Nancy Conner, author of the newly released book Living Green: The Missing Manual, has made it her goal to show people just how easy it is to make your everyday lives just a little bit greener.
You can help the environment by making simple changes in your home routine, work habits, and the way you shop and get around town. You don't have to embark on a radical new lifestyle to make a difference, but you do have to make a few conscious decisions.
In a recent conversation, Nancy emphasized the simplicity of these decisions: "Life is full of conveniences, but it can be easy to lose sight of what those conveniences cost in terms of their effect on the earth. People don't have to give up their conveniences, but they do have to become aware of how their personal choices affect the world. Living Green: The Missing Manual helps people understand environmental issues and make informed choices in all areas of their lives. Anyone who's concerned about the world their children and grandchildren will inherit understands that we need to take action now."
When I asked her what the readers would take away from the book, Nancy said, "The book takes a three-pronged approach to green living: healthy living, energy efficiency, and environmental stewardship. Readers will be able to make improvements in all of these areas. They can eleiminate harmful chemicals from their households and food, replacing them with healthier alternatives. They can find ways to reduce their carbon footprint and save money on utility bills. And they can start to make an immediate difference in the health of the planet. The book emphasizes that each choice we make has consequences and helps readers to make greener choices."
1. About a third of water usage in the U.S. goes toward keeping lawns green. Landscaping with plants that are native to your area conserves water because it uses plants that are ideally suited to the local climate. To get started with native-plant landscaping, visit http://www.epa.gov/greenacres.
2. Many electrical devices, such as those with an instant-on feature, add to your monthly electricity bill by creating a phantom load--sipping electricity even when the device is turned off. This phantom load can be as high as 5% of your total electricity use. To reduce it, unplug devices when you're not using them or invest in a smart power strip, which can adjust the power supplied to each device it controls according to what you're using right now.
3. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) produce 90% less heat than traditional incandescent bulbs and require only about a quarter of the power to produce the same amount of light. They also last significantly longer than old-fashioned light bulbs. So even though CFLs cost more up front, they save you money in the long run.
4. If you want to reduce the amount of waste your household produces, replace your current trash cans and waste baskets with smaller ones. This will make you aware of every item you throw out, so you'll begin to look for ways to bring less disposable stuff into the your home. Two ways to begin: buy in bulk to reduce wasteful packaging and reuse or recycle shopping bags.
5. New furniture, carpeting, paint, and finishes may contain volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), which can cause respiratory and other health problems as they release those chemicals into the air. To find products that are certified as being low in VOCs, visit the Web site of the nonprofit Greenguard Environmental Institute.
6. If you're a new parent and you don't want to contribute a mountain of disposable diapers (about 6,000 of them) to the local landfill, consider using cloth diapers with flushable, biodegradable inserts.
7. Worried about pesticides in the food you buy? Visit the Shopper's Guide to Pesticides, compiled by the Enviornmental Working Group, at www.foodnews.org. The Dirty Dozen list shows those fruits and veggeis most likely to be contaminated by pesticides, including peaches, apples, celery, and bell peppers. You'll also find the Clean 15, a list of food with low likelihood of pesticide contamination, such as onions, avocados, corn, and pineapples.
8. City dwellers who want to grow their own food can do so in a container garden or a community garden.
9. You may already buy fair-trade coffee to promote sustainable agriculture and economic opportunities in developing countries. To do the evnvironment an even bigger favor, look for fair-trade coffee that's shade-grown. Many coffee plantations cut down all their trees to make room for coffee bushes--destroying the natural habitat of many local critters and migratory birds. Shade-grown coffee protects natural habitats because the coffee comes from bushes grown in a forest setting, under trees that are essential to the region's ecosystem.
10. When you travel by air, avoid first class--that roomier seat means a bigger carbon footprint for your trip. Also, try to book nonstop flights to minimize the number of fuel-guzzling takeoffs and landings. If you can't avoid a trip with connections, look at each option's total miles, and select the trip with the lowest overall mileage.
For more information on Living Green: The Missing Manual, see: