Walk A Mile In My Carbon Footprint

Posted Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 at 11:24 am

Want to score some green stuff?  Then enroll in the life-changing, six-week program organized by the kind and knowledgeable folks at Sustainable WorksThe Green Living Workshop covers in detail the seven major concepts in living a sustainable lifestyle: Water, Energy, Waste, Chemicals, Transportation, Shopping and Food.

After all, we all need a planet to plant on.

This program is free for Santa Monica residents, though a 25$ donation is gladly accepted.  For LA residents it’s $50.

On the first day of class, you’ll get the WorksBook, a comprehensive primer, almost 300 pages long, filled with information, resources, and support tools for greening your life.  If you go to every class, you’ll be rewarded with a swag bag full of goodies that will help you put solutions into practice.

Lucky for you there is still space in the upcoming March Workshops. If you can’t make the workshop, be sure and check out their blog which is updated with the latest information.

Looking back, I was more ego than eco when I first began the class.  I thought that I was already pretty environmentally aware: I recycle, shop at a co-op, belong to a CSA, carry canvas bags, and can’t remember the last time I bought a plastic water bottle. Yet, after taking the quiz on ecofoot.org and discovering that if everyone lived like me, it would take 4.6 earths to sustain my lifestyle,  I realized that there were tons more changes I could make.  There were so many everyday choices  I wasn’t even thinking about.

It was powerful to have all of the issues put on the table in a organized fashion.  Usually I’m just getting bits and pieces from random news articles.  The Green Living Workshop left me with comprehensive knowledge of the environmental issues we face.  And as we all know, it ain’t pretty.

That’s why I so appreciated their practical solutions on how to take responsibility for the way we treat our Earth.

I’ve compiled a list of the easy, small changes I made so you can walk a mile in my carbon footprint.

Water

Even with the recent rainstorms, California is still in the throes of a devastating, three-year drought.  1/3 of the energy consumed in California, and billions of dollars in our very stressed budget, is used just to move water around the state!

- Install low-flow aerators on your kitchen and bathroom faucets to greatly reduce water flow.  These cost about a buck at any local hardware store and will save thousands of gallons of water annually.

- Eat lower on the food chain. One pound of beef takes 2,464 gallons of water to raise!  In comparison, 1 pound of chicken needs 660 gallons and 1 pound of lettuce, 24 gallons.  You get the picture.

- Go to bewaterwise.com to find out all the tips you need on how to preserve our water supply.

Here is a great article by Andy Lipkis, founder of  TreePeople, on his project to retrofit Los Angeles with a system to collect and use rainwater.  This would create thousands of green collar jobs, save billions of dollars and make a significant environmental impact.

Energy

Most of our electricity is powered by coal.  Coal is cheap – which means we’re destroying our planet for just pennies on the dollar!  Not such a good bargain.  Coal-fired plants are the largest emitter of carbon-dioxide, the primary global warming gas.  The waste from coal is put into unlined pools, which go directly into the ground, poisoning the soil and water.  Outrageously, 75% of coal waste dumps are not regulated by the EPA!

To support our need for cheap non-renewable energy, coal companies actually blast the tops of off entire mountains, mine the coal, and then dump all the waste into neighboring valleys.  Mountaintop Removal is devastating the Appalachian Mountains, creating increased flooding and polluting drinking water for millions of Americans. In 2000, more than 300 million gallons of toxic coal sludge went into river tributaries, causing what the EPA called, “The biggest environmental disaster ever east of the Mississippi.”  Visit ilovethemountains.org for more info and to find out how to get involved.

Here’s Steven Colbert’s take on this absolutely hilarious practice:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Coal Comfort – Margaret Palmer
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Skate Expectations


What you can do:

- Replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs).  They use 1/4 of the energy and last 10 X longer.  Each bulb will save 1500 lbs of carbon dioxide from being emitted into the atmosphere over a lifetime.  The technology has evolved so that they now emit a soft white light. Try these.


- Buy a Smart Strip.  These are amazing!  An energy strip that automatically turns appliances off completely when not in use, while allowing you to maintain power in the stuff that can’t be turned off (like the TiVo).  Saves tons of money on the electric bill.


- Purchase Green Power from LADWP.  LA Country residents have the option of purchasing renewable energy from LADWP. For a small premium—currently, three cents per kilowatt hour—you can support small energy companies working toward a cleaner environment, and a greener Los Angeles. Click here to learn more about Green Power.

- If you’re hot, open the window.   If you’re cold, put on a sweater.

- Shut down your computer at night.

- Turn off the lights!

Waste

The U.S. has 5% of world’s population, yet we create a whopping 30% of the world’s waste.  That’s gross.

- Compost!  If you put food scraps in the garbage, they turn into toxic methane gas.  If you compost them, they feed the soil and replenish the Earth.  I got a cute lil compost bin and some Biobags, and now separate all my compostable food.  Some of it I feed to my worms, but they can only eat so much.  The rest, I put in the city green bins.  If you want to start your own bin, go to www.smartgardening.com to find out how you can get one real cheap.

- Start a worm bin!

- Paper of plastic?  One of life’s most persistent questions.  Here’s the answer, “Neither.  I brought my own bag, dude.”  Americans use 100 million bags every year.  Plastic bags will probably take about a millennium to decompose.  Paper’s not much better.  According to the EPA, they generate 70% more air pollutants and 50% more water pollutants than plastic bags.  Here is one of my favorite accessories.

- Recycle – duh.

- Use Freecylcle.org to give away stuff you don’t want instead of letting it end up in a landfill.  I actually had 8 responses from people who wanted the stuffing from my old pillows!

- Replace paper towels with a bin of rags

- Create a Household Hazardous waste bin and dispose of them at the LA hazardous waste Center www.888cleanla.com

- Eliminate Junk Mail.  This is a big one for me. It drives me insane to get postmarked garbage in my mailbox.  Uuugh.  I signed up with Precycle http://precycle.tonic.com/.  However, you can take yourself off the Direct Mail list (www.dmachoice.org) and http://www.catalogchoice.org/ to stop catalogs coming to your door.  100 million trees are destroyed each year so that you have something to feed your shredder.  Stop the madness.

Chemicals

This was the most eye-opening class for me. I was shocked to learn that the EU has banned 11,000 chemicals while the US has only banned 10! When I stopped to think about how many chemicals I use every day, especially in beauty products like shampoo and hair dye, I felt like Meryl Streep in Silkwood.

- If you dye your hair, use a vegetable based dye.  Aubrey Organics makes a good product.

- Switch to natural deodorant.  This took a bit of experimentation on my part.  Luckily I have an understanding husband! This works well for me.

- Consult Skindeep.org to see just how toxic the crap they’re selling really is.  This is an amazing resource I’ve been visiting on an almost daily basis.

- Recycle your Teflon pans and never look back.  Teflon is bioaccumulative in your body.  In other words, you ain’t gettin’ rid of it.  Invest in good quality, long lasting cookware.  Enameled coated cast iron, plain cast iron or stainless steel are your best bet.  You deserve it!

- Start using Baking Soda and White Vinegar to clean just about everything. Mix them together into a white paste, and the reaction is powerful.  It got the worst gunk off my stove top and my pans – without any chemical usage. I even unclogged my shower drain using just these two wonder ingredients.  My jug of Drano is scheduled to be taken to the Hazardous Waste Dump!


- There are all kinds of resources on how to make your own cleaning concoctions.  Here is one of them. http://greenlivingideas.com/topics/eco-home-living/housecleaning/natural-cleaning-recipes

- When gardening, go organic.  Seriously, Mother Earth has got it all figured out.

- When shopping, consider not buying toxic waste.

- Use a stainless steel water bottle to avoid BPAs in plastic bottles.  Also, there’s no need to contribute to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which is already twice the size of Texas.

Transportation

This is pretty obvious.  Don’t get in your car if you don’t have to.  Run, walk, bike, bus, carpool, wheelchair, pogo stick, barrel-roll, skip, slip n’ slide, roller skate, skateboard, and my personal favorite: telecommute.

This is a cool website that tells you the walkability of your ‘hood: http://www.walkscore.com

Shopping

- First ask yourself: um, is this really necessary?

- Buy second-hand.  If you need it, I guarantee you it has already been manufactured and discarded by someone, somewhere else.

- The main thing is to think about how a product was made, how you will use it, maintain it and get rid of it.  Be conscious and pay attention to labels.   When possible, buy products made with recycled materials.

- Boycott and let the companies you are boycotting know about it.

Food

- We all know the mantra.  Come on, and say it with me: Shop local, buy organic.

- Join a CSA!  There’s a list right here on the sidebar.

- Go to localharvest.org to find your nearest farmer’s market.

- GMO’s – hell no!

- Buy fish approved by the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  They even have an iPhone app which comes in real handy!

- Buy from local dairies that humanely raise their cows.  This is an incredible resource.

Please take note that Horizon, the milk with the “happy cow” on the carton got a big fat ZERO rating on a scale from 1-5.  Other dairies to avoid: Trader Joe’s, Alta Dena, Good Heart Organics.

Phew!  That was a lot.  Yet, these are just a smattering of the hundreds of suggestions in the Sustainable Works Workbook.   If everyone of us even implemented just one of these solutions, it would make a huge impact.  Small shifts make a big difference.

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3 Comments

  1. Eleanor

    Hey Evanne – Thanks for all the great resources. I just took the footprint test. There would need to be 2.3 Earths if everyone lived like I did (I took the one for Switzerland) and the average Swiss person needs 2.4 Earths. Some slam dunks were: We have no clothes dryer, like most Euros we dry everything on the line, We have no car and walk or bike everywhere, and when we do use a car,we use the fabulous car-sharing scheme that we have here in Munich. Also all of the heating in our building comes from natural gas, and for the rest of our power needs we use a company that uses 100% renewable energy generated in Europe (some of it locally in Munich – solar panels on schools, river power, kind of cool). Lastly, as you may know, as of 2010 you CAN’T buy the old type of light bulbs in the EU – you have to get the Energy efficient kind. They aren’t too bad…but take some getting used to (when you flip the light on they take 10 seconds to go from dim to fully bright)

    Now, before I start breaking my arm patting myself on the back, here is what jacked my score back up: Jetsetting! I easily fly 50 hours a year going from Europe to Cali (and other places) 2-3 times a year (maybe with the wedding-mania coming to a close that will wind down) the second: not unplugging appliances when they’re out of use – time to get a smart strip.

    On a related note: Armin just called our power company to come install these new devices they have that go on your power meter that you can somehow use with a Google widget to monitor your power consumption real time. So every time you turn a light on or off, you can see it jump on a graph. However, I think the main motivation on his part was the geekery involved more than any eco-concern! Hey, whatever works.

    Sorry this comment is so long. This stuff is just so fascinating – and the bit about the chemicals…I’ve gotta say again, so glad I got my Euro green card (no pun intended.)

  2. Evangeline

    Eleanor,
    Wow – what an informative comment! Thanks. Once again, it has been proven that Europe is setting the standard for sustainability. We are really behind the ball when it comes to government mandates for reducing energy – which is what needs to be done for real change. This class was a huge eye-opener for me.
    I am amazed that no one in Germany uses clothes dryers. I’ve been hanging my clothes up on a line in our building, and I always feel slightly subversive. Like I’m in some kind of strange neo-ludite cult or something. Then after I get over that, I pat myself on the back for saving all that energy. I had no idea that in Europe, this is par for the course. Once you’ve done it a few times, you realize how ridiculous dryers are -especially in So. Cal when clothes can dry in just a few hours! Also didn’t know about the ban on the old type of bulbs. That make so much sense. I wish the same thing would happen here. Maybe then we wouldn’t be blowing the tops of the Appalachian Mountains! Did you read about that? Jetsetting is the real killer, in more ways then one. I go back and forth from here to New York a couple times a year and that threw my score off big time. Not sure how to get around that. I have heard of the Google widget – and it looks like they are firing it up here in the states, so to speak. http://www.google.com/powermeter I’ll look into options for apartment renters. What an adorable pastime Armin has developed!

  3. Sally

    Hi there! I just wanted to say that this entry was incredibly informative! The workshop sounds amazing, but you did a great job of getting across a lot of really helpful points in text. Thanks so much, especially for the links to the dairy ratings!



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