is to edit it. I don’t mean get rid of everything that isn’t made of sustainable materials and replace these things with pieces that are more environmentally-friendly. That would be the opposite of green. What I mean is find the time to look at every article of clothing that you own. Assign a spot on the floor for YES and a spot for NO.

Look at each item carefully; try them on if you need to. Ask yourself:

  • Do I like this item?
  • Does it look good on me?
  • Do I feel good while wearing this?
  • Is it torn or have holes?
  • Can I fix it within a week?
  • Do I dread seeing someone while wearing this?
  • Do I only wear it on laundry day?

If you haven’t worn something for a year, you probably don’t need it anymore. Some things (a wedding or bridesmaids dress, Halloween costumes, etc.) are exceptions. If you can’t think of a good reason to keep something, don’t! Put it in the NO pile and get it out of your life.

I don’t believe in MAYBE piles. I always end up keeping everything and it’s just a waste of time trying to kid yourself. Give yourself clear guidelines about what stays and what goes, and stick to them. Purging your wardrobe is oddly satisfying.

Develop a Shopping Strategy

If you have a game plan before you leave your house about how you plan to shop you will be more likely to keep on the righteous path toward green (I’m officially a green crusader after that statement). Here are a few tips that might help you on your journey.

  • Always keep at least one reusable shopping bag by your front door or in your car. There is so much information about the evils of both plastic and paper bags but this post has neither the time nor the space so in the meantime you’ll have to take my word for it. When asked if you want paper or plastic always respond by saying, “Neither, I care about my planet and have brought my own bag.” Or something along those lines.
  • Make a list and stick to it. If you make a list you will (hopefully) only include the things you really need, and you will resist the urge to go shopping out of boredom. Think of all the things you can do with your time now. Also, by sticking to the list you won’t be caught off guard by those strategically placed items that stores are so good at setting up in order to encourage you to buy on impulse.
  • Opt for organic or sustainable materials. As I mentioned in Greening Your Home Part 2, conventional cotton  farming practices are the most pesticide-intensive in the world. Organic cotton is more expensive but is also more luxurious and used in better quality clothing, which means you won’t have to buy clothes as often. Silk, cashmere, and wool are all sustainable materials, linen and hemp come from plants that even when not grown organically require very little treatment with pesticides.
  • Consider vintage, consignment and thrifting. Now I could go on for pages about how much fun I find thrift stores (and I probably will at some point, so look forward to that). But the main thing you should take away from this post today is that clothes that are used require no additional energy to manufacture, the energy is already used and gone. Also you won’t be wearing the same outfit as a hundred other people.
Some e-cards is really helping me tell a story today. They just really understand my life.
  • Don’t get suckered by sales. Sales are a clever ploy to get you to buy things you don’t need. There is a sale for every occasion: Father’s Day, Labor Day, After-Christmas, 4th of July. I know when you look at that label for 75% off it can be tempting, but just because you can get a brand-new shower head that also brews coffee for $19.95 doesn’t mean you need it.
  • Treat everyone you come across with respect. No matter where you are shopping or what you are buying, everyone deserves  to be treated with dignity, respect and friendliness. If you are unhappy about a policy or product, the people you come in contact with are not to blame.

Where to Buy

Now is the time I give you a list of the places you should be making purchases from. This list comes from A Better World Handbook and is ranked based on five factors: Human Rights, The Environment, Animal Protection, Community Involvement and Social Justice. They also have a Shopping Guide.

  • A Companies – are social and environmental leaders
  • B Companies – tend to be mainstream companies taking social/environmental responsibility seriously
  • C Companies – have either mixed social and environmental records or insufficient data to rank them
  • D Companies – engage in practices that have significant negative impact on people and the planet
  • F Companies – have the worst social and environmental records

Greening Your Home Part 1: Big Purchases

In my opinion home should be two things: an oasis, which makes you feel safe and healthy and a reflection of your personal style. Okay, three things, it should also smell terrific. Whether your home is a sprawling house in the suburbs or a closet-sized apartment in the city home should make you release a sigh at the thought.

Greening your home doesn’t require a decorator or another mortgage. In fact, if you went and replaced everything in your home to “greener” products, you would actually be the anti-green (red?). So let’s break this down: we want to reflect our personal style, we want to feel safe and healthy and we want a nice smell. Over the next couple of weeks I will try to address each of these topics.

Today, let’s talk about the big things for decorating in an Earth-friendly, sustainable way. Furniture, floors, walls and building will be the main focus.

Furniture

The most prominent feature in your home (besides the walls and ceiling and stuff) is probably your furniture. If you really need to replace your furniture you should, just keep in mind it take a lot of energy to manufacture new products and processing emits toxins and chemicals. Here are some alternatives to buying new.

ONE: VINTAGE
Antiquing is an action for a reason: not only can you find carefully made (things were just made better long ago), GORGEOUS furniture, it is completely ecofriendly because no energy is required to produce it (it’s already been made, and used, and maybe used again). Check out local antique stores, flea markets, garage sales, and furniture consignment store (How to shop garage sales etc. coming soon!).

And if you think antiques are stuffy, or boring, check out the above image, which is totally chic.
TWO: REFURBISH
A little sprucing up can do wonders for furniture, sometimes making it look new and always returning unique results. As an added bonus, upgrading furniture uses 85 to 95 percent less energy than producing a new piece.
THREE: REPURPOSE
In Fort Collins and Boulder, CO there is a company called ReSource Yard. They operate by removing usable cabinets, doors, windows, hardware, lumber, etc. from buildings, which are being remodeled or torn down. They then sell these building materials. My dad made an entertainment center entirely from material bought at the location in Boulder. 
Look for something like this is your area or check before purchasing furniture whether it has been repurposed. Scrapile is a Brooklyn-based company, which uses piano wood scraps to make furniture and home accessories.
FOUR: ECOFRIENDLY PRODUCTION
More and more you can find new furniture in furniture stores made from sustainable materials. Check for Forest Stewardship Council certification on wood. Bamboo is a good choice because a forest of bamboo that has been clearcut can regenerate in as little as 3 years (compared to the average conventional wood forest, which can take 30-50 years, or even longer). Fabrics should be organic (for more about organic products check out future post on organic foods).
FIVE: GIVING
When you DO need to upgrade your furniture, be sure to donate (or give to a poor college student) the old furniture. If you liked it at some point, chances are someone else will like it too. Also, it can’t hurt to get that karma boost from having such a kind-hearted nature. If you feel that your karma is maxed you can also try selling the furniture in a garage sale or on Craig’s List.

Building

FLOORS
If you deside to replace whatever floors you have, please consider the following…

Carpet, though soft and confortable, are loaded with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as toluene, formaldehyde and xylene, all of which are bad for your nervous system and the Earth. Carpet is also very difficult to clean, even if you steam it, therefore they accumulate soot, fungus, flea eggs, dust mite poop, arsenic, mercury and pesticides. Yum!

Instead, opt for either bamboo flooring (for the same reasons mentioned above) or reclaimed/refurbished wood (possibly from a piano factory). Lay out some areas rungs, which are easy to shake out. Look for those made from natural fiber with no nasty glues.

If you absolutely must buy carpet for whatever reason, Interface is a company that, while not completely guilt free, at least uses some recycled and renewable materials in production.


PAINT
Painting is a great way to drastically change the look of a space, but most paints contain high levels of VOCs, which is probably why you get that headache when you paint. The best thing you can do is look for low or no VOCs latex paints or milk-based paints. We don’t want petroleum-based paints (don’t even get me started on petroleum). Check out BioShield paint by Benjamin Moore or Old Fashioned Milk Paint. If you learn nothing else today, learn this: never dump unused paint down the drain! (Also, just covering my bases but please don’t set it on fire… I know you were totally just about to do that.)

WALLPAPER
I know, wallpaper brings to mind scenes of interior design nightmares, but there are some very chic patterns available (it’s making a comeback ya’ll). Most wallpapers are made with vinyl, aka PVC. If you have room to learn two things today, I suggest you learn this too: vinyl is literally the worst. Look for the wallpaper that is vinyl free (since ’93).

That’s all I have today. Leave a comment below if there’s something you’d really like to know more about.

10 Myths About "Green" Living

You may not notice it in everyday life but current trends show a decrease in agricultural lands and wilderness as urban areas spread. Consumerism rules the hearts and minds of U.S. citizens and pollution and species decline are on the rise. Turning these trends around will take action on the individual level. We can’t leave it up to the arguably corrupt political system in this country, which panders to exploitative special interests. We can’t leave it up to the extremist organizations. If the individual learns their own behavior and realizes their own impact and how these contribute to destructive trends we can create opportunities.

Adopting better habits doesn’t require wealth, unreasonable time commitments or a complete overhaul of your life. These are just a few of the misconceptions about “green” living that many Americans believe. Consider these and the following myths and their corresponding truths in order to take the first steps in your commitment to creating a better world.

1. “Green” living is a virtuous trait, not an obligation

While some people do make their commitment to green living a personality trait, we have to remember that it is the obligation of every individual to leave the planet in the same or better condition than how we found it. Since it is now commonly known that human activities are the biggest threat facing the global ecosystem, the only solution is for humans to clean up their mess. Do you expect the hummingbirds to do it? Maybe some rocks will help out.

2. It will be too disruptive and difficult to change my current lifestyle

There will probably be a period of adjustment as one makes the commitment to living more simply and reducing their impact, but difficult and disruptive are not necessarily the descriptive words I would choose to describe this period. Especially since it will probably have to be a gradual change, little things over the course of many weeks. This study gives some insight into how to develop new habits including a Japanese technique called Kaizen. Any activity repeated over a period of time can become a habit.

3. “Green” products are hard to find and expensive

In some cases, for example energy efficient appliances, this is true however in the long run these products save money in other areas, like your energy bill. On the other hand many earth-friendly products are actually less expensive than their conventional counterparts because they are often made using recycled or reclaimed materials, which require less processing and output less waste. Additionally the sustainable products industry is growing as more and more costumers prefer the earth-friendly alternative. Just remember that every purchase you make is a vote for more of that product, and producers listen.

4. Earth-friendly preferences and behaviors will make me look cheap and eccentric

To some, yes, but only those that do not understand the needs of our society and environment. Anyway acute intelligence and enlightenment have always been perceived as eccentric. However, there are ways to be thrifty and chic, something I will elaborate more fully on in a later post. Additionally Dr. Seuss says it best, “Those who matter don’t mind and those who mind, don’t matter.” Remember that.

5. “Green” living requires a frugality that will deprive me and my family of comforts and conveniences I’ve earned

Reasonable comforts and conveniences needn’t be sacrificed when making this commitment to a simpler life. The scale or quantity to which you’ve become accustomed to may need to be reduced but you may be surprised to learn that designer home furnishings, state-of-the-art appliances, a fancy schmancy car, fine cuisine and exotic vacations are available in earth-friendly forms. By taking a step away from the consumerism which drives many peoples lives you may just find a more satisfying, healthier, simpler and more balanced life.

6. The economy will suffer if I stop buying conventionally

Businesses and companies follow the consumer; if the consumer wants more eco-friendly products available at a lower price, the producer will supply it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, every purchase you make is a vote for what you want to buy.

7. I don’t have time to support environmental causes

You can choose how much time, if any, you want to give to support any cause that is important to you. The internet has made it simple to sign a petition or receive timely information at your convenience.

8. It’s hypocritical to advocate and practice environmentally friendly behaviors in some, but not all, areas of my life

Living the earth-friendly way is not the end of the road. It’s an evolution of states. No one can do it all because there is no all to do. There’s always something else you can learn, something else you can start practicing, something else you can sign a petition for. This is not meant to sound over-whelming, it’s meant to sound exciting, there are so many options for how you can do your part in a way that fits your lifestyle.

9. I can’t change anything if some people aren’t doing anything at all

Your efforts, no matter how small, in reducing your footprint makes a difference in that the collective footprint has been reduced. You must be the change you wish to see in the world. Ghandi said that so it must be true.

10. There’s only one right answer to climate change

This is beyond not true. Experts can’t agree on any answer to the problem because there is not one right answer. In my opinion the best answer starts with the individual and that means Y-O-U.

Now that you know the truth about some of the pressing issues surrounding living sustainably are you ready to make a pledge to be “green”? Comment below if you are.