Help me turn green with goodness!
October 1, 2006 9:37 PM   Subscribe

How can I live a more green/ethical/eco-friendly/sustainable life?

- I live in an apartment - which has minimal natural light. 1 brm with a full sized kitchen (dishwasher), laundry with a washer and a drier
- I have replaced my cleaners with local eco products
- Trying to sign up for a organic box scheme - but as a single person they might be too large for me?
- No car - I walk to work
- And finally, I'm not made of money so if any of this saves $$$ I'll be even more happy.

I would also appreciate links to books/blogs on people trying to do this in an urban/city environment. Reading about organic farms and people living off the grid is very inspiring but I can't seem to copy their ideas.

Is there anything else I can do? Al Gore's made me guilty!
posted by teststrip to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Hang dry whatever you can, instead of using the dryer. This makes jeans crunchy, which may bug you, but it goes away after a few minutes of wearing. And this will save you money: your electric bill will go down. And it makes your clothes last longer, since they fall apart faster when machine-dried.
posted by librarina at 9:51 PM on October 1, 2006

Also, do you have the ability to grow any vegetables? Patio, window boxes, roof access? Where do you live?
posted by librarina at 9:54 PM on October 1, 2006

Just keep in mind that "green" is a selling point.

Your biggest impact on the environment and other people is as a consumer- a person who buys things, who makes products move through a complex network. Almost any time you buy something, you incur an environmental cost, the cost of the production, delivery, use, and eventual disposal of that thing. And all the things that were made to support it.

That includes "green" products to use in your everyday life. I suspect that the solutions you'll find will often suggest you buy something to make your life more green. Those are the times to say no. The less things you buy, green or no, the bigger un-impact you have on the environment.
posted by fake at 10:03 PM on October 1, 2006

Great article here.
posted by ifranzen at 10:24 PM on October 1, 2006

Don't have children (as in, don't procreate... feel free to adopt!).
posted by phrontist at 10:35 PM on October 1, 2006 [1 favorite]

A few energy-saving tips from an old post on my blog:
* Unplug appliances that aren't in use. TVs, VCRs, and even toasters eat up power even when they are turned off. With a house full of gadgets, the power consumption adds up quickly. Stick your media center on a power strip and turn it off when you're not using it. Unplug the toaster when you're done. You get the idea.

* Computer monitors are huge energy drains - don't just use a screensaver, set them to power down after 10 minutes

* Get rid of incandescent light bulbs. They output 90% of their energy as heat, which is colossally ineffecient. Compact fluorescent bulbs cost a couple bucks more, but last 5 times as long and save you lots of money on energy costs in the long run.

* Turn the AC off while you're gone during the day. Programmable thermostats make this easy.

* When you're gone, keep shades and curtains closed to prevent sunshine from heating up your place.

* Put lids on pots when boiling water on the stove. Seems like a small thing, but they add up, believe me.

* Turn down your hot-water heater a few degrees. If you have to mix your hot water with significant amounts of cold water to take a shower or do dishes, then it's set too high.
Along these lines, a guy named Alan Zelicoff wrote a great piece on energy savings called "Saving Energy Without Derision" that is available multiple places on teh intarwebs.
posted by chrisamiller at 10:39 PM on October 1, 2006

Yeah, I remember somewhere on the ABC website (I think) they had a 'greenhouse gas calculator' thing where you could work out how much you contribute to global warming. It asked a heap of questions about car use, air travel, washing machines etc, then the last question was 'how much do you spend in a year'. It turns out that just spending money on stuff uses more energy than anything else you can do, unless you commute to work in a private jet with afterburners.

In a modern industrial society all economic activity uses fossil fuels to some extent... so, assuming that you don't want to move to the country and live a subsistence lifestyle, the best thing you can do is (a) stop spending on anything you don't absolutely need in order to survive, and (b) invest all the money you save in renewable energy companies and similar projects.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:42 PM on October 1, 2006

Some others off the top of my head:

* Use low-flow showerheads and shower more quickly.

* Drop a brick or a few empty beer bottles full of water in your toilet tank. Saving 16 ounces every time you flush adds up quickly.

* Use a space heater in your bedroom during the winter, and keep the rest of the house fairly cold.

* Use Freecycle and Craiglsit to buy/sell/give away used items. This falls in the huge 'consume less' category
posted by chrisamiller at 10:46 PM on October 1, 2006

On the "organic box scheme" issue (I assume you mean a weekly (or whatever) vegetable box from a local grower) -- my ex and I shared a half a share from a CSA this summer (we have separate households). It was described as "veggies for two vegetable-loving adults." We enjoyed it so much I'm pretty sure we're both going to get our own half share next summer. But I suppose that depends on how big your box is and how much you like veggies. We did get a LOT of greens in the spring, I was beginning to not want to see another leaf of kale again by the time we stopped getting it. You do have to skew your meal planning to "what can I make with what I've got" and away from "what do I feel like cooking/eating." If you're on the fence, I say talk to the suppliers and if it sounds even possibly doable for you, go for it! Or find somebody to share with, like I did.

My last pickup for the year is this week, I'm really going to miss it over the winter.
posted by redheadeb at 11:32 PM on October 1, 2006

If you tend to leave your computer on 24/7, consider getting a laptop. Your average desktop computer with monitor consumes somewhere from 100-200W, after full days of user, this adds up. My laptop only uses 10-20W depending on brightness settings, processor usage and all that. When I close the lid overnight or when i'm not using it, it turns off the screen and uses even less. I estimate that after getting my laptop I save anywhere from $5-$10 a month on the electric bill, which may not sound like much, but after a year, I could be saving $100 or more.

I second hang drying clothes. This even works in the winter by piggybacking off your heating system, though it takes longer.

Air dry dishes if you use a dishwasher, the most energy intensive part of the dishwashing cycle is the Heated Drying cycle, turn it off and save some electricity. This works especially well if you run your washer right before going to bed.

Do your dishes by hand for an even bigger savings, but I admit along with hang drying my clothes, I tend to not do it as often now that I have a washer/dryer and dishwasher in my apartment.
posted by gregschoen at 11:49 PM on October 1, 2006

- Buy less
- Buy re-usable stuff rather than disposable stuff (eg don't buy paper towels at all, just use a dishcloth or hankerchief that you wash)
- Buy stuff with less packaging to throw out.
- Buy from local sources, rather than buying something that has to be shipped in.
- Buy at stores that are closer to your apartment, rather than places that are designed to be driven to.
- Make your house as energy-efficient as possible (seal drafts that let heat out in winter, etc)

There are 10 million Google hits for "save energy at home", but here's the first one that caught my eye:
The home energy saver calculator (how to save energy in your home)

Previous AskMeFi threads that are relevant:
list of web-based eco tip resources
green household products
green household appliances
green household cleaners
using vinegar as a household cleaner
environmentally-friendly stocks
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:51 PM on October 1, 2006

Cityhippy is a decent blog on these topics. Ask Umbra is a good column, and in one she focuses on the most effective actions people can take.

Really, I think all the focus on individual action is overblown. Yeah, there are some key things -- drive minimally, fly minimally, have changed your lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, minimize what you buy, buy second-hand as much as possible, carry a mug or jar so you don't need disposable containers, eat the right seafood, save water, save energy. Detox your home (see the "other activities" dropdown menu). Get an organic box from a local farm (you can usually split an organic box with your neighbor or get it every other week if it's too big for you, which it probably is), or find a local farmers' market.

But a lot of the big issues need collective action. So, look at what your city is doing. Most of your needs are supplied by city infrastructure, so look into it -- energy, water supply, stormwater, sewage -- see how others nearby are working to make it more environmental (rainwater harvesting, solving combined sewage overflows, etc). Try getting your city council to join ICLEI, (where do you live? in California and maybe elsewhere, they can) pass Community Choice green energy purchasing. Start a City Car Share spinoff if none exist. Join or start a community garden nearby and do work on local food security (ie, set up ways people can get their food locally). Also, look at land use issues -- encourage the city to pass an urban growth boundary and build housing downtown so development doesn't sprawl out endlessly into the countryside. Find some local group working on threatened species, native plants, or urban wildlife, and help it survive (for example), or work with people doing ecosystem restoration and stewardship (for example: 1, 2, 3). There are probably people doing this stuff near you who could really use some help.

Beyond that, there's a lot of letter writing and good voting that could be done. In seven U.S. states this November, there are really horrible property rights initiatives on the ballots. If these pass, so many bad environmental things will happen that it will easily outweigh many of the small things you can do personally (though we should all do them anyway). I don't really know what's going on in New York. In California, Richard Pombo, the Senator that's trying to destroy the Endangered Species Act (and a number of other bad things), is up for re-election -- you could do precinct walking or send money for his opponent.

Overall, it's great to look at your own lifestyle, but if you want the best ratio for time spent to environmental impact, also look for ways you can leverage your time, such that an hour of political activity here and there could eventually reduce the environmental impact of everyone in the city or country.
posted by salvia at 12:03 AM on October 2, 2006 [2 favorites]

Avoid flying, if possible.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 1:47 AM on October 2, 2006

A blog you would probably find interesting is (most of it is aimed at people with more disposable income than me... but I still get great things out of it). Also, if you're in nyc like me, be sure to check out (a friendly and VERY cheap organic foods delivery service -- like a lower-tech & much more green version of FreshDirect).
posted by lorimer at 2:22 AM on October 2, 2006

Air-drying your clothes will definitely save a lot - just be careful that you don't make your house so damp that you get mildew. This is very bad your clothes (putting black spots on them, making them smell terrible) -- you'll at least have to wash them again, maybe throw them out. It could spread to your curtains, shoes, & other things. And the mildew can be bad for your health.

I had an outbreak of mildew after a couple of weeks or so of air-drying clothes in my (college) room. I wasn't starting from sopping wet, either; I'd do one cycle in the laundromat & bring the clothes home. My room wasn't well-ventilated, and I'm sure that was a factor.

Unfortunately, it's against the rules in a lot of communities (home owners' associations, apartments, condos) to hang clothes up outside on a clothes line; this might be worth looking into.

Another very important thing you can do is start _now_ to learn how to talk to, understand, & persuade other people. It's probably a life-long pursuit. It's hard to convince others to be more "green" without truly understanding why they wouldn't do it in the first place; why would their priorities be different? Smart, well-intentioned people will approach the world differently; why? I'm still working on this, hoping I'll be able to discuss issues like protecting the environment without devolving to an emotional, angry mess.
posted by amtho at 4:50 AM on October 2, 2006

The Guardian newspaper has run a weekly feature on this very subject for a couple of years.
posted by TrashyRambo at 5:07 AM on October 2, 2006

Previous question: How to start recycling and become green?

The easiest thing I've done to be "green" is to use cloth or canvas bags when you go to the store. Grocery store, drugstore, deli, any store. It's amazing how often shops will offer you a bag for one item when you don't need it at all.
posted by hooray at 6:22 AM on October 2, 2006

Deciding not to reproduce is by far the most environmentally responsible thing it's possible for a human being to do. Fulfilling the human need for family by taking in an existing child in desperate need of a good home is the most socially responsible thing it's possible for a human being to do.

With six and a half billion of us already here, it's an absolute certainty that all your genes already exist in other people. There is simply no need for you to push them into the next generation yourself; the teeming billions have got you covered.

An ecosystem with six and a half billion people in it is already unsustainable. We are crowding out the rest of the biosphere at an unprecedented and ever-increasing rate; there has not been a period of species extinction this rapid for hundreds of millions of years.

If sustainability is your aim, the single most important decision you can make is to raise somebody else's existing children instead of making more, and take opportunities as they arise to present the same idea to others.
posted by flabdablet at 7:24 AM on October 2, 2006

Turn off your climate control when you leave the house. This is the number one way for a non-driver to save energy. It will save you a lot of money, too.

The water saving measures, like putting a brick in your toilet tank, will save a little water. Don't expect your water bill to go down more than 10 cents a month, though.
posted by Uncle Jimmy at 7:58 AM on October 2, 2006

One regular lightbulb uses more electricity than most modern refrigerators over the course of a year. I've heard lots of good things about the value of compact fluorescent lightbulbs over the years, but that was the data point that convinced me to switch over. There are "blue" CFLs and "yellow" CFLs. It's a good idea to get one of each at first to figure out which kind of light works best for you.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:23 AM on October 2, 2006

The thing that convinced me CFL's were a good idea was working out that each one saves me well over twenty bucks, compared to equivalent incandescents, over its expected service life.
posted by flabdablet at 8:29 AM on October 2, 2006

(tongue firmly in cheek here)

Humans dissipate around 100W while just hanging out, so to save on AC/heating, don't have people over to your house in the summer, but have lots of friendly parties inside during the winter.
posted by toomanyplugs at 8:41 AM on October 2, 2006

Be vegetarian. Know your ecological footprint.
posted by DenOfSizer at 10:06 AM on October 2, 2006

Given that you already don't own a car, the best thing you can do (barring the suggestions about children which are a special category) is to stop eating meat. I say this as an ex-vegetarian.
posted by teleskiving at 10:06 AM on October 2, 2006

Regarding the flying issue, this can create a whole lot of CO2 (which causes globabl warming, according to Al Gore and most scientific sources). I fly for vacation, and discovered that the C02 I created while flying this past year was the equivalent to driving an SUV 10,000 miles. I bought shares in sustainable energy production at to compensate for the production of this CO2. It cost $60-$80, as I remember. It is very easy to figure out how many CO2 credits you need to buy, you can enter the flights individually. Terrapass is audited by the US government to ensure your funds are being used as the site claims. Note that other forms of pollution are created by burning jet fuel, and these may also be somewhat offset by Terrapass's projects, but they are not officially offset.

You may want to consider a little local community activism and education as well. If you go tree-planting you can get suggestions from others in person. You also might want to get involved in what happens at your office -- the paper recycling program, the types of bulbs they use, putting the lights in stairwells on timers -- depending on the size of the office, this can make a big difference. You could even form a little club or something to support the effort.
posted by Eringatang at 11:00 AM on October 2, 2006

As to the pollution created by jet flights: bear in mind that air travel is mass transit. There are more people being moved by a plane than by a private car. So divide that pollution number by however many people were on the flight.
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:31 PM on October 2, 2006

Do your dishes by hand for an even bigger savings...

Actually, this is not necessarily true. It depends on the kind of dishwasher you have or how you handwash your dishes. There was an interesting article in Wired this month on the amount of energy, water, and raw materials that go into the products you use. The article contains the following figures:

By hand (water running): 5,974 gallons of water a year, 1,243 kwh a year

By hand (two-basin sink, water not on): 1,419 gallons of water a year, 295 kwh

Standard dishwasher: 1,563 gallons of water a year, 334 kwh

High-efficiency dishwasher: 868 gallons of water a year, 276 kwh

Standard dishwasher (rinse first): 3,473 gallons of water a year, 735 kwh

High-efficiency dishwater (rinse first): 2,778 gallons of water a year, 677 kwh

The paper cup vs. styrofoam cup vs. ceramic mug was interesting.
posted by lunalaguna at 5:20 PM on October 2, 2006

Actually, this is not necessarily true. It depends on the kind of dishwasher you have or how you handwash your dishes.

Yeah, I read that in the other thread, and I was going to post a retraction, but I never got around to it.
posted by gregschoen at 8:54 PM on October 2, 2006

Lobstermitten: That is just my pollution, not the entire plane's pollution. This is for six flights, three international.
posted by Eringatang at 12:19 PM on October 3, 2006

Response by poster: Thank you all - some really awesome ideas here!
No room to garden (very little light in my place)..
I've replaced several light bulbs with the compacts & am going to definitely try volunteer time and reduce my meat. I don't really eat it anyway so I'll probably just stop buying it - solves a consumer problem too.
posted by teststrip at 2:31 PM on October 3, 2006

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