The GreenYour Blog
But how bad is the air indoors…? Winter is always ushered in by discussions on how to save energy (and money!) while keeping warm. But, as we seal up our homes and turn up the heat, what happens to the air quality inside? After all, people spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors year-round—and even more than that in the winter—and evidence suggests that indoor air pollutant levels can be more than 100 times higher indoors than outdoors. Anything in our homes that releases gas or particles into the air contributes to indoor air pollution, and the inadequate ventilation that so often accompanies our winter heating methods increases pollutant levels. Most household items off-gas some pollutants: the products we clean with, the furnishings and other items that we purchase new and bring home, our dry cleaning, pesticides, etc.
As Timothy Buckley, PhD, MHS, an associate professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says, “You must be smart about indoor air pollution at the same time you’re being smart about energy conservation. Sealing up windows and doors saves money on the bill, it’s true, and there wouldn’t be a big downside to that if you’ve got no indoor sources of pollution. But who doesn’t cook, and burn candles, and bring home the dry-cleaning and household products, and buy new clothes? A low air-exchange rate means that whatever fumes are in there are going to stay there and that we’re going to have to inhale them.”
Soaking up the sun in a far-away locale is a great way to beat the winter blues. But with nearly 900 million tourists traversing the planet each year, eco-minded snow birds need to dig a little deeper to get the vitamin D they crave without tarnishing their green conscience.
There are a load of travel agencies and eco-tours ready to help you plan and customize a sustainable vacation for your winter escape. And while the terms “sustainable vacation” and “eco-tour” may conjure images of backpacking trips through lesser-known locales, the industry today offers more destinations than ever before, from exotic beaches and ocean explorations to 5-star luxury resorts and beyond. But how can you be sure that the travel agent, hotel, cruise or destination you dream about passes the green test?
Easy! Just be sure to ask these questions, provided by The Rainforest Alliance, before you book, and you’ll be a savvy sustainable traveler:
1. What is your environmental policy?
2. What percentage of your employees are local citizens?
3. Do you support any projects to benefit the local community?
4. Do you support conservation? How?
5. Is your business certified?
6. Have you won any eco-awards?
7. Are you recommended by any reputable NGOs or conservation groups?
8. What sorts of policies have you implemented to reduce water consumption, conserve energy or recycle wastes?
9. How do you educate visitors about local natural areas, wildlife, energy conservation, and local culture?
10. How do you monitor these practices?
Remember those later summer months, when you had more fresh, local tomatoes, mouth-watering fruit and berries, and succulent homegrown herbs than you knew what to do with? During the winter months, the fresh, local food scene can seem as barren as leafless trees, but there are cold-weather ways to satiate your hunger for a planet-friendly, locally grown diet:
• Look into “winter box” options from Community Supported Agriculture sources: As the regular season of my organic CSA membership drew to a close this fall, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could also opt to receive a box every two weeks throughout the winter! Between squash and cold-storage rooms, late fall crops and two greenhouses, my CSA is still rolling out turnips, cabbage, potatoes, squash, radishes, beets, carrots, sauerkraut, spinach, cress, kale and more. Find a CSA near you here.
• Go beyond fruits and veggies: Look into small-scale local farms that specialize in grass-fed or organic meats, seafood, cheeses or specialty canned goods, such as jams, chutneys, and jarred veggies. Many of your local farms operate year-round, offering high quality and eco-friendly food for you and your family.
• Grow herbs and greens in your kitchen: You can’t get more local than growing your food in the same room where you’ll be preparing it! Products like Johnny's Selected Seeds BIOSET Kitchen Salad Garden Kit, the AeroGarden, and other space-saving indoor gardening tools allow you to grow fresh greens and more right in your kitchen. And, of course, herbs grow great any time of year in a window sill, bringing a little green into your home, even in the dark of winter.
As temperatures outside plummet, the cost of home heating can soar—and we’re not just talking about financial costs. Heating your home with fossil fuels also comes with a high cost to the environment. In fact, the Union of Concerned Scientists ranked “home heating, air conditioning and water heating” as the fourth “most harmful human activity” to the environment in an analysis of common consumer activities. While that chilling fact may send shivers down your spine, fear not. A quick walk through your home with our “winter warmer” checklist will ensure that you can rest easy—and warmly—knowing that you’ve done your part to minimize the eco-impact of heating your home.
1. Clean and replace your furnace’s air filter. Do this once a month during the heating season.
2. Tune up your HVAC equipment. Do this every one to two years, depending on what type of heating system you have.
3. Program your thermostat for energy efficiency. Try setting your thermostat at a reasonable 68 degrees. Or better yet, install a programmable thermostat, which will automatically turn the heat up when you need it and keep it low when you don’t.
4. Seal and insulate your heating ducts. This can improve the efficiency of your heating and cooling system by 20 percent or more.
5. Consider installing energy-efficient heating equipment. Consider replacing your furnace with an energy-efficient model. Or, try out an alternative heating method, such as an EPA-certified wood stove.
We all have those hard-to-buy for friends and family. You know who I mean. The person who seems to have everything and leaves you scratching your head and racking your brain for gift ideas each holiday season.
Well, this year, GreenYour.com has sought to help. We have selected five of our favorite green gadgets to make your holiday gift-giving easy on you AND the environment.
1. Reware Juice Bag: These bags, made in the USA from recycled soda bottles, feature a 7 Watt flexible solar panel, made up of 52 solar cells, to charge your handheld devices while on the go. Surely the tech-savvy recipient on your list will light up over this breakthrough in flexible solar technology.
2. Robo Mower: Granted we’re all thinking more about snow blowers than lawn mowers this time of year, but any recipient of this clever green gift will thank you come spring. This no-push robotic mulching lawn mower cleans up the lawn on its own (you don’t even have to pick up the clippings!), and no oil or emissions means it won’t make a mess of the earth either.
3. NatureMill Automatic Composter: This handy gadget allows even the city-bound to compost! The company claims it can be used in the kitchen, has carbon filters to eliminate odor, and costs about 50 cents per month to operate, depending on local electric rates.
4. Retro Toys Battery-free Toys: For the eco-minded kid in all of us! This company provides a wide array of reproductions of favorite toys from the '50s, '60s, and '70s for kids of any age. This holiday season, get away from the power-devouring battery operated and electronic toys and return to the good old days with a Jack-in-the-Box, Silly Putty or your own favorite retro toy!
5. Surfer Chef Solar Cooking System: For the grill guru, broaden the outdoor cooking spectrum with a solar oven! This lightweight solar cooker allows only the food to get hot, like a microwave oven, cooks even in haze and low-sunlight conditions and shows when there is enough sunlight to cook.
Hear the word freezer and we think ice cubes, frozen peas and ice cream. But it's time to give your freezer more serious work! Let it do its part in saving you big bucks by avoiding the rotten food toss.
Some foods that freeze magnificently:
- Milk (Just stick the container in the freezer. To thaw it qiuckly, either leave it out on the counter or put it in a bowl of hot water.)
- Eggs (crack them first, whisk them and freeze)
- Wine (not good for drinking again but excellent for cooking with)
- Tomatoes and other veggies (they'll be soft when you thaw them so won't be so good for a salad but excellent for a pasta sauce)
- Fruit ( also not so good for eating alone post thaw, but excellent for smoothies. If freezing berries, try to separate them in freezer and THEN toss them together in a bag, else they'll clump together and you'll have to thaw the whole clump.)
We love this tiny company. Not only are their products created to maximize respect for the earth, but they have not sacrificed one stitch of style. The blankets and burp clothes are very simple in design and have almost a Japanese aesthetic. The lines are clean, the colors soothing, and the prices highly affordable.
The only question remaining for us is -- what does Ja-lu mean?? Surprisingly there does not seem to be mention of it on the website. But we're going to go with something like, "Beautiful blanket. Beautiful Earth" :)
Now that buying handmade, eco kids toys is trendy, the costs have soared as high as CO2 emissions. Germany has long been known to manufacture quality wooden kids toy, but Portland?! Well yes.
We came across these beatifully hand cut and sanded, children's wooden blocks that are both a visual delight and created with conservation in mind. They are made in Portland and appear to be every bit as authentic and pure as you'd expect.
So go ahead ... line 'em up and topple them over. Play with your kids, or just do it for the hell of it all by yourself because the joy of seeing how high you can pile up blocks, well, never really stops being fun :)
$25 for a set of 80. Try and find those prices in Deutchland!
To be more specific, dimming incandescent light bulbs (the old fashinined round ones that scorch your fingers when you unscrew them) will help a bit, but not as much as you'd think. That's because the ratio of wattage to lumen (energy to light output) is not 1:1. Incandescents are highly inefficient - with 80% of the wattage going to heat the light bulb rather than give off light - so when you dim one, you're not cutting the energy by nearly as much as you're cutting the light output. ( For example, if you dim it by 50%, you'll only be cutting wattage by about 30%.)
A better route: buy dimmable CFLs (the package needs to specifically state that they are dimmable, else they're not). Also be sure your dimmer is the newer model as the older resistor style can not accomodate CFLs. If you are not able to go that route but want low light, opt for as low a wattage incandescent as you can find. Better still - light a candle.
Across America, there has been a surge in urban farming projects with the goal being to bring the farm to the city. But few are bringing the city dweller to the farm. Enter Ananda Harvest.
Ananda was founded by a group of young professionals in Brooklyn and old-school farmers in Monroe, NY. For those interested in local and organic farming, the farm offers an opportunity to escape the city, reconnect with the land, learn about food production, and even do a little yoga on the side.
According to one of Ananda's Founding Farmers, Dave Gottlieb, Ananda is much more than a farm. "We really want to create a new experience for people and build a community where we can build stronger ties with one another and with the land."
So, how can you get involved?
1. Go up to Ananda! Come spring time, Ananda will be accepting volunteers to "camp-n-farm". People who volunteer on the farm can camp for free and pay a small fee for meals and yoga classes.
2. Help fund a cabin at Ananda where you can stay. The group is currently raising $10K to build a cabin so you don't have to camp every time you go up!
3. Spread the word! If you don't live near New York City, maybe you know someone who does. If you have friends who could use some farming meditation - let them know about it!
Happy Farming and Happy 2010!