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Shopping More Sustainably

Shopping More Sustainably

Have you had enough of the holiday shopping craziness?  There are more sustainable ways to shop for your friends and family.

In America, we just celebrated Thanksgiving.  The day following Thanksgiving is called “Black  Friday” for retailers.  They offer incredible deals (50% off or more in most cases) only on this day to move their bottom line to the black from the red…hoping for a positive cash flow and to end the year in a better financial state.

This involves getting up early, being away from family, and has led to some pretty crazy situations where there are crowds of people all trying to squeeze through the store doorways in search of the limited number of televisions on sale.

A more sane and eco-friendly way to shop for your loved ones is to take advantage of the many on-line deals rather than be in the mob scene that is Black Friday.  Many offer deals on “Cyber Saturday”.  Great deals can still be found and items shipped and wrapped preventing injury and trauma.

Shopping More Sustainably:

Even better, you can choose gift ideas that align with more sustainable living:

Here are some examples:

EWG.org has gift ideas

https://donate.ewg.org/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=7901&track=2015YEABagHPRot&_ga=1.11783924.1501329349.1448729591

Take Part has a sustainable shopping list:

http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/10/08/sustainable-shopping-list

Mashable has some suggestions here:

http://mashable.com/2013/08/26/eco-friendly-online-shopping/#PNFWohOC6sqi

You could go second-hand…often second hand shops have items that have never been used and still have the tags attached:

The Junior League:

https://www.ajli.org/?nd=shop

Or, you can buy gifts in people’s names with organizations you care about:

Here are some ideas:

Heiffer International:

http://www.heifer.org/gift-catalog/index.html

The Nature Conservancy

http://gifts.nature.org/?ref=site

World Wildlife Fund

http://www.worldwildlife.org/

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Save Water, Time and Money – Part 3

Another step deeper in the exploration of SmartSprinkler controllers:  again, the goal is to save water, time and money but not have a dead lawn or landscaping.

By focusing on the residential products, since I don’t have 24+ zones, I get down to a list of a few manufactures whose products I will choose from. Rachio, RainMachine, and Cyber Rain (residential). The Cyber Rain controller has some good functionality, but its price tag of $500 will eliminate it from further consideration since competing products are $200 or less and provide virtually the same functionality. Several municipal water systems offer rebates up to $100 for WaterSense controller, which helps lower the price, but not enough to bring $500 units back into consideration. Rachio and RainMachine both have very good reviews on Amazon, which is important as there is nothing quite like getting feedback from hundreds or thousands of existing customers. Additionally, both controllers have open APIs that allow for IFTTT (If This Then That) control and therefore access from devices like Amazon’s Echo (a.k.a. “Alexa”). Alexa is by no means a smart home controller, but until I take that leap it is nice to be able to control my devices all via voice.
It appears as though you can’t go wrong with either of these controllers. The RainMachine controller offers control from the unit itself, which could be helpful. It also has the option to not use its cloud service. However, Rachio recently released its 2nd generation controller which very clearly address feedback provided by customers. In addition, they are taking steps to ensure customers are happy with their purchase, and publicly standing behind their product will make the difference for me to give it a try. I have no doubt that even with extensive research, I may need some post sales support, and that gives Rachio at edge for me. After installation and usage, I will report back on progress.

By Rob Rutledge

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Smart Home & Smart Investment? Part 2

In previous years I raised the thermostat temperature as much as I could to remain comfortable during the day, which reduced the need for as much air conditioning.  At night, when weather gives us the opportunity, we open all windows and sleep with minimal clothes.  There are so many other options to reduce to need to cool, such as using the environment’s own changing temperatures.  Using shades to shield from the heat of the sun and opening shaded windows as soon as the temperature outside is lower than inside temperature.

However, there are times that I am not at home, or that our two story house is only used on one floor even though both are being air conditioned.  Remembering to turn off the air conditioning or raising the temperature every time is not easy or convenient. Some type of smart thermostat might be a solution to help further reduce my electricity bill while allowing me to remain comfortable. Upon further exploration, there are two front runner options.  The Nest and EcoBee thermostats appear to offer some options to help reduce my usage.  Back to my selection criteria, it appear as though I could install either myself.  The environmental impact seems to be positive from various viewpoints, including that many utilities are currently offering rebates for both of these thermostats, sometimes for up to $75.  Although there is a cost upfront for either of these thermostats that will not pay back for some time, even with the rebates there seems to be the promise of a reduced monthly bill, which is not unlike many other environmental options from solar panels to LED light installation.  Besides, there might even be energy savings year around, rather than just the summer, which is an added bonus.

by Rob Rutledge

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Food as Fuel

You’re probably thinking this is a blog post about bio-diesel.  Well, it’s not…not this time, at least.  A good friend of mine who is busy and travels for work a lot recently challenged me to take on “Food as Fuel”.  The challenge is to create a meal plan of sorts such that said friend can eat 80% food as fuel and 20% food as a social activity.  Because my friend travels so much, I can only really assist with the home times.

I have always loved food.  My mother tells me that I ate green onions in my high chair.  I have always eaten my veggies without being told to and I have been vegetarian.  I took a nutrition class in college and was a weight loss counselor for a time.  I am passionate about food.

Not everyone loves eating their greens, which is why I think the green smoothie was invented…to mask the taste and texture of spinach, kale, collard greens and other green foods that some people don’t like in their most natural state.

I have started a quest to analyze daily recommended nutrition and come up with solutions that make life easier and maintaining our health more sustainable.  My quest, potentially much to my family’s chagrin, will include making easy “fast food” that fuels us and nourishes us.  I will include investigation in to the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean Fifteen” as well as when organic is important in general.

Solutions will include not only green smoothies, but also mason jar salads, mason jar pancake mix and burgers made up of so many foods, they may very well be all you need on your plate.

Suggestions are welcome, so feel free to comment!

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Smart Home & Smart Investment? Part 3

Furthering the journey towards a Smart Home, both the Nest and Ecobee thermostat options have very good reviews, and both have very cool technology behind them.  As an example I could adjust my home’s temperature while I am out of the house from a convenient app on my phone. The price of both is about the same (within $10).  It will come down to how I want to use them, and what will work best for my specific situation.  For instance, both have a motion sensing capability, and both will learn from how I adjust the temperature.  The motion sensing capability is particularly interesting to me as I only need my home to be cooled if I am currently using it, not while I am at the grocery store or out for a walk.  The challenge is that when I am at home, I often work from my office for hours at a time and that is not where my thermostat is located.  While I could schedule a walk by my thermostat every so often, that does not fulfill my desire to use technology to make my life easier rather than more complicated.  The EcoBee has a solution built in with remote sensors that I can place in different locations of my home.  That can provide the added benefit of helping keep the temperature consistent throughout the home.  I don’t have that issue with my home temperature, but I do want the motion detection of the remote sensor to eliminate having to walk by the thermostat or risk it thinking I am not home and trying to save some energy at the expense of my comfort.  Therefore, I will give the Ecobee a try and let you know how it goes.

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Save Water, Money and Time – Part I

My water usage and associated bill is about to go up.  It happens every year.  In the next several months, my water bill will more than double, costing me an extra $40 or $50 each month.  I want to continue my Smart Home exploration of options, but not necessarily limit my options if I come across something even easier than smart home solutions.  For instance, the vast majority of my extra water usage is based on maintaining the plants and grass around my home.  I will focus on this aspect of water saving for now, but I also realize there might be some options to further reduce my water usage inside my home.  Although we have already used low flush toilets, low flow shower heads and better dishwasher usage.  Thankfully there is good information to leverage through programs like Water Sense, an EPA program that certifies products which save water, from 20% to 50%.  The technology portion of Water Sense narrows down the discussion to the areas that are of most interest to me, the sprinkler related savings opportunities.  Again, I need a criteria to go about selecting what options I want to explore.  I will use the same criteria as I am using to curtail electricity usage:

  • Easy to understand and install myself
  • Proven benefit for my environmental impact
  • Financial benefit of reduced monthly bills (at least during the summer)

Given those criteria, there are two options that seem most appropriate to explore.  Rotary Spray Heads (Nozzle), and Smart Spinkler Controllers.  The Rotary spay heads deliver water in a stream instead of a mist and therefore reduce lost water due to evaporation and wind blowing the water where it isn’t needed.  Smart Sprinkler Controllers use better information about your landscaping and external factors (like weather forecasts) to make better watering decisions.  Rotary Spray heads are valuable, but not nearly as interesting to explore here as Smart Sprinkler Controllers, so that is what I will focus on here.

by Rob Rutledge

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Save Water, Time and Money – Part 2

Continuing the exploration of Smart Sprinkler controllers:  The goal is to save water, time and money but not have a dead lawn or landscaping.

There are many Smart Sprinkler controllers, and many definitions of what makes a sprinkler controller ‘smart’.  For instance, simply attaching a moisture sensor or rain sensor may qualify for some definitions of a Smart Sprinkler Controller.  However, I would like to think we can do better than simply attaching static sensors.  Therefore, I will limit my evaluation to those controllers that get weather data wirelessly and allow for control via mobile phone and computer, as well as allow for more intelligent watering by inputting landscaping and/or sprinkler information.  After all, I would like to think that better decision could be made rather than just automating the same binary decision of watering or not watering.  The final requirement is for the smart controller to adhere to the watering limitations of my water provider.  With these in mind, I return to the extensive list of Water Sense Smart Sprinkler Controllers.  Since most, if not all, of these controllers involve using the service associated with the controller (other than RainMachine which has a hybrid option), it seems as though there should be some consideration of the stability of the company.  After all, it would be unfortunate to make the investment in time and money to acquire and setup the controller, only to have it revert back to a normal controller or worse stop working all together due to the company providing the service going out of business.  Several of the companies are private, which limits the amount of due diligence that can be performed, so instead I will use longevity and multiple product offerings as a proxy for stability.  This is, of course, flawed.  But the best that can be done without extensive effort.  This only eliminates one that I thought looked intriguing, Skydrop.

by Rob Rutledge

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An Interview: Jay Treat from SolarCity

by, Liz Rutledge

I had the pleasure of interviewing a representative of SolarCity last month.

Liz:  “When is a good time to go solar?”

Jay: “The best time to go solar is right now. The sooner you go solar, the sooner you start saving money and making a positive difference on the planet. People are already spending money every month for electricity – we make it easy for them to shift that money into building equity in their house. It’s the difference between renting electricity and owning it. That’s a concept people have never had the opportunity to get their minds around before. But, if I’m a homeowner, I know what it means to rent and I’ll choose owning every time.

Of course, the overall goal is to reduce your carbon footprint as much as possible. This can be done by swapping out appliances for more energy efficient ones, swapping incandescent light bulbs for CFLs or LEDs, insulating your home, for example.  But, not everyone has the luxury of being able to do all of these things immediately. However, if these energy saving measures are instituted, customers will generate a credit balance of energy in their solar bank account, but all of the energy they create contributes clean energy to the grid.”

Liz:  “We’ve been told our house is ineligible for solar panels.  What are some of the limiting factors?”

Jay: “The construction of a roof (pitch, orientation) and shade from nearby trees all impact eligibility – whether or not solar is an option.  Sometimes, the type of roofing material used poses a challenge…for example, if your roof is cedar shake, Spanish tile, slate, or t-lock shingle, it’s not viable for either the company of the customer to install solar panels.  Of course, with cedar shake and T-lock shingles, the homeowner will likely replace their roof within a few years anyway and typically, people move from those types to composite shingles. Then, they’ll be able to go solar. We can only mount solar panels on 40-50% of homes because of these various factors.”

Liz: “How much electrical usage can a customer off-set with solar energy?”

Jay: “Typically 60-80%. But the swing can be 0 to 100%, of course.”

Liz: “Why not 100%?”

Jay: “The offset is determined by two factors: the homes’ usage and the roof. The roof mostly because of shade or roof space/construction; obstructions (like sky lights, vents, gables, chimneys, evaporative coolers, etc.) all can impact offset.  But, other factors like the size of a family (which increases usage just because there are multiple people in multiple rooms) or whether you have two hot tubs and two freezers in your garage – your usage is going to be sky high).” The panels are always only going to produce so much and offset a fixed amount, regardless of usage.

Liz: “How long do solar panels last?  What happens to old solar panels when they’ve reached their end of life?”

Jay: “Solar panels typically have a 25-year warranty. But, they almost always last longer than that – there are still panels from the 1970’s that are generating energy. But, when they reach their end-of-life, they will be re-purposed.  SolarCity is opening a million square foot facility to produce solar panels, the largest on the planet (the first of several) will soon be opening a factory in Buffalo, NY.  It will be for panel manufacturing, but will also re-purpose old panels.  For the older and different technology – (that SolarCity does not use) called solar thermal technology, the copper can be removed and reused.”

Liz: “What’s the story with SolarCity?”

Jay: “SolarCity was created July 4, 2006 – the date is no accident – Independence Day – independence from fossil fuels was and is our goal.  It was founded by Lyndon Rive and his brother, Pete, bothcousins of Elon Musk (CEO of Tesla), who is also our chairman.  We have 350,000 systems across America, last month we booked 21,000 new customers so the total is increasing quickly.”

Liz: “Why have you chosen this career path?”

Jay: “I have always felt a deep connection with nature.  When I was a kid in Minnesota, I would run around in the woods for hours.  I developed a gratitude for nature and a passion for doing right by the planet.  Sometimes, I would witness dumping of garbage in the woods and was aghast.  I just couldn’t believe that someone would treat nature that way. We only get the one planet. When I learned I could contribute directly to making the air cleaner, the future brighter and save people money, I was hooked. We’ve got three kids and they are already having a different experience than we did as children and I want a bright and healthy future for them as well. Of course, people like to save money, so even if the planet is not a concern, solar still makes sense and I make a living. It’s a win across the board.”

To learn more about SolarCity and/or get a quote on getting your solar on, click here (full disclosure, I am an Ambassador and will also personally benefit financially if you choose to go solar – and you can too!):

share.solarcity.com/sustainablethree

You can get rewarded for referring others to SolarCity by becoming a Solar Ambassador, too!

For some exciting news about why it’s critical to support renewables, check out this article featured in the Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/03/16/this-key-rule-of-economics-and-the-environment-just-failed-again/

Collectively, renewables are making a difference and as a planet, we’re trending in the right way!

 

imrs

 

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Restroom Rehab

Mary Wallace of People Towels with paper towel waste.   
The average person uses 2,400 – 3,000 paper towels at work, in a given year  
(Image: People Towels)

When you go to a public restroom, does it ever bother you when paper towels are tossed on the floor?  Or, when someone leaves the water running?  Or, even worse, doesn’t flush?  Does it bother you that the business is using paper towels to begin with?

Do you do anything about it?

When I find paper towels on the floor of a restroom, I pick them up and put them in the trash can/rubbish bin…before I wash my hands.  Then, after I wash my hands, I use my paper towel to wipe down the counter and then throw my paper towel in the trash can/rubbish bin.  I did this once at a restaurant in Australia when we were living there.  I think I embarrassed my girlfriend, but I probably spent thirty seconds picking up what must have been 20+ towels off the floor and putting them where they belonged.  I said to her “I always try to leave a space better than I found it.”

If the water is left running, I turn off the tap.  Clean water is a precious resource that most of us take for granted.  In many countries, people have to walk miles to retrieve clean drinking water. Appreciating how fortunate we are by not wasting our natural resources will make them last longer.

When the toilet hasn’t been flushed, I use my foot to flush it.  If too much waste builds up in a toilet, it causes clogging issues and then businesses have to call in professional plumbers who may have to use harsh chemicals to clear the clog.

This attitude could propagate out to other areas of our lives.  For instance, pretty much every day, I pick up litter on the way to drop off my daughter at school.  Doing this makes the walk more pleasant because “it doesn’t belong” there…it belongs in a trash can/rubbish bin/recycle bin.

SustainableThree Ways You Can Make a Difference:

  1.  If you visit a restroom with paper towels, take the time to put ones thrown on the floor into the receptacle.
  2. Wipe down counters, turn off running faucets, flush toilets.
  3. Even better, if the business uses paper towels, make a request to their owner/manager that they install sensor dryers that automatically release air if you put your hands in front of the sensor, but doesn’t waste energy at other times.

“Although contradictory claims abound on this topic, a 2007 life cycle analysis by the Climate Conservancy found that using a hand dryer produces fewer climate-changing greenhouse gases than using paper towels.”  ~”Cloth vs. paper vs. dryers: How to be clean and green when you wipe your hands”  (By, Tom Watson, Pacific NW Magazine, The Seattle Times

BONUS: Tweet this!  https://twitter.com/SustainThree/status/702576748907528192

There are other options to using paper towels or air dryers.  Here are a few:

People Towels

http://www.peopletowels.com

Here’s a great little article:

http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/paper-towel-alt-25875

More details on the topic:

http://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/cloth-vs-paper-vs-dryers-how-to-be-clean-and-green-when-you-wipe-your-hands/

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Light up Your Winter…for Less Money

Light up Your Winter…for Less Money

In the Northern Hemisphere, it is Winter.  Longer nights shadow the shorter days and fewer people walk their dogs on the streets or go for a jog.  It feels quieter, somehow…less hectic.

Many people struggle with the greyer, colder days…and settle in for a hibernation of sorts.

To combat the Seasonal Affective Disorder…or just feel more light and warmth during the colder months, an energy audit is oh-so-helpful.

Here are some tips we gained when an audit was completed on our house:

*Switch all lightbulbs to LEDs

Although there is some cost involved, the savings is well worth the initial investment and longer-lasting bulbs.  That means lower energy bills, brighter lighting and having to change your bulbs less often.

Costco has them at an all-time low price right now, but you can also purchase them at just about any store.  You can sometimes get freebies from your energy company as well.

You can start here.

*Get Draft Dodgers

By “Draft Dodgers”, I don’t mean the people who avoided going to war, but the draft blockers that are placed at the base of doors to ward off cold drafts from outside.

You can start here to find one that works for you.

*Get Insulated!

By adding insulation to your attic and/or walls, you can increase your home’s “tightness”.  Contractors blow additional insulation into your attic and/or walls to bring the insulation level up to, or above, code.  It’s like putting a giant down comforter on your home.

Here might be a great place to start looking into this option.

*Make sure windows and doors are not leaky

Weather stripping and making sure all doors and windows are closed securely can reduce drafts and heat leaks.

Here is a start.

*Use your fireplace, if you’ve got it.  Energy-efficient, natural gas powered fireplaces make it so that you can keep your entire home at a cooler temperature.  Family members gravitate to the room with the fireplace and the burning fire makes the home feel more welcoming and snuggly.

There are more steps you can take.  Start here to find out how to schedule an energy audit.

*Finally, get outside!  Even if it is cold out, a brisk walk can really energize you.  If it is sunny, the light and Vitamin D will do you good.  And your dog, if you have one, will really appreciate it!

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