Want to green your home but don't know what to do, once you've changed your lightbulbs and bought reusable bags? Planet Green partner NRDC weighs in with tips you can incorporate into your home and lifestyle. They also remind us that speaking up with elected leaders is something we all have the power to do and that can have a direct impact on the economy: if you go and buy an efficient lightbulb for yourself, you're still contributing towards the solution, but by influencing political change, you're making all light bulbs better.
That said, change always starts at home. So, here are some great places to get started. Because, after all, energy efficiency is really just about being smarter, and a lot of that means improving our quality of life, not reducing it.
Some useful tools for consumers:
For appliances, look for the Energy Star label, which means the product is in the top 25 percent in its category in terms of efficiency. The label is issued by the EPA and is actually on the product—you can't miss it.
Look for energy rating systems: when you go to buy an air conditioner or refrigerator, there's a little yellow tag that says how much it will cost you to operate that appliance over the course of the year. It shows where on the spectrum that appliance is for efficiency, compared with others in its category.
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has a consumer guide for saving energy at home, and rates all kinds of appliances on energy efficiency. So you don't have to rely on advertising, you can go to an authoritative source. They also have quick energy-saving tips online.
Green-e.org certifies renewable power: if you want to buy your electricity from a wind farm rather than from coal, visit Green-e and just click on your state.
Carbon offsets: it's a completely unregulated market, but there is a voluntary reporting program called the California Climate Action Registry. They have something called the Climate Action Reserve, which certifies carbon offset products.
For general consumer goods, there's no certification program that people can rely on—so always ask questions when you're being sold something. Ask what certain terms mean, how the product compares to others of its kind, and what are other issues you might encounter with the product once you bring it home.
Ways to green your home:
Energy: go clean. You may not be able to install your own solar panels or even change suppliers (though if you can do either, go for that instead!), but the major energy companies usually offer an option to source your share of energy consumption from renewable sources. Check your bill or call your provider to learn all your options. (NRDC can help!)
Weatherize your home: regulating the temperature consumes up to 70 percent of the energy used in an average U.S. home. Good insulation will not only lighten your carbon footprint, but it can bring you some serious savings as well: up to 35 percent in heating and air conditioning costs. Hints: start with your windows and doors, sealing any drafts that are draining your heated or air-conditioned air (such drafts are often the equivalent of a 3-square-foot hole in the wall. Insulate your water heater—doesn't have to be fancy: wrapping it in a blanket will do. (Think of it as putting a hat on when you go out in the winter.) Also make sure the attic is properly insulated, especially in older homes.
Don't stop there—look for creative ways to save energy. Implement household-wide TV-free nights, for example, in addition to taking the obvious shorter (and not piping hot) shower, and shop around for products like power strips that will stop consuming energy when not in use (which a normal outlet does not do, however counterintuitive that sounds).
Around the house:
Consider a meadow for a backyard, instead of a lawn—it supports more diversity, helps the disappearing honeybee, and is much less harmful to the environment than lawns, which on average receive 3 to 9 tons of pesticides per acre (that's way more even than agriculture, where the average is 2.7 pounds). For natural fertilizer, start composting (you'll also reduce your trash output by a noticeably huge amount), or if you must use pesticides, try organic brands. The small things count too: stop killing your indoor spiders—just let them loose outside.
Buy recycled paper products—and any other products you can find made from recycled (not recyclable [ADD LINK]) materials.
Keep your home toxin-free.
Go organic when you're cleaning, and avoid flea collars and sprays for your pets. These products and corrosive cleaners all accumulate in the home (and your lungs).
In the car:
Well first, when possible, stop using it. Give the ol' bike a try, or bus or train it if you can. Otherwise, make sure to get an efficient car: throughout its lifetime, the average 40-mpg car will emit half the carbon dioxide that a 20-mpg car will. Need more convincing? It will also save about $3,000 in fuel costs.
Make sure your car is in tune and your tires inflated: a tune-up can make up to a 40 percent difference in efficiency, and over time, properly inflated tires will save you money at the gas pump.
On your plate:
Buy organic, buy local, and arguably most importantly, eat low on the food chain: avoid meat, dairy, and seafood, but if you're going to eat it, make sure what you're eating was produced or harvested as sustainably as possible.
...whenever possible. That can mean any or all of the following: shorter showers, investing in low-flow appliances, fixing any leaky faucets (all of these add up to sometimes hundreds of gallons a month), collecting rainwater for watering your lawn or plants (or whatever other purpose you might think of), and again, eating lower on the food chain. The less meat you eat, the less water will be consumed in producing your food.
Calling your elected officials really can make a difference—they count messages, and it's important to know what their constituents want. Check out NRDC's action center for campaigns you can join or for more information, green living tips, and action tools that can help you make a difference on your own. Join the push for elected officials to do right by the planet.