Archive for July, 2007

I decided it was time for a Climate Change 101 refresher course. The best I could find was Laurie David’s list (http://www.stopglobalwarming.org). Here it is, the list of all I should be doing to do my full share as a green girl wannabe:

1) Use compact fluorescent bulbs. Replace 3 frequently used light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Save 300 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $60 per year.

I have Prad to thank for that one, and also the City of Palo Alto. He is replacing the old bulbs systematically with the new CFBs. The city gives each household, five for a dollar.

2) Inflate your tires. Keep the tires on your car adequately inflated. Check them monthly. Save 250 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $840 per year.

Prad does it for all our cars.

3) Change your air filter. Check your car’s air filter monthly. Save 800 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $130 per year.

Prad does it.

4) Fill the dishwasher. Run your dishwasher only with a full load. Save 100 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $40 per year. Save 200lbs of carbon dioxide and $40 per year. Use the energy-saving settings to dry dishes and don’t use heat when drying.

Prad insists on that one, and we all go along. Except there is the problem of the food drying up, and the need to rinse the dishes thoroughly before we load them. A big source of conflict in our family, since the kids especially are not as meticulous, as Prad would like them to. As usual, I am a lot more casual. If a plate does not get washed right the first time, I just put it in the dishwasher for a second wash. Bad ,bad ,bad . . .

5) Use recycled paper. Make sure your printer paper is 100% post consumer recycled paper. Save 5 lbs. of carbon dioxide per ream of paper.

That one, I do. It is easy, just buy the other kind of paper, it is cheaper too.

6) Adjust your thermostat. Move your heater thermostat down two degrees in winter and up two degrees in the summer. Save 2000 lbs of carbon dioxide and $98 per year.

I had a hard time with turning down the heat in the winter, initially. In France, I had been used to living cozy in a warm home. Prad convinced me, and I am just wearing an extra layer now. The kids are usually always warm, so no complaints there. In the summer, I have never liked the air conditioner. This is not a comfort I grew up with, so it is not hard to give up

7) Check your water heater. Keep your water heater thermostat no higher than 120°F. Save 550 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $30 per year.

I am pretty sure Prad took care of it.

8) Change the AC filter. Clean or replace dirty air conditioner filters as recommended. Save 350 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $150 per year.

Prad, to thank again.

9) Take Shorter Showers. Showers account for 2/3 of all water heating costs. Save 350 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $99 per year.

You mean I can only have one minute showers? I am not there yet, and neither is anybody else in our household, Prad included. The high pressure shower is one of those American indulgences that is hard to give up, a sensual pleasure way up there on the ‘Feel Good’ scale.

10) Install a low-flow showerhead. Using less water in the shower means less energy to heat the water. Save 350 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $150.

Of course, we have those! Still pretty good. No shampoo left in my hair after a shower.

11) Buy products locally. Buy locally and reduce the amount of energy required to drive your products to your store.

In my circles, that usually equates to a weekly visit to the Farmer’s Market.

12) Buy energy certificates. Help spur the renewable energy market and cut global warming pollution by buying wind certificates and green tags.

What’ s that? I think I have seen those at the Whole Foods checkout counter.

13) Buy minimally packaged goods. Less packaging could reduce your garbage by about 10%. Save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide and $1,000 per year.

That one is such an obvious one. Whenever I buy stuff, I systematically ask for no wrapping paper, and no shopping bag.

14) Buy a hybrid car. The average driver could save 16,000 lbs. of CO2 and $3,750 per year driving a hybrid.

Thanks Prad, for buying the Prius. I love it. It’s pretty, drives like a charm, and does not eat up gas like my previous car.

15) Buy a fuel efficient car. Getting a few extra miles per gallon makes a big difference. Save thousands of lbs. of CO2 and a lot of money per year.

We need to get rid of the Toyota Landcruiser, our pre-Al Gore legacy. Still useful for those times when we need to pile up seven teenagers in the car. With the children getting their own cars now, it has to go. Prad’ s convertible Mercedes is also on our list of to go cars. I am tired of Prad always borrowing my Prius.

16) Carpool when you can. Own a big vehicle? Carpooling with friends and co-workers saves fuel. Save 790 lbs. of carbon dioxide and hundreds of dollars per year.

Prad tries to incite me to make less trips and to combine our errands. I still relish the sense of freedom, from not having to plan and taking my car whenever I feel like it.

17) Reduce garbage. Buy products with less packaging and recycle paper, plastic and glass. Save 1,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide per year.

I am pretty good there. Still, the amount of garbage we generate, is appalling. The worst are the plastic bags which cannot be recycled.

18) Plant a tree. Trees suck up carbon dioxide and make clean air for us to breathe. Save 2,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide per year.

Sorry, I do not have a green thumb, and cannot ever recall planting anything. Never mind, that I championed The Witness Trees Project, a big environmental education initiative with old urban trees. . .

19) Insulate your water heater. Keep your water heater insulated could save 1,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $40 per year.

Thanks Prad. Again.

20) Replace old appliances. Inefficient appliances waste energy. Save hundreds of lbs. of carbon dioxide and hundreds of dollars per year.

Done, when we moved into our new house.

21) Weatherize your home. Caulk and weather strip your doorways and windows. Save 1,700 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $274 per year.

Prad is very proud of our highly energy-efficient home.

22) Use a push mower. Use your muscles instead of fossil fuels and get some exercise. Save 80 lbs of carbon dioxide per year.

Even Prad has given into the electric kind.

23) Unplug un-used electronics. Even when electronic devices are turned off, they use energy. Save over 1,000 lbs of carbon dioxide and $256 per year.

We’ve got ways to go, there. We are so plugged in! With the exception of Prad, who is religious about turning off his computer.

24) Put on a sweater. Instead of turning up the heat in your home, wear more clothes Save 1,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $250 per year.

Wasn’t that covered earlier in the list?

25) Insulate your home. Make sure your walls and ceilings are insulated. Save 2,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $245 per year.

Yes, you bet. Thanks to Prad.

26) Air dry your clothes. Line-dry your clothes in the spring and summer instead of using the dryer. Save 700 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $75 per year.

I used to think Prad was some kind of lunatic, with his habit of air drying all his laundry. I am slowly coming around, even considering investing in a real clothesline for the outside . . .

27) Switch to a tankless water heater. Your water will be heated as you use it rather than keeping a tank of hot water. Save 300 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $390 per year.

I don’t know what that is. I will have to discuss with Prad, my in house engineer/environmental expert.

28) Switch to double pane windows. Double pane windows keep more heat inside your home so you use less energy. Save 10,000 lbs. of carbon dioxide and $436 per year.

Done. By Prad, when we built the house.

29) Buy organic food. The chemicals used in modern agriculture pollute the water supply, and require energy to produce.

I could be a poster babe for Whole Foods.

30) Bring cloth bags to the market. Using your own cloth bag instead of plastic or paper bags reduces waste and requires no additional energy.

No additional energy? If it was that easy, how come I keep forgetting?

31) Install a ceiling fan instead of air conditioning.

We do not use air conditioning. Wasn’t that covered earlier in the list?

32) Choose re-usable cleaning products like sponges instead of paper towels that cause excess waste

I really should. And I don’t.

33) Check your oven timer instead of opening the door.

I never use the timer. I like to peak in, once in a while.

34) Cover your pots when boiling water.

I did not think of this. I will try to remember.

35) Use microwave for smaller heating jobs.

Or better yet, use the toaster oven. That one is a Prad’s idea. He and my daughter go at it, when she insists on using the big oven for small baking projects.

36) Sign up for renewable energy.

You bet.

37) Check with utility provider to see if they have a renewable energy, or green power program.

Palo Alto is amongst the greenest cities in the US. They have a great program. Prad signed up, of course.

38) Choose library books over buying new ones and share your own books with friends.

I love the library. I stopped buying books a long time ago, after my divorce, when my fortune took a turn for the worse. The habit has stayed with me.

39) Eat local food once a week. Food grown locally does not travel the typical 1,500 miles to get to your plate.

Last Sunday, we went to the farmers’ market with our friends, and all prepared lunch together afterwards, with the produce we had just bought. I wanted to use fresh mozarella in the salad, though. I found some in the fridge, that I had bought at Whole Foods. Was that local?

40) Rethink take-out habit. Take-out food waste, like containers and plastic bags, is usually non-recyclable and has increased significantly over the recent decades.

Prad and I are big take-out offenders. Often times, we do not want to bother with cooking, and the kids much prefer Chinese or Mexican take out, anyway. I must say, I cringe, whenever I have to dispose of all the cartons, the styrofoam boxes, the soiled wrappers.

41) Buy clothes made from organic cotton and support brands that don’t use harmful chemicals.

I would, if the style went with it.

42) Buy products with recycled content and increase your recycling at home by 10%

I usually do not check for recycled content. Prad is getting on our case for not making more of an effort with recycling.

43) Take a shower instead of a bath. Baths can take up to 50 gallons of water.

We are all shower people in our house, with the exception of Catherine, who loves her baths.

44) Grow plants instead of buying fake ones. They look better and improve the air.

I come from France, where we do not like fake things.

45) Print and make copies on both sides of the paper to save trees and ink.

That’s good when you have a printer specially configured for double sided printing. Mine is not that good. I have to admit, I am a big paper waster. Lots of room for improvement there!

Going through the list took a lot of time. Thanks to Prad, we are not doing too bad.

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It would be nice if I could place my individual actions within the larger context of climate change. How much do they each contribute, percentage wise, to greenhouse gas emissions? Activities such as: using the dryer, driving my car, eating meat, taking showers, flushing the toilet, using disposable plastic bags for groceries. I tried googling all the combinations I could think of, without much results. I found information on personal and family carbon footprint calculators, lists of recommended actions, general articles, but not the kind of meaningful data I was looking for. After several hours, I gave up.

It is true that I could adhere blindly to the list of recommended actions. I could just become a poster green girl, if I set my mind to it. I could, but I am not there yet. For each change in my behavior, each effort I will put in, I need to understand the net impact. Going back to the dryer example, what is the percentage of greenhouse gases generated as a result of dryer use in the US, and conversely what would be saved if we all went back to the old clothesline of my grandmother? I want to research this some more.

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Last night, Prad suggested we carpool to do our errands. He would drop me off at Whole Foods while he went to pick up the Chinese carryout across town. I could not refuse to participate in such a good deed. Everything went according to plan, almost. As I was about to enter the store, I heard Prad, my green conscience, calling and gesturing for me to come back. I had forgotten the green bags once more. The green bags were at my feet in front of the passenger seat. What will it take for me to remember? Earlier the same day, I even clipped an article in the New York Times, on that very topic. “Just the Thing to Carry Your Conscience In: Canvas“. Anya Hindmarch, the London designer of super pricey designer bags, had just released a limited edition of 20,000, $15 cotton bags in fifteen Whole Foods stores in New York. The bags, which read “I’ m not a plastic bag“, created a frenzy of shoppers, all eager to capture this latest fashion statement . I have been toying around with similar business ideas. It is easy to think in abstract, and a lot harder to do my personal share. “The problem is not plastic bags. The problem is behavioral – the human propensity to litter. The solution is for all of us to change behavior and learn to reduce, reuse, recycle and properly dispose of plastic bags.” (quote from Society of The Plastics Industry)

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Two days ago, I thought I was a born again greenie. Several of my blogger friends even joined to celebrate, and commented on my newly found consciousness. They especially liked the small acts, those subtle changes I had been noticing in my wannabe green life. This was to be short lived. Today I had a major relapse. All it took was a trip to Target, and Libertine to get me hooked again. Libertine is the new guest designer at Target. Impossible to avoid. The racks are right there when you enter the store, loaded with unseen before goodies. It did not take long, for me to remember the article in last month’s Vogue, the one with the picture of a navy blue Libertine jacket. I knew competition was fierce, and I had to grab it while I could, assuming they still had my size. They had the jacket, and it fit me perfectly. While I was there, I grabbed a few more items. So cheap. On my way out, I was so excited with my new purchases, I had to call Neela and Christine.

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I have spent the last few months exploring job opportunities with startups. One obvious path, for the green girl wannabe that I have become, would be to join a green venture. It is not so easy though. Many of the green startups I have looked into have lofty goals, but doubtful business propositions. Or they are financing companies, an area of lesser interest to me. The startups I have found, and that I could see myself having a viable future with, are in a different space, mostly consumer Internet. I love the Internet and the whole social networking gestalt. Pretty soon, today, in a week, . . . I am going to have to decide. Do I wait for the perfect green business opportunity, or do I give into my more frivolous side? I am getting impatient and eager to become a part of a creative business endeavor.

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‘The key for me in this project was the recognition that what was really changing was my consciousness. And that is huge’. My friend Cass wrote this to me, last week, about her green blog project (http://seacat.wordpress.com). I have to agree with her. The simple act of reflecting and writing about one’s daily actions has tremendous transforming powers. I did not see any change at first. I kept on writing, and behaving as if I did not know any better. Until a few weeks ago. I could not help but notice, there was a new voice inside, moving me to not just pay attention, but to also act. I started to remember to take the green bags with me, and to bring them into the store. I could no longer leave my computer on. I turn the water off when I brush my teeth, instead of letting it run. Small acts.

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The city of Palo Alto has made it easy with its single stream recycling program. No more sorting. No more green bin, blue and yellow bins. Instead one huge can that we fill up every week. I can do that no problem. We have a routine. At the end of each day, the newspapers go in a bin right by the front door. Everything else, we just throw into the recycling bin right under the kitchen counter next to the sink. Actually, not everything else. There are a few papers, lurking still in the garbage cans in my office, Prad’s office, and the kids’ bedrooms. If it was up to me, I would not bother with the effort of going through each can, and of pulling out all the papers for recycling. It just does not feel like worth the effort. Such a small amount, compared to the huge load of papers we recycle every week. Prad, of course, does not see it that way. A piece of paper is a piece of paper, and there are no limits to what should, should not get recycled. Every Thursday morning, before Esperanza, our cleaning tornado, comes in, Prad makes sure he gets first dig and goes through each room, to make sure not a single piece of paper garbage will end up where it is not supposed to.

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Yesterday, I threw away a whole uncooked burger. The day before, it was a whole chicken. Prad and I have this ongoing battle about the amount of food I throw away everyday, usually enough to feed a whole other family. Prad thinks I should plan better and not buy, unless I am sure it will get eaten. When the kids were little, it was a lot easier, I knew we would all be there for dinner. Now that they are teenagers, I never know who to expect for dinner. Still, I insist on cooking enough for the six of us, each time. Lately, it has become clear that those family dinners have become the exception. Charlotte and Catherine both drive now, and they are out almost every evening. And Prad’s children have most of their meals at their mom’s house. It is time to downscale, and to resolve myself to twosome dinners. That one wasted burger was the equivalent or four kilograms of CO2. Eight burgers a day is the same as driving a Hummer for a whole year.

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When it comes to green, I am rather passive. I wait for Prad to take the lead. One good example is compost. The remains of our uneaten salad do not belong in the garbage bin, I know it and it just does not feel right. Yet, I routinely dump all our organic waste straight into the garbage bin. I can think of many reasons why. When we built our house, we planned for recycling, and installed a separate recycling bin. And we forgot about compost. I could correct the problem and take upon myself to set up a system. I could, but it feels like such a daunting task. It seems so complicated, scientific almost. There are composting seminars, books on compost, special containers to buy for the stuff. Things were much simpler, back in the days of my grandparents. At the farm, I remember, my grandmother would store all the vegetable peels in a bucket, and throw them onto the “fumier”, a huge pile in one corner of our backyard, by the fig tree. The “fumier” was where my grandfather went, when he needed fertilizer for the vegetable garden.

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Catherine asked me to meet her and her girlfriends at Anthropologie. I jumped at her suggestion. It had been a while since she and I had done something fun together. Of course, I could not resist trying things on. I found this really cute green dress, with tassels along the hem. Perfect price, $29.95. I looked at the label: Made in India. For that price, I had to have it. Somebody else would buy it, if I didn’t. On my way home driving back, I thought of my earlier meeting with Christian, and our discussion about doing business projects together, to make the world better and greener. I spoke convincingly of the importance of promoting local goods. That is one of my pet peeves, as a green entrepreneur wannabe. Next time I have a business meeting to present my idea, maybe I will wear the cute green dress Made in India?

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