Posts Tagged ‘reduce’

Sorting through the mess on my desk. I come across paper with old to-do-list, no longer relevant. Thought: ‘Look on the other side, see if it can be used.’ Back of paper is blank. Thought: ‘I should save paper to write on.’ I crumple the paper, and throw it into garbage can. There is something about starting fresh with a 100% virgin sheet of paper. I have toned down my habit quite a bit, and am usually pretty good at saving half used sheets. But in this case, Prad got these super thin sheets made out of recycled paper. They feel as if they can only handle one sided writing.

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The opening sentence in this week’s Economist article on Drawing lines in melting ice caught my attention. It confirmed something I kind of already knew, ‘the Arctic has been a fashionable destination this summer’. Some members in my extended family went, and so did my friend Luc. Traveling to the Arctic has become the ultimate green chic, more than buying the latest Hybrid, more than building a totally green house. It is something to talk about at parties, and an experience only the very privileged can afford. If I had the money, I would probably consider it, never mind all the emissions from all the flying and buying the polar accoutrements for the trip. It is just so cool!

The same is at work when I go crazy for Target’s latest designer. Everyday, I go to the mailbox, looking for my Dominique Cohen jewelry shipment. It’s called fashion, and it is very, very powerful. Fashion has the amazing ability to change people’s perceptions and behaviors overnight. I remember as a child growing up, being so embarrassed by my parents’ lifestyle choices for our family. In the small town where we lived, we were the only vegetarians. How much I resented not being like the other meat eating kids in my school! I thought my father was a freak for having such unorthodox ideas. Years later, in California where I live, being a vegetarian is a statement of ultimate green coolness, and one of the ways that teenagers choose to affirm their independence.

I think about the lifestyle choices I need to make to become a truly green girl, the three R’s – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – , the small acts in the privacy of my home, the not shopping bit, the driving less, the changing the light bulbs to CFB’s, . . . I think of all those things, and what strikes me is how unglamorous, how invisible they all are. Not to minimize No Impact Man‘s feat, my sense is it would probably be a lot harder, if not impossible, for him and his family to deliver on their promise, if they did not benefit from all the attention from the blogosphere, the movie in the making, and the book to come. For the commoner that I am, there are none of these immediate external rewards, only the satisfaction of a guilt-free green conscience. And that is not enough.

The challenge I see, is how to turn fashion on its head, and use it to our advantage? There can only be one No Impact Man. How can we each capture a bit of that same green glory, and claim it as our own?

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Greenland Ice Melt Speeds Up‘, reads the headline in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. According to the article, There was less sea ice in he Arctic on Friday than ever before on record, and the melting is continuing, the National Snow and Ice Data Center reported. . . “It is very strong evidence that we are starting to see an effect of greenhouse warming,” he (Mark Serreze, senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center) said. The puzzling thing, he said, is the melting is occurring faster than computer climate models have predicted.

The day before, I reconnected with Luc Hardy, one of my old classmates from Ecole Centrale, my engineering school back in France. Luc has been involved with the Sagax Revo Greenland Project. The goal of the July 2007 expedition was to assess the impact of global warming on wildlife and vegetation in Greenland. He told me scientists on the expedition have noticed a strange phenomenon over the last few years. Ladybugs have slowly made their way to Greenland, and are now a part of the ecosystem there.

More alarming facts, and the sinking reality that we are running out of time. Still, frivolity got the best of me yesterday. I ordered two pairs of earrings and a bracelet from Dominique Cohen for Target. And I took Catherine shopping for clothes at Anthropologie. I let myself become tempted by a cute dress, a pair of pants ,and a sweater. They were almost giving the stuff away. Part of me still doubts the clear connection between my spending behavior, and the mounting increase in greenhouse gases emissions. I still have not made mine the Reduce in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

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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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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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