June 11, 2013
Take an egg for a drive
Here’s a simple, zero cost way to improve your gas mileage by 10-20%: the next time you go for a drive, take an egg and tape it under the toe of your right foot. Then try to get where you’re going without breaking the egg. It’s a simple trick that will produce significant savings, guaranteed.
Here’s why. Much fuel is consumed when we speed up aggressively, and we waste our hard-won momentum when we jump on the brakes aggressively. It’s well documented that gentle starts and gentle stops can save the average driver 10-20%. That’s like driving over a month for free every year.
So strap on an egg. And if you happen not to have one with you the next time you get behind the wheel, good news: it works with imaginary eggs too!
May 28, 2013
Why it’s wise to avoid commercial air fresheners
Some smells are not very pleasant: trash bins, dirty laundry, washrooms, pets and even kitchen projects gone wrong. Air fresheners to the rescue, right?
Maybe not. Commercial air fresheners are big business, but they’re not an especially healthy choice.
- Most contain nasty chemicals like formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. (According to Health Canada, the biggest indoor sources of VOCs are paints, glues, cigarette smoke and air fresheners.)
- They must be airborne to work. In other words, they are designed to be inhaled.
- They don’t eliminate smells, they just mask them. Some actually use a nerve-numbing chemical that interferes with our sense of smell; others coat our nasal passages with an oily film. Yuck.
- They can trigger asthma attacks in some people. (There’s a reason for those workplace signs advocating going scent-free.)
The worst culprits are plug-in and aerosol fresheners.
So what to do?
- Opt for natural ventilation, especially in spring, summer and fall. It’s lilac season where I live, so it’s wonderful to let that great natural fragrance waft in!
- Use baking soda to absorb smells; if you’d like fragrance, add a few drops of essential oil (available in many stores). Coffee grounds work well too.
Read more about indoor air quality here, from the US Environmental Protection Agency.
April 2, 2013
Just how much greenhouse gas does a litre of fuel generate?
We’re often told that our vehicles generate a lot of greenhouse gas emissions, but how are we to know just what that means?
Here’s a quick guideline: every litre of gasoline burned produces 2.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide. That equals about 100 kilograms for a 40 litre fillup (typical for a compact car).
There’s more. The above figure doesn’t include emissions from drilling, extracting, transporting and refining that fuel, and then trucking it to the service station where you buy it. Factor those in, and it’s more like 3 kilograms CO2/litre for gas. If you consume 40 litres per week, that equals over six tonnes of emissions per year. Many Canadians consume a lot more than 40 litres a week.
Every litre of diesel fuel burned produces 2.7 KG carbon dioxide; a similar 25% premium can be factored in for refining and other upstream emissions.
The bottom line: vehicle emissions ARE a huge part of our carbon footprint. Why not reduce yours by walking, biking, driving less, driving an efficient vehicle, carpooling and taking transit.
March 5, 2013
Avoid exfoliating soaps with plastic beads
Imagine designing a product which, when used exactly as directed, releases tiny bits of plastic that can wind up in the ocean and persist for ages. Crazy, right?
Crazy, but true. For years, many exfoliating soaps have been laced with plastic microbeads. They’re an abrasive, to remove dead skin particles, but they end up going down the drain. If they make their way into marine environments (and that’s often what happens), they stay – for a long, long time. Microbeads from exfoliating soap are contributing to the millions of tonnes of plastics swirling about in the world’s oceans today. But they’re about the only plastic there by design. What were they – or we – thinking?
Unilever, the maker of brands like Dove, Vaseline and Pond’s, announced in January that it would be phasing out plastic microbeads – but only completely by 2015. My quick search found no similar commitment by Procter and Gamble, maker of brands like Noxzema and Olay. So what to do right now?
- Look at the ingredients of exfoliating soaps; avoid brands that contain polyethylene, polyacrylamide or “microbeads” or “microcrystals” of unspecified content; look for natural exfoliating ingredients like ground nuts, seeds, fruit, salt and even oatmeal and cornmeal
- Choose brands that appear on this list compiled by the Environmental Health Association of Nova Scotia
- Make your own; the same EHANS site has recipes
February 6, 2013
January 22, 2013
Just clean that plate
Back in 1956, the notorious US prison on Alcatraz Island had this rule for all inmates: “Take all you want, but eat all you take.”
Most of us live in a world of plenty, so it is easy for us to take food for granted and to waste. A report last fall estimated that Canadians waste $27 billion worth of food a year, the majority of it at home. How we waste? 1) we load our plates up with more than we can eat; 2) we’re quick to discard things when they approach their best-before dates; and 3) food is cheap.
Food is a big part of our carbon footprint, and it’s obscene to waste it when nearly a billion people worldwide go to bed hungry.
So perhaps the easiest way ever to reduce the carbon footprint of our food is to simply do what prisoners at Alcatraz were asked to do: don’t serve up too much food, and clean your plate.
January 8, 2013
Is climate change a problem of TECHNOLOGY or POLITICS?
Truthfully, it’s probably both – but these days it may be more of the latter.
These days, we have many technologies available to help us solve the climate crisis – from wind, solar, tide and wave energy; to high-efficiency buildings that produce more energy than they use; to real-time ridesharing via smart-phones.
But solutions don’t happen without political will, appropriate policies and strategic funding – all of which seem lamentably scarce these days.
That’s where you and I come in. As astrophysicist Carl Sagan said, “Anything else you’re interested in is not going to happen if you can’t breathe the air and drink the water. Don’t sit this one out. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.”
So – please make it your resolution not to sit this one out. I can’t overemphasize how much your involvement, in ways large or small, is needed. Here’s more on the ‘why’ plus some simple suggestions for ‘how’.
Happy New Year 2013 – may it be a pivotal year for climate change action.
October 30, 2012
Spend your dollars at planet-friendly businesses
One of the best ways to promote sustainability is to spend your dollars at businesses that are making sustainability a priority. But how to know who’s really green and who’s not?
Newsweek Magazine has compiled its annual Green Rankings of the 500 largest publicly traded companies on the planet. You’ll recognize some names near the top – like IBM (#4), Marks & Spencer (#10) and Bell Canada (#13) – and some near the bottom, like Exxon (#440), Halliburton (#421) and Suncor (#320). The list is easily searchable by country or by industry sector. Check it out here; read about Newsweek’s methodology here; and then strive to make sustainability part of your shopping decisions!
August 21, 2012
Borrow a power meter from your library
Portable power meters are excellent tools for helping you save on energy, because they measure the power consumption of anything that plugs into a wall outlet. Your power bill might tell you the total amount of energy consumed in your home, but it doesn’t provide any indication of where it was consumed. How much power does your toaster use? Or your PVR? Or your hair dryer?
A portable meter can tell you precisely. As well, it can help you find phantom power users. (Phantom power is the trickle of power used by many devices even when they are turned off; it can be eliminated with the use of a power bar.)
Here’s some great news: many libraries now have power meters you can borrow like a book. It’s an excellent, zero-cost opportunity to do a little measuring so you can identify ways to lower your energy bills – and do the planet a favour. It’s great fodder for a school science fair project, or to stimulate a family discussion about ways to save energy.
May 15, 2012
1% for the Planet
Have you ever heard of 1% for the Planet? It’s an association of over 1,300 businesses worldwide who put their money where their mouth is by donating at least 1% of their annual sales to environmental causes. The reason? Beyond demonstrating a solid commitment to the environment, it’s their way of showing that the marketplace is a key part of the solution to our environmental challenges. 1% for the Planet has been called the ‘gold standard’ of corporate philanthropy.
So – if you’re a business, why not join 1% for the Planet here?
If you’re a consumer, why not try to find what you’re looking for from a 1% for the Planet member, here, or buy 1% for the Planet, The Music, on iTunes or Amazon, or encourage your favourite store to join?