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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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June 19, 2010 — Today’s Way: Some of us may be surprised to learn that the amount of fuel savings that can be garnered by adjusting your bad driving habits is significant–on average, anywhere from 10% to a whopping 40%–depending on how much of a lead foot you have, that is.  If you’re an aggressive driver (come on, you know who you are…punching the gas pedal off the line, accelerating until the very last moment, then using the brakes heavily to slow down, weaving in and out of traffic like you’re Mario Andretti), you’ll see the biggest savings by easing off on acceleration and coasting your way to a gradual stop.  For the average driver, simply being more mindful of your pedal pushing can still bring notable fuel and monetary savings over time, as well as less wear and tear on your car.  And fuel savings means less use of petroleum, which means less emissions, which means less green house gases, which means less pollution, which means healthier air and a better future for everyone.

June 17, 2010 — Today’s Way: This one is sooooooo easy, you’ll love it.  Get out a tire pressure gauge, check your tires, inflate them to the proper level.  This simple bit of maintenance can save you an average of around 10% on your gas budget, and of course, saving fuel helps to save the planet, too.

June 16, 2010–Today’s Way: Have you ever noticed how many roofs are black or a dark shade of brown or gray?  The color of one’s roof is something we often might only consider only as a matter of aesthetic concern, yet there are environmental and energy implications that should not be overlooked.  When you have a dark colored roof, whether made from shingles or even roof tar on a commercial building, that roof absorbs heat energy from the sun.  Think of wearing a black turtleneck in the sultry, August sun…there’s a reason that we tend to wear light colors in the summertime because it helps to deflect heat and keep us cool.  If you live in a climate where there is a considerable amount of hot weather, even if for part of the year, it just makes better sense to install a lighter colored roofing material to help deflect some of the sun’s fire, which will result in lower cooling costs and also helps to defend against our planet’s rising temperature.  Now, I realize that a roof is something we hope to only have to install or replace a couple of times in a home’s lifetime, but it’s something to consider next time you’re in the market for a roof re-do.  It’s really such a small step, and rarely costs much more than an ordinary dark roofing material, but the energy savings make it well worth considering.

June 14, 2009–Today’s Way: As you enjoyed your cup of coffee this morning, did you pause to wonder where it came from?  Well, don’t feel badly…few of us do.  Yet that ordinary little cup of coffee that ordinary Americans consume every ordinary day represents an extraordinarily high environmental cost.  Am I asking you to stop drinking your coffee?  Egads, no!  I’m sipping a nice cup of joe as I write this, but I am suggesting you may want to reconsider your coffee buying habits.

Conventional coffee farming has an enormous impact on the environment because of the way in which it is grown.  Far away, large tracts of virgin rain forests are cleared and replaced with coffee plantations, which are heavily doused in pesticides and chemical fertilizers, putting a strain on water resources and surrounding wildlife.  Indigenous people are often exploited to work on the coffee plantations for pennies a day, and bear the brunt of exposure to the chemicals used to grow the coffee, which is then usually shipped halfway across the planet to a roaster and then in turn shipped to a distributor somewhere else, where it eventually winds up shipped to the States and brewed and poured into a polystyrene or paper cup with a designer name and sold to you for the bargain price of $4.00 or more.

Luckily, you can still enjoy that cup of coffee (preferably in a reusable cup), but you’ll probably enjoy it more if you make your next informed purchasing choice on a Shade-Grown, Fair-Trade, Certified Organic bag of beans.  This means that the coffee berries were grown without forest removal; instead, they are carefully tended to in the shade from old growth trees, thereby leaving that valuable carbon-eating tree cover intact.  And the animals and bugs will really appreciate that.  Also, if your coffee is Fair Trade Certified, it means that your grower was paid fairly for the time and effort they put into growing those delicious coffee beans, and that they are able to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads and maybe even send their kids to school.  Lastly, if your new favorite coffee brand bears Organic Certification, it means that those beans were grown using sustainable farming methods without the use of chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers.  And thanks to growing awareness about these issues, there are now more and more sustainable growers, artisan roasters and local gourmet cafes who are elevating the coffee experience to new grounds (sorry…couldn’t help it).  In fact, one of my favorites is Higher Grounds.

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 10, 2009–Today’s Way: I just posted yesterday about opening up our homes to let the cool breeze in, and today I’m going to contradict myself.  Sort of.  When the weather turns really hot, you can keep your home cooler by closing doors and windows and shutting blinds or curtains during the heat of the day.  Then, at night when the air cools down, open up all of your windows.  When we practice this technique, along with employing our ceiling and window fans, we’re able to avoid using the air conditioner most of the summer.  At the same time, we use far less energy and save quite a bit on our electric bills.

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 2, 2009–Today’s Way: If you’re considering planting some new trees in your own yard, or looking to expand your gardens, you can save yourself a great deal of money (and likely watering, fertilizing, tending, etc…) by planting natives from your own region.  Native shrubs, plants and trees have evolved over time to withstand the conditions of your area, and as such require little or no care at all from humans.  They are naturally disease resistant, and will be uniquely predisposed to thrive in your climate and soil—such as being drought tolerant, or being able to withstand heavy rains and hard winters.  And natives are beautiful as well as diverse; offering of themselves beautiful flowers and nuts and fruits for humans as well as wildlife to enjoy.  Most importantly, by planting natives, you’ll be helping to preserve and protect ecological diversity among developed areas.  You can obtain low-cost native plants and trees as well as get plenty of information on how to plant and care for them through your local conservation district.

June 1, 2009–Today’s Way: If you have a hot water heater, it’s most likely installed in your basement (if you have a basement, that is), which is typically the coldest place in the house.  So, you’ve got a huge tank of water fighting to stay hot in the one place where it’s coolest, and losing a great deal of heat in the process.  A simple and inexpensive solution is to insulate the water heater tank to help it retain its heat, and thereby saving 25–45% of standby heat loss energy at the same time.  There are special hot water heater jackets, which are pre-shaped insulated blankets that you can purchase for under $35 at your local hardware or home improvement store.  Over the course of a year, the blanket can pay for itself on your water heating bills.  Also, you may want to check with your utility company for any available installation programs, discounts or credits—you may be able to have an energy auditor install the jacket for you, or even receive a credit for improving your energy usage.

To learn more about installing water heater jackets yourself, visit this helpful tutorial from energysavers.gov.

May 30, 2009–Today’s Way: The average blow dryer uses about 4.5 kilowatt hours per month, and that is based on only 5 minutes of drying time per day.  For someone with very long hair, like myself, that number goes up significantly.  A really easy way to save some money and some energy is to just let your hair dry naturally.  This time of year, it’s easy…with abundant sunshine and a natural bristle brush, my hair is dry in no time.  Of course, it’s not always feasible to let nature take its course—sometimes we’re in a hurry.  But all those days when we aren’t can really add up.  Just imagine if you didn’t use the hair dryer on weekends only, you could save about 1.2 kilowatt hours per month, or 14.4 (and remember, that’s the conservative estimate).  So, if you don’t have to be anywhere, or if your hair doesn’t require special blower styling, let it fly and save some greenhouse gases for us all.  Your hair will certainly thank you for it (heat damages hair shafts…drying naturally usually results in softer, healthier and shinier hair) and so will the planet.

May 28, 2009–Today’s Way: A simple idea, and not a new one for you organized types is to pre-plan your route when running errands so that all of your stops are grouped along a loop, so that you aren’t driving back and forth across town all willy-nilly.  Also, if you can, plan your route to maximize right turns so that you spend less time idling and waiting at lights to turn.  Overall, you’ll save yourself more time, more money and more fuel, and reduce the amount of unnecessary carbon emissions being pumped out into our atmosphere.

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