Monday, July 27, 2009

Wal-Mart Going Green?

Wal-Mart’s Green Rating System
If anyone can take on this gargantuan task, it would be Wal-Mart. They have the resources, the size, and buying power to give product life-cycle analysis a try.
This is very ambitious, other corporations have tried to assess their various product lines with inconclusive outcomes. Clearly, an industry standard needs to be set or “sustainable information mayhem” could result. Different scales with different measurement criteria would be a disaster. Ideally, an independent, non-profit entity would take this on, but that is unlikely from a funding standpoint in the current economy. Wal-Mart has spearheaded certain aspects of sustainability that other corporations have not even thought about, and has demonstrated integrity in its environmental policies. When Wal-Mart sneezes, the worldwide supplier community gets a cold. If Wal-Mart says this is important, suppliers will jump to attention. Overall, this could be a great breakthrough for sustainability worldwide...

For the full article go to

Tips to Turn Your Pet into a Greenie

Attention All Pet Lovers!

Over 71 million households across America own at least one pet, and even in this economy, pet owners are still spending big bucks on them. Americans will drop an estimated $45.4 billion on their pets this year compared to the $43.2 billion spent in 2008, according to the American Pets Products Association National Pet Owners Survey. From food to toys and even clothes, owners will buy pretty much anything for their pets. And why wouldn’t they? Most pet lovers consider pets a part of their family, some even consider them children. They bring joy and unconditional love into our lives, so spending hundreds to thousands of dollars a year on our priceless friends is a sacrifice we are willing to make. Many of us aren’t afraid to point out similarities between ourselves and our pets, so as you are heading down the Green road, why don’t you take your pet along for the ride?

Green Tips for Pets

To keep your pets healthy and happy while helping the environment, follow these simple green tips:

· Dinnertime- According to the FDA, more than 100 brands of pet food were voluntarily recalled in 2007 due to reports that there were toxins in wheat gluten (an ingredient in pet food) from China. After this nationwide recall, many pet owners doubted the quality of commercial pet food and sought other options. Fortunately for pet owners, there are many pet food choices that can be found in your local pet store or in your kitchen.

1. Buy food free from by-products, meals, and artificial preservatives. Natural and certified organic pet food are choices that more and more pet owners are moving toward. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA), organic pet food, the fastest growing non-food organic category, grew almost 36.7% in recent years. Certified organic pet foods are free of pesticides, artificial ingredients, unnecessary fillers, sewage, antibiotics, by-products and meal while helping the environment at the same time.See this chart for differences between commercial, natural, and organic pet food.

2. Make your own pet food. Homemade pet food, if done correctly, is another option to keep your pet healthy and safe. But before you begin cooking, make sure to consult your veterinarian to discuss your pet’s dietary needs. A combination of meat, vegetables, eggs, and starch (pasta, rice, oatmeal) provides dogs with a balanced diet full of the necessary vitamins and nutrients. A combination of meat, eggs, and vitamins is a balanced diet for your carnivorous cat.

3. Buy non-toxic pet bowls. Certain plastic bowls can emit toxins like BPA and phthalates into your pet’s food and water supply. According to SCGH’s “The Rubber Ducky Chemical” article, studies in humans and rats revealed that exposure to certain phthalates can increase the risk of cancer. Choose bowls made from ceramic, stainless steel, porcelain, or even sugarcane that are safer than plastic.

  • Playtime - It’s no surprise that pets love to play with toys. Toys spend a majority of their time in your pet’s mouth, so be careful when choosing a toy.

The FDA warns owners to beware of toys that could potentially be choking hazards. Always buy toys that are appropriately-sized and durable for your pet breed. A mini tennis ball suited for a Yorkshire Terrier is not meant for a Golden Retriever to play with.

Avoid buying colorful plastic toys. If a child’s toy is not safe from high levels of lead, why would your pet’s plastic toy be any safer? A study conducted by researchers for found high levels of lead and other toxins including phthalates in some pet toys made in China.

Buy eco-friendly pet toys. Look for toys made from sustainable, recycled, organic, or natural materials that are non-toxic for your pets. The Earth will thank you for reducing your pet’s carbon “pawprint”.

· Clean up after your pet- After your pet goes to the bathroom, what do you do?

Don’t throw away your dog’s waste in plastic bags that do not biodegrade and pile up in landfills. Be green by sending your dog’s waste down the septic system. If you don’t want to handle the waste, buy water-soluble or biodegradable bags that are safe to flush down the toilet. Another green option when dealing with waste is to compost it with your own store-bought or homemade dog waste composter. However, if you choose this option, make sure you compost a good distance away from storm drains and plants to prevent toxins from seeping into your water supply.

Unlike dog waste, cat waste should not be flushed down the toilet. Researchers at the University of Glamorgan, located in the U.K, found cat feces to host a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that when flushed down the toilet seeps into water sources and oceans where they infect marine life such as dolphins, sea otters, and whales. Also, when choosing kitty litter avoid clumping clay litter. Clay kitty litter is usually made from strip-mined clay which involves heavy machinery stripping away the top layer of the Earth to collect clay below. Another problem with clay litter is the presence of sodium bentonite. According to Oregon Toxics Alliance (OTA), sodium bentonite, a clay chemical known for its absorbing power, can expand in your cat’s body if ingested. Choose kitty litter made from natural ingredients like pine shavings, sawdust, plant or straw pellets, ground corn cobs, and even recycled newspaper which are reasonably priced at your local grocery or pet store. You can also compost your kitty litter with or without a biodegradable bag which will prevent harmful bacteria from seeping into water sources and landfills. Before you compost your cat’s waste, make sure you use kitty litter that is compost-friendly which can be determined by reading the label or by using natural products like pine shavings.

· Create a healthy environment for your pets- Most pets can’t tell you to vacuum everyday, to stop cooking with non-stick pans or to stop using harmful cleaning sprays in the house. Their environment is what you make for them.

In 2008, the Environmental Working Group released a study conducted by scientists that found pets to have higher levels of toxins in their bodies than humans. They found 48 different toxins in pets, including chemicals released from non-stick pans and metal, phthalates from plastic bowls and toys, and toxins from fire retardants in bedding, furniture, house dust, and food. The same study found that dogs have a higher risk of getting cancer, cats can now get thyroid disease, and behavioral and reproductive problems can occur from the increased level of toxins in their bodies.

By green cleaning your house regularly, washing your pet’s bedding and dishes, following the advice in this article, and ultimately creating a green home environment Sierra Club Green Home would be proud of, you and your pet will be healthier and happier.

For more information:

pet food

indoor environment

Thursday, July 23, 2009

10 Simple Ways to Go Green

10 Quick Ways to Green Your Home

Eco-friendly basics

Many associate a sustainable home with solar panels, expensive floor renovations, various purchases of Energy Star appliances, and other costly investments. But greening your home doesn’t have to be costly and time consuming. Even though pricey investments, like going off the grid, can have great ecological and economics benefits, it’s important to accomplish the basics of going green first. Here are 10 quick and cheap steps you can take to make your home more energy efficient while helping you save money.

1. Insulate and save.

According to the Consumer Energy Center, 31% of air leaks occur in floors, walls, and ceilings. Poor insulation can cause significant indoor heat loss. Sealing air leaks in your home can save you 20% or more on your heating and cooling bill. Learn how to seal and locate leaks in your home by reading our Air Sealing and Weatherization article.

2. Got light? Get CFLs.

By replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lights you can save energy and money. CFLs use 75% less energy and can last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. When shopping, remember to purchase Energy Start labeled CFLs. Energy Star CFLs have passed the federal government’s criteria for lamp life, light output, energy use, and other performance characteristics. To get more tips and info visit our Fluorescent Lights article.

3. Solar drying.

The simplest way to cut down on your energy use is to install a clothesline to dry your laundry. This old-school way of drying your dripping jeans and t-shirts can save significant money on electric and/or gas bills. If you’re limited on outdoor space purchase an inexpensive free-standing drying rack that can be used indoors.

4. From garbage to garden.

By making the decision to compost your scraps year round, you can reduce your contribution to the 30% of yard and kitchen waste collected in landfills. You can make use of a small kitchen bin for scraps or an outdoor composting heap. Diverting waste from landfills and creating your own organic fertilizer will give you a great feeling of satisfaction. Learn how you can save money, have a garden that will be the envy of your neighborhood, and reduce your waste output by watching Sierra Club’s composting video.

5. Save water & money.

Installing low-flow shower heads and faucets is an easy DIY task. A typical shower head uses 5 – 8 gallons per minute, that’s approximately 40 gallons of water per five minutes of your shower. 8,000 gallons of water can be saved per year by installing a low-flow shower head or faucet. For ultimate efficiency install a low-flow shower head that includes a shut-off valve. This will allow you to turn off running water while you soap, shampoo, or shave.

6. Water filters.

Purchasing a portable filter or installing a residential filtration system will save you a lot of money unlike packaged water. Most people choose to drink bottled water because they believe it tastes better or is healthier than their average tap. However, tap water must meet various quality regulations enforced by your local water district and the Environmental Protection Agency. Once filtered, tap water usually has an excellent taste. By investing in a filter, you can avoid discarding thousands of plastic bottles. Various filtration options are available; to learn more view our Water Filter education.

7. Green cleaning.

Cleaning harsh stains and messes doesn’t have to be harsh on the environment. There are various natural and homemade techniques that can be implemented to clean your home. But if you are interested in commercially-bought merchandise, look for warning labels that indicate the presence of harmful chemicals, and avoid purchasing such products. An ideal cleaning agent will be marked as “contains no phthalates,” “phosphate free,” and “biodegradable.” To learn what to avoid and shop for visit our Green Cleaning Supplies article.

8. Thermostat control.

Most residential energy is spent on temperature control. You can save money and energy without any additional investments by simply turning down the thermostat in cold weather and keeping it higher in warm weather. If you would like a more efficient approach to temperature control then install a programmable thermostat. According to Energy Star, an appropriately-used programmable thermostat will save you about $180 in annual energy costs. To get more info and tips visit our Programmable Thermostats education.

9. Blackout curtains.

Using blackout curtains can reduce significant light and reduce heat loss. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 10 – 25% of thermal energy escapes through windows. By investing in blackout curtains you can save money on your heating bills and reduce your output of greenhouse gases. When shopping for curtains look for organic cotton or hemp textiles.

10. Goodbye tech vampires.

What is vampire energy? Vampire energy is the energy used by your appliances when in passive mode (the clock on your cable box) or standby mode (your turned off TV). Annually, this accounts for 5-8% of your home’s total electricity usage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. This energy accounts for 25% of the total energy used by appliances. Once power strips are turned off, electrical currents do not flow to these devices. In addition, you can unplug appliances (not your refrigerator of course!) from outlets to save money and energy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Climate Composting for Dummies

Composting Tips: Warm, Hot or Cold

From Garbage to Garden

Composting is nature’s way of recycling organic materials like fallen trees, yard waste, and even kitchen scraps. Home composting kits are now widely available so you can make good use of kitchen scraps in the yard or garden.

We know what you’re thinking. “If nature can recycle organics, why should I compost at home instead of putting my waste out for the landfill to decompose?” Well, the answer is simple. The process of composting occurs most effectively in specific conditions which landfills cannot provide due to the presence of other waste including plastics, metals, and textiles. These materials halt the process and inhibit the compost from forming. Thus composting at home will provide you with great satisfaction knowing that you are diverting trash from landfills and will save you money on fertilizers.

Under correct conditions, the end product is like black gold, a rich soil full of organic nutrients that can be added to your yard or houseplants. By making the decision to compost your scraps year round, you can reduce your contribution to the 30% of yard and kitchen waste collected in landfills. Composting is easy but even the experts get stumped about the composting process during the change of seasons. It is important to understand that composting requires various components and no matter the temperature change, it can continue successfully, if modified accordingly.

Heat, drought, desert, and… composting?

Composting in a hot, dry climate sounds like a contradiction, but despite the limited moisture it is possible. Many dedicated composters who live in the desert or experience hot summers find that their heap dries out significantly during immense heat. There are numerous steps you can take to prevent dry compost or to rejuvenate a “pile in progress”:

  • Compost should be as moist as a wrung out rag; thus, if your heap is drier add water or move the bin into a shady area.

  • Keep a lid on your compost pile to reduce evaporation; dry compost does not decay.

  • Compost forms best with a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 30:1. Materials that contain carbon are generally brown and include dry leaves, wood chips, and cardboard. Nitrogen waste is green and includes things like lettuce, grass and fresh leaves. Arid climates are limited in carbon yard waste, so add debris like fallen pine needles, wood chips, ashes, corn stalks, shredded newspaper, shredded cardboard, sawdust, straw, and peanut shells.

  • If you live in a dry climate or are experiencing a drought, you need to build your compost pile in a container that retains water. Using a plastic barrel or drum is a great idea. You do not want to use screening, widely-spaced slats, or chicken wire because this will promote evaporation.

  • Every time you add another layer to the organic compost, use the hose to soak the material until it is about as damp as a wrung out rag. Make the layers of compost thinner when conditions are dry; you can accomplish this by increasing the surface area.

  • When it does rain in your dry climate you’ll want to utilize the rainwater. Make the top of the compost indented like a bowl or dish. You can even create a water tube to hydrate the inside of the compost pile. Simply drill holes around a one to two inch PVC pipe connected to the water bowl and place it into the center of the pile.

Brr… it’s compost outside!

Composting during winter time or in cold climates is not unheard of. Despite the cold trips outdoors to their receptacles, many composters say that come spring, their compost is better than ever. Since worm and bacteria activity decreases in cold temperatures, your compost will slow down in decay and possibly overflow.

  • If you have harsh winters, move your compost pile to a warmer area (close to an outside wall, alongside the garage, or other sheltered area) during cold months.

  • If the compost pile is cold, try adding more nitrogen (green waste). Remember to maintain a well balanced ratio of carbon to nitrogen.

  • Adding some insulation (cardboard, wood, old home insulation) to your compost bin will help keep the heat in and continue composting during harsh winters.

  • The earth can be a great source of insulation, you can dig a trench and dump water into it. Simply cover with a tarp when not in use and bury when full.

  • If you live in a cold climate, keep your compost in a sunny area or indoors (shed, garage).

  • Worms are an important part of composting, come winter and they’re nowhere to be found. You can purchase starter worms to add to your cold compost.

  • Breaking down waste into smaller pieces during the winter will keep the composting process from slowing down excessively.

  • To keep your system working during the winter you will need to continue adding materials all winter. Most people don’t like to take frequent trips through their backyard tundra, so keep a small composting bin under the sink for scraps. When it fills, empty it into the outdoor composting bin (if you did not move it indoors).

Temperate Climate

Composting is most popular in areas with temperate climates. The weather provides the necessary temperature and moisture for the composting process. However, despite the favorable climate any heap can be ruined if you add meats, fish, citruses, oily foods (which are likely to attract unwanted pests), milk products, and pet manures. Keep in mind that manure from pets that are herbivores such as rabbits, gerbils, sheep, cows, and chickens is a great supplement because their manure is a great source of nitrogen. In addition to such helpful tips, there are also general rules to composting in a temperate region:

  • If it is too wet, remove the lid of your composting bin for one/two days or elevate the compost pile so that the excess liquid can drain from the bottom. Too much liquid can halt the process.

  • Sometimes composting can be a challenge in temperate climates due to the unexpected amount of rainwater or temperature. Balance the wetness of your heap by adding things like hay, sawdust, or leaves.

  • Since the location’s soil is likely to be rich and full of worms, position your compost pile over soil rather than concrete. Worms will aid in the process and will produce excellent vermicompost (you can purchase additional worms).

For more information

Sierra Club Composting Video

Trash Compactors

Garbage Disposals

Healthy Lawns and Gardens

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our Earth from Space

Extreme Makeover: Environment Edition

Space Shots Capture the Effects of Global Warming and Urban Sprawl

In celebration of their tenth anniversary, NASA’s Earth Observatory released a series of satellite images documenting nearly a decade of worldwide climate change. In just ten years, the evidence of environmental and human impact on the world is dramatic. From deforestation to urbanization to evaporation of lakes and seas, places around the world are rapidly changing, which then begs the question: What will become of these places in the future?

The following are a few examples from NASA’s Earth Observatory...

For the full article, go to

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Paper or Plastic? BYOB

Reduce, reuse, recycle

As you wait patiently for your groceries to approach the cashier’s scanner, you are expecting the bagger to ask, “Paper or Plastic?” Perhaps, without thinking twice, you blurt out your preference for the copious bags that will soon pile at the bottom of your pantry or in the trashcan. A few shoppers may actually consider plastic because of easy storage and small, light size, for eco-friendliness you’d think paper is the slam dunk best choice. The right answer and the facts surrounding the claim may surprise you.

Say ‘goodbye’ to millions of trees

Bagging your red peppers and carrots in a paper bag is not the answer to ‘greening up’ your trip to the grocery store. In fact, paper bags are no better than plastic bags. Many believe that because they are tree based products they are more eco-friendly. In order to produce the desired amounts of paper bags, many trees have to be logged and processed. According to the American Forest and Paper Association, in 1999, 14 million trees were cut down to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used in the United States that year alone. It is reasonable to say that the numbers have increased since then to accommodate the rising population.

The production of paper for grocery bags worldwide is a process which heavily relies on the presence of various chemicals. The pungent smell of paper mills is not the only thing that can irritate the surrounding ecosystem. The use of toxic chemicals contributes to both air pollution, such as acid rain, and water pollution. In 1988, the Federal Office of the Environment published that in fact the production of paper sacks generate 70% more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.

Since people associate paper bags with other unwanted paper products like newspapers or advertisements, paper bags have a higher recycling rate than plastic. Unfortunately, despite the great effort of recyclers worldwide, paper recycling can cost a lot of energy. The Society of the Plastic Industry’s (SPI) research states that it takes 1444 BTUs or 1362 kJ to recycle one paper bag. This is almost half of the energy is taken to create the bag originally; thus, some energy is conserved. But, is expelling additional energy to remanufacture the product a good choice?

Plastic isn’t that fantastic

Plastic bags are often seen blowing in tree branches, clogging street drains, floating in our oceans, and flooding our storage cabinets. It is estimated by scientists that, worldwide, more than a million plastic bags are consumed and discarded per minute. That is approximately 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags annually. Many are striving to decrease the outrageous number of plastic bags that reach the landfill by recycling used bags. According to the Wall Street Journal, only 1% to 3% of plastic bags are being recycled, Eleven barrels of oil are saved when one ton of plastic bags is reused or recycled, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

What happens to the plastic bags which do not get recycled? The most obvious answer - they reach the landfill where they do not biodegrade due to their chemical composition. Even the SPI determined that plastic bags do not break down completely into organic materials. While the bags make your local landfill their home, they go through a process called photodegradation. This means that the plastic is broken down into smaller pieces which can gain mobility and relocation via water, wind, or wildlife. According to the EPA and The Ocean Conservancy, wildlife is significantly threatened by various plastics, including discarded bags. Marine life constantly mistake plastic bags for prey like jellyfish, and consuming plastic bags can cause blockage to the digestive tract which leads to starvation and death. In 2002, a whale that washed up on the coast of Normandy had 800 grams of plastic elements, including plastic bags, in its stomach.

Unlike biodegradable paper bags, plastic bags have become common in even the most remote places like Antarctica. According to David Barnes, a marine scientist with the British Antarctic Survey, plastic bags were a rarity in the late 1980s, yet since the early 1990s they have significantly contributed to pollution.

Thankfully, news like this travels faster than migrating plastic bags and has motivated worldwide communities to take action. In 2002, the Irish government imposed a plastic bag consumption tax (called a PlasTax); consumers pay an obligatory fee of $0.15 per bag at check out. This has reduced consumption of plastic bags by 90% and has saved the country 18 million liters of oil, and counting. China has also banned the distribution of free plastic bags, in efforts to encourage reusable alternatives. Closer to home, San Francisco has become the first U.S. city to ban petroleum-based plastic grocery bags in 2007.

The answer you’re looking for - BYOB

Bring your own bags! The alternative to plastic and paper bags is reusable bags because they are designed for more than a one-time use. Reusable bags come in many different colors, sizes, and are made out of various materials. Reusable shopping bags are available to accommodate produce, heavy items, and little storage space. Substituting reusable bags for disposable ones will help save millions of dollars on oil extraction used for plastic bag production, land clean ups, future disposable bag purchases by stores, and the remanufacturing costs incurred by recycling centers to process disposable bags.

By bringing your own bags to your shopping experience, you will help eliminate the addition of plastic and/or paper bags into our landfills and ecosystems. Consequently, you are preventing the pollution of our oceans. One reusable bag can replace thousands of plastic bags which could have negatively impacted our planet. You are also saving terrestrial and marine wildlife by decreasing their interaction with disposed garbage and possible paper mill emissions.

The answer to our shopping woes almost seems too obvious, but most Americans continue to use plastic and/or paper bags. Take a stand against plastic and paper bags, and damaging consequences associated with them. Start by recycling your current paper bags, along with your other paper products. Then take a trip to the local grocery store to dispose of your plastic bags, by dropping them into the designated plastic bag recycling bin that most grocery stores are taking the initiative to install. The last and most exciting part of this eco-friendly approach to shopping is the investment in reusable bags. Browse the collection of reusable bags at your local grocery store or online.

Eco-friendly pet waste baggies (no more petroleum based plastic)

Earthwise Bags


Wedge World

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Green Cleaning

Green Cleaning… Not Just For Spring

Natural Cleansers vs. The harmful norm

Why should you use green, eco-friendly cleaning products over the refreshing, aromatic, effective, traditional, yet terrible, toxic, harmful, polluting products that you’ve been using forever? That question almost answers itself.

Cleaning your home thoroughly can be a difficult job in itself, but understanding how dangerous many cleaning products are, for the environment as well as our physical well-being, is the first step in moving toward cleaning your home more safely. Your challenge should be to try “green cleaning” to see if helping to save the planet by cleaning your home with green products could fit into your lifestyle.

Most of the conventional cleaning products we grew up using are petroleum-based and have serious health and environmental implications. But there are ways to reorganize and revitalize your home without opting to use harmful cleaning products. There are now many natural products that can keep your house clean without the toxic side effects.

Try cleaning with non-toxic household products such as baking soda, vinegar, castile soaps, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, olive-oil, vodka, and club soda. These products make for great cleansing alternatives and also are less harmful to the environment. Products like these actually save money given the high costs of the more harmful products and disinfectants that we normally use.

Natural Cleaning Products

Vinegar: it naturally cleans like an all-purpose cleaner and also works well as a deodorizer and disinfectant. It is safe to use on most surfaces and has the added bonus of being inexpensive. Improperly diluted vinegar is acidic and can eat away at tile grout. Never use vinegar on marble surfaces. You shouldn’t worry about your home smelling like vinegar because the smell disappears when it dries.

Lemon Juice: is another natural substance that can be used to dissolve soap scum and hard water deposits. Lemon juice combined with salt is a great substitute to clean and shine brass and copper. It also can be mixed with vinegar and/or baking soda to make cleaning pastes.

Baking Soda: can be used to scrub surfaces in much the same way as commercial abrasive cleaners. Baking soda is a great deodorizer when placed inside the refrigerator and freezer to absorb odors. Put it anywhere you need deodorizing action.

Hydrogen Peroxide: this disinfectant can also be used as an effective bleach alternative in the laundry room. Because it’s also a powerful oxidizing agent, it works especially well on food, soil, plants, blood and other organic stains. Just make sure to spot test in a discreet area because, like bleach, hydrogen peroxide may lighten fabrics.

Salt: perfect for cleaning grungy ovens, this natural abrasive is also great for soaking up fresh carpet stains such as red wine, coffee or ink.

Eco-Friendlier Alternatives & Tips

Avoid poor indoor air quality

It’s not uncommon for the air inside your home to be more toxic than the outdoors. This is caused by toxic materials and substances, especially certain plastics, fabrics and cleaning products that emit invisible gases. Keeping windows open as often as possible allows fresh air in cleanses the air of harmful gases.

Leave the toxins at the door

Imagine the variety of substances that accumulate on your shoes by the end of the day. Bringing that oil, antifreeze, animal waste, particulate pollution, pollen, and who knows what else into your house is not good news, especially for kids and other critters that spend time on the floor. Keeping the sidewalk out of your home with a good doormat or a shoeless house policy is a great way to track less dirt which means less sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming, which also means less work, water, energy, and fewer chemicals in your home.

Use non-toxic detergent and fabric softener

Traditonal fabric softeners can be very irritable to some of us with sensitive skin. Most of your commercial softeners contain chemicals such as benzylacetate, benzyalcohol, camphor, chloroform, limonene, linalool, pentane, and ethlacetate, all of which have harmful effects - from skin irritation to pancreatic cancer! Try using non-toxic dryer sheets. They are much cheaper given their value and can be reused and last for over 500 washes. Also try using handmade washing detergents by mixing 1 cup Ivory soap(or Fels Naptha soap), 1/2 cup of washing soda and 1/2 cup borax. Use 1 tbsp for light loads and 2 tbsp for heavy loads. You will save a bundle in detergent costs, have clean, refreshing clothes, and stay eco-friendly.

Clean and refresh your indoor air naturally

Avoid store-bought air fresheners and replace them by boiling natural items like cinnamon, potpourri, and herbs, etc. These are great ways to create aromas without affecting the environment. You can also take fabric softener dry sheets with a rubber band, and attach them to your ceiling fans resulting in having odors sucked right out of the air!

Other Reading and References

Monday, July 13, 2009

America's Littlest Green Home

The Greenest Little House in America

It’s probably not what you think

Green home 3Close your eyes and conjure up an image of what you think the most eco-friendly home in the country would look like. Do you imagine a foliage-covered bio-dome surrounded by photovoltaic solar arrays? Or an off-the-grid cob and straw hut nestled in the woods? Or do you think of a 1915 craftsman-style bungalow in the heart of Oakland, CA? One of these options seems like it couldn’t possibly be true, right? What does an old house have to do with being environmentally friendly? But when it’s the home of the founder of the US Green Building Council (USGBC), you probably wouldn’t expect anything less than the greenest home in America.

David Gottfried is a pioneer in the green movement in the US. He masterminded the LEED program – the set of standards for green building, founded the USGBC, the World Green Building Council, has recently written a book and has his own green building consulting firm. He’s basically the George Washington of eco-friendly construction. So you would think he would live in some exotic, high-tech home, high atop a pristine mountain. But instead he and his wife decided to buy an old fixer-upper at an auction and transform it into a green dream home.

Green Home 1The Gottfrieds, David and his wife Sara (a Harvard-educated doctor with a distinguished resume of her own), decided that they loved the Rockridge area of Oakland. They had lived there previously and loved the neighborhood. Coffee shops, a farmers market, local shops and a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station were all within walking distance of where they wanted to settle down. They found a little old house in the area that hadn’t been touched in over 60 years that was going to be sold at a public auction. They outbid the competition at the county courthouse and set out on an ambitious remodel.

The goals set forth by the Gottfrieds for this project were ambitious: to generate all electricity on site, make the home 70% more energy efficient, reduce water usage by half, eliminate construction waste, cut down on transportation by half, achieve green ratings and showcase the home to educate the public on how to build green.

Green Home 2A team of contractors was hired to assess the Gottfried home in order to make it a modern, livable space, but maintain its craftsman charm – basically turn it into a veritable stealth super-eco home. They removed interior walls to open up the choppy floor plan, extended the kitchen, made the enclosed porch into a mud room(WHAT IS A MUD ROOM???) and turned the basement and attic into livable spaces. They added cellulose wall insulation, low-e windows, locally-built green cabinets, water-efficient toilets and fixtures, a solar hot-water heater, photo voltaics, a gray-water system, pavers in the front to reduce runoff, a rainwater collection system (that feeds the toilets for flushing)… the list goes on. Also, they built a new, self-sustaining office in the back yard so David’s commute could be reduced to walking out the back door. This new office and the home’s proximity to the train station and local shopping contributed to their goal of reducing their personal transportation costs by half.

The end result was the highest LEED and GreenPoint rated home (its scores are about to be surpassed by a new-construction, luxury home in the same neighborhood). The Gottfried home scored an amazing 106.5 points on the LEED scale, 26.5 points more than what was required for the highest rating of Platinum and 179 points on the GreenPoint scale, which was the highest by 51 points. More importantly to the Gottfrieds, they had a showcase home that illustrated how other people could make their own homes greener.

Green Home 4Not everyone can afford all of the features put to use in the Gottfried home, as construction costs and the overall price of the renovation were not revealed, but even assuming this work was far from inexpensive, the Gottfrieds have shown that you don’t have to live in an exotic bio dome covered in foliage to have a super-eco home. And over time, as these techniques become more mainstream, green living at this level will become far more accessible to the average American family.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Green Mobile Homes


Green living hits the road

green mobile home 1Definitely not your uncle’s Winnebago! And being green with envy isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when talking about environmental-friendly mobile homes. Luxury or comfort aren’t the words that come to mind either, but words like cramped, or small, or automotive usually don’t instill satisfaction inside the hearts of potential residents who’re use to a home that can’t get up and drive off But “green” is exactly what Michael Berk, F.L. Crane Endowed Professor of Architecture at Mississippi State, wants mobile homes to be. Tossing traditional thinking about the structures of mobile homes, into the metaphorical “recycling bin”, is exactly what Berk plans to do.

Working in the Carl Small Town Center, which is a part of MSU’s College of Architecture, Art & Design, Berk created an award-winning, factory-built unit he calls the GreenMobile. Unlike other lower-end housing, Berk applies sound construction methods, as well as energy-saving concepts for lower utility costs. The GreenMobile design meets all International Residential codes for structurally sound foundations, insulation, promotes the use of energy-efficient appliances, and creates interior spaces that are better suited for natural-day lighting and ventilation. It also includes an option to install solar photo-voltaic systems, which convert energy from the sun into electricity.

Energy savings from the home make it a smart choice for people looking for affordable housing and lower utility costs. “It potentially could make money at the end of the month,” Berk said.

Energy isn’t the only thing that separates the GreenMobile from traditional mobile homes. Berk says that his next generation mobile home will actually appreciate in value, unlike current mobile homes that depreciate shortly after being bought. Given the potential to accrue value and the fact that they’re designed to last longer than traditional mobile homes, GreenMobiles could be financed through low-interest loans from lending institutions such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They’re expected to cost in the $50,000 range.

Mobile homes don’t have luxury?

The i-House is a next generation, green manufactured home. It’s from Clayton Homes, who have been building mobile homes for over 70 years (They were bought by Warren Buffet in 2003). It will sell for about $100,000, which puts it above trailer park homes but below regular houses. Clayton homes can be configured in seven different ways and includes eco-friendly and energy-saving features like low-e windows, dual-flash toilets, butterfly style rainwater-collecting roofs, tight insulation, zero-VOC paint, and more. Other amenities include IKEA fixtures, bamboo flooring, recycled content decking material, and Japanese-style climate control in each room. The i-house also features a large open kitchen and living room with contemporary cabinets and high efficiency appliances.

The layout of the long main “core” of the house and a separate box-shaped guestroom/office “flex room” resemble the letter “i” and it’s dot. Yet Clayton CEO and President Kevin Clayton said their “i-house” stands for more than it’s carbon footprint.

green mobile home 3With a nod to the iPod and iPhone, Clayton said, “We love what it represents. We are fans of Apple and all that they have done. But the “i” stands for innovation, inspiration, intelligence, and integration.” And shattering those mobile home stereo-types is a good thing, he said. “I think the “i-house” is just more proof that the industry is capable of delivering homes that are highly customizable at an affordable price.

The “i-house’s” metal, v-shaped roof, which has been inspired by a gas-station awning, combines design with function. The roof provides a rain water catchment system for recycling, supports flush-mounted solar panels and vaults interior ceilings at each end to 10 ½ feet for an added feeling of openness. The Energy Star-rated design features heavy insulation, six-inch thick exterior walls, cement board and corrugated metal siding, energy efficient appliances, and tankless water heater.

green mobile home 4

The Green RV

As more and more Americans struggle to find affordable ways to travel, the attention turned to recreational vehicles. But can eco-minded travelers reduce their carbon footprint(or tire tracks) when driving these behemoths? The good news is that the RV industry is adjusting to the demands of a more environmentally conscious public. These vehicles are offering more efficient fuel usage and improved design while providing spacious accommodations that can fit realistic budgets.

Most modern mobile RVs today use fuel-efficient diesel engines that get about 15 miles per gallon as opposed to the industry standard of 8-10 miles per gallon. Manufactures are also building RVs with lighter composites(similar to the material found in golf balls), experimenting with new design, combating wind resistance by making sleeker front ends that improve overall fuel efficiency, changing the look of trailers to a more European design, with an aerodynamic front that conserves energy.

green mobile home 5Innovations hitting the RV world include units powered by solar and wind turbines, which generate electricity, power gourmet kitchens, full bathrooms, and home enter-tainment centers. According to the Recreational Vehicle Industry Association, a coalition of nearly 500 manufacturers, suppliers, and dealers of recreational vehicles, up to 20 percent of RVers use solar panels to power on-board systems. Meanwhile, manufacturers like Winnebago and Fleetwood are introducing newer, hybrid models that are incorporating diesel engines and batteries. Like hybrid cars, these RVs rely on battery power for city and slower driving, and both the battery and diesel engine at higher speeds(which charges the battery at the same time). This means that a hybrid vehicle can travel up to 700 miles without refueling, using approximately 12 miles per gallon.

In a recent independent study by the Department of the Environment in Britain showed that, on average, RVs released 4.58 pounds of CO2 per mile verses 1.39 pounds per mile for an average car.

green mobile home 6RVs reduce our carbon footprint through conservation and efficiency. According to PKF Consulting, a research firm specializing in travel and tourism, families of four taking RV vacations generate less carbon dioxide than families traveling on a plane, renting a car and staying in a hotel. This study analyzed the CO2 emissions of vacations varying in length, and included car/folding camping trailer, SUV/travel trailer, Type C motor home, and Type A motor home(diesel). Using the carbon calculator methodology developed by Conservation International, an organization promoting biodiversity conservation. PKF found that in each case, RV vacations had a softer environmental impact than the typical airline/rental car/hotel vacation.

Related Reading

Guide to Carbon Offsets

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Dangers of Styrofoam

Pop! Goes the Polystyrene

Styrofoam is no friend to our environment

Styrofoam is no friend to our environment 1There must be something in the water in high schools across the world nowadays. How can it be that high school students are solving some of recycling’s biggest mysteries- mysteries that have stumped multiple degree-holding scientists? When most awkward teens are worrying about pimples on their face, a pop quiz or who to ask to prom, Daniel Burd and Tseng I-Ching were busy researching microorganisms that eat plastic and Styrofoam. Last year in May, Daniel Burd received attention not just from his home country of Canada but news media worldwide for his discovery of polyethylene (plastic)-eating microorganisms (Sphingomonas and Pseudomonas). In the environment, plastic can take hundreds and hundreds of years to decompose, but with Burd’s research, he predicts that plastic can decompose in as little as three months. Impressive for a 16-year old.

Tseng I-Ching must have channeled Daniel Burd and his science project because just this past May she dominated the world’s largest science fair (the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair) with her discovery of polystyrene (Styrofoam)-eating bacterium which is extracted from mealworm beetles. Tseng, a 16-year old high school student from Taiwan, worked with 500 mealworm beetles isolating the bacterium that decomposes polystyrene found in their digestive tracts. Although she did not mention how long it takes for the bacterium to decompose polystyrene, finding another way to decompose Styrofoam is an amazing feat.

What is Styrofoam?

Styrofoam is expanded plastic foam (EPS), specifically an expanded version of the number six plastic polystyrene, used for many different functions involved with insulation. Although Styrofoam is one product of polystyrene created by the Dow Chemical Company, we associate all fluffy, white material as Styrofoam. Expanded Polystyrene made its debut back in WWII as material for floating water-proof rafts; however, the uses for this plastic have greatly diversified since then. We see it being used daily and in mass quantities as take-out containers at restaurants, as coffee cups in the office, as insulation for walls, and as packing material. We use Styrofoam for just about anything because it’s cheap, effective, and lightweight (98% air).

Why is EPS dangerous?

EPS is created from a number of dangerous chemicals such as benzene and styrene.

…To your health

According to a study revised in 2000 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), styrene is dangerous when broken down. Short-term exposure to styrene can cause eye and mucous membrane irritation, and gastrointestinal harm. Long-term exposure to styrene is much more dangerous, causing headaches, depression, fatigue, weakness, and hearing loss. Some studies have shown that long-term exposure to styrene decreases birth rates, increases the risk for leukemia and lymphoma, and has devastating effects on the liver, kidney, and stomach. If you have to use EPS, never heat it because doing so releases toxic fumes that increase the risk of health problems.

…To the environment

Styrofoam is no friend to our environment 2Benzene, a very toxic chemical labeled as a carcinogen, is extracted from coal; extracting coal from mines is very damaging to the environment and contributes to land erosion. Besides the dangers of producing EPS, Styrofoam takes hundreds of years to decompose naturally. There are few known methods of breaking it down quickly. Because EPS is an end product, it cannot be recycled into different products, only reincarnated as itself. This limits recycling options since the process of melting EPS into a liquid state and then reforming it is too labor-intensive and toxic for recycling centers to handle. Most recycling centers do not accept EPS because they do not have the technology available to reprocess it, so people just throw it away with their trash. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPS accounts for less than one percent of the solid waste stream by weight. However, you have to remember that EPS is 98% air and all volume which means that EPS accounts for much more than one percent of the solid waste stream by surface area. Another reason why recycling centers do not collect EPS is the cost- it’s expensive. Compared to recycling glass which costs usually less than $100 per ton, EPS costs around $3000 per ton to recycle. However, there are some recycling centers across the nation that do recycle EPS; you can find them online or by using Sierra Club Green Home’s Recycling Center Locator. One reason why people do not recycle EPS is because the requirements are too complex. Because EPS is used for many different things, recycling centers have many different rules and regulations for EPS as compared to paper or glass. Unfortunately, because of all these restrictions on EPS recycling, people have no choice but to throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam coffee cups every year, enough to circle the Earth 436 times, which does not even include other EPS products.

When Styrofoam is not recycled, it ends up in landfills where it breaks down into small pieces allowing the wind to carry these thousands of pieces into the ocean and the environment, or it ends up in the oceans as large pieces that eventually break down into smaller pieces. Marine animals and birds mistake these little pieces of EPS as food causing a whole chain of events that eventually affects our health and the planet. EPS is toxic to humans and animals, and when we eat marine life that feed on it we are ingesting harmful chemicals.

How to solve the Styrofoam problem

…Don’t use Styrofoam

The easiest way to prevent EPS from leaking into the environment is to stop using it. Instead of Styrofoam coffee cups at the office, bring your own reusable mug or thermos. Instead of using Styrofoam plates, use reusable plates. For packing material consider biodegradable packing materials made with cornstarch or 100% recycled paper which can be found online. Consider using old newspapers, shredded cardboard, and even popcorn as alternatives to packing peanuts. We, the average consumers, aren’t the only culprits of using Styrofoam. Restaurants continue to choose EPS for take-out containers. One way to decrease the usage of Styrofoam at restaurants is to talk to the manager and show him or her alternatives to EPS such as biodegradable containers.

Styrofoam is no friend to our environment 3Reuse Styrofoam as Loose Fill

Don’t know what to do with a large block of Styrofoam lying around in your garage? Shred it up and use the pieces for filling in bean bags or for potting plants. With EPS packing peanuts, just reuse them for your next package. You can also donate them to shipping stores.

…Recycle Styrofoam

A recent study by the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers found that 69 million pounds of EPS was recycled in the year 2008. Considering how light EPS is, 69 million pounds is quite a number. But millions of more pounds of EPS are thrown away in landfills. The number of recycling centers that accept EPS is growing. Check Sierra Club Green Home’s recycling locator for a center that accepts EPS near you.

…Natural Remedies

Scientists at Sony discovered that limonene, an oil from the skin of citrus fruits, completely dissolves EPS which then can be used reused. Tseng discovered that bacteria from mealworms decomposes Styrofoam.

The future looks bright for more natural remedies to dissolve EPS — we just need to discover them.

The science world is eagerly waiting for the next teen scientist. Who will emerge as plastic’s worst nightmare?


…to you

By recycling Styrofoam or eliminating Styrofoam altogether, you will not be exposed to the toxins that it can give off, thus, reducing your chance of health risks associated with prolonged exposure.

…to your wallet

There are affordable alternatives to Styrofoam such as biodegradable packing material and biodegradable plates and bowls. You can even make your own biodegradable packing peanuts with cornstarch which is a safe and cheap alternative. If you are left with a Styrofoam container from a restaurant and have no idea what to do with it, try shredding the container apart into packing peanuts which saves you money on your next package.

…to the Earth

By recycling, reusing, or reducing EPS, the amount of it in landfills and in oceans will decrease which decreases the amount of tiny EPS particles being eaten by marine animals. The manufacturing of new Styrofoam will also decrease, thus limiting the amount of toxins such as benzene that are released into the environment.

For more information about


Recycling articles

Attention Green Realtors

Operation: Team, Designation: Green

National Association of Realtors’ Goes Green

National Association of Realtors Goes Green 1

About 230 real estate professionals took part in the National Association of Realtor’s(NAR) first class for the new GREEN designation at the 2008 Realtor Conference & Expo today. The two-day course highlighted what makes a property green and energy efficient, strategies for educating clients about green features, financial incentives and rebates available, and how to market yourself as a green real estate specialist once you obtain the GREEN designation.

To obtain the GREEN designation, attendees must complete the course, as well as(at least) one elective on residential, commercial, or property management. The GREEN designation was created by NAR’s Green REsource Council. The GREEN designation comes at a time of increasing demand for green home features. Green buyers purchase homes that cost, on average of $12,400 higher than the median home price in 2007, according to NAR’s 2007 Profile of Buyers Home Features Preferences.

National Association of Realtors Goes Green 2The Green Resource Council and NAR’s Green Designation were established by the Real Estate Buyer’s Agent Council(REBAC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Association of REALTORS®

In the spring of 2008 in response to the increased interest by real estate buyers, sellers, and practitioners to go green. With a panel of subject matter experts, the council developed a comprehensive cross-disciplinary program in the summer of 2008. That fall, they launched the pilot Core Course to a live classroom of students.

As energy costs rise along with concern for the environment, homeowners are looking for innovative ways to save money and live responsibly,” says NAR President Richard F. Gaylord, who is a broker with RE/MAX Real Estate Specialists in Long Beach, California. “Realtors who earn the GREEN designation will add value to the real estate transaction with their knowledge of resource-efficient building materials and processes, as well as their understanding of simple actions that can reduce energy and water waste.

Forty percent of Realtors® report that green building is important to their business and clients, while 87 percent believe it will be of even more interest a year from now. NAR is engaged in various green building issues through initiatives like the Smart Growth Action Grants Program that helps Realtor® associations create livable communities. In addition, many state and local Realtor® associations are developing programs to teach members about energy-efficient and environmentally conscious home features.

For Qualified Realtors Only

In order for realtors who attend the course to obtain their GREEN designation certification, here are the guidelines that they must satisfy:

• Understand what makes a property green

• Explain to clients and customers the cost benefits of green building features and practices

• Distinguish between industry rating and classification systems

• List and market green homes and buildings

• Discuss the financial grants and incentives available to homeowners

• Guide buyers in purchasing resource-efficient homes

For more information

National Association of Realtors

Green Resource Council

2007 Profile of Buyers Home Features Preferences