Friday, June 27, 2008

Things we've done to green our lives, or "What can I do right now to go green??"

Our family is committed to greening itself, one day at a time, and one step at a time. As we learn, we adopt and are in the process of changing. I have three kids (ages 4, 7 and 9), so there are limits to the inconveniences that we can tolerate. When we began this commitment, I was under the impression that everything we did to become green would necessarily involve inconvenience and sacrifice.
I was wrong.
In fact, many of the items involved little or no sacrifice, and less cost than I anticipated. Here is a list of activities that we've been able to do over the past two years to help green our household a little bit. Have a look and see if there are any ideas that you can do. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to add them. We are always looking for more affordable ideas.

  • Turned down the hot water heater. From near boiling to just very warm.
  • Replaced incandescent lightbulbs with compact flourescents
  • Installed a clothesline, and we are using it regularly, as weather permits
  • Ride the old moped or bike to work, as weather and responsibilities permit
  • Moderating my driving habbits, consolidating trips
  • Turned down the heat in the winter, and turned up the air conditioning in the summer.
  • Switch to recycled toilet paper and paper towels
  • Patronizing the local farmer's market (its very small here, but we want to support it).
  • Cancelled delivery of our local newspaper, choosing instead to subscribe to the online edition. This saves the environmental costs of the paper and recycling chore, while keeping our house less cluttered and giving us faster access to the news.
  • Buy Rainforest Alliance Certified and organic coffee, in the hopes of encouraging sustainable and responsible coffee production.
  • We refuse to buy bottled water.
  • We can compost most of our food leftovers and coffee rinds, but its hard to do this in our harsh winters.
  • Finding locally produced products and substituting where possible. So far, we have our favorite local brands of maple syrup, eggs, butter, bread, milk and honey
  • Bought LED Christmas lights (and solar Christmas lights that work much better in Summer than in the winter's here) and retired the old Christmas lights.
  • A rabid recycling commitment, and reusing containers.
  • Committed to not buying a new car until we can get a plug-in hybrid
  • Am much more conscientious about turning off lights when not in use
  • Returned nearly 3/4 acre of our 2 acre yard back to nature. In its 3rd year, we are now enjoying a beautiful meadow with a diversity of native plants and grasses
  • Planted 5 trees, with plans for more. These were all transplanted volunteer trees that were growing wild on our property, or on friend's property.
  • Bought some nice indoor plants
  • Vacationing locally with the kids (except for our big trip to England planned for August. What can I say, my wife is British and we haven't been there for 4 years).
  • Planted a vegetable garden (not going very well... Oh well.)
  • Preferring organic food products when we go shopping
  • Trying to get more use out of the things that we have
  • Donating as much as possible to second-hand thrift stores for re-use
  • Added the wind-power option to our electric utility bill
  • Built a rain garden to hold water run off and replenish the local water table
  • Harvesting rainwater for use on our flowers
  • Mulching our flowerbeds using locally produced, unpackaged, free mulch offered by our county
  • Mulching grass, not bagging. Trying to go longer between mowing applications
  • Have cut way back on lawn maintenance, and am trying not to be too anal about the yard
  • Continue to read about new technologies and follow the blogs of thoughtleaders, such as
  • Have become vocal to my congress people on issues relating to alternative energy and environmental protection
  • Am trying to impart green values to my kids.
  • Learning that my green values are also Christian values
  • Shifted personal retirement account investments to favor alternative energy and socially responsible companies
  • We have joined organizations that are doing activities we support. If they're willing to do the heavy lifting, we think they should be supported. Nature Conservancy and Clean Water Action are two of many.
  • Upgraded our old appliances, and always look for the Energy Star label
  • Believe it or not, our new 42" LCD flatscreen TV uses about 1/3 less electricity than our old 32" tube TV. 250 watts vs 400 watts. Of course, no TV is best. But we havent been able to go cold turkey. We've opted out of cable TV (that was easy to do) but the kids still need a movie once in awhile on cold winter days, or when dad desperately needs a break.
  • Run the dishwasher at night to reduce electrical grid load. We set the dishwasher to "air dry" to reduce electrical use
  • Flushing the toilet only once a week (just kidding)

All told, we spend about $7 per month extra on wind electricity, and probably $8 a month extra on coffee, and maybe $2 per month extra on eggs. These costs have been mostly offset by cancelling the physical delivery of the newspaper. The recycled TP is about the same cost, if not cheaper, than the non-recycled stuff. The entire effort has really not added much expense at all to our expenses, and may in fact be saving us money. Dollar savings, while important to many people, is not our largest concern. We would do these things anyway out of our conscience.

So as you can see, there are many things that can be done right away to start greening your life, and it will probably even save you some green.

Our situation is that we are living in Minnesota on a 2 acre lot in a small county subdivision just outside of a city of about 40,000 people. So "country" to me means something different than "country" to someone living in, say, Chicago. Here, we can live in the country and still bike the 6 to 8 miles to work. We do, however, have many of the high carbon trappings that country life requires: the SUV (snow plow service is iffy in the winter), gas powered lawn tools (lawn tractor, hedge trimmer, weedwacker). There's no substitute for city apartment living to reduce your carbon foot print. For better or worse, this is our situation and we're going to do the best we can to reduce our energy usage.

Have fun, God Bless, and thanks for reading.

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