How big is YOUR carbon footprint?

carbon ftprntUntil a few years ago, the term “carbon footprint” was absolutely foreign to me.  In all honesty, I had no real sense of what it meant… just a very vague understanding that it had something to do with global warming and climate change.

If you still don’t have a true sense of what it means, here’s a quick and simple definition:

Carbon Footprint – the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by your daily activities and use of material goods.  Used to determine your personal participation in global warming.

Eww.  That makes it sound so villainous!… my “participation in global warming”…

So, have you ever wondered about your footprint?  I’ve ALWAYS wondered.  The Global Footprint Network has a fun little calculator (if discovering how horribly we’re impacting our planet can actually be fun!) and it probably told me more than I wanted to know.  Answering some basic questions about my daily lifestyle alerted me to the fact that if everyone lived like me, it would take 3.5 planets to provide enough resources to support us. Ouch.  Although it doesn’t tell you how you rank, I’m sure I’m below average, but still… ouch!

There is also a great calculator for kids at Zero Footprint.  My kids scored fantastic, and far below average, so at least I’m doing something right!

Well, come’on!  How did you fare?… Baby footprint?  Gargantuan footprint?  Take the quiz, and fess-up… if you dare…

The light goes out on incandescents… hello CFLs & LEDs!

incand bulbThe lights ARE going out on incandescents… would Thomas Edison be sad?  Maybe, because lightbulbs haven’t changed much since he invented them(!) but now his invention is being banned in the European Union as of September 1.  The US will follow, with a phase out beginning in 2012 and complete elimination by 2014.

Can you imagine the energy savings and the reduction in carbon emissions?  Good news for the environment!

CFLs are currently the best option available for those who want to make the switch.  And surely you’ve heard about the mercury they contain and this makes some consumers a little uneasy.  But did you also know that today they actually contain 20% less than mercury than those manufactured two years ago?  Yep, it’s true!  The amount contained would actually fit on half the head of a pin!  (Old mercury thermometers contained 150-500 percent more!) And since most of it becomes bound to the inside of the bulb as it’s used, the dangers aren’t as great as it appears.  Just don’t break it!

I, in fact, just had my first CFL burnout.  It certainly didn’t last six years, but I’m sure it reached its “hour” maximum!  It’s now sealed in a container and awaiting drop off at Home Depot.  You might remember that they accept CFLs for proper disposal and that is key.  Landfills are the last place CFLs belong because of the mercury, so please, please be sure they are properly disposed.

Now might also be a good time to remind you what to do if they (gasp!) DO break.  It sounds frightening, but there are some simple guidelines to follow:CFL blb

  • Open a window, and walk away for 15 minutes.
  • Put on disposable gloves.
  • Sweep up the remnants with an old rag or a stiff paper and put everything in a sealable container, preferably glass.
  • Wipe down and thoroughly clean the entire area.
  • Drop all of these materials (in the sealed container) at a Home Depot or hazardous waste site.

Yes, it sounds like a bit much, but better to err on the side of caution… or better yet, just take precautions so it doesn’t get broken!  (This makes me think back to an incident in elementary school, when my friend dropped an old mercury thermometer. We didn’t touch it and I really don’t remember the teacher having a major freak-out, but maybe she should have!  I certainly don’t remember a hazmat team on site either… boy, have times changed! And maybe that’s why I’m a “half-bubble off level”!)

CFLs aren’t the permanent solution either. On the horizon?  LEDs… light emitting diodes, if you didn’t know!  They’re already being introduced in Japan and are even more energy efficient, so eventually the “mercury-factor“ won’t be a factor at all.

In the meanwhile, switch a bulb… take precautions and care… dispose of them properly… and thank Mr. Edison, but it’s time to move on…

“Happy (and green) trails to you” in your travels…

When we were planning for our recent vacation I knew there was a lot more to consider than just being green once we arrivedhighway-traff-2 at our destination.  Obviously we had to get “from here to there” first.

Our greenest travel options would have been to travel by train or rent a hybrid, but definitely not by plane, since the emissions from airplanes are astronomical and have a tremendous effect on global warming!  In fact, a one-way flight from New York to Denver produces as much carbon dioxide per passenger as an SUV produces in a month!  But since we were driving our own car, we had it maintenanced before our trip (including proper inflation of the tires) and used the cruise to assure maximum fuel efficiency.

While we planned our driving route, we not only considered the trip that was the shortest, but also with the least likelihood of “stop and go” traffic because this only burns huge amounts of fuel (much more than steady driving for a longer distance) and again creates more emissions.  (We mistakenly challenged this thinking on our way home and paid the price in both time and fuel consumption!)

On our way to vacation, we also needed to spend one overnight in a hotel during our travels.  It’s not always easy to locate and select a green hotel when you’re in a remote area of the country, but there are ways to make your stay a little greener.hotel-room

  • Although it was only an overnighter, had we stayed longer we would have chosen to keep and reuse our towels and sheets more than once.  More and more hotels are offering this option and it certainly saves the energy required to do the washing.
  • Also, use your same “at home” rules about turning off lights and TVs, reasonable AC temperatures and the length of your showers.  Being away from home shouldn’t be a license to overuse.
  • And if you find yourself with recyclables but the hotel doesn’t recycle, take them with you and be sure to find a place where they can be recycled instead of having them become trash.

No matter where you go, how you go or where you stay along the way, choose to “follow the greener brick road” to your destination!

The Prince’s Rainforests Project: a royal cause

First of all, this has absolutely nothing to do with “Purple Rain”(!), but everything to do with saving cherished tropical rainforests!

The Prince’s Rainforests Project (as in Charles, Prince of Wales) was started in 2007, but is being given a big push by the release of this new PSA. If it takes royalty and celebrities to get a cause noticed, I don’t care… I’m all for it, as long as the cause DOES get noticed and positive steps are made.  I think this will appeal to kids too… take a look.

The mission of this project is to create public awareness, work with governments, businesses and non-profit organizations to find a solution for deforestation, and find sources for funding.  This global effort is aimed at getting top level support from nations around the world.

Saving these tropical rainforests is so critical because they absorb about a fifth of all man-made CO2 emissions, and we all know how CO2 affects climate change.  In fact, these forests are often burned down, which releases all of the CO2 they have stored back into the atmosphere, as if they had never existed.  And this doesn’t even consider the fate of the animals that call these forests home.

So check out The Prince’s Rainforests Project, sign-up to have your voice heard, find new ways to help and spread the word.  Stand up and say you want this preventable disaster to stop.

And when you take a look at The Prince’s Rainforests Project site, be sure to watch the counter at the top of the page.  In the time I spent reading one page on the site… 445,129 square meters of rainforest were destroyed.  How horribly sad.

The “green power” of power strips.

Before my pursuit of green, I was a serious offender… I was one of those people who used to leave the charger for my cell phone plugged in AT ALL TIMES!

powerstrip-2I’ve since learned the err of my ways.  The Department of Energy estimates that 20-25% of the energy used in our homes is actually consumed by electronics that are in stand-by mode or even “turned off”.  Just because it’s not actively being used DOESN’T mean we aren’t using electricity… they still pull and consume energy if they are plugged into an outlet.  They also estimate that this collectively costs us $7 billion per year and would require 37 power plants to produce this volume of “unused” electricity!  And this energy waste amounts to approximately 97 billion pounds of CO2 emitted into our atmosphere… a major environmental offense!

The best way to avoid this useless consumption of energy is by plugging the worst household offenders into a power strip.  Simple as that.  I’m talking about computers, printers, scanners, monitors, TVs, DVD/VCR players, TiVos and DVRs, game systems, chargers, stereos (are those “so ’90s” now?!?!) and just any of those electronics and large appliances that don’t need a constant power supply.  In fact, up to 75% of the energy they pull is actually consumed when they aren’t being actively used!computer-system

I have also learned that while small household appliances do pull a very small amount of electricity if they have a clock or power indicator, they aren’t the major culprits, so you don’t need to get neurotic.  But if you do have a microwave, radios, clocks, etc. that you don’t often use, unplug them.  Even consider unplugging your electric washer and dryer. And when you do need them, just plug them back in.

With power strips, a flick of one switch can often nearly eliminate this “phantom” power use.  Even if you only plugged in your TV and all of its associated systems, it could save about 2% on your energy bill, since the power strip reduces approximately 15 watts of power down to two watts! And if you want to make it zero, flip the switch and just unplug the power strip!

So, “strip” those bad boys, flip the switch, unplug it and cut the waste.  (Some days I wish my kids were on a power strip so I could unplug their energy too!)