Keeping Cool…and Green

Air conditioning accounts for 14 percent of America’s home electricity use, and most of that electricity comes from coal. So when the weather warms up we should do everything we can to conserve energy as we keep cool. That means treating our air conditioners the same way we treat other energy-demanding appliances: by using them wisely and keeping them running efficiently. Here are some tips to help:

 

 

Invest in an energy-efficient air conditioner 

If you’re buying a new air conditioner, choose one for maximum energy efficiency. New air conditioners come labeled with an Energy Efficiency Rating (EER), a standard that lets you calculate how much electricity the air conditioner will consume. The higher the EER, the less it will cost you to operate the appliance to achieve the same level of cooling. 

New Technology Update!   A team of engineers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory developed a potentially revolutionary new air conditioning system. Unlike standard air conditioners, which compress a circulating liquid refrigerant such as Freon, this new system draws warm air through a cooling unit that contains a water-absorbing dessicants compound that cools the air by evaporation. The payoff? It uses up to 90 percent less energy! As of Fall 2010, the new AC technology still had a ways to go before it’s available to consumers, but it could be just two to three years before these new coolers become commercially available.

Avoid overcooling.
Don’t use or buy more cooling equipment capacity than you actually need. If you decide on central air conditioning, select the most energy-efficient unit that will cool the size space you have. Bigger is not better. A larger unit than you need will cost more to run and may not remove enough humidity from the air, the feature that some consumers like most about air conditioners.

Keep your cooling system well tuned.
Have it professionally maintained, and ask how the energy efficiency of the system may be increased.

Install a whole-house ventilating fan.
This can be put in your attic or in an upstairs window to cool the house, even if you have central air conditioning. According to Consumer Reports, a big fan working under the right conditions can cool and ventilate an entire house for about the energy cost of running an air conditioner in one room.

Set your thermostat as high as possible.
78 degrees F. is often recommended as a reasonably comfortable and energy-efficient indoor temperature.

◘ Source: http://www.earthshare.org

► Kermit Sings (It’s Not That Easy) Bein’ Green (from “Sesame Street”) ♫

It’s not that easy being green;
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold…
or something much more colorful like that.

It’s not easy being green.
It seems you blend in with so many other ord’nary things.
And people tend to pass you over ’cause you’re
not standing out like flashy sparkles in the water
or stars in the sky.

But green’s the color of Spring.
And green can be cool and friendly-like.
And green can be big like an ocean, or important like a mountain,
or tall like a tree.

When green is all there is to be
It could make you wonder why, but why wonder why?
Wonder, I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful!
And I think it’s what I want to be.

White Vs Green

White sugar vs raw sugar

What’s the difference between white and raw sugar in terms of environmental impact? What about raw and brown sugar – are these the same product?

Let’s take a brief look at how each of these cane sugar variations are created.How raw sugar is made

Sugar cane is initially pressed and the juice is then mixed with lime to achieve the desired ph balance and to help settle out impurities. The resulting liquid is reduced through evaporation, then a centrifuge used to separate sugar crystals. It is then dried further to produce granules. The brown color of raw sugar is due to presence of molasses.

How white sugar is made

“White” sugar is created in a couple of ways.

Mill white sugar is the result of sulphur dioxide being introduced to the cane juice before evaporation. It effectively bleaches the mixture.

In the production of refined white sugar, which is the most common product in the Western world, the raw sugar syrup is mixed with a heavy syrup and run through a centrifuge again to take away the outer coating of the raw sugar crystals.

Phosphoric acid and calcium hydroxide are then added to the juice which then combine and absorb or trap impurities. Alternatively, carbon dioxide is used to achieve the same effect.

The resulting syrup is then filtered through a bed of activated carbon to remove molasses and then crystallized a number of times under vacuum. It is then further dried to produce white refined sugar like we buy in the store.

Brown sugar

Brown sugar is refined white sugar with a molasses syrup mixed in, then dried again.

Sugar use in other countries

While the sugar cane plant is a somewhat thirsty plant, it’s one of nature’s best photosynthesizers. In many countries, simple crushed sugar cane is the way you get your sugar fix, or other treats that require little further processing of the sugar cane.

Sugar cane and the environment

Environmentally speaking, the less processing required means the less energy used, less waste products and fewer chemicals.

While whole or crushed sugar cane can be difficult to source in the city, out of the options remaining, raw sugar is the more earth friendly option and brown sugar oddly enough is the worst choice.

It never ceases to amaze me the number of food processing sequences that take something out of a food, only to add it back in later on, such is the case with brown sugar. Another example of this is breadmaking flour that has most of vitamins destroyed in the milling/bleaching process only to have vitamins needed to be added back in.

The bad news about sugar and the environment doesn’t end with how the syrup is processed into a final product.

Effluent and waste from sugar mills creates major problems for local environments. Pesticides and herbicides applied during cultivation contaminate the ground and water supplies. Added to these problems is the firing of sugar cane prior to harvesting which pumps millions of tons of carbon dioxide and other chemicals into the atmosphere each year. Natural habitats in sensitive areas are often cleared in order to grow sugar cane to meet increasing demand.

Do we need added sugar?

Our collective sweet tooth causes far more damage than just cavities. Our sugar choices should go beyond the type of sugar we buy or the type that’s present in products we purchase; it’s also a question of consumption levels. The simple fact of the matter is that most of us have no need for the amount of added sugar we consume. Sugars can be made by our own bodies through the conversion of carbohydrates present in many foods, or through various forms of sugar other than glucose present in fruit and vegetables.

White bread vs brown bread

 

I’ll admit it, I was a white bread freak, it took many years for me to switch from white to brown/wholemeal; even though I knew that the latter was better for me and the production of brown bread was more earth-friendly.

The difference in taste between white and brown bread is significant, as is the texture and obviously the way it looks. When you are brought up on white bread, it can be really difficult to make the change. The way it was successfully introduced to me recently after many failed attempts was through “quasi” brown breads such as light rye. The taste difference was more subtle, which made for the perfect stepping stone to true wholemeal. These days I actually prefer brown bread to white. Try this strategy on your recalcitrant family member :).

There’s some other things you might like to point out about white vs. brown as sometimes the words “because it’s better for you” just don’t cut it with a white bread addict:

White bread is made is from wheat flour from which the bran and germ have been removed. This is where much of the nutritional bread value is. White bread is lower in zinc, fiber, thiamin, niacin, trace elements and “good” fats and oils. White bread in many countries has to be fortified with vitamins and minerals *by law* during the bread making process. These are usually sprayed into the mix. It’s somewhat ironic that the nutrients that are removed from wheat are re-added by this means. Nature provides, we destroy, then add it back in via a man made form.

Once the bran and germ is removed, the flour is bleached using potassium bromate, benzoyl peroxide  or chlorine dioxide gas. Potassium bromate is also known as Bromic Acid or Potassium Salt. It’s an oxidizing agent, can be fatal if swallowed, is harmful if inhaled or absorbed through the skin and may also cause kidney damage. Benzoyl peroxide is another irritant that can kill animals, birds, or fish, and cause death or low growth rate in plants. Chlorine Dioxide is also a pesticide and even though it breaks down very quickly, it is ranked in the USA as one of the compounds most hazardous to the environment.

So even before the baker adds his chemical magic, there’s some pretty solid cons relating to white bread. Another point to note is that anything that needs “refining” requires more energy resources to do so.

By the way, just because bread is brown in color doesn’t necessarily mean it’s brown bread in the traditional sense of the term, i.e. meaning whole wheat or wholemeal. Check out the ingredients on the bread that you buy and ensure that the first ingredient is whole wheat or wholemeal flour rather than enriched wheat flour or just wheat flour. Enriched/wheat flour is the same type of flour used in white bread. The presence of caramel also is an indicator that it’s not true brown/wholemeal bread as caramel is used as a coloring agent. A couple of other ingredients to avoid if possible are fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil/fats; aka trans fats.

The general rule of thumb is the less ingredients in the bread and the presence of wholemeal flour as the major ingredient, the better it is for you – and the planet.

Have some more info to share about the nutritional or environmental pluses of brown bread? Please add them below.

Brown rice vs white rice

Brown rice – an environmentally friendlier choice

Brown rice is not only better for you, but it’s better for the environment than white rice too.

So what’s the difference?

Rice goes through a variety of processes before it’s ready for cooking. After harvesting, the seeds are run through a rice huller/husker for milling to remove the outer grain husks. After this process, you’re left with brown rice. Nice and simple.

To create white rice, there’s added steps. The germ and the inner husk (bran) is removed, the grain is then polished, usually using glucose or talc.

The crazy thing is that these added steps to turn brown rice to white remove nutrients that are sometimes then introduced back in via synthetic sources – this is called fortified white rice. The same type of thing happens in brown bread vs. white bread scenario.

The loss of nutrients is broad and substantial. Plain white rice has far less Vitamin E, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folacin, Potassium, Magnesium, Iron and over dozen other nutrients.  Added to that, the dietary fiber contained in white rice is around a quarter of brown rice.

So, brown rice certainly appears to be more healthy, but where does the environmental benefit come from? It’s basically down to processing – the less processing of a food, the less energy required. There’s also the issue of the synthetic vitamins added back in – produced in laboratories and factories from a variety of chemicals; and these sorts of processes are well known for their negative impact on the environment.

If you’re accustomed to white rice, making the switch to brown suddenly can cause a taste bud rebellion – it certainly did for me. It’s somewhat of an acquired taste for many people. I suggest adding extra sauces to mask the “wilder” taste of brown rice for a while to allow your tastes to adjust. Once you’ve acquired a taste for brown rice, it’s likely you’ll never go back to white.

When you buy rice, because it keeps so well, try and buy in quantity to save on packaging. The rice we buy comes in cloth bags which we’ve put to very good use after finishing the contents.

Added notes: A couple of readers have pointed out (thanks by the way!) that uncooked brown rice doesn’t keep for as long as white rice. Stored in an airtight container, I’m told brown rice will keep fresh for about six months.

Brown rice does take a little longer to cook than white rice,  but the time isn’t much longer if you pre-soak the rice for a while and cook using the absorption method. This is where you use less water and cover the pot, leaving very little excess water left by the time the rice has cooked – the steam generated using this method also helps speed up the cooking process.

◘ Source: http://www.greenlivingtips.com


ENJOY YOUR SPRING | Kick Seasonal Allergies Naturally

 

Spring’s here, the trees and flowers are bursting into bloom, and you’re spending more time outside enjoying the sun. But hours later you start to sneeze and cough, your eyes water, and soon you have other cold-like symptoms. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), you’re one of nearly 40 million Americans who have indoor/outdoor allergies that show up as the seasons change.

The not-so-great news for allergy sufferers: trees and grasses — the biggest culprits of seasonal allergies — are blossoming earlier and sticking around longer because of climate change. This means allergy season is getting longer, too!

If you’re a seasonal sufferer who’s looking for ways to treat allergies other than medication, here are some tips for natural relief:

    • First, get tested for regional allergies. The seasonal allergies you have depend upon where you live and what kind of allergens are in the air. If you live in an area with high humidity, your allergic reaction will likely be stronger as pollen thrives in these areas. Getting tested for allergies can help you determine what’s causing your symptoms and how best to treat them.

 

    • Go local for your allergy remedies. You may have heard the old wives’ tale that eating a spoonful of honey a day will cure your allergies. Well, it won’t cure them but it can significantly decrease your susceptibility to local allergens. Eating small, regular doses of honey or bee pollen supplements that are produced in your region can help your body build up a tolerance to pollen allergens, reducing the havoc they wreak on your sinuses. You can find locally produced honey and bee pollen at farmers’ markets in your area, as well as in many organic chain markets.

 

    • Some allergy specialists suggest that your diet plays a role in controlling symptoms. If you suffer from weed pollen allergies, what you don’t eat can make a difference. New York University allergist Dr. Clifford Bassett recommends avoiding melon, banana, cucumber, sunflower seeds, chamomile, and any herbal supplements containing Echinacea, as these can make symptoms much worse.Click here to check out more tips about foods and herbs like garlic and ‘butterbur’ that may help relieve or ward off symptoms.

 

    • Some experts swear by nasal rinses to wash out the allergens that get in your nose. Irrigation with neti pots, hydrating irrigating units, and squeeze bottles are becoming more mainstream – some experts think the treatment is even more effective than medication! Nasal irrigation – rinsing the nose and nasal passages, typically with a salt water solution – is a cheap and easy way to alleviate allergy symptoms. You can even do the rinse yourself at home. Check out this how-to video from the University of Michigan Health System.

 

  • Clean your home regularly to reduce indoor allergies. Twenty percent of Americans have not just one, but two kinds of allergies, so staying indoors isn’t always the best option when you’re trying to escape those irritants. Check out our green tips forcleaning your home in an eco-friendly way and make sure to get rid of all of those dust mites that make you sneeze.

Sadly, all the tissues you do end up using during allergy season can’t be recycled — used tissues just aren’t recyclable, despite being paper product. So consider buying tissues and toilet paper made from recycled paper or use a cloth handkerchief.

◘ Source: http://www.earthshare.org

Earth Day Begins at Home

 

There are plenty of ways you can make every day Earth Day. Improve your own small part of the planet by considering these suggestions for spring-cleaning, garden preparation, and home improvements.

  • Purchase non-toxic cleaning products. Use natural fiber sponges and cleaning agents that are biodegradable, phosphate-free, chlorine-free, and unscented.
  • Reduce paper use. Use rags instead of paper towels; cloth napkins instead of paper ones. Buy post-consumer recycled paper and recycle it when you’ve used it.
  • Refurbish responsibly. Use water-based or vegetable-based paints, stains, and varnishes. Don’t wash paint thinners, household cleaners, oil, or pesticides down the drain or pour them on the ground; use them up, give leftovers to friends or a charity, or dispose at your local toxic waste disposal center.
  • Repair instead of replace. Reupholster furniture. Resole your shoes.
  • Replace disposable goods with renewable ones. Buy rechargeable batteries. Use dishes instead of paper plates.
  • Plant for the planet. Strengthen your garden’s resistance to pests by planting resilient plants, by rotating the fruits and vegetables you plant, and by attracting friendly bugs to prey on the pesky ones.

◘ Source: http://www.earthshare.org

Family with Green Power

Meet a family who don’t just talk about the climate and a green lifestyle – they are actually doing something. By putting up a wind turbine in their garden, they produce enough CO2-free electricity for themselves and seven other households.

 

I ♥ this Family {Green♥}

Indoor plants as air filters

Indoor plants not only look great, they can also help clear your house of common environmental pollutants.

Using indoor plants to clear the air

There’s nothing quite like the scent of forest air – the real thing, not an air freshener :).

While some of that lovely earthy scent is due to decomposition, the trees and plants of a forest are constantly circulating oxygen and carbon dioxide, unlike in the midst of a concrete jungle when the air we breathe can get somewhat stale or downright poisonous.

Our homes aren’t an oasis from our toxic modern environment either. The inside of our houses can have very poor air quality due to fumes from cigarette smoke, furnishings, paint and other items. Some items can give off these fumes for many years – that smell of fresh paint and new carpets isn’t just potentially harmful just while you can detect it.

The airborne chemical cocktail inside our home often includes:

benzene – used in oils, paints, plastic, rubber
trichloroethylene (TCE) – paints, lacquers, varnishes and adhesives
formaldehyde – foam, clothing, particle board, carpets.

All of the above have been shown to be potent environmental pollutants and likely carcinogens in humans.

New homes can be particularly bad for formaldehyde – it might be at many times the generally considered safe level for quite some time. Office air can also be saturated by a fog of toxins due to the type of furnishings and floor coverings often used on commercial premises.

Keeping indoor plants not only adds a nice green touch to our homes; some indoor plant species have proven to be effective filters for pollutants such as the above and carbon monoxide (an element of car exhaust).

A while back, I came across a couple of very interesting studies by NASA carried out in the late 80’s and early 90’s that included information on the plants NASA found useful as indoor air filters to combat these chemicals.

Beneficial plants include (scientific name followed by common) :

Aloe vera
Aglaonema Modestum – Chinese Evergreen
Chamaedorea Seifritzii – Bamboo Palm
Chlorophytum elatum – Green Spider Plant
Chrysanthemum morifolium – Pot Mum/Florists’ Chrysanthemum
Dracaena Janet Craig – Janet Craig
Dracaena Marginata – Marginata
Dracaena Massangeana – Mass cane/Corn Plant
Dracaena Warneckii – Warneckii
Gerbera Jamesonii – Gerbera Daisy/African daisy
Hedera Helix – English Ivy/Common Ivy
Philodendron Domesticum – Elephant Ear Philodendron
Philodendron Oxycardium – Heart Leaf Philodendron
Philodendron Selloum – Lacy Tree Philodendron
Sansevieria Laurentii – Mother in law’s tongue
Scindapsus aureus – Golden Pothos
Spathiphyllum Mauna Loa – Peace Lily/Mauna Loa

Some of the above are more effective than others at filtering particular chemicals, so if you’d like to learn more about the NASA research, here’s the study:

Interior Landscape Plants For Indoor Air Pollution Abatement (PDF 1.7 megabytes)

Indoor plants don’t just look great – they can help make your house or office a more healthy place to live and work in!

 

• Source: http://www.greenlivingtips.com