A Simple Step You Can Take: Install a Low Flow Shower Head

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If you’re like most Americans, you probably take a shower every day.

Unless you’re already using a low-flow shower head, you have an opportunity to save some money in addition to cutting back on your family’s environmental impact.

Low Flow Shower Heads are designed to restrict water flow while providing a good shower. We found one at the Real Goods store for $12.00 that they claim will save you 50-70% of your water usage (which for a family of 4 could be up to $25/year in savings).

In terms of Carbon savings, according to this analysis by Environmental Defense, a single low-flow shower head could save over 350 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

I installed one of these recently and it took only about 5 minutes. I purchased the shower head and some “plumber’s tape” for under $10 at Walmart, and I used only a pair of pliers to do the installation.

The water pressure is only a little less that my old shower head and it works fine. After using it a few times now, I don’t even notice a difference.

Overall, it was an easy project with a nice payback — and an easy way to cut down the energy my family uses.

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Black is the New Green: 10 Energy Saving Search Sites

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Black is the New Green.

At least, that’s the message of a movement sometimes referred to as Black Google.

The idea first appeared in a January 20th blog post by Mark Ontkush, where he examines how much energy could potentially be saved if Google’s background was black instead of white.

His findings? If Google, and only Google, were to change their background color to black, the world could save somewhere around 3,000 Megawatt-hours per year!

The post eventually rose to the top of Digg, and was followed up with another, and more complete, article that explains the science and the numbers behind the

How Does It Work?

Basically, computer monitors, especially the big clunky CRT monitors that take up most of your desk, consume more energy when the screen is white than when the screen is black. This has been shown to be true of CRT’s, LCD’s, and plasma displays, although the different technologies vary in power consumption.

As Ontkush points out, the savings is “a goodly amount of energy and dollars for changing a few color codes.”

So Why Aren’t All Websites Black?

So why don’t web designers just do it and save us all that energy and money? It’s been shown that people will spend more time at a site done up in warm and welcoming colors than they will one that is primarily dark. What it comes down to is changing peoples’ expectations about how their screen should look.

Adjusting peoples’ expectations is always a difficult thing, but what if we began in the office instead of on he web? In the world of corporate and government organizations, where most of us sit at least 40 hours a week, we use the computer on ‘their’ terms. What would happen if these organizations simply started defaulting the screen to black instead of white?

What You Can Do NOW.

So what do we do while we’re waiting for the corporate IT guru’s to make our screens more environmentally friendly? We can begin changing our own expectations. As with anything habit forming, we’re best off starting small. Several alternative Google search pages use Google’s search technology on a dark screen. Personalized search site, Blacklys.com, even offers a Firefox search add-on.

Social Networking sites now offer the ability change your preferences; why not change your color scheme? Sites like Twitter and MySpace, and Facebook actually encourage customization.

These are little things when we compare our impact to that of Google, but little things add up. The only way to save the energy, the money, and the environmental impact, is if we each make the choice.

Alternative Google search sites:

[via ecoIron blog]

  1. Darkoogle, uses a black background with green text.
  2. Earthle
  3. GreenerGle
  4. Greygle, uses a grey background.
  5. Google Black, is a website hosted by the Google-owned blogspot, however the search results are not in black.
  6. Jabago, uses a black background and allows for searching in many languages.
  7. Ninja
  8. Power Google
  9. Searchincolor.com, an older site that supports Google colored searches since its onset. The default color is black.
  10. Trek Black

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How to Talk to Kids about Global Warming and Environmental Issues

Me and my kids!

How Should I Talk with my Kids about Global Warming and the Environment?

This weekend we’ve been doing a lot of family activities. We watched a movie together Friday night, worked on homework today, have a barbecue planned for tomorrow, and I made sure to spend some individual time talking with each of the kids over the weekend.

And it got me thinking about something I’ve put a lot of thought to lately — how should I talk be talking with my kids about global warming and the environment?

There are so many sides to the issue. So many different things to discuss. Some of the issues can be pretty scary, too.

They’ll have to face serious issues later. Should they be exposed to them now?

My kids are going to likely live for a long time. They could live to the year 2100 maybe — far past peak oil, potentially. Far past other resources running out. Who knows what other issues they’ll have to do deal with. Whatever the issues are, I’m sure they’re more complicated than I can imagine today sitting on the back porch with a beer after a big spaghetti dinner.

Some of the issues are embarrassing to me. Like species extinction — what if polar bears go extinct in my lifetime? How can I explain that? Should I say I stood by and just watched? But on the other hand, what really can I do? Sometimes there are so many things to deal with that I just feel overwhelmed.

Focus on Values Now.

So here’s what I’ve decided. I’ll focus on values – values and the behaviors that align with them.

Like today, I was talking to my son about some juice packs we got. We purchased Rip & Sip packs instead of normal juice boxes. They use innovative sip-top packaging instead of the regular juice boxes — they’re recyclable and they’re made using less materials. Normal juice boxes can’t be recycled, but these can.

So I described it to my son in simple terms:

“Is it better to drink from a juice box that uses more materials — or one that uses less materials?”, I asked. Of course, he said “less”. Then I asked, “Is it better to have juice boxes that can be recycled? Or not recycled?” — and again he got the right answer. After he finished the juice pack, I made sure he knew to put the waste in our recycle bin.

In this way, I was communicating our family’s values to him. Values are fundamental beliefs about what’s right and wrong — we believe that recycling and consuming fewer materials is important. And now, so does he.

There are other values that are important as well. We covered these in more detail in the essay, The New Values of the 21st Century Citizen, one of the early posts on this website. I hope you’ll take some time to read that post if you’re a relatively new reader here.

Complex theories about global temperatures rising are too complicated for kids. And probably too scary — those issues are for us grown ups. They’re our battles to fight – for now. Our kids will take up that battle when they’re ready.

For now, we just need to teach them the difference between right and wrong from an environmental perspective. Armed with those values, they’ll learn to change the world when they’re old enough.

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How to Clean up a Broken Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb

Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulb

One of the simplest activities that anyone can undertake to reduce their energy use (and their electricity bills!) is to switch out their traditional light bulbs with the newer, Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs. They save money, last longer, and are better for the environment.

Our regular readers may remember that we covered all this in our Ultimate Guide to Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) Bulbs.

But they have one downside — they contain small amounts of Mercury.

The Mercury is used inside the bulbs to increase their efficiency. Only a small amount is used, but you should still be careful. (A CFL bulb contains only 1/100th of the mercury in old-style mercury thermometers.)

The main issues with Mercury are:

  1. If they break, the mercury can escape into your home, and
  2. They should not be disposed of into your normal trash.

If a CFL bulb breaks in your home, the amount of mercury released isn’t much — but you should use caution if this happens.

According to the U.S. EPA, here are directions to clean up a CFL bulb that has broken. [PDF] Here are their directions:

How should I clean up a broken fluorescent bulb?

EPA recommends the following clean-up and disposal guidelines:

1. Open a window and leave the room (restrict access) for at least 15 minutes.

2. Remove all materials you can without using a vacuum cleaner. Wear disposable rubber gloves, if available (do not use your bare hands). Carefully scoop up the fragments and powder with stiff paper or cardboard. Wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or disposable wet wipe. Sticky tape (such as duct tape) can be used to pick up small pieces and powder.

3. Place all cleanup materials in a plastic bag and seal it. If your state permits you to put used or broken CFLs in the garbage, seal the CFL in two plastic bags and put into the outside trash (if no other disposal or recycling options are available). Wash your hands after disposing of the bag.

4. The first time you vacuum the area where the bulb was broken, remove the vacuum bag once done cleaning the area (or empty and wipe the canister) and put the bag and/or vacuum debris, as well as the cleaning materials, in two sealed plastic bags in the outdoor trash or protected outdoor location for normal disposal.

Newer CFL bulbs are now being made that use about half of the mercury that older ones used.

So Eating Local Food is Worse Than Flying Grapes in From Chile?

There’s an opinion piece in the NY Times today that argues against local food production being the most environmentally friendly way to get food to your table.

As regular readers know, this is a subject that’s dear to us here at 21st Century Citizen. We believe that supporting local agriculture has many benefits — including promoting biodiversity, giving people more of a stake in their personal food supply chain, promoting local economic growth, and getting better tasting food.

But certainly, reducing the distance your food travels should have an impact on the amount of energy required to produce, package and get it to your table? Shouldn’t it?

Well, today’s NY Times presents an argument for the opposite. Here’s a snippet:

But is reducing food miles necessarily good for the environment? Researchers at Lincoln University in New Zealand, no doubt responding to Europe’s push for “food miles labeling,” recently published a study challenging the premise that more food miles automatically mean greater fossil fuel consumption. Other scientific studies have undertaken similar investigations. According to this peer-reviewed research, compelling evidence suggests that there is more — or less — to food miles than meets the eye.

The article is worth reading completely, so I recommend you do so.

But in the end, it seems to say that localfood in and of itself is not a cure-all. It’s simply one part of what needs to be a coordinated approach to create a sustainable food supply that will support us as we move forward into the 21st Century.

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Want to change how products are developed? Here’s a chance to make an impact.

“MBDC is a product and process design firm dedicated to revolutionizing the design of products and services worldwide.”

So reads the self-description of a design firm working with clients to redesign how their products are conceived, created and disposed of.

MBDC was founded by William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart in 1995. In 2002, they released their groundbreaking book on sustainable product lifecycles, Cradle to Cradle.

They were so interested in redefining how products are created that they printed their book on a polymer film rather than paper, because they believed it to be a more sustainable process.

MBDC moved on to develop a Cradle to Cradle Certification program that allows companies to demonstrate that their products met certain ‘green’ criteria in their design and manufacture. According to their website:

Cradle to Cradle Certification provides a company with a means to tangibly, credibly measure achievement in environmentally-intelligent design and helps customers purchase and specify products that are pursuing a broader definition of quality.

This means using environmentally safe and healthy materials; design for material reutilization, such as recycling or composting; the use of renewable energy and energy efficiency; efficient use of water, and maximum water quality associated with production; and instituting strategies for social responsibility.

If a candidate product achieves the necessary criteria, it is certified as a Silver, Gold or Platinum product or as a Technical/Biological Nutrient (available for homogeneous materials or less complex products), and can be branded as Cradle to Cradle.

They are currently developing a second generation of their certification criteria and are seeking public input.

If you’re interested in reviewing and commenting on their proposed criteria, here is more information. In addition, here is a summary of the criteria [PDF] as well as the current draft version of the entire program [PDF].

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Choices: Drive? or Bike?

This is the first post of an ongoing feature here at 21st Century Citizen. It’s called ‘Choices’ and it’s purpose is to present a simple, values-based choice and generate discussion.

It’s also intended to make you think a bit and examine the reasons why you make the choices you make. Here we go with our first installment.

[Note: I'm using pictures from flickr below -- clicking on them will take you to the image's page in Flickr.]

Choice: Drive? Or Bike?


Or Bike?

This question may not be as simple as it seems.For example, if you have a long commute from your home and need to drive, well — you could use a bike if you changed jobs and worked closer to home.

So, then what if you could find a job close enough to home? Then would you use a bike?

If it seems impossible to get a job close to home, then how about a job where you work from home?

If you got a job where you worked from home, then you wouldn’t need to drive to commute. Then would you switch to using a bike?

I know it’s impossible for a lot of people to work from home — if you’re a Fireman or a Nurse, fires and sick people don’t usually come to you, so it’s impractical. But for many jobs, it would be possible. In fact, if gas were $10 a gallon, it might turn into a necessity — many people just wouldn’t be able to afford to drive to work and back.

Now what about buying groceries? Would you be willing to ride the bike to get food? Why not?

Again, for some it’s impractical — but maybe not as impractical as you’d think. For example, many people in large cities — like New York City — don’t own cars. They shop a little bit at a time or take a cab. You could do that on a bike in many towns.

In some cases, the roads may not be safe for bikes — for example, here in New Hampshire there aren’t bike lanes everywhere.

Also, for many of us the large grocery stores we shop at are too far to ride a bike.

But what if bike lanes were required by law on all busy roads? Would that make a difference? If so — then shouldn’t we be asking our local governments to adopt rules that require bike lanes? We don’t do this now because we’re used to driving cars.

And if more people road bikes, I’ll bet that local people would open stores up to serve them. Local stores used to be everywhere, in fact, until the big chains put them out of business. If there were local shoppers for them, they’d open back up. Probably pretty quickly too.

So — what do you choose here? Don’t mke the choice you think is ‘appropriate’, tell the truth. And tell us what would have to change to make you use a bike — maybe if we talk about the reasons why we don’t use bikes, it will give us ideas as to what we need to change so more people do.

And if you use a bike now, then tell us how you do it and how practical it is. What problems do you run into? What works well?

Feel free to comment. And thanks for reading!

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Earth 911 reminds us…

That in the Summer it’s important to check your sprinkler for leaks. According a post this afternoon:

A broken sprinkler can waste thousands of gallons of water, not to mention bring you a hefty water bill.

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Localcooling.com surpasses 1 Million kWH saved!

Local Cooling has just passed over 1 million kWH saved! That’s an amazing milestone. It translates to almost half a million gallons of oil or about 53,000 trees saved. Nice work for a simple, free application.

Here’s some background on the site/application:

localcooling.com is home to a windows-only utility that can be downloaded onto your computer to help you manage and reduce the amount of energy you use. Here are screenshots:

The application (again which only runs on Windows) analyzes the power consumption of your computer and automatically adjusts things so that you’re saving energy.It also reports back to the localcooling website eactly how much energy your computer has saved and even rolls that amount up into its ongoing total of how much energy has been saved worldwide. You can join teams or enroll as a whole company so that a competition of sorts builds up between groups trying to save the most energy.The controversy arises from the fact that many feel the application is, well, stupid. They say, “Gosh, anyone with half a brain can figure out that Windows itself has settings to let you reduce the amount of energy your computer uses. All you have to do is go into the control panel settings and you can find everything right there to do the same thing!”Ah, I remember back when I was a snooty windows geek too. Fortunately I’m past that now.

The truth is, this is exactly the reason why people buy Macs in the first place. Windows is too complicated — and worse, it’s so buggy that people are afraid to change any of the default settings for fear their whole computer will simply blow up anyway. So they never change anything they don’t have to.

This little application is simple, easy to install and use, and even gives you “feel good” feedback, like telling you how many trees you’ve saved.

When was the last time Windows help you save some trees and then told you about it?

The real problem I see is in the competitive nature of the teams vying for first place in energy savings. It seems like that would encourage you to keep all your computers running as much as possible in order to ‘rack up savings’. It’s a bit like telling someone ‘the more you spend, the more you save!’ at a 50% off sale.

So now we could have companies all over the world turning on all their computers and letting them run 24 hours a day so they can report their savings back to localcooling. Yeah, that’s smart.

The application should probably be modified to take into account how much of the time your computer is turned off as well. Then, we’d really see who is saving energy — that is, if you ever turned the computer back on so it could upload it’s savings data.

25 Resources to reduce, recycle and reuse plastic grocery bags

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Here 25 of the best resources we’ve located on recycling plastic grocery bags.

Well, in keeping with our core value to “Reduce, Recycle, Reuse”, we’ve actually provided info on all three of these. All are important.

Learn: Learn about the problems caused by plastic grocery bags:

Here are some resources for learning about usage and environmental impacts of the bags:

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