There's a lot of online chatter about sustainability, but how do you know what's legitimate and what's "greenwashing?" Join the conversation here and share your expertise.
Old Man Winter may not officially arrive until December 21, but that doesn’t mean that his telltale chill isn’t felt in many parts of the country well before then. And according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, this winter will be a rough one, with above average snowfall and below average temperatures, for much of the United States. So how do you stay warm while going easy on your wallet and the planet? Follow these simple tips:
- Schedule a Home Energy Audit – If you don’t know where you’re losing heat from your home, it’s hard to completely prevent that loss. That’s where a home energy audit comes in. An energy auditor will conduct a room-by-room examination of your home, looking for leaks and other areas of energy loss, and will provide recommendations for fixing energy issues and making your home more efficient. Many utility companies will provide these audits as a service to their customers, so check with yours to see if you can save even more money by getting this audit for free.
- Open Your Curtains – Windows can be the source of great energy loss in any room, but they can also help you naturally warm your home with the sun’s rays during the day. Open the blinds and curtains for any south-facing windows in your home during the day, and then close them at night to keep the chill outside where it belongs.
- Install a Programmable Thermostat –You can conserve energy and save around 10% each year on heating and cooling costs by turning your thermostat back while you’re out of the house for the day. The easiest, and most comfortable, way to achieve these savings is to install a programmable thermostat. Models are available in a variety of price ranges to suit every budget, and make saving energy a “set it and forget it” snap.
- Reduce Fireplace Heat Loss – Cozying up to the fireplace on a cold winter day can be a great way to stay warm – and create warm memories. If not used and maintained properly, though, a fireplace can rob your home of valuable energy. Remember to always keep your fireplace’s damper closed unless there is a fire burning. Leaving it open is the equivalent of leaving a window wide open. If you have a fireplace that you never use, plug and seal the flue, which will help ensure moisture doesn’t get in and heat doesn’t escape.
Thanksgiving and its accompanying expressions of gratitude are just around the corner. So why not show your thanks for the natural world and its resources by taking a few steps to make this year’s celebration a little greener? And not to worry, these green Thanksgiving tweaks aren’t going to stress your already tight schedule – some will even save you time.
- Less is more. According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 45 million turkeys are consumed on Thanksgiving alone. Add to that all of the stuffing, casseroles, veggies and desserts made for each celebration, and you have quite the potential for food waste. Do the planet – and your waistline – some good by scaling back on the number of dishes you serve or the amount you prepare of each. If you have hosted the same group before, think about what wasn’t a hit the last time around and start your menu modifications there. Also, try using smaller plates to encourage guests to take smaller portions.
- Decorate differently. When it comes to Thanksgiving décor, DIY can easily trump mass produced decorations, both in simplicity and sustainability. For materials such as branches, pinecones and colorful autumn leaves, a walk around your backyard or neighborhood is likely all it will take to find enough materials to make stunning table settings and centerpieces. Gourds can easily be purchased at a local supermarket or farmers market, and can add a festive touch to your home. Since the materials are biodegradable, this is a low-waste approach that’s easy on the wallet and saves on shopping time too.
- Talking turkey. The absolute greenest option for your Thanksgiving turkey is an organic bird raised on a local farm, but there are plenty of other ways to have a green gobbler on your table. Turkeys labeled as “heritage” or “natural” can also be great options for greening the star of your Thanksgiving meal. Just be sure that you understand what the different terms on the label mean before you head to your local grocery store or farmers market. You can read all about turkey label terminology here. And don’t forget, replacing the turkey with a vegetarian alternative is also a great green option for the holiday.
How do you green your Thanksgiving?
When it comes to laws and regulations governing many different types of things, the United States is a patchwork of ordinances with varying degrees of requirements and toughness. As there is no federal law that mandates it, recycling is among these things. While some state, county and city governments choose not to regulate recycling, there are plenty of governments that do just the opposite. Here are a few of the most stringent recycling regulations in the nation:
San Francisco – With some of the leading environmental laws in the nation, it likely comes as little surprise that San Francisco is a leader when it comes to recycling too. In fact, the city’s current zero waste recycling law, which was enacted in 2009, is often referred to as the strictest recycling law in the nation. After the city met the state-mandated landfill diversion of 50 percent by 2000, city officials decided to aim higher and set a goal of 75 percent diversion by 2010 and, even more impressively, zero waste by 2020. The result? The city now diverts 80 percent of waste from landfills. The program relies heavily on simple sorting into color coded containers, educational outreach to citizens, wide acceptance of a variety of materials – including food scraps – and enforcement of the policies in place. Fines are even an option for offenders who don’t change their recycling behavior after warnings from the city.
Seattle – Not to be outdone by their California counterparts, the City of Seattle maintains their own strict set of recycling regulations for residents and businesses. Since 2005, residential customers have been required to recycle plastic, glass, aluminum and tin, resulting in 71 percent of total residential waste being recycled. For Seattle businesses, it is mandatory to recycle cardboard and paper, but that list of required recyclables could soon grow longer. A Seattle councilwoman recently introduced legislation that would require businesses to recycle the same materials that residents do. If passed, the law would take effect in July 2014, and it’s estimated that it could prevent 6,000 tons of recyclables per year from ending up in landfills.
Pittsburgh – Although Pittsburgh might not be the first place you would think of as eco-friendly, the city has recently undergone a green renaissance. That’s why it’s not surprising that the city has recycling laws that are as tough as its nickname of The Steel City. Every Pittsburgh resident, institution and business is required to participate in curbside recycling programs. Like San Francisco, the City of Pittsburgh will even fine recycling law offenders after multiple infractions. The state recently toughened these laws by refusing to accept electronic equipment for curbside waste pick up, so Pittsburgh residential and commercial customers must now also participate in electronic recycling.
For many of us, when we think of recycling, we think of the weekly practice of hauling recycling bins to the curb for pick up or driving a few miles to a local drop off. As recycling becomes more common, accepted and even enforced, this is the reality for many Americans, but for those living in rural locales, recycling isn’t nearly this easy or convenient.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 14 percent of all Americans lack access to recycling facilities, and it is believed that rural populations make up the vast majority of that number. In a largely rural state like Mississippi, an estimated 50 percent of citizens have no recycling access. This means that curbside programs are not an option and recycling drop off centers for even the most basic materials often require a 100-mile, or longer, drive.
Throughout the nation, curbside pick up programs have proven to be more effective than drop off centers for recycling because they are simply more convenient for participants. However, in rural communities, curbside programs can also face challenges. For example, if enough households don’t sign up for the service and they’re separated by long distances, the program can easily become cost prohibitive and have to fold, once again leaving rural citizens without recycling access.
Rural recycling sounds like a difficult prospect, and often can be, but rural communities throughout the nation have also realized success with recycling programs. Improving access to recycling facilities is the best option for recycling success, but rural government and waste management officials have found success with education and awareness too.
As rural unemployment rates are often higher than in urban or suburban areas, some communities have found success by helping residents connect the dots between recycling and job creation. Recycling generates more jobs than landfills do because the materials are used over and over, rather than being dumped just once. So called “pay as you throw” programs, which discourage throwing recyclables in the trash by charging for waste pick up by volume, have also proven effective in some rural areas by making people more mindful of what they throw away.
Do you live in a rural area? What recycling options are available to you
When it comes to sustainability certifications, it’s a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms out there. So, how do you make sense of what they all mean and where they came from? Here’s a quick primer on some of today’s most common green certifications:
FSC Certified – Found on a number of paper products, including many made by Boise, this certification is from the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), which promotes sustainable forestry practices in more than 80 countries worldwide. The organization offers a Forest Management Certification and a Chain-of-Custody certification, both of which indicate to consumers that a product has been sourced in an environmentally sound and economically viable manner.
SFI Certified – The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) offers a certification program that promotes responsible forestry management. The largest such program of its kind by area of forests covered, all SFI certifications undergo a rigorous independent third-party audit before being approved. To help further educate consumers and help them make wise purchasing decisions, SFI labels identify both certified sourcing and chain-of-custody claims.
Energy Star – Perhaps one of the most recognized and popular green certifications today, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program started as a way to make computers more energy efficient. The program has come a long way since 1992 and now covers more than 50 product categories. Energy Star labels show which products use less energy than their counterparts in a given category, helping consumers and businesses make more energy-efficient purchasing decisions.
LEED – You might see LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, plaques on the outside of buildings or read about the certification as a feature in a new high rise condo development. This program from the U.S. Green Building Council seeks to change the built environment here in the U.S. and abroad by promoting structures that are more sustainable and efficient. Commercial and residential buildings are rated in a range of categories that indicate how environmentally-friendly, occupant-friendly and community-friendly those structures are.