Earth Day

April 22 is Earth Day, and in honor of the occasion, I’ve asked environmentalist Sean Jasperson to write a guest post with some easy tips to help us preserve this planet we call home. Sean received his B.A. in Environmental Studies from U.C. Santa Cruz, and is currently working in commercial real estate on projects associated with redeveloping older regional malls. He and his wife currently reside in Orange County, California, and he intends to complete his MBA, become LEED certified, and pursue a career in green building. He enjoys snowboarding, music, traveling, and the great outdoors.

By Guest Blogger Sean Jasperson:

Happy Earth Day everyone! Do you love the planet Earth? You do? Fantastic, celebrate it! You don’t? Then go somewhere else, silly!

Thankfully there is a lot of momentum building for the green movement these days. I’ve been noticing TV networks, magazines, celebrities, politicians, and everyday people really getting involved and having open discussions about how we need to improve (or perhaps lessen) our impact on the environment. This is just the beginning, but it’s an extremely important step.

I wanted to take the opportunity to share some of the easy ways of being green that I have learned over the years. I will keep it simple, but if you are particularly interested in learning more about any of these subjects I encourage you to do so. In fact, become an expert and tell others what you’ve learned and participate in the solution!

In no particular order:

*Consume less (Reduce), and Reuse.
It’s not in our best interests to buy everything we want or to be wasteful. It’s not the “American way,” but if we are going to take the lead on global environmental issues we need to change that. It can be as easy as using cloth towels instead of paper towels and taking your own cup to Starbucks.

*Recycle.
Most places make recycling easy. If you don’t have a curbside recycling program then simply invest in recycling containers that make it easy to go from home to the recycling center in one step. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV set for three hours (http://www.recycling-revolution.com/recycling-facts.html). Also, look for new products that contain post consumer recycled materials.

*Compost your biodegradable kitchen waste and yard waste.
I have seen a large variety of composting bins that make it easy. You can help reduce waste in landfills and your plants will love the rich soil!

*Buy rechargeable batteries.
Rechargeable batteries typically hold longer charges and last longer than traditional alkaline batteries, and they are easier to recycle (http://www.rbrc.org/call2recycle/dropoff/index.php). Never throw batteries in the trash, look for local household hazardous waste collection sites.

*Buy non-toxic/biodegradable cleaning products.
They are better for your health, and you don’t have to worry about keeping them from landfills or our lakes and oceans.

*Buy compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Traditional incandescent light bulbs waste a lot of energy through heat. Compact fluorescents use about 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer…not to mention the fact that one bulb can save you more than $30 over its life (http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=cfls.pr_cfls).

*Ride a bike, take mass transit, and car pool.
Also, make sure your next car has a high MPG rating or uses an alternative fuel.
I live in Orange County, the land of Hummers and a wimpy public transportation system. My wife’s next car is probably going to be the next generation Prius, which is rumored to get close to 100 miles per gallon! That is cool! We might get crushed by the Hummers though. ;o)

*Go organic!
Spending a little extra to get organic fruits and vegetables not only eliminates your consumption of pesticides, but you are also protecting the environment. Pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides are usually extremely toxic and can have long lasting effects on ecosystems around farms. Check out this list of the most important products to buy organic (http://www.deliciousorganics.com/Controversies/toptobuyorg.htm). I also believe that milk, meat, and eggs should be bought organic. The amount of hormones and antibiotics that are in these products would surprise you. I will spare you the gross details!

*Buy local produce that is sustainably grown.
Small organic farmers can not only use organic pest fighting techniques, they can grow crops in ways that mimic nature and support local wildlife. Large corporate farms sometimes pursue high yields at any cost. Oftentimes, they use massive amounts of fertilizers and pesticides and unproven genetically modified plant varieties. Buying local also prevents pollution from shipping products long distances. Also, always buy products grown in America. There are many other countries that have no environmental standards or laws.

*Use native plant landscaping
In the American west, drought is a major problem. This is one of my areas of greatest concern for our future. Millions of water soaked lawns in our deserts is simply unacceptable. Use drought tolerant plants, preferably plants native to your area. Even if you do not live in a drought prone area, native plants can have many other benefits, such as attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

*Paper or plastic?
Neither. Reusable bags are awesome. They are easy and some stores give you a discount for each bag used.

*Recycle e-waste
Most of our electronic waste still goes to landfills and the large amounts of toxic heavy metals in these products makes this a huge problem. Anything that you plug in will contain these metals to a certain extent, so look out for the next collection event near you or figure out where you can drop these items off to be recycled. A number of companies now will come to you to pick up TV’s, computers, and other large items.

*Go solar!
If you can, have a photovoltaic system installed. The up front costs can be high, but in most cases, they pay for themselves within 5 – 7 years, especially since you can get federal and state tax incentives for using these systems. There are also passive solar systems and countless other ways you can improve the energy efficiency of your home.

*Don’t buy old growth wood products.
Help preserve the rainforests and our own old growth forests. There are countless wood alternative products out there including bamboo and hemp. Even plastics can be a more environmentally friendly product for things like fences since they last so much longer than wood and require no maintenance (especially if they contain post consumer recycled material). If you need to buy wood, look for labels indicating that the wood is not old growth and was sustainably harvested.

*Buy Energy Star electronic products and unplug electronics that are not in use.
More efficient electronics is a no brainer, but did you know that many devices such as TV’s can consume up to 30% of their electricity when they are off? An easy way to get around this is to use a power strip that can be turned off when you are away.

*Lastly…Vote for the environment!
Check out your candidate’s environmental voting record at the League of Conservation Voters (http://www.lcv.org/scorecard/). Their scorecard system is a wonderfully easy way to see how green politicians really are. Also, if a particular environmental issue is going to be on your ballot, see what the appropriate non-governmental organizations are saying about it. Examples include The Sierra Club, The Surfrider Foundation, The Natural Resources Defense Counsel, and The Nature Conservancy. These NGO’s can be extremely effective with their lobbying efforts, and at the very least can educate us about areas of concern. Issues like global warming start at home, but in the end we need our government and others around the world to get involved in meaningful solutions.

Thanks!!!!! Together, we can do it!

-Sean Jasperson

6 comments

  1. I have been doing alot of research on solar power and depending on what part of the country you live in depends on how fast the equipment pays for itself. There needs to be more incentives to make it possible for the average home owner.

    Great post and great suggestions.

    http://green4u.wordpress.com

  2. Great article, Sean! Glad to see we are doing almost all your suggestions, too. 🙂

    My husband and I just went solar (net metering with PG&E) earlier this year. Our propane usage is very high, so any recommendations on how to reduce propane use in the home? The biggest propane usage seems to be our HVAC unit. Would adding a geo-thermal system be beneficial in your opinion?

    Thanks to Lisa for posting your article. Regards, Carla

  3. As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

  4. Hi green4u! You are correct about the effectiveness of solar power in locations that don’t have sunny days year round. Actually, there are many places in America where photovoltaic panels would be pointless to invest in (at least with current technologies and costs). The good news is there are much cheaper solar options and other types of renewable energy sources.

    Passive solar options include: solar hot water heaters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_hot_water). Systems that just warm water for pools are pretty cheap from what I’ve heard. Fiber-optic solar lights (http://www.sunlight-direct.com/products.html) and tubular skylights (http://www.lowes.com/lowes/lkn?action=howTo&p=Improve/InstallTubularSkylight.html) are also really cool.

    Small wind turbines: If you live in a place that has a lot of wind you should check these out (http://www.awea.org/faq/rsdntqa.html). I have seen ones that are really small and attractive in my opinion.

    Geothermal systems (http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/heating_cooling/geothermal.html): Thanks for your post carlafibers! Unfortunately I have only recently heard about the new geothermal systems (Al Gore installed one). Definitely look into it and if it looks promising it may be worth it to hire a LEED accredited professional who should be able to crunch the numbers for you (http://www.gbci.org/LEED/AP/ViewAll.aspx). I will learn more about it too!

    -sean

  5. Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

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