The term go green has gained popularity over the past decade since environmental concerns have become more understood and have attracted more media attention. Going green means making choices (such as using eco-friendly products) to help preserve the environment.
Reducing an individual's impact on global warming is commonly known as reducing his or her "carbon footprint." The size of a carbon footprint represents the amount of emissions a person or group lets into the atmosphere. These emissions can be neutralized by buying an equal number of reductions.
Going green often saves money, in both the short and long term, depending on the product purchased. There are many ways to save money and to save energy at the same time.
Recycling can generate money as well as conserve natural resources and reduce waste disposal. Bottle bills (container deposit laws) have increased recycling because there is a monetary incentive to return the container for recycling, usually five or 10 cents. Reusing items instead of replacing or upgrading can also save money and generate less waste.
In early 2006, the cost of electricity went up throughout the United States. Many consumers in Austin, Texas, saved money by switching to green electricity, while others already benefited by an earlier move to green power. Green power or green energy is a term used to describe electricity that is created from renewable sources, such as the sun or wind. Green power is typically purchased in specific amounts, such as 100 kilowatt hour (kWh) blocks, or as a percentage of electric usage. (KWh is a unit of energy used to measure amounts of electricity.) However, even though green power is available nationwide, lower prices are rare.
According to the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the cost per kWh may be less than most electricity suppliers' standard prices; typically consumers of green power pay about two cents more per kWh. Even so, more than half a million U.S. households use at least partial green power.
There are many nationwide and global organizations that aim to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Greenhouse-gas emissions have been associated with global warming because the gases trap heat in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases come from burning fossil fuels to make electricity, burning jet fuels that power airplanes, and automobiles burning gasoline. This means that every light turned on and appliance plugged in generates emissions.
In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced ENERGY STAR© as a voluntary, market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through energy efficiency. ENERGY STAR© is a joint program of the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Products that earn the ENERGY STAR© label have met energy-efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and the DOE. Today, more than 50 different kinds of products, as well as buildings and new homes, carry the label.
The Carbon Neutral Alliance (CNA) is an environmental nongovernmental organization (NGO), helping people and organizations reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions from their daily activities. Members have access to an array of services, technologies, and information aimed at reducing their carbon footprint. Additionally, the CNA provides technical support to members and collaborates with other environmental NGOs on sustainability and climate change. The EPA defines sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
There is some controversy about the value of green-product labeling on household goods and food products and whether the labeling is difficult to accurately understand. For example, there is no standardized definition of a "natural" product.
General: Going green often saves money, in both the short and long term, depending on the product purchased. There are many ways to save money and energy at the same time. Low- or no-cost ways to save on both energy and costs include the following: setting thermostats a few degrees lower in the winter and a few degrees higher in the summer; replacing old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs); unplugging appliances when they are not in use or using a "smart" power strip that detects when appliances are not in use; and using cold water to wash clothes and, whenever possible, using a clothesline or rack instead of a tumble dryer. These techniques require little or no effort to lower energy costs and usage.
In most states, electricity suppliers now offer green power to residential customers. People purchase power from utility companies or from another green-power company. Preferred sources of green power include wind, solar, and geothermal. Some other sources, such as large-scale hydropower, certain types of biomass, and municipal solid waste-generated power, are also viable alternative energy resources.
Electricity is fed into the nationwide power grid, and the billing company often stays the same. Green power is also available to buy in the form of renewable-energy certificates (RECs). RECs are available to buy from green-power companies across the country, even if green power is not available for a certain area.
In 1992, the EPA introduced ENERGY STAR© as a voluntary, market-based partnership to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions through energy efficiency. Today, more than 50 different kinds of products, as well as buildings and new homes, carry the label.
Vehicles and gasoline: Using less gas helps people save money and cuts down on emissions. Walking or biking instead of driving whenever possible helps reduce individual carbon footprints and saves the cost of parking. Telecommuting or moving closer to work helps individuals save on gas expenses.
Speeding and rapid braking waste gasoline, so driving at the speed limit helps conserve fuel. Using cruise control on freeways helps maintain a constant speed and may often save gas. Cutting down on driving miles by combining errands into one trip instead of two or more may also help conserve gas. Idling of the engine wastes gas and is unnecessary for more than 30 seconds, even in cold weather.
Carpooling and using public transportation are other viable, cost-saving techniques that also help cut emissions. Replacing clogged air filters can improve gas mileage by as much as 10%, further saving money. Also, completing periodic car tune-ups and maintenance checks can help avoid fuel economy costs, while correctly inflated and aligned tires can improve gasoline mileage by around 3.3%. Also, using air-conditioning only when needed can help cut fuel costs.
Alternative-fuel vehicles: Vehicles can be powered by sources other than gasoline, such as electricity, ethanol, natural gas, propane, diesel, biodiesel, and hydrogen.
Hybrid electric vehicles can either create their own electricity or be plugged in to recharge. Fuel-cell vehicles are powered by hydrogen. Fuel-efficient vehicles, hybrid vehicles, or alternative fuel vehicles may save on gas costs and cut down on emissions, helping the environment. However, hybrid vehicles cost more than non-hybrids to buy, and unless the vehicle is driven more than 15,000 miles a year, the upfront cost may not make up the difference in gasoline savings.
Food and household goods: The cost of food production and the energy resources needed to ship food items all contribute to global warming. Eating less meat can be cheaper, and buying local produce cuts down on shipping costs while ensuring that the products will be fresh. Planting a vegetable garden and not using pesticides will ensure organic produce. To save money, buying seasonal foods from local farms may be effective.
Buying in bulk, particularly food from bulk bins, can save money and packaging. Instead of buying bottled water, using a filter to purify tap water reduces costs to the individual and cuts down on plastic waste. Many store-bought cleaning products are expensive and contain numerous chemicals; effective nontoxic, household products, such as baking soda, vinegar, soap, and lemon, can save money and packaging and help indoor-air quality, plus they have been used for generations for cleaning purposes.
Consumerism: Cutting down on unnecessary purchases or buying secondhand items may cut costs and allows for items to be recycled and reused instead of thrown away. Local free-cycle and free-sharing groups nationwide offer free goods, often household items, to members. Such groups are often found on Yahoo or Craigslist and can probably also be found with a quick Internet search. Reusing and recycling goods cuts down on personal cost and environmental resources. When purchasing clothes, look for items that do not need to be dry-cleaned: dry-cleaning can be costly, and the chemicals used during the process can be harmful to the environment.
Appliances: Keep electronic products as long as possible before upgrading. This applies to cell phones, computers, televisions, and many other electronics. When these items are no longer useful, recycle them at the appropriate recycling center instead of simply throwing them in the regular trash; electronics waste (e-waste) contains mercury, which must be disposed of safely. E-waste recyclers can be found nationwide, and government listings are available online. Many landfills are also e-waste handlers and recyclers. Mercury is considered to be a toxic pollutant.
On average 75% of the electricity consumed to power home electronics is saved when products are turned off. Air-drying dishes instead of using a dishwasher's drying cycle can save money and energy. The ENERGY STAR© label estimates appliances' energy efficiency and consumption. This label is the U.S government's seal of energy efficiency for appliances that conform to guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
Wash and dry full loads of clothes and make sure to use appropriate water settings. To improve efficiency, clean the lint filter in the clothes dryer after each load, use the moisture sensor, or use a clothesline to dry clothes and eliminate dryer usage completely.
Laptops use less energy than desktop computers. ENERGY STAR© computers and monitors conform to certain guidelines; however, they need to have the "power management" features activated to save energy. ENERGY STAR© suggests that power-management features can cut energy use by half.
For electronics, use power strips that can be turned off when the equipment is not in use instead of simply putting them into standby mode. Screen savers on computer monitors do not save energy. Putting computers into sleep mode or switching off the monitor can save energy though. When not in use, individuals should always turn off their computer and monitor.
Heating and cooling: The largest energy expense in the typical U.S. home comes from heating and cooling. Improving existing heating and cooling systems is one way to increase energy efficiency as well as adding supporting sources of heating or cooling to increase efficiency.
Heat-resistant radiator reflectors between exterior walls and radiators increase efficiency, as does releasing trapped air from hot-water radiators a few times each season. Radiators have small valves that need to be turned to release trapped air. Cleaning warm-air registers, baseboard heaters, and wall radiators, plus ensuring they are unblocked by carpeting and furniture, can also increase energy efficiency. In hot weather, using fans to create a wind-chill effect can help cool homes. In the winter, to retain hot air, turn off ventilation fans in the kitchen and bathroom within 20 minutes of use.
Programmable thermostats adjust the temperature according to an individual's schedule and save money on heating and cooling. Insulating hot-water heaters and hot-water pipes can help prevent heat loss. In fact, using proper insulation and air-sealing techniques can save as much as 30% in heating and cooling costs.
Windows with low U-values and low solar heat gain co-efficiency (SHGC) can maximize energy benefits in areas with temperate climates (hot and cold seasons). The lower the U-value, the better the insulation. U-values are given numbers measuring how well windows insulate heat. The DOE recommends that colder climates should install windows with a U-value of 0.35 or lower, ensuring windows have double glazing and a low-emittance (low-e) coating. Low-e coatings reflect infrared energy, keeping heat from escaping either outside or inside. Applying sun-control or other reflective films can reduce solar gain in higher temperatures to reduce cooling costs in the home. Simply closing curtains on south- and west-facing windows may also reduce costs.
Caulking, sealing, and weather-stripping air leaks around windows and doors may save more than 10% on energy bills. Properly insulated attics, ceilings, walls, and floors can save the average family up to 30% on energy bills.
Up to 25% of energy consumed in homes is attributed to water heating. There are numerous ways to reduce water-heating bills and save energy: lowering the thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit can save energy and still ensure water is hot. Draining a quart of water every three months from water tanks will remove sediment that can interfere with the efficiency of the water heater, thus saving on energy. Purchasing ENERGY STAR© dishwashers and washing machines, which follow strict energy-efficient guidelines and use less water, may also save on costs and energy. Other methods to conserve energy include insulating water tanks according to manufacturer's directions and repairing any leaky faucets.
Drain-water heat recovery systems can save energy by preheating new water. This may be effective in reducing energy use for water heating. Pool covers on swimming pools can also save on water-heating costs because they mitigate evaporation.
Using cold water for washing clothing can save energy because up to 85% of the energy used goes to heating the water. Faucet aerators control the rate of water flow and consequently conserve heat and water while still keeping water pressure high.
Water consumption: Reducing water use is an effective way to save money, as well as conserving water. People can reduce their water consumption by taking shorter showers, installing low-flow showerheads, and using a faucet aerator on each faucet in the house. A faucet aerator is a simple device that can be screwed onto the faucet to control the rate of water flow. Planting native, drought-resistant plants instead of non-native species in yards and homes can reduce water consumption needed for landscaping.
Lighting: High-intensity discharge (HID) or low-pressure sodium lights use less energy. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) may save 50% on an individual's lighting costs, because they use one-fourth the energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Using CFLs in all table and floor lamps can cut costs. They are available in many shapes and sizes and should fit most lighting fixtures. CFLs have a much longer life compared to traditional incandescent bulbs; however, if used in a very cold climate, they may not work as well.
Outdoor decorative lamps used year-round can use as much gas as it takes to heat the average home during winter. Instead, use outdoor lights with a motion sensor so that they will only turn on when someone is present. Mini fluorescent or electroluminescent night-lights are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs and are cool to the touch.
To further reduce costs, do not keep lights on in rooms that are not in use. Additionally, timers and occupancy sensors can be used to reduce the amount of time lights are in use.
ENERGY STAR©-labeled lighting fixtures are available and meet strict energy-efficient guidelines set by the government. ENERGY STAR© lighting products are available to purchase in many household appliance stores, such as Sears, and also in stores that typically sell light bulbs.
Recycling: Money may be redeemed from recycling cans, bottles, and even electronics, depending on municipal laws. Recycled products can save on environmental costs when products are used for additional uses, and recycling also reduces landfill waste. Recycling can generate money as well as conserve natural resources and reduce waste disposal.
U.S. bottle bills (container deposit laws) have increased recycling because there is a monetary incentive to return the container for recycling, usually five or 10 cents. In 2007, the Bottle Recycling Climate Protection Act was proposed to amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act. The Solid Waste Disposal Act regulates the storage, treatment, or disposal of waste. The proposed national bill would require states to levy at least a 5 cent deposit on all beverage containers. Those states already running successful deposit programs would be exempt as long as they maintain high recycling rates. As of 2008, this bill is still currently being debated and has not been passed. Additionally, there are campaigns in numerous states nationwide to pass their own bottle bills.
Currently, in Taiwan, recycling containers are provided at businesses. Local authorities work with the private sector in developing efficient consumer access to recycling facilities. This helps identify regions needing additional recycling facilities based on population density.
Tax credits and deductions: In October 2008, former President George W. Bush signed the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which extends tax credits for energy-efficient home improvements, such as windows, doors, roofs, insulation, HVAC, and water heaters. Improvements made during 2008 will not be eligible for a tax credit; however, future improvement made in 2009 will be eligible. This bill extends tax credits for solar energy systems and fuel cells up till 2016, and new tax credits have been created for small wind-energy systems and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.
Builders of energy-efficient homes are eligible for tax credits, and owners and designers of energy-efficient commercial building are eligible for tax deductions.
Owners of energy-efficient vehicles are also eligible for tax credits and deductions, depending on the vehicle make and model. There is currently a 60,000-vehicle-limit tax credit per manufacturer; Toyota and Honda have already reached this limit. However, other vehicle makes of hybrids purchased after December 31, 2005, may still be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $3,400. Those who purchased hybrids before this date may still be eligible for a clean-fuel tax deduction of up to $2,000. Fueleconomy.gov has current information about specific makes and models and the varying tax breaks available.
Saving money and saving energy often go hand in hand. Sealing and insulating air ducts in homes can give an average annual savings of $310 and also save 3,268 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Saving on gas and a reduction in emissions can happen even with less-efficient vehicles. For example, the average annual savings difference of driving a 14mpg vehicle and a 16mpg vehicle is $401 and 2.546 pounds of carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a toxic air pollutant.
Studies have suggested that bioenergy may be the best option to replace reliance on fossil fuels. Research shows that microorganism-based options, such as from algae or cyanobacteria, could produce the huge amounts of energy needed.
ENERGY STAR© is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Products that earn the ENERGY STAR© label have met energy-efficiency guidelines set by the EPA and the DOE. In 1992, the EPA introduced ENERGY STAR© as a voluntary, market-based partnership aiming to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Currently, buildings, homes, and more than 50 different kinds of products carry the label.
In early 2006, the cost of electricity went up throughout the United States. Many consumers in Austin, Texas, saved money by switching to green electricity, while others already benefited by an earlier move to green power. However, even though green power is available in most states, lower prices are rare. According to the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), the cost per kilowatt hour (kWh) may be less than most electricity suppliers' standard prices; typically, consumers of green power pay about two cents more per kWh.
The Department of Energy states that if each American home replaced one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR© bulb, this would save more than $600 million in annual energy costs. This would also prevent the release of greenhouse-gas emissions equivalent to more than 800,000 cars. Light bulbs that earn the ENERGY STAR© status use about 75% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs and can last up to 10 times longer. Consumers can save about $30 in electrical cost over the bulbs' lifetime. Additionally, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) produce less heat, are available in many different sizes and shapes, and fit almost any fixture, both indoors and outdoors. ENERGY STAR© recommends using qualified CFLs in light fixtures that are used for at least 15 minutes or more. CFLs are labeled by manufacturers as providing the equivalency of incandescent bulbs; for example, a 60-watt replacement or a soft-white 60 light bulb.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) conducts engineering and economic studies of the potential for efficiency improvement in cars and vehicles. It promotes the manufacture and purchase of high-efficiency, low-pollution vehicles. The ACEEE also investigates technologies to reduce the fuel consumption of trucks and enhance the energy efficiency of the freight network.
Green washing is a term used to describe goods and products that are marketed as environmentally friendly, yet do not meet any specific guidelines. Consumer Reports has stated that the Department of Energy's (DOE) testing procedures for ENERGY STAR© have loopholes. Specifically, they test appliances that are not being used as they normally would be in the home. For example, Consumer Reports claims that during the testing of refrigerators, the ice maker is turned off. The ENERGY STAR© program has also been criticized that its testing procedures are out-of-date. This could be partly due to the time constraints of publishing new, improved rules; the process usually takes about three years. However, qualifying standards are changing to tighten quality control. For example, under stricter standards, about 50% of all dishwashers now qualify when previously 92% qualified. Consumer Reports also criticizes that the DOE does not test for compliance; rather, the manufacturers do. This means there is no independent body to verify the information.
There is some controversy over the value of green-product labeling on household goods and food products. Consumer Reports claims that many green labels, such as "eco-safe" and "non-toxic," have no authoritative definition. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) considers some claims, such as "eco-safe," to be vague. Additionally, products that do not meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) definitions of "toxic" are not necessarily nontoxic. Consumer Reports states that products can be labeled nontoxic, with a label saying "this product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer" at the same time. Many labels, however, have been verified and follow strict government-established guidelines, such as the "fair trade certified" label.
FUTURE RESEARCH OR APPLICATIONS
The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) aims to increase the use of renewable energy and energy-efficiency technologies by offering financial assistance toward the development and demonstration of such energy-efficient technologies. The EERE is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).
In 2007, the Bottle Recycling Climate Protection Act was proposed to amend the Solid Waste Disposal Act. This national bill would require states to levy at least a five cent deposit on all beverage containers. Those states already running successful deposit programs would be exempt as long as they maintain high recycling rates. Additionally, there are campaigns in numerous states to pass their own bottle bills.
Not only are individuals recognizing their impact, but so are businesses, governments, and organizations. A recent report by the British Medical Association urged the National Health Service to reduce its carbon footprint.
One 2008 study demonstrates that the chemical recycling of carbon dioxide and conversion into methanol could be used as a renewable, environmentally neutral fuel. The study suggests the fuel could be used in internal combustion engine (ICE) and fuel-cell-powered vehicles.
Nuclear power is viewed as an alternative to fossil fuels, yet public concerns still surround the safety of nuclear power. Hydroelectricity is the most developed source of renewable energy around the world. However, a potential disadvantage of many renewable sources, such as water, wind, and solar, is their unpredictability. Also, the success of renewable energy depends on its transmission into electrical networks.
This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).
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- U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) www.eere.energy.gov
- U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) www.epa.gov
- Worldwatch Institute www.worldwatch.org
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