More Tips for Sustainable Living

As published in the Northwest Herald, supplied by the Environmental Defenders. Each of us has a role to play in protecting the environment for our future. There are many small things we all can do to reduce pollution and conserve resources:

  • Trees properly placed around buildings as windbreaks can save up to 25% on winter heating costs.  Shade from two large trees on the west side of a house and one on the east can save up to 30% of a house’s annual air conditioning costs.  These reduced demands for energy result in lower CO2 emissions generated from “peak” energy production, which is usually coal in Illinois.  At the same time trees remove pollution from the air, they capture rainwater and reduce stormwater runoff, and they beautify our landscape.  So plant a tree – or two or three!
  • For maximum efficiency, inspect the filter of your air conditioner monthly.  Since a clogged filter can increase energy use by 5%, clean and replace it as needed.  Clean the entire unit annually.  Regular servicing of a central air conditioning system can yield 10-20% energy savings.  So if you have a central air system, have it tuned up and the coils cleaned every 3 years.  These actions will also result in a 350 pound annual reduction in CO2 emissions.
  • To effectively operate your air conditioner, install a timer or a programmable thermostat so that you don’t have to leave it on when it’s not needed.  It pays to turn off your air conditioner when you will be gone for more than an hour.  If you want to reduce the amount of energy your air conditioner uses, keep your shades or curtains drawn during the heat of the day and plant trees on the western, southern, and eastern sides of your house.  A home’s indoor temperature can rise as much as 20 degrees if the windows are not shaded.
  • Set your air conditioner thermostat at “short sleeve” temperature: 78 degrees.  If the temperature outside is the same or cooler than that, just open the windows.  For every degree you raise the thermostat from your current setting, you save 3-5% of your cooling costs.  If you raise it by 4 degrees you will reduce your CO2 emissions by 20 pounds per month.
  • As we move into warmer weather, if you need to buy a new air conditioner, purchase the most efficient model, one with an Energy Star rating. Make sure it is the correct size for the amount of space you’re cooling. Then install it in the shade to reduce its workload. If it has to be in the sun, build a protective shade over it without blocking air circulation. This will increase the unit’s efficiency by 5-10%, saving you money and reducing your use of energy.
  • To reduce your carbon footprint, purchase local food products at local farmers markets or participate in community-supported agriculture. You might also wish to grow your own food.  Buying local or growing your own food can reduce the energy needed to transport produce by 1,000 miles or more.
  • You might begin by “adopting” one of your family’s favorite places in nature.  Take a bag with you each time you visit the site to pick up garbage.  You will help beautify the area and know that you made an immediate difference.
  • Two excellent ways to conserve our resources are to carry reusable bags and a reusable mug with you.  Then while shopping you can forego using both paper and plastic bags and use your bags over and over instead.  Having the mug along will allow you to purchase a take-out beverage without using a plastic or paper cup that so often ends up in our landfills.
  • As you work to reduce your energy consumption, get your family involved by asking for specific changes in everyone’s habits. For example, post a note on light switches reminding everyone to turn out lights when they leave a room. Tape a reminder to your car’s dashboard for the main driver to check tire pressure each month.  Assign someone to cut power to unused appliances each night.
  • America’s TVs consume the output of 21 large power plants.  Even when they are shut off, they still use the output of one power plant.  Many other types of home appliances use electricity when turned off as well.  The common mix of appliances in a home uses about 50 watts of electricity 24 hours per day.  Over a year, that produces over 600 lbs of CO2.  To reduce your CO2 output and save money, turn off the power to your appliances whenever they are not in use. Power strips are your friend – you can shut down many things at once. Newer ones even have an outlet that stays live for you “Tivo” or other recording devices.
  • Typical electric clothes washers and dryers generate 5 pounds of CO2 per washer/dryer cycle.  For laundry washed in hot water, 90% of the energy goes to heat the water, while only 10% powers the machine itself.  Washing in cold water creates substantial savings in CO2, about 2 pounds/load, and in most cases gets the clothes just as clean.  To create even greater savings in energy and to reduce the water used per load by about 50%, buy a front-loading machine when it is time to replace your current one.
  • Replace your incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs.  They cost a little more, but they will last about 10,000 hours compared with 1,000 for the typical incandescent bulb.  So you will get your investment back in energy savings.  Using compact fluorescents instead of incandescent bulbs in rooms where lights are on for at least 4 hours per day saves 100 pounds of CO2 annually per bulb.
  • Air leaks around doors, windows, and electrical outlets; through the fireplace; in basements (between the foundation and the frame); and especially in attics lose as much heat, in the typical home, as leaving an average-size window open all winter long.  The extra heating fuel required to compensate for these energy leaks represents up to 800 pounds of CO2 emissions annually.  You can cut these emissions and keep your home warmer by using weather stripping, outlet insulators, caulking, insulating foam, window putty, and door sweeps to plug these leaks.
  • Heating your home in our climate typically generates about 8,800 pounds of CO2 emissions annually.  Changing your thermostat habits and setting your thermostat to 65-68 degrees F when someone is active in the house and 55-58 degrees F at night and when everyone is out of the house will lead to an annual CO2 reduction of 1,400 pounds.  And since home heating accounts for over a quarter of your energy bill, you’ll save money as well.
  • One of the most important things you can do to save energy is to regularly tune up your furnace.  Up to 50% of the energy you use in your home goes to heating it.  And a heating system can waste up to 50% of the energy it uses if it’s not operating efficiently. This can represent as much as 3,750 pounds of CO2 wastefully going into the air each year.  So tune-up your oil furnace once a year and if your furnace is gas, tune it up at least every two years.
  • Seal all joints in your warm-air ducts with mastic or duct tape that meets UL-181 specifications, and insulate all the heating ducts that pass through unheated areas such as crawl spaces.  These two actions can improve the efficiency of your heating system by as much as 30% and reduce your CO2 emissions by 800 pounds annually!
  • US residents drive an average of 10,000 miles per year per capita.  For a car that gets 20 mpg, each mile equals a pound of CO2, which means the emissions add up fast.  Reducing your amount of vehicle miles traveled is one of the most high-leverage actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint.  With planning, most people can achieve reductions of 20% (1,650 pounds of annual CO2 reduction).  Create a plan, and see how much you can reduce your CO2 emissions from this one action.
  • To reduce your vehicle miles traveled (VMT) each week and reduce your carbon footprint, start a non-commuting trip diary for your family, noting each trip’s destination and mileage.  Combining shopping trips, making lists and pre-mapping your trips, and buying in larger quantities can reduce your VMT by as much as 50% a week.  Carpooling with other parents for your children’s activities can drop your VMT by another 20% to 80% per week and also save lots of gas and money.
  • To reduce your carbon footprint by cutting your vehicle miles traveled (VMT) each week, try telecommuting, carpooling, walking, or biking one or more days each week.  This can reduce your VMT by 20% or more, resulting in an annual reduction of 1,650 pounds of CO2.  Also, rethink your commuting route to use the least amount of fuel.  The best route may not be the shortest, but the one that prevents idling in traffic.  In city driving, up to one-third of your fuel can be wasted through idling.
  • Every gallon of gasoline used in your car generates about 20 pounds of CO2.  Keeping your car in tune can improve your fuel efficiency as much as 30%. Make sure your tires are inflated to the pressure that is printed on them.  Both of these actions will reduce CO2 emissions & fuel costs.
  • Have you been considering buying a new car? If so, you can make an important decision to reduce your CO2 emissions and save a lot of money on fuel costs by buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. The average car in the U. S. now gets 22 mpg. New models are now available that get over 60 mpg on average. You can check the fuel economy range for cars using the Environmental Protection Agency’s gas mileage guide at to help you make your decision.
  • Think before you buy any product.  Firstly, do you really need or want that product? Try waiting several days before making your purchase – this will eliminate impulse buying. Secondly, consider how did the production of this product will impact the environment. What further impacts will there be with the disposal of the product and associated packaging materials?
  • Recycling is thankfully a habit that many people have developed. But the second word in the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is just as important. Many things in our lives can be used a second and third time. For instance, think of that nice padded envelope you recently received in the mail. Instead of throwing it away, scratch out the address, tear off the stamps, and use it again. Challenge yourself to see how often you can reuse items in your everyday life.
  • In your attempt to act on the second word of the phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, two websites might serve you well. will put you in contact with a network of people who want to find or give away free items for reuse in their area. will provide you with a directory of local reuse and recycling options.  Reusing items in this way will save you money and reduce your energy consumption.
  • Simplify your life as much as possible. De-clutter your home. Keep only belongings that you use or enjoy on a regular basis. Sell or give the rest away.  By making the effort to reduce what you own, you will naturally purchase less and create less waste in the future.
  • Avoid products that are packaged for single use (i.e., drinks, packaged lunches, candy, cat and dog food, yogurt, etc.). Instead, buy in bulk and transfer the products to your own reusable containers.  Seek out  food stores that have bulk bins where they sell everything from grains to cereal to cleaning products.  You’ll save money and create less waste.
  • A person with a red meat diet emits the global warming equivalent of about 5,000 pounds of CO2 a year more than a person with a vegetarian diet.  This is because livestock are inefficient at converting grains into useable food, with beef requiring 16 pounds of grain just to produce a pound of meat.  Add to that the resources used for producing grain, transporting meat to market, and packaging.  So one of the most important actions you can take to reduce your CO2 emissions is to broaden your diet and become less dependent on meat.
  • Avoid creating trash wherever possible.  When ordering food, ask in advance to not receive any unnecessary plastic utensils, straws, etc. Buy an ice cream cone instead of a cup. Don’t accept “free” promotional products (how many refrigerator magnet advertisements do you really need?). Buy products with the least amount of packaging.  See how creative you can be to not create trash.  Every little bit avoided does make a difference!
  • Create a garbage shortage! The best way to reduce garbage is to not create it. Pack a waste-free lunch whenever possible.  This means that you have no packaging to throw away when you’re done.  Pack it in a reusable carrier using reusable containers inside, a thermos for drinks, and silverware to wash and re-use.  Bring home banana peels or apple cores to be composted.
  • Many people are good at recycling, but the second word in “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is just as important. Many things in our lives can be used again. Instead of discarding that nice padded envelope you received in the mail, scratch out the address, tear off the stamps, and use it again. Challenge yourself to see how often you can reuse items in your everyday life.
  • The primary cause of global warming is carbon dioxide emitted through the burning of gasoline, coal, oil, and natural gas, which we use to power our cars and homes and to produce the goods we consume.  Each day we can make choices in our lives to reduce the amount of CO2 that we personally produce.  Let’s renew our efforts to make wise choices and to “live like everyday is Earth Day” to create a better future for our children and grandchildren.0
  • Don’t wait to start conserving energy to reduce your climate change emissions.  Set a specific energy reduction goal for electricity, gas, and gallons of fuel consumed in your car.  Determine your current usage, then work with your family to commit to realizing that goal each month.
  • A winter tip: If you use rock salt or other common de-icers on your sidewalk and driveway, be sure to follow the instructions and don’t use too much. Adding more than the recommended amount does not make the snow melt any faster.  The greenest way to deal with ice is to physically remove as much snow and ice as possible.   The less ice there is, the less salt you will need to use.  Look for the most environmentally friendly de-icer you can find – a de-icer that includes salt mixed with calcium magnesium acetate (CMA) or potassium acetate (KA) is better than salt by itself.  Our actions in our yards and driveways affect our rivers, streams and lakes.  As the snow falls this winter, use these water-friendly tips for safe sidewalks and healthy rivers.
  • A dirty filter makes your furnace work harder, so cleaning or replacing yours monthly can save energy and cut your heating costs by as much as five percent. Beyond the savings, clean filters keep dust and mold spores out of your house, helping reduce allergy symptoms. They can also prevent more expensive maintenance work or even the failure of your furnace.  A high-quality permanent filter that can be cleaned will cost more, but over its lifespan it will save far more than you would spend purchasing disposable filters, which also saves resources.

Want to try to reduce your carbon footprint to zero? You may be able to do so by offsetting your CO2 emissions by purchasing carbon credits.  A variety of organizations have created ways to help you do this.  For a list of criteria for evaluating carbon offsets, a ranking by an independent assessor, and places to purchase them, visit:  See or to buy carbon offsets related to air travel.

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