Monday, January 23, 2012

Ways to go green and save money

Much about going green can save you money.
January is the month of resolutions and also the time that Christmas credit card bills start coming due. A time of optimism and belt tightening.

Not everyone makes New Year’s resolutions but early in each new year most people do think about ways to improve their lives. Consider it a bonus then when making a change for the better can help your pocketbook as well.
Case in point: resolving to be more eco-friendly. Although it sometimes gets a bad rap for being expensive, much about going green can actually save you money.
Last year the World Watch Institute came up with a list of 10 ways to go green and save green, ideas for saving money while making eco-friendly lifestyle changes. Here are a few from the World Watch list, and a few of my additions.
1.      Think before you buy. Do you really need it? Will you use it? Can you borrow or rent it instead of buy it? (A Patagonia ad last fall featured one of its jackets with the headline "Don't Buy This Jacket" and asked customers not to buy what they don’t need and to think twice before buying anything.)
2.      Eating less meat is one of the best things that you can do for the environment. Going meatless, even one day a week is (environmentally speaking) like taking your car off the road for a few months. Buy better quality, locally-raised meat and eat less of it. On average we eat twice the protein that we actually need and skimp on vegetables.  Try for a meatless meal at least once a week. You and the environment will be healthier for it. The bonus: plant-based protein (like beans and lentils) is cheap. 
3.      Buy in bulk when it makes sense for your family.  Bulk means less packaging and lower per unit cost.
4.      Use natural cleaners like baking soda and vinegar instead of buying conventional cleaning supplies. Natural products are cheap, and easy on the environment.
5.      Reduce your energy consumption. Turn your thermostat down a degree or two, switch to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) as your old incandescent bulbs burn out, unplug appliances when they’re not in use to avoid power sipping. Wash clothes in cold water and use a drying rack or clothesline when possible instead of the dryer.
6.      If you pay for water use, taking steps to use less can save you money too. Take shorter showers, use a low-flow showerhead (saves on energy use), use a dishwasher instead of the sink washing and only run the dishwasher when it’s full. If you are sink washing, only fill the sink half way. Install a faucet aerator on each faucet.
7.      Avoid bottled water and other packaged drinks and drink more tap water. Buy a good quality travel mug or stainless steel water bottle so you can bring your water with you.
Resolutions or not, making a few eco-friendly lifestyle tweaks can be a simple way to leave money in your pocket.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How to choose greener electronics

Think big picture when you choose your next electronic device.
A small enviro footprint can be part of the cool factor.
How many old electronics do you have lying around your house? The pace of innovation is so fast these days that within 18 months the industry can deem something virtually obsolete and be pushing consumers to upgrade. Even if you don’t want to buy a newer version, often you have little choice since some items cost more to repair than to buy new and many items can’t be repaired because replacement parts aren’t available. In our disposable world, electronics make the list of things “designed for the dump”, items made to be disposable. Crazy but true.

This approach to electronics consumption is creating mountains of e-waste, clogging our landfills with toxic PVCs (poly vinyl chloride – nasty stuff), flame retardants, lead and mercury, and more.  
The good news is that some electronics manufacturers are working to green their products and their manufacturing processes. Helping nudge them along is the Green Peace Guide to Greener Electronics. Published regularly since 2006, it is helping build awareness about the environmental impact of electronics and lobby electronics manufacturers to be more environmentally responsible.
The guide ranks the top 15 TV, computer and cell phone manufacturers. These companies are rated on their greenhouse gas emissions and their plans to reduce emissions, on the energy efficiency of their products, efforts to eliminate hazardous substances from produces, use of recycled plastics, and durability and ease of repair. Manufacturers’ supply chains are part of the evaluation as are take-back programs and recycling initiatives for obsolete products.
In the 2011 report HP tops the list with a score of 5.9 out of 10, followed by Dell (5.1), Nokia (4.9) and Apple (4.6). The scores aren’t stellar but year over year the leaders are improving their efforts to create all-around greener products.
Choosing top-rated electronics is one way to help the industry move in the right direction.  Just review theguide before making your next purchase. You can also do a lot to lessen the environmental impact of the electronics you already have. Reduce energy consumption simply by turning off computers and other electronics when they’re not being used. If you have them plugged into a power bar, turn that off too when they’re not in use.
Be sure to recycle old electronics. The Fundy Solid Waste Commission accepts old computer systems (monitor, hard drive, printer, speakers, mouse, keyboard, scanner,) and other electronics Saturday mornings at the Household Hazardous Waste facility. (The computers are shipped to Resnet, a non-profit in Edmundston NB where they are disassembled to salvage working components and recyclable materials. Some systems are refurbished and donated to low-income families and non-profit groups.) Old cell phones can be dropped off at Future Shop, Staples, Superstore and some cell phone dealers.  The Future Shop drop box also accepts CD players, MP3 players, CDs, DVD players and ink cartridges.
The ultimate goal is to have manufacturers create longer lasting, updatable products. Choosing the greenest products today is the best thing we can do to push manufacturers in the right direction.

Monday, January 2, 2012

This New Year, go on an energy diet

The New Brunswick Lung Association announced this week that they will be running a pilot program to help households monitor, manage and reduce their daily energy consumption. The 100 households chosen to participate in the program will be outfitted with energy metres enabling them to monitor how much they’re spending on electricity. The idea is that awareness will lead to change and that participants will begin to reduce their power consumption when they can see clearly what’s hogging the power in their homes.

According to the Lung Association, studies show that home energy monitors can motivate behaviour change in individuals and reduce electrical consumption between 5% and 20% which in turn reduces our dependence on dirty forms of power generation (ex.  coal fired generating plants). This means less air pollution, a key goal of the Lung Association.
Whether you’ve signed up for this pilot or not, it’s safe to say that we could all start the New Year on an energy diet, especially after the energy excesses of the holidays.
Wondering where to begin? The typical household energy consumption breaks down like this: 60% for heat, 20% for hot water, 15% for appliances and 5% for lights. You’ll get the biggest bang for your buck if you start by doing all that you can to keep the cold out and the heat in. An energy audit can help you identify sources of heat loss in your home, and offer many do-it-yourself fixes. Keeping your furnace in good working order is important, including changing your furnace filter regularly. Turning your heat down just one or two degrees offers big savings as well. For every degree you lower the thermostat during heating season, you'll save between 1 and 3% of your heating bill. (Programmable thermostats make this easier).  A sweater is worth about 2 degrees in added warmth and a heavy sweater about 4 degrees. To make the most of your hard-earned heat check that beds, couches and other furniture aren’t blocking radiators.
Tackling your hot water usage is another energy saver. Check your hot water heater to see that it’s set no hotter than 120 degrees (any hotter is a waste of money.) Install low flow shower heads for a more efficient use of hot water (up to 60% less for a typical shower). Limit or avoid hot water clothes washing. Cold water washes use 90% less energy than hot water washes and today’s detergents are formulated to work well in cold water.  

To reduce the amount of energy consumed by appliances, match your appliance size to your need. Ensure that your refrigerator and freezer seals are snug and that the rear coils are clean. Become less dependent on the clothes dryer and use a clothes line or drying racks instead, especially for large items that take longer to dry.

Reducing your energy consumption is a painless diet that leaves money in your pocket and will help to make our air cleaner. Here’s to New Year’s diet resolutions!