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June 23, 2010 — Today’s Way: This one may seem overly simple, but there are a lot of folks who don’t give a second thought to this wasteful habit.  Instead of relying on electricity to light a room during the day, why not open the curtains and let natural, abundant, free daylight fill your living and working areas?  It just doesn’t make good environmental or budgetary sense to keep the house all closed off on a beautiful day, burning up fossil fuels (the source of most of our electrical energy) that contribute to pollution, the destruction of unique ecosystems and of course, global warming.   Besides, our bodies need natural daylight;  studies show that natural daylight helps to ward off depression and conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  So, roll up those shades!  Throw open those curtains!  And let the sun shine in.

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Permeable-DrivewayJune 13, 2009–Today’s Way: As we all know, the concrete jungle creates many problems for our environment, and all those paved parking lots, streets, highways and driveways are some of the star offenders.   One major issue with all of that pavement is, when it rains, rain water is diverted into gutters and mixing into sewage systems.   When it rains a lot, all of that extra water overwhelms arcane municipal water management systems which then dump raw sewage and rain water into overflows, also known as the nearest lake, river or ocean — totally untreated.  Another problem is that these ribbons of black asphalt criss-crossing our great lands tend to absorb energy from the sun during the day, gathering up thermal mass, then slowly releasing the heat when the sun sets and raising environmental temperatures in the form of global warming.  Other side effects of our love affair with asphalt is the constant leaching of toxic chemicals into the areas along roadways, including wetlands and vast agricultural landscapes which happen to be located nearby.

Permeable Driveways/Parking Areas are one excellent way to provide clean, beautiful and low maintenance parking and driving surfaces while allowing all of that rain water to naturally trickle down through the ground and back into the water table, where it belongs.  Permeable surfaces come in a dizzying array of options, but the most basic are porous paver bricks which fit together with patterned open holes, which are set into and filled in with pea gravel (as in the photo, above right).  This attractive solution keeps your car protected from mud and dirt, keeps vegetation at bay and at the same time, because of the many lighter color options, does not have to absorb and release heat energy in the same way as asphalt.  Permeable driving surfaces are a beautiful solution for businesses, cities, developers and individuals committed to a greener future.

You can see examples and learn more about permeable driveways or surfaces here, and here.

June 7, 2009–Today’s Way: I find it a curiosity whenever I walk into a building from the heat of summer and the temperatures inside are set to Antarctic.  Or likewise, when you come in from the deep freeze of winter and need to strip down into Bermuda shorts because the thermostat is turned up to 85 degrees.  Our bodies are highly adaptive, and it only takes a moment for our core temps to adjust with fluctuating temperatures, so while that first blast of cold air does feel good when we come in from the blazing sun, it takes only minutes before our bodies adjust and then even feel cold.  In the winter, we probably don’t need the office or house to be so hot you could grow bananas inside.  And in the summer, we shouldn’t need to don a fur coat and fingerless gloves just to be able to be able to sit at our desks responding to e-mails.

In fact, scaling back the thermostat in winter and increasing accordingly in the summer can save you about 1% of your overall energy bills for every degree Fahrenheit in either direction.  For instance, in winter, if you were to bump the setting down from 74 degrees to 68, you would save about 6% off of your heating bill.  That’s a drastic and immediate difference which will save you cash as well as energy.

June 3, 2009–Today’s Way: Did you know that the common house plant not only transforms CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) into oxygen in your home, it can also improve the air quality by actually absorbing  harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and fumes of benzene, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene?  According to a NASA study (they were searching for efficient ways to purify the air on space stations), the following plants provide the most purifying power:

  • English Ivy (Hedera helix)
  • Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)
  • Golden pothos or Devil’s ivy (Scindapsus aures or Epipremnum aureum)
  • Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Mauna Loa’)
  • Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema modestum)
  • Bamboo palm or reed palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii)
  • Snake plant or mother-in-law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)
  • Heartleaf philodendron (Philodendron oxycardium, syn. Philodendron cordatum)
  • Selloum philodendron (Philodendron bipinnatifidum, syn. Philodendron selloum)
  • Elephant ear philodendron (Philodendron domesticum)
  • Red-edged dracaena (Dracaena marginata)
  • Cornstalk dracaena (Dracaena fragans ‘Massangeana’)
  • Janet Craig dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Janet Craig’)
  • Warneck dracaena (Dracaena deremensis ‘Warneckii’)
  • Weeping Fig (Ficus benjamina)
  • Gerbera Daisy or Barberton daisy (Gerbera jamesonii)
  • Pot Mum or Florist’s Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium)
  • Rubber Plant (Ficus elastica)

You can read more in the book, “How to Grow Fresh Air” by B.C. Wolverton;  based on 25 years of NASA research, the author explores how more than 50 common house plants naturally detoxify our environment, indoors and out.

May 22, 2009–Today’s Way: Of the total number of trees cut in the United States each year, about half of them are ultimately destined to become paper, or the equivalent of 12,000 square MILES of trees cut every year.  While some of those trees are planted specifically for that purpose, many are not, and old growth forests are clearcut in managed national and state forests around our country.  Clearcutting is a disruptive, devastating practice of indiscriminate leveling of every tree in a woodland, taking with it crucial wildlife habitat and destabilizing hillsides and wetlands, not to mention annihilating trees which help to keep our air and water clean as well as combating the effects of global warming.  And while recycling of paper has never been more popular, there is still a high environmental cost for every finished leaf of paper, whether consisting of recycled or virgin content.

After all, a tree takes years to become useful for paper or other purposes, so while it can be argued as a renewable resource, the amount of time and energy required as well as other factors from harvest to processing are not truly sustainable.

The better answer is tree-free paper.  Actually, papers throughout human history were always made from other fibers—linen, papyrus, straw and hemp were the common materials used in the creation of paper.  It was not until the mid 1800’s that trees became the new answer in papermaking.  For many reasons, and most of them political, trees became the norm in paper milling, and the fibers which had so long been the norm fell out of fashion.  This, despite the fact that “alternative” fibers just make better sense from seed to ream.  Hemp, linen, papyrus—these have all become “art” paper materials, and are very expensive to purchase because they’re often made by hand and intended for special use.  Yet if we were to use these fibers for our everyday newsprint, copier and office papers, the overall price of the paper would be cheaper than that made by trees.  Why?  Simply because of the turnaround time.  Alternative fibers can be planted and harvested multiple times in one year, rather than after several years as required for trees, and fibers made from hemp require very little pest management or fertilizers because of their naturally hardy characteristics.  The environmental implications of growing plants versus trees are simply all around better.

And the environmental benefits become outstanding when paper is made from recovered “waste” fibers as the result of other industries, such as sugar, corn, bananas, mangoes, coffee and many other crops grown for a different purpose.  When the leftover plant fibers are diverted into making paper, we have a win-win situation.

You can find tree-free papers in a broad array of colors and textures available online, and for more information about going tree-free, visit this site.

May 14, 2009–Today’s way: It’s not glamorous, but bringing your lunch to work will save you a lot of money and it’ll also save the environment from a lot of excess takeout food packaging in the waste stream.  All those little packets of condiments or salad dressings, plastic sporks, napkins as well as the cartons and bags food is carried in add up fast, and most of them end up in a landfill near you.  And that’s not even considering the amount of energy, trees and water that were used to make that packaging in the first place.  So take just a couple minutes of extra time to plan your meals the night before, and make yourself a healthy, delicious lunch, pack it with your reusable utensils and food carriers and enjoy a trashless lunch.

And to go in style and for inspiration, check out these cool stainless steel lunch containers.

May 7, 2009–Today’s Way: You can save up to 10% on your average electricity bills just by unplugging unnecessary appliances when not in use.  Energy “vampires” are devices–especially electronics–which are trickling energy from your outlets even if they are not in use.  Phone battery chargers, devices with the block-style transformers, computer peripherals and anything that can be turned on with a remote control are the biggest vampires.  By unplugging them when not in use, you’ll save yourself a lot of cash and help reduce the carbon dioxide that’s contributing to global warming.  If you have a second fridge or freezer that isn’t full or isn’t in use, you can save hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide over the course of a year.  So look around your home or office today and see if you can’t slay a vampire or two.

April 27, 2009–Today’s Way: In the WoodSprite office, we’re able to cut our paper costs by about half simply by printing documents on both sides of the page.  We also set aside single-sided sheets for re-use, then print on the blank side or cut them up for use as scratch pads before finally sending them along to the recycle bin.  Of course, we also use 100% Post-Consumer recycled paper (that’s the paper you and I recycle at our curbsides) that is processed without chlorine.  Just by instituting this simple policy, we’re not only keeping our office supply budget in the black, but helping to save a lot of unnecessary pollution, energy and cutting and processing of trees to make new paper.

You can make transitioning to this system easier for your own office or home by posting a sign on the copier or printer, reminding others to use the two-sided printing options, and then placing a paper sorter for single-sided sheets only next to the printer or copier where they will be handy.  Encourage your family or co-workers to turn over a new leaf of paper—it may take a bit of time to implement, but once everyone gets the hang of it, you’ll be saving your company or office money and saving trees at the same time.

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