Whether you’re concerned about global warming, your health or your children’s future, living more lightly on the planet shouldn’t mean blowing your budget on organic cotton jeans. Eliminating the waste should actually save you money. Here are cost-conscious tactics to go green without breaking the bank.
Review Your Commute
On average, we drive 12 miles to work every day, and the vast majority of us do this alone. What’s the harm? Every gallon of gas consumed emits just over 25 pounds of heat-trapping pollutants (not to mention sulfur dioxide and other unhealthy elements in smog), making transportation the next biggest planet warmer after energy production. And appallingly, only 12% of the energy from gas actually is used to move a car forward, the rest is lost to idling and other inefficiencies.
Stop idling—whether you’re at a long light or waiting for someone, idling is a waste of gas. Turning the engine on and off the engine is an easy way to save gas. Take it a step further and ask your child’s school to put up “No Idling” signs to prevent children from being exposed to exhaust pipe emissions. You can get more information and download signs at Airwatch Northwest.
Carpool, take the bus or ride a bike—76 percent of Americans drive to work alone, so there should be plenty of opportunities to arrange for carpooling. If you can’t join a carpool at work, there are many sites working to connect riders, such as erideshare.com and swifcommute.com.
Lighten Your Meals
Yes, a vegan diet has a much lighter impact, but that may not be an option. Simply switching from red meat to poultry twice a week will both lower your cholesterol intake, save a little cash and cut your annual greenhouse gas output by about a ton.
Eat locally grown, organic vegetables and fruit—you’ll help reduce pesticide and fertilizer runoff in nearby waterways and improve your nutrition. For the amounts you should eat based on age, sex and physical activity, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For farmer’s markets and organic farms near you, visit Local Harvest.
Be mindful about fish—fish populations worldwide are shrinking and many species such as tuna, shark and swordfish are heavily contaminated with mercury. Get the benefits of eating fish while avoiding risks to your health or the species by using the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector.
Improve Your Home
Half of all America’s electricity is produced by burning coal, which not only releases carbon dioxide and smog pollutants but also brain-damaging mercury that ends up in our waterways and the fish we eat. Reduce your energy use without lowering your standard of living.
Turn your thermostat down by 2 degrees in the winter and up 2 degrees in the summer—on average this will save you $51 year. Install a programmable thermostat to make it automatic and you can also set it to dial down your heat further when you’re asleep and at work for even greater savings. See EPA’s Energy Star site for a guide to programmable thermostats.
Set your water heater at 120 degrees F.—this will prevent scalds, reduce energy consumption and save you $10 to $30 annually.
Wash at least two loads of clothes in cold water and line dry half of your laundry—not only is this easier on your clothes, but the energy saved can trim your utility bill by $40 or more per year.
Conduct a home energy audit—perhaps the best $400 you’ll ever spend is on getting a professional energy audit of your home. Home energy raters will check the efficiency of your furnace and find where you are losing heat and how much. The rater will provide recommendations for adding insulation, sealing your home and other improvements and help you find a contractor if need be. To find out how much you might save, fill out the Home Energy Saver questionnaire provided by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. For certified raters and contractors, see the Building Performance Institute and the Residential Energy Services Network.
For more energy savings calculations, see the household savings calculators at NRDC’s Simple Steps.