Colorful neighborhood lighting displays and glowing trees are a sign of the season. But all those twinkling lights can drive up energy demand and result in big home energy bills.
Viewer Tip: What's a decorator to do? Show your holiday spirit with LEDs (light-emitting diodes)! LEDs consume at least 75 percent less energy than traditional light bulbs and provide these great benefits:
Safe: LEDs emit less heat than traditional bulbs, reducing the risk of fire and burns.
Sturdy: LEDs are less likely to break because they are not made with glass.
Long-lasting: LEDs last up to 25 times longer than traditional bulbs - you could still be using the same LED string 40 years from now!
And of course, LEDs save money. They may cost a bit more at the time of purchase, but you won't have to replace them as often and you'll definitely see an impact on your energy bill. Check out these estimated cost comparisons from the U.S. Department of Energy:
Estimated cost of buying and operating lights over 10 holiday seasons (Lighting a six-foot tree, 12 hours per day for 40 days each season)
Add a timer to your holiday lighting display to save even more energy and money. Set the timer to turn lights on at nightfall and off during the day.
See more Earth-friendly tips at Earth Gauge.
(Source: U.S. Department of Energy. “Energy Savers: LED Lighting.” http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/led-lighting)
I recently attended a workshop funded by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment which caused a jump shift for me. It was held just south of Lawrence, Kansas, and hosted by the Douglas County Conservation District. The title-”Unlock the Secrets in the Soil” might have tipped me off, but I’ve been to lots of conferences with catchy titles and underwhelming information. This one was very different.
From the start the presenters and content were cutting edge and imprecise. Imprecise is the right word here because unlike a lot of farm workshops the information was not given in formulas. Our main presenter, farmer Gail Fuller of Emporia, gave us reasons why no-till, cover crops, and mob grazing were working for him.
He was making a case for biological or even ecological farming, but he didn’t and couldn’t tell the 150 farmers assembled how to do it on their farms. He simply told his story of evolution from growing commodity grains for a feedlot to growing nutritious food products and adding value to them.
As a baseline Fuller quoted the NRCS’s Ray Archuleta’s Four Keys to Healthy Soil, 1. Minimize disturbance 2. Maximize diversity 3. Maintain growing roots all year 4. Keep the soil covered. No-till farming and cover cropping green crops flow naturally as production techniques from the 4 rules. Fuller gave us lots of details about his short and bumpy five year road from one cover crop per year to green plants growing before, during and after every crop he grows. As an educator on the benefits of compost, I was thrilled to hear the need for a wide variety of plants which produce a wide variety of root exudates (underground sugary juices). We were told that the more plants types, the broader the variety of underground biota and the healthier the soil.
Gail showed us pictures of water quality tests that failed to collect runoff from his fields for three years. The researchers eventually quit coming out to check their run off collectors because they became convinced that water does run off of his fields! Fuller mentioned growing bumper crops of corn with 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre. (a very small amount) He’s now finding that his yields are similar when he uses no fertilizer at all. He’s not trying to be an organic farmer, he just doesn’t need fertilizer any more!
With the variety of cover crops he’s growing, it seems natural that Fuller has diversified the crops he grows for sale. He mentioned that he’s getting a premium for his grains from feedlots that are now doing nutritional testing and paying more for nutrient-dense feed. The ultimate value-added move in his farming is returning animals to the land. Beef, lamb and chicken raised on nutritious forage and moved quickly from paddock to paddock greatly increase the productivity of the land and lets the animals do the fertilizing themselves.
The second half of the workshop was a field tour of various cover crop plots. Keith Berns of Green Cover Seed.com reviewed each of the plots and discussed the advantages of the many varieties growing there. The most exciting part of this workshop was the support of mainstream agriculture for these once-radical ideas. I got the feeling that the genie was out of the bottle and that a rapid shift was occurring. While driving in Iowa recently I heard a story that claimed that in 2012 there were 5,000 acres of cover crops in the state and that in 2013 there were 300,000 acres. The mainline commercial farmer/renter of my father’s land has gone from no-till only (and lots of erosion) to planting winter rye as a cover crop the past two years. Farmers may not talk a lot but they’re watching closely. I believe there’s big change in the wind and it’s all good for our soil, water and health.
Full workshop report on Stan’s website.
Article on Gail Fuller in Midwest Producer magazine.
Keith Berns of Green Cover Seed.
Happy Thanksgiving! Whether you're traveling away from home or hosting the feast at your place, these tips will help you have a happy, healthy and environmentally-friendly holiday gathering.
AAA estimates that more than 43 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home during the Thanksgiving holiday. Ninety percent - nearly 39 million - will travel by car. Whether your destination is near or far, use these tips to travel safely, save gas and save money.
- Build an emergency kit. Increased traveling distance and unpredictable weather can result in hazardous driving conditions at this time of year. Make sure you car is equipped with a scraper, flashlight, blankets, cell phone, booster cables and emergency flares or cones. Have water and non-perishable food like energy or granola bars on hand, too. Click on the image to download.
- Check your tires.The right tire pressure can improve mileage by over three percent, saving 60-90 dollars per year for the average driver. Check the owner's manual for your vehicle to find the right pressure settings.
- Carpool. The average distance traveled over the Thanksgiving is about 600 miles. If nearby friends and family are going to the same place, travel together to save gas and reduce the number of cars on the road.
- Don't idle. If you stop to eat or stretch your legs, turn the car off. Idling for just two minutes uses the same amount of gas used to drive one mile!
- Pack lightly. Extra weight in the car or trunk decreases fuel efficiency.
The holiday season is a time for joyful gatherings of family and friends. But a house full of guests can also result in higher energy bills, increased water use and stressed septic systems. Use these tips to save energy, save water and save money.
- Resist the urge to peek. Opening the oven door to check on a culinary masterpiece can drop the oven temperature by up to 25 degrees, making your oven work harder and use more energy to stay warm. Use the light to check on food, instead.
- Give your furnace a break. Drop the temperature on the thermostat when heat isn't needed as much, such as when you are sleeping. Make is easy with a programmable thermostat.
- Save H2O. Prepping and cleaning up after a holiday meal can use a lot of water. Save a few gallons by thawing frozen foods in the refrigerator instead of using running tap water. Scrape dirty dishes before you put them in the dishwasher rather than rinsing to save even more.
- Don't overwhelm the system. For the 20 percent of Americans who use septic tanks for wastewater treatment, extra guests can overwhelm the system. Remind house guests not to use the drains and toilets as trash cans. And make sure your system is properly maintained to avoid backups and overflows - not only are theses costly for homeowners, but they can also contaminate well water and community drinking water supplies.
Sources: AAA. “Thanksgiving Travel Forecast: 43.4 Million Americans to Travel for Thanksgiving, A Slight Decline from Last Year.” http://newsroom.aaa.com; Ready.gov, “Build a Kit.” http://www.ready.gov/kit-storage-locations; FuelEconomy.gov, “Gas Mileage Tips,” http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/drive.shtml; Green Your. “Avoid Car Idling.” http://www.greenyour.com/transportation/car/car-driving/tips/avoid-car-idling) U.S Department of Energy. “Energy-Efficient Cooking for Winter.” http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/energy-efficient-cooking-winter; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “Winter Tips.” http://www.epa.gov/epahome/hi-winter.htm; Keehner, Denise M., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Wetlands Oceans and Watersheds. “Holidays can pose challenges for those with septic systems: Easy ways to keep your holidays smelling sweet.”)
What step(s) are you most proud of that your family has taken to reduce your environmental footprint? Perhaps you have made your own greywater system, for example, built a super-convenient recycling setup, or even switched to a cargo bicycle or a more fuel-efficient car. We are collecting short greener living reports for an article that will run in our upcoming April/May 2014 Earth Day issue.
Please send your ideas — and don’t forget the photos — to Letters@MotherEarthNews.com by Monday, Dec. 16. You can also leave your reports in the comments section at the bottom of this article. If published, you will be compensated $25, plus $25 for a photo.
America Recycles Day is November 15! When you hear the word recycle, you probably think of things like paper, plastic, aluminum and glass. But did you know that motor oil, electronics, batteries and tires can be recycled, too? Recycling common household materials reduces the amount of waste that ends up in our landfills. It also saves energy, protects natural resources, and provides materials for new products.
- Recycling two gallons of used oil can generate enough electricity to run the average household for almost 24 hours.
- Recycling one aluminum can saves the amount of energy needed to power a laptop computer for five hours or run a 60-watt CFL light bulb for 20 hours.
- Recycling one ton of paper saves up to 7,000 gallons of water. Recycled paper can be used to make masking tape, hospital gowns, coffee filters, lamp shades, eggs cartons and more.
- Many different metals are recovered during the cell phone recycling process – gold, silver, platinum, palladium, copper, tin and zinc – that can be used by jewelry, plating, electronics, automotive and other industries.
Viewer Tip: Before you toss a household item in the trash can, find out if it can be recycled. You may be surprised by some of the items that can be recycled – auto fluids, corks, computers, light bulbs and much more. Visit search.earth911.com to find out what you can recycle, how and where. Provide your city or zip code and the item that needs to be recycled to find a nearby recycling solution.
(Sources: Earth911, http://earth911.com/; America Recycles Day, www.americarecyclesday.org; EPA, “Basic Information About Used Oil,” http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/usedoil/oil.htm; EPA. “Environmental Benefits of Recycle on the Go,” http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/conserve/onthego/benefits/index.htm; EPA, “Wastes – Resource Conservation – Common Wastes & Materials – Paper Recycling,” http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/paper/faqs.htm; EPA, ” Wastes – Resource Conservation – Common Wastes & Materials – eCycling,” http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/ecycling/faq.htm)
When I was in grade school, I wanted nothing more than to have a cat. I begged and begged my parents. I watched all kinds of cat shows on Animal Planet to learn as much as I could about being a pet owner. Finally, my dad took me to get a cat. I was so happy I wore my ‘Cool Cat’ shirt and gladly hopped in the car as my dad drove us to his friend’s house.
After what seemed like forever, we arrived. There were several black and white kittens running around this man’s home and I couldn’t believe one of them was going to be mine! All of the kittens were very playful and friendly, but there was one that stayed with my dad and I even when all of her brothers and sisters went in the other room to play. That kitten was the one for me. I loved her immediately and we took her home to meet the rest of my family.
My parents named her ‘Trixy,’ after one of the characters in The Honeymooners. Over the course of time, she got used to her new home and found lots of ways to make all of us smile. She sat on the ledge of the bathtub whenever my sister took a bath and drank water from a yellow smiley face bucket. My sister got into a lot of sticky situations when she was a toddler and Trixy was her partner in crime.
Trixy loved Christmas time and enjoyed sleeping underneath the tree and playing with ornaments until they fell down. She would always come down to the kitchen when my mom was making turkey or roasted chicken…or when we shook the bag of her treats and asked if she wanted a ‘yummy.’
After a new arrival to our family, Luke the dog, moved in, Trixy was not too thrilled, but she still cuddled with us every night and purred when you rubbed her whiskers or pet under her chin. She was a happy cat who enjoyed making all of our nice furniture furry.
When I moved out on my own to my apartment, I was a little lonely at first. My parents suggested Trixy move in with me. Trixy became a beach kitty almost a year ago, in late December of 2012, at the age of 14.
Over the course of the last several months, Trixy and I became closer than we had ever been. We grew up together. She was one of my first hellos when I came home from college. I judged all of my boyfriends based on whether she liked them or not. That’s what happens when you have a pet since you were eight years old. I can’t imagine how different my life would’ve been growing up without her.
A lot of folks have strong opinions about cats, like them or dislike them, but I will always think of Trixy as one of my best friends. She was there for me when I was upset and would put her paw on my hand to show me that she knew I was sad. She would greet me at the door when I would come home from work. Trixy loved to cuddle and would often bite my laptop if it was on my lap instead of her. She begged for food like a dog and was particularly fond of my Sunday morning omelets. She was a constant source of support, always listening and never judging. She was someone to come home to and someone to take care of, which is important for a single girl living alone, especially when she helped me try to kill bugs.
I grew accustomed to having her around. I didn’t shut my bathroom door all the way at night so she could use her litter box if she needed, and I pulled my bed sheets down in the morning before work so she couldn’t sleep under them and get everything (even more) furry.
My friend passed away last week at the age of 15. I have thought a lot about our friendship since then, and through all of the tears and the heartbreak, I have found that having a pet makes us more human.
They challenge us to be as selfless and loyal as they are. They teach us responsibility when we are younger and the importance of trust. Our animals rely on us to feed them and take care of them and in return, they ask for a simple belly rub or to cuddle up on the couch. I think our connection to animals is strengthened by the fact that we don’t speak the same language. It makes us to get know one another on a deeper level and really understand their feelings. They do become part of your family, but in most cases, they are better than family because they tend to be more likeable. Our animals are a constant source of love and joy and make us laugh at any chance they get. I think if everyone acted a little bit more like their pets; the world would be a better place.
At night, I still don’t close my bathroom door all the way and I still pull my bed sheets down before work in the morning. I don’t think I will ever stop. It reminds me that although Trixy is not here, she will always be with me and she will always be a part of my life. I will always think of her as I strive to be a good person and to make a positive impact on the world. I hope anyone who has lost an animal – a cat, dog, horse, hamster, rabbit, fish or lizard – cherishes the time that was spent in their presence and tries to be a little more human every day.
Most of us can agree that taking care of the planet and becoming energy efficient are important practices, but when it comes to supporting green businesses, we tend to be led on by greenwashing marketing materials and our own biases. As consumers we tend to automatically assume large businesses are greedy and not environmentally friendly, but think every small brand with a green label is. The reality is that many companies that claim to be green really aren’t, and that some large businesses are actually on the forefront when it comes to sustainability practices.
If you think about it, it is actually the large businesses that can make the biggest difference when it comes to helping the environment, as they are huge consumers of energy and can have a much bigger impact than a small business owner could.
Google, for example, has committed to reducing its environmental impact by purchasing carbon offsets and investing in alternative energy, such as a $200 million wind farm in Texas. Unilever, owner of brands like Ben & Jerry’s and Dove, has set sustainability goals in everything from water and waste, to health and nutrition. Vivint has made strides in the solar industry by reducing energy expenditures. And Sprint combats one of the fastest growing forms of waste in America with its mobile phone buyback program by accepting any phone regardless of its condition or the provider it originally came from.
So how can we ensure that we are supporting companies that actually have green practices, so we aren’t tricked by marketing ploys or our own prejudices?
First, review the company’s policy as it is stated on the web site. Most businesses will post whatever green initiatives they have in order to get press and attention for their efforts. Look critically at the information that is posted. The more detailed the information, the more likely the initiative is real and not just a ploy. Look for specifics, such as measured reductions in energy consumption or contributions made to alternative energy.
Next, look at third party sources to confirm what the company is saying about itself. Check to see if the company has received any awards or recognitions for their green efforts from the media or sustainability organizations. Affiliations or certifications from green organizations are another good indicator to look for.
For a recommendation off of the company’s website, check a rating site, such as Climate Counts, which creates a scorecard on companies’ sustainability practices. One final thing you can do to research a company is to look into specific criteria for an environmentally-friendly company, such as using an efficient warehouse line with automatic labeling systems, or disposing of waste in a safe manner.
By taking the time to do your research, you will gain a better idea of which companies are actually working to preserve the planet and which are using the green movement for their own marketing efforts. Hopefully, as you gain a better understanding you will be able to support green companies in their efforts to make our world a clean and safe place to live.
Photo by Fotolia/Playstuff