Top 10 Ways to Be Green

Tip #1: Unplug!

Taking a few minutes to turn off electrical devices won't just help you save the planet, it can also help you save a few bucks off your electric bill each month. At home, go ahead and turn off the lights when leaving a room (chances are the walls and floor won't mind the dark)! Take an extra few seconds to shut down your computer and printer instead of letting them idle, and-annoying as it sounds-make morning a routine of unplugging TVs, fans and stereos before leaving for work. Like any routine, you'll get used to doing it in no time flat. When you're looking to buy new major appliances, go for energy efficient models with fewer frills-that icemaker requires more power than you think! Check out Energy Star and Greener Choices for efficiency ratings for new purchases. If you already own an appliance, remember to clean AC filters, insulate water heaters, and do other simple maintenance to maximize energy savings. Simply put, less energy = less pollution.

Tip #2: Use Less Water

Did you know that in the average home, the water heater is second only to the heating system in energy usage? Here's how to use less. Go ahead and turn the water heater down to 120°. Wash full loads of laundry in cool water. If you've just got to use hot, rinse in cold. In the bathroom, skip the water-wasting steam bath and opt for the quick shower. Install low flow showerheads and faucet aerators, and turn the water off when you're shaving or brushing. Have to let it run to heat up? Catch it and water the plants later. In the kitchen, remember that you don't need to scald every plate and pot to get them clean, and don't forget to turn the water off when you're scrubbing! Thinking about the long haul? Try setting up a solar powered water heating system.

Tip #3: Switch to Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Don't even try to front: You've been avoiding fluorescent bulbs because you fear flashbacks to the industrial pallor and buzzing tubes of your grade school. But fluorescent bulbs have come a long way, baby. Watch for ones with higher lumens (not watts) for brighter light; read carefully for a color rendering index (CRI) over 80, or cues like "warmer light," to get closer to incandescence while saving $30 in energy costs over the life of each bulb. Not to mention the benefit to the planet: EnergyStar has dozens of similes to tell you how much less pollution you generate by simply replacing your feverish incandescent bulbs with chill fluorescent ones, but they all add up to a huge benefit for the earth.

Tip #4: Choose Products with Less Packaging

Think of the layers of armor that separate you from a new consumer good. The precious cargo is placed inside a pouch inside a plastic exoskeleton inside a paper sleeve, then bagged for easy transport. Sounds cute for Russian dolls. But for a stick of gum or a fresh razor blade, it's infuriating, time-consuming, and a waste of resources. With so many similar products crowding store aisles, try choosing one that sports less packaging. (You'll find that companies that give careful thought to packaging waste are probably considerate of, say, pesticide-free agriculture or humane working conditions, too.) Don't have time to comparison-shop? Simply buying product refills can assuage your conscience, and save a few cents. Bring your canvas tote to the grocery store to get everything home. Think similarly for restaurants: that pile of plates, napkins, plastic utensils and condiments could easily be spared by making your takeout eat-in.

 Tip #5: Buy Organic and Local Foods

Did you know that the blueberries you ate on your breakfast cereal might have traveled as many as 1500 miles to get to your bowl? Buying locally grown produce, whether it's from a greenmarket, a farmstand, or a conscientious supermarket, can conserve fuel, reduce pollution, and support your local economy...not to mention, produce grown nearby doesn't require preservatives and waxing to keep it fresh. Likewise, spending the extra money on organic produce will not only keep you from potentially ingesting toxic pesticides, but it's good for the environment. Support organic farmers, and you'll be helping to protect water from pollutants, cut down on soil erosion, and conserve the energy and expense it takes to produce synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Plus, there's no doubt about it-organic and locally grown produce just tastes better.

Tip #6: Drive Less

A daily car commute of 20 miles round trip can add up to more than $2,000 per year, parking not included. If you work in an office, ask the HR department about any carpooling hookups and free or deeply discounted bus, train or subway passes; check your city's website for relevant routes. (Use the commute to read up on peak oil theory.) Better yet, buy a basket and some decent rain fenders for your bike and ride to the office - and to the post office, your dentist appointment, the grocery store. Sure, you can't fit as much on a bike as in a car, but shopping more often means fresher produce, thus tastier meals - which you'll need after burning all those calories. Replacing even one or two car trips a week will trim your fuel bill (and probably your waistline), but driving smarter can also help. Combine multiple errands into one trip, frequent nearby shops, and try to group your family's appointments together. Think about the most efficient route before heading out, and try to avoid busier traffic times.

Tip #7: Plant a Tree!

No gardening project offers quite such instant gratification as planting your own tree. You get exercise, immediate visual stimulation, and some serious self-satisfaction. Your tree will convert nasty pollutants to pure oxygen and offer a welcome to wildlife -- and tree roots can help stay erosion. Trees absorb carbon dioxide, helping to reduce global warming. Depending on what kind of tree you choose, and where you plant it, the shade can gradually help to cool your home as well as offer a perfect spot for contemplation, meditation or recreation. Trees are charming planted for a child as a living growth chart, or in memory of a loved one. You can also donate money to have trees planted all over the world, at brownspaces or devastated places where they are most needed.

Tip #8: Recycle More

Savvy shopping and a little creativity can keep your trash pile from mounting. Judge products by their recycled packaging, such as bottles, cans, paper wrappings, and cereal boxes. Choose stationery and other supplies made from recyclable materials that are better the second time around. Take your used car batteries, antifreeze, and motor oil back to participating mechanics. Return plastic bags to the grocery store. Give old cell phones and cars to your favorite charity. Compost your leftovers and keep your lawn well fed by letting grass-mown clippings lie. Think outside that empty cardboard box: It's a fairytale fort for a five-year-old. Finally, hang an old flat tire to a tree and make a swing for green-minded folks of all ages.

Tip #9: Switch to "Green" Power via Your Local Utility Company

In many states, you can opt to purchase renewable energy from your local power company, and then rest easy knowing you just sent that email from your wind- or methane-powered computer. To find out if your local utility has a green power source, check the Green Power Network's U.S. map. Austin Energy generated the most green power last year, followed by Portland General Electric. Xcel Energy (in Colorado and elsewhere) had the highest number of customers who purchased renewable energy (more than 49,354). Help nudge your local utility toward a deeper shade of green by opting into their renewable energy program.

Tip #10: Spread the Word

Want to shake some sense into people? Use the web as your own personal bullhorn to make the world a greener place. Inform your inner circle about good causes or upcoming legislation via e-mail. You can also direct friends to Live the Change to familiarize themselves with personal impact calculators, simple tips, activism options, and blogs of others in the community who are trying to make the planet a little greener. If you have a blog or website, start posting information about the issues that matter to you. Awareness is the key to a sustainable planet, and the web gives you a powerful way to be part of the solution.

Thank you for signing up!

Tell us what you think!
If you'd like to comment on this article, become a member of Gaiam Life.
Click here to create your account.