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Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day is celebrated around the world each year on April 22nd. It’s a great opportunity to consider what we each do in our daily lives that may negatively impact the environment, either through pollution, excess use of precious natural resources, or other unthinking actions. None of us would purposely damage our home but it’s easy to get busy living life and working hard and missing the small ways we can each make a difference.


Given the amount of time I spend in airplanes, I know that my street “cred” in the environmental world is likely null. I do enjoy my work and vacation travels so I do what I can to offset all that jet fuel being burned. I’ve always been interested in the technology of electric cars and went on my first test drive of one back in 1997. I finally got one last year, selecting the zippy little Nissan Leaf. I’m the first to admit that having an electric car, with its limited range, might not be for everyone. Yet, I love it! And in 12 months, I haven’t had to visit a gas station except for refueling a rental car on a trip. We estimate it costs us about $5/week to charge it, assuming I charge it twice. We also supplement our family’s power needs with solar panels on our roof, so I like to think I drive California sunshine to work. And the solar panels supply nearly 50% of our total energy need.

Light bulbs - Changing your light bulbs to more efficient compact fluorescents or LED bulbs is a great first step for anyone to take to reduce their energy use. I volunteer with a Girl Scout troop and we recently did experiments of the temperature of various light bulb types. The traditional bulbs gave off a great deal of energy in the form of wasted heat, while newer forms stayed much cooler to the touch. Visit this US government website for an explanation of the technology as well as a comparison of the energy consumption of each type of bulb. The environmental challenge has shifted from inefficient and heat-emitting incandescent to the disposal issues of gas-filled compact fluorescents. Make sure you visit the website of your local community government to find the best way to safely dispose of old bulbs, to ensure the chemicals don’t end up in a landfill, possibly seeping into the groundwater and spoiling local waterways.

Batteries – We go through so many batteries in our home, especially the AAA size for our TV remotes and my digital camera. Consider switching your batteries (AAA and the like) to a rechargeable kind. The typical battery you might be using in your child’s toy or your TV remote control contains acids that also need to stay out of the city garbage system. At my office, we have a bin where people can deposit used batteries for safe, corporate-sponsored removal. If such a program doesn’t yet exist at your office, find out if one exists at your local office supply store. They will often recycle a number of things for you, such as batteries, printer toner cartridges and larger tech items such as computers (though there may be a nominal fee).

Lights Out and TVs Off – it can be surprising to learn how much energy is wasted from leaving lights and appliances on. One hidden waster is your oversized flat screen TV. See if you can turn it completely off without disrupting your family’s scheduled DVR recordings. A plasma TV might be hogging 350 kWh/year while a sleeker HD 3D flat screen might be using 230 kWh/year. That might only be $80 per year on your family’s electric bill but if no one is watching the TV and it’s spending most of the time in “standby”, there’s serious waste there.

Online Bill Pay, Statements, and Email – you already send and receive far more email than personal letters. I still love getting something in the mail other than bills and statements. In fact, I dislike those paper statements so much (I have to file them, right?) that I’m starting to convert to online statements. You can sign up to get rid of catalogues too. Of course, this also means I get my information much more quickly online and when I want it. It saves the energy of printing, collating, driving it to the post office, mailing, and delivering it too.

Recycle Old Tech – got an old phone? Find a charity willing to find it a new home, maybe for foster kids aging out of the system or victims of domestic violence. Make sure you remove all your private data first by wiping or removing the SIM card. Old computers can also be repurposed (wipe and overwrite the hard drive first) and most of the major charities, like Goodwill, have instructions on what kinds they will take. Never put an old monitor in the trash – contact your city’s sanitation department for the best local information. And as mentioned above, your local office supply store may have services to help with recycling a number of tech items.

Old ideas are good ideas– while we were traveling last summer, we rented an apartment with a small washing machine and no dryer. My children had never seen me put laundry on a line to dry before and thought it was so funny. I was reminded how great it is and how wonderful everything smelled. When we got home, we put up a clothes line and now use it as much as possible. That same California sunshine powering my home and car is now drying my sheets!

Though Earth Day is celebrated one day out of the year, many people are finding small ways to incorporate ecological changes into their daily lives. Sometimes we get prompted by our children, who learn these tips at school, from television or even at Girl and Boy Scouts. Even one change can help so try some of these ideas out or suggest some ideas of your own in the comments area below. Thanks!

(image of the Nissan Leaf, courtesy of guynamesjames, shutterstock.com)