Austin | Dallas | Houston
Green Living 2012
Doing Something

Small green steps: Five painless ways you can save the earth

OK, you want to do your part to help save the planet. But you’re not quite ready to put solar panels on the roof, sell your car, or stop showering.

Small things make a difference when it comes to reducing your impact on our poor old Earth though, especially when done by millions of people. Here are five relatively painless things you can do and encourage your fellow earthlings to do as well.

1. Hang your clothes on a line to dry. Snobby neighbors notwithstanding, line-drying clothes is retro — an old-fashioned idea whose time has returned. That clothes dryer accounts for six to 10 percent of your residential energy use  — perhaps even more in summer, when its heat adds to the A/C load — while hanging on a line to dry uses exactly zero electricity.

On average, a household dryer uses 1,079 Kw per year, and if that electricity is generated using coal, that results in roughly 2300 pounds of carbon. Using a clothes line can reduce your household carbon emissions, your clothes will last longer, and you get that great sunshine smell for free.

Need an excuse to hang a line? National Hanging Out Day is April 19!

 Shutting off one million computers each night would eliminate 45,000 tons of CO2 per year — the equivalent of more than 7,000 SUVs. 

2. Choose seafood wisely. If the health of our planet depends on the health of the ocean, then we may soon be in serious trouble. Industrial fishing practices and skyrocketing demand  — from 22 pounds per person in the 1960s to 38 today — have led to severe overfishing.

The United Nations reports that 32 percent of fish stocks are over-exploited or depleted and as much as 90 percent of large species such as marlin and tuna have been fished out.

Fish farming, often touted as the solution, can cause environmental damage of its own, destroying vital coastal habitat and creating pollution. Besides, fish on a farm don’t contribute to the overall health of the seas, the way fish do in the wild.

You can make a difference at the grocery story and restaurant by buying only fish species that are abundant, well-managed, fished or farmed in environmentally-friendly ways, and ones that are low in contaminants such as mercury. Print out the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide and carry it with you, and always ask the source of any seafood.

If the waiter or salesperson can’t tell you, take a pass and tell them why.

Unfortunately, according to Consumer Reports’s Dec 2011 issue, a significant portion of seafood is mislabeled as a different species, incompletely labeled, or misidentified. The only solution to this problem is to stick with reputable stores and restaurants and let them know it matters to you.

3. Buy wines with real cork stoppers. Cork is a sustainable product harvested from Mediterranean cork oak savannas since the fourth century. According to a study in the March 2011 Frontiers in Ecology, this landscape is incredibly bio diverse, serving as home for butterflies and birds, the vulnerable Iberian eagle and critically endangered Iberian lynx and as important support for migrating birds. Cork oak savannas also sequester significant amounts of carbon.

However, the introduction of cheaper plastic “corks” has decreased the demand, and led to degradation of the habitat and trees being cut for firewood, rather than just having their bark harvested for cork. By selecting only wines that use real cork (not plastic stoppers, and not screw tops), you can help preserve this important habitat, and help reduce harmful plastic debris in the environment at the same time.

4. Think local, local, local. Buy local products as often as possible — from food to greeting cards to shoes and furniture. It saves fuel, reduces pollution and CO2 emissions, and supports the unique character and flavor of a location. Select local or regional foods as much as possible at the store and restaurant.

Give gifts made by local artists and craftsmen or local food and drink products, and “wrap” them in tote bags, flower pots, canisters or other containers that can be used again.

5. Kill the vampires. Vampire energy — things that use electricity when not in use, like standby electronics, plugged-in chargers and the like — may suck up nearly three billion dollars worth of electricity annually. Each cable box, for example, uses about 23 watts in standby, so if you have three boxes, that’s like leaving on a 60 watt bulb 24/7.

May not sound like much, but the U.S. Department of Energy reports that the typical American home has 25 consumer electronic devices, and vampires may account for as much as 10 percent of your electric bill.

While you’re at it, think about turning off your computer; the Department of Energy recommends turning off monitors if you’re away for 20 minutes, and the CPU and monitor when gone for more than two hours. The less time a PC is on, the longer it will last, and it will reach the end of its useful life long before suffering any negative effects from being turned on and off.

The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that shutting off one million computers each night (not that many when you think about it) would eliminate 45,000 tons of CO2 per year — the equivalent of more than 7,000 SUVs. An alternative is setting your computer to power down or go into sleep mode, which still saves energy but doesn’t require you to wait as long as turning the computer back on.

And lose the screen saver; it’s not a power saver and in fact it may use more energy than not using one.

Newsletters for exploring your city

Daily Digest

Houston news, views + events

The Dining Report

News you can eat

Insider Offers

Curated experiences at exclusive prices

Promo Alerts

Special offers + exclusive deals

We will not share or sell your email address