I have a confession to make. Not a shamed-faced confession. Just a confession of fact.
I am not terribly green. I don’t mean to say that I go out of my way to harm the environment or think of ways to use more than a reasonable amount of energy and resources. I do go out of my way to pick up trash when I see it. I don’t care what your level of “eco-awareness” is – there is no excuse for treating the outdoors like a garbage can. It’s rude if nothing else. In addition, I am very big on finding new ways to use stuff I might otherwise throw away. I suppose it has the effect of deepening my overall ‘verdantness’, but it mostly just satisfies my “aren’t I clever” reflex. So it’s not that I am willfully un-green. I just don’t much think about how green my day-to-day activities are.
Furthermore, I think I am in the majority.
Stop! Before you tell me about how much more environmentally aware society is etc . Yes, I know that as a WHOLE that may be true but I mean, individually. I know ‘going green’ gets a lot of play in the media and every consumer goods manufacturer with their eye on the future of the bottom line has a “green” of eco-friendly line of their goods coming out. However, I think most people, when not confronted with the stories and sound bites don’t actively think about it on an ongoing basis.
So, I decided to really look and see if I was the (unintentional) environmental baddie one might assume such an attitude would create.
Measuring my carbon footprint.
I had great hopes for this step. After all, according to a 2008 report from the Brookings Institution and the Regional Plan Association, New York averages one of the smallest carbon footprints in the nation. Just ignore the lunacy in that same report that says L.A. has the second lowest and the Lexington, KY the highest. (I hope the weed they smoked when compiling the report was organic and locally grown). However, the low footprint for New York makes sense to me. Recycling is a part of daily life – OK, not to the extent that it is in say, Seattle but we do our bit. Even if it is compelled by the letter of the law and fear of fines. The majority of us quite a lot of us don’t have any sort of yard to tend; we don’t own cars and we walk on many of the errands the rest of the country hops in the car to accomplish. For the longer ones we the bus or subway – and our transit system is implementing greener and greener stock (for the buses, anyway). Sure, I grab an occasional cab (a growing percentage of which are now hybrids) when I am running late. That is, I must admit, becoming less of an issue if only because such a thing is like taking one’s life in one’s hands while defeating the whole purpose of having grabbed the cab in the first place. Traffic in the city is more appalling than ever and if the reckless driving doesn’t kill you, the frustration of sitting there idling just might. I may start preaching the good of green JUST to get some of these cars off the roads.
But I digress. Back to measuring my carbon footprint. There are a number of online calculators to help figure this out. Each works slightly differently and involves varying levels of detail so I tried 3 different ones just to see how it went – I am bang on average for even for New York City with a footprint of 6.03 (my scores were 6.03, 6 and 6.5). According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the average American’s footprint is 20. I’m feeling greener already and I’ve done nothing but stay put. Of course, that is only a rough an estimate because I don’t have details on how much the recycled portion of my garbage weighs or how much the carbon footprint of the MTA’s new greener buses are vs. the older ones, that level of detail. No, it’s not exact but it’s a stake in the ground and it inspires me to move forward to examine ways to green up my day.
Greener Grocery shopping
Ah, the evil known as plastic grocery bags. The bane, I am told, of the eco-friendly world. OK, I can bring a canvas tote with me instead of using the plastic bags provided. Sounds right but upon reflection, if I don’t have the plastic bags, what will I put my garbage in? I’ll have to buy a box of Hefty bags or something won’t I? Won’t that defeat the purpose? I went to see what my options were.
Something biodegradable, perhaps? BINGO! After just a few moments search, I found many options for businesses wanting to order in bulk – both pleasing and puzzling. Pleasing because I’m glad that there’s a lot of choices for companies who want to do the right thing and puzzling that more of them don’t do it. I mean, with this many choices, they ought to be able to negotiate a decent price for doing the right thing. But I am not a business. I don’t want to buy in bulk (I live in a New York apartment. I have no ROOM for buying anything in bulk). I just want a month of two supply of kitchen bags.
Lo! I found them – BioBags. And the prices at some places are less than the price for Hefty bags of the same size. A plus! Is the packaging of these items biodegradable as well? One assumes it would be. I suppose having them shipped to me (the transport costs and the packaging) makes them slightly less green. Of course, if I bought them at the store, the store still had them shipped and they are still packaged. Is that enough to negate getting them in the first place? What if I only got plastic grocery pages WHEN I needed them and used a canvas tote the rest of the time? Sigh – this is getting complicated. Let’s go on to something easier.
What about the actual food? Now, I don’t buy a lot of food at once so I am very good about not wasting food and a lot of what I buy is from the produce section so it doesn’t involve much packaging. Points to me. I am not as good as I might be however on buying local. But you know, “local” in Manhattan isn’t the easiest thing to find. Easier is organic. The grocery stores are stocking more and more of it (though Manhattan grocery stores are space challenged when compared to your typical suburban grocery so one takes what one can get). I can bring my canvas tote to any number of farmers’ markets (taking the bus or walking, of course) and while I can’t know for sure about the carbon emissions spent getting the goods to the market, I can support smaller farms, better farming practices and save some money at the same time.
I think we all know that air-conditioners use a tremendous amount of power when compared to a lot of other things in your home. I freely admit to being an air-conditioner junkie. Blame my upbringing. It’s hot and humid in Houston. I don’t care how green you are – if you lived there, you’d live on air-conditioning as well. Here though, things are different. Summer, though hot enough, isn’t as long and my living space, though spacious for an apartment of its type, isn’t as big as my home in Houston was. So with age and maturity (and a move north), I have gained ground but I’ve made a few more changes lately.
I turn the units off when I am going to be gone more than 30 minutes. I also turn them off at night except for the one in the bedroom and I keep that door closed. In the AM (before the heats starts escalating), I open the windows and air the place out before switching stuff on again. If I am working for an extended period of time, only the unit in that room is on. I thought it might be annoying, keeping track of what was on and what wasn’t. But it’s not really. I formed the habit very quickly and it’s very much automatic for me now. And honestly? A lot of the time air-conditioners aren’t actually necessary. Unless it’s BRUTALLY hot out, some open windows and a circulating fan (which I assume uses less power than the air-conditioner) works just fine.
I don’t have a ton of gadgets sitting around plugged in all the time. Yes, the TV stays plugged in and the appliances. But I don’t have a stereo system or iPod dock; don’t leave the cell phone charger plugged in or anything of that nature sitting around leeching power even when off. OK, I feel goodish about that. Other appliances give me slightly more pause. I moved into my apartment in 1991. I still have all the original appliances and they work perfectly well. No, seriously. I haven’t had any trouble with them ever – with the single exception of a hose leak in the freezer door that was fixed by the simple expedient of replacing the tube to the ice maker. So here I sit with 17 year old appliances that work just fine. Energy Star started in 1992 as I recall so I can’t claim to know if they were considered to be among the more efficient models of their day and I am sure the ones being sold today are more energy efficient. My question is — are they so much so that it makes sense to buy new ones just for that reason? Surely, there is an environmental impact in the manufacturer and transportation of appliances.
I suppose the one area I’ve never done anything about the cleaning products I use. I’m sure my standard cleaning supplies aren’t doing anyone any favors and I’d be happy to switch if I can find effective substitutes. I shall have to look into it.
Well, it’s all something for me to think about. There are clearly things I do right and things I do wrong and plenty of little things I can step up or cut down without changing my daily routine wholesale all at once. But I am pleased to know that I’m not doing ungodly amounts of damage from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep.