Grace in carpooling

August 28, 2017

Guidelines for a smooth carpooling experience

Recall August 16’s Green Ideas?  Going car-less is one of the best things we can do for the planet.  Alas, for many of us, it’s really difficult too.

But carpooling can make a huge difference in our transportation footprint.  Here are seven simple rules to make it simple, safe, economical and even fun for all:

  1. Select a convenient meeting/pick-up spot that’s central, safe and easy to get to
  2. Show up on time
  3. Make group agreements or ground rules about eating, drinking, music, chatting, phone calls etc. during the commute
  4. Keep a schedule and track driver turns
  5. Agree on a cost per trip for those without vehicles
  6. Take your turn in the uncomfortable seat
  7. Keep your car interior tidy, and take your trash with you when riding in someone else’s car

It’s not quite car-free, but carpooling is a huge step forward – so why not try it with your neighbours and colleagues?

Thanks to Lindsay Coulter, David Suzuki’s Queen of Green, for this Green Idea; a more complete list can be found here.

The Big Four

August 12, 2017

The most important ways to reduce your carbon footprint

There is much fruit on the proverbial ‘tree of sustainability solutions’.  Some of it is large fruit, some of it is small.  Some of it is high in the tree and hard to reach, some of it is low-hanging and easily picked.

Make no mistake: EVERY act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the greatest difference, it’s the large fruit we want.

Unfortunately, it’s usually not low hanging.  A study published last month concluded that the four biggest ways we can reduce our carbon footprint are:

  • Eating a plant-based diet
  • Avoiding air travel
  • Living car free
  • Having smaller families

Uncomfortable?  Me too.  Those are tough.

But perhaps much solace can be taken from the fact that each of these can be chipped away at slowly.  (Even the fourth?  Yes, because large families committed to sustainability can have smaller carbon footprints than small families without such commitment; and perhaps the former can teach the latter.)

Again, to be clear: every act of sustainability is a good act.  But if our goal is to make the biggest difference, it’s good to know where that big difference can be made.

Post your own sign to help remind people not to idle

On the tree of emission reduction possibilities, perhaps there is no lower hanging fruit than reducing unnecessary idling.

Natural Resources Canada estimates that if every Canadian driver reduced their idling by just three minutes a day, we would reduce emissions by 1.4 million tonnes a year – the equivalent of taking 320,000 cars off the road.  We would save 630 million litres of gas a year – over half a billion dollars worth.  Just by reducing idling, a simple habit change!

Here’s what you can do:

  • Idle less: limit idling to 30 seconds for the first start of the day and 10 seconds for subsequent starts, with a little commonsense leeway in cold weather
  • Skip drive-thrus: sadly, coffee shops and fast food joints have become idling ‘centres of inexcellence’
  • Post a sign: you can find simple, non-confrontational sign designs on the internet to post at your workplace, school or business! We did at our home, and it works – visitors and customers for our free-range eggs {shameless plug} no longer idle!  Just email me if you’d like a copy of our sign..



EnerGuide for Vehicles, the definitive guide to fuel economy

Few of us really know the fuel consumption of our vehicles. We may have a rough idea of how far we can travel on a $50 fillup, but that’s a pretty poor measure since fuel tanks vary in size and gas prices are always changing.

The real measure of a vehicle’s fuel economy is how many litres it consumes to go 100 kilometres, or its imperial system equivalent, how many miles you go on a gallon. And the very best place to get unbiased comparisons between vehicles is Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption ratings search tool. It’s a database that lists the official fuel economy of every make and model of vehicle sold in Canada since 1995. It allows you to find the best ones, or compare the models you’re considering. An invaluable tool for any vehicle buyer!

And – here’s a great two-minute video about other ways you can improve your fuel economy.

Go easy on the AC

July 7, 2015

Save on fuel by using air conditioning only when it’s really needed

It’s summer, and for many of us that means the air conditioner in our vehicles is always on. But consider this: air conditioning is second only to driving as the biggest load on an engine – it can increase your fuel consumption by up to 20%. Put another way, turning on the air conditioner is a lot like constantly hauling a trailer around.

So what to do?

  • Use fresh air when possible; sunroofs are awesome because they are quieter than windows
  • Get into the habit of turning off your AC when you park at the end of the day so it’s not automatically on in the morning when you least need it
  • Reserve AC only for really hot days, and use it intermittently; aim for comfortable, not cold
  • Park in the shade when you can

Learn more strategies for saving on air conditioning from Natural Resources Canada, here.

A well maintained vehicle saves fuel and money

True story: this week a friend of mine told me how his vehicle’s fuel economy declines each winter. (Not surprising – engines are less efficient in cold temperatures.) But he didn’t get the expected bounce back this spring, so he decided to take his car in for a check-up.

The diagnosis? His spark plugs were well past their best before date and were replaced.

The result? An instant 25% improvement in fuel economy.

Maybe it’s a good reminder to all of us to check our vehicle maintenance records and ensure everything’s up to date. Scheduled maintenance matters – for vehicle life, fuel savings and a reduced carbon footprint.

Three keys

April 28, 2015

The three most important things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint

If you’re like me, you might be feeling a bit overwhelmed with the complexities of climate change and our other environmental challenges. And, amid a flood of information, you might be wondering, “Really, what are the most important things I can do to make a difference?” In the spirit of last week’s Earth Day, here are my nominees:

  1. Drive less: every litre of gas we burn is one litre less we can burn if we wish to limit climate change. So walk, bike, take transit, carpool – anything to drive less.
  2. Strive to think ‘Reduce’, the most important of the three Rs, every time you flip a switch, turn a tap, touch a thermostat or operate an appliance.
  3. Contact your elected representatives via phone, mail or email to demand action, because climate-friendly laws and policies are absolutely essential to global solutions.

Should gas pump nozzles have labels on them?

One of the best ways to remind people to turn out lights is to have a sticker on the switch that says, “Please turn off the lights.” It’s a key principle of social marketing: place a message where your target audience sees it at the precise time they can make the choice you’re requesting. It’s the same reason blunt messages and graphic images are placed on cigarette packages.

Gasoline consumption generates emissions that are endangering our climate, so should there be warning messages on gas pump nozzles? The municipality of West Vancouver thinks so, and has passed a resolution suggesting that labels like the ones shown here should be placed on every gas pump in Canada.

Gas pump warnings

Maybe it’s not a bad idea. Every litre of gas we consume adds 2.4 KG greenhouse gas emissions to our atmosphere. If a reminder when we’re fuelling up reminds us to try to burn less fuel, that would be a good thing.

An interesting idea, and this week’s Green idea. More information here.

Thanks to subscriber David Brown for the tip.

Ask your insurance company for a ‘black box’ for your car

Several weeks ago, my insurance company made an irresistible offer: if I agreed to install a tiny gadget in my car, they would reduce my car insurance premiums.

I agreed, and they sent me a little data monitoring ‘black box’. It took under a minute to install, and it sends info about my driving habits to my insurance company (specifically hard braking, sudden accelerations and total distance driven). In return, my premiums have dropped by 5%, and depending on how I drive, they may drop by as much as 25%. I get a weekly report card by email, which serves as a regular incentive to do better.

But I’m saving on gas too, because the driving habits the insurance company likes best – gentle starts and stops – also give me the best mileage. It’s well known that gentle driving can improve mileage by as much as 20%.

So – if you’d like to save on gas and insurance, contact your provider and ask for a ‘black box’ for your car. (Read a column with more detail on this here.)

Save with Low Rolling Resistance tires

If you’re in the market for new tires, look for Low Rolling Resistance (LRR) tires. Here’s why.

When you drive, your tires flex a bit at the point where they make contact with the road, and then relax back into shape while they are not contacting the road. The friction of this continuous flexing and relaxing is called Rolling Resistance. It creates heat in the tire (touch a tire after a trip and you’ll feel the warmth), and makes your engine work harder to turn the tire and move your vehicle – thus affecting fuel economy.

Today, many manufacturers offer Low Rolling Resistance (LRR) tires, which can improve fuel efficiency by 4%. That may not sound like much, but that can amount to $100 saved over the life of a tire – meaning the tires virtual pay for themselves!

Unfortunately, no standard or certification has yet emerged to identify LRR tires. (Goodyear and Canadian Tire have their own logos; Bridgestone has a brand and Michelin has a neat one-minute video demonstrating Low Rolling Resistance.) However, ask for them the next time you shop for tires – good for you, your wallet and the environment!