Small Fixes for a More Sustainable Home

house

Image credit: Pixabay

On your, now paperless, bill from the energy company, often included is a comparison of energy use by your home compared to other similar homes. Have you ever thought, what is going on? Why am I paying so much more? Have you ever looked at your water bill and thought, hmm.. that can’t be right. Even if this hasn’t happened to you, chances are if you live in a home that is not brand new, there are simple ways to make your home more efficient.

I noticed not long ago, that our water bill had gone up. It was not by a lot, but enough that it made me think, what had I done the month before? More laundry? More baths for the kids? Then one day I heard the sound of a trickle. It was coming from our guest bath. It turns out I had a leaky toilet flapper.

Water leaks account for approximately 12% of all water use in the average American home, and the toilet is one of the most likely places to find them.

Conserve H2O

I replaced the valve and flapper and no more leak! It was a simple fix that had me wondering what other simple fixes can I do to help my home to be more efficient.  I started to research common efficiency problems in houses.  Turns out, some of the simplest fixes can cause big returns.

In researching,  one site told me to check my weatherstripping on my doors. I found that the door to my backyard was missing weather stripping, and the parts that were present needed to be replaced.  My heater had been sending warm air out into the yard all winter. I was able to purchase the weather stripping and fix another problem myself. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, fixing drafts in the home can amount to 5-30% energy savings per year.

My small fixes will not only save me money each month, but will save water and energy too.  Fresh water is a precious resource that needs to be conserved. Energy is produced by burning fossil fuels which means using less leads to a lower carbon footprint.

After tackling a lot of low hanging fruit like changing my furnace filter, having the Air Conditioner checked and a few other ideas, I am running into the edge of my own expertise when it comes to improvements in my home. My next step is going to be to hire a home energy auditor. I learned at a climate summit that I attended that 20-30% of a home’s forced air can be lost just due to problems in duct connections.  Home energy auditors will come in and give you advice on steps that you can take to conserve energy in your home. From reviews that I have found online, they are well worth the money and can save you hundreds over the next few years on energy bills alone.

Have you had your home audited? How do you ensure that it is efficient? I’d love to hear from you and I’ll take all the advice I can get.

 

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B Corporations: Supporting Sustainable Companies

I wrote a blog about cloth diapers, how I realized that they were not as sustainable as I may have liked, at least in the way that I handled them(too much dryer). I was, however, very happy to discover that the company from who I bought the diapers, gDiapers,  was a B corporation. So what does this exactly mean?

B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

B-corporation

B Lab is a third-party, non-profit organization that certifies companies for a fee to ensure accountability and social and environmental performance. Once passing the initial assessment, they must also find a legal standing, by becoming a Benefit corporation (currently offered in 34 states) or at least putting the language in to their terms that satisfies their state’s current requirements. Then, the company can sign the Declaration of Interdependence and they will become B-certified.

Benefit corporations are not B corporations

Benefit corporations and B corporations have the same requirements in accountability and transparency, but the big difference comes in performance measurement. Certified B corporations must be certified by B Lab through an impact assessment and re-certified every 2 years with evolving standards. It cost a company more because they are subject to audit by B Lab. B corporations are also ranked from 80-200 on the assessment test, thus giving them a ranking, which matters.

Why should we care?

Like corporate social responsibility, CSR, B-certified is a way to evaluate companies for their sustainability and commitment to all shareholders, through environmental and social performance. CSR can be touted by any company, and many choose to advertise some amount. B-corporations, however, are certified by a 3rd party and ranked by this 3rd party, giving them, in my opinion, more credibility.

If you believe that supporting companies that value social and environmental goals in addition to their economic goals, supporting certified B corporations is the way to go. This is still a young program. There are many companies that are a part of this movement, and many that aren’t. In fact, there are only two companies that I found that are based in Nevada.  So shopping at a B corporation may not always be an option, but usually is an option when shopping online.

Like CSR, I am trying to keep B-corporations in my toolbox to evaluate my purchases and use my buying power to support sustainability. Do you support any B corporations? Are you a part of a B corporation?  Please Comment or share your thoughts on B corporations with me.

CSR: Support Companies that Support Sustainability

We define corporate social responsibility strategically. Corporate social responsibility encompasses not only what companies do with their profits, but also how they make them. It goes beyond philanthropy and compliance and addresses how companies manage their economic, social, and environmental impacts, as well as their relationships in all key spheres of influence: the workplace, the marketplace, the supply chain, the community, and the public policy realm.

The Harvard Kennedy School

csr

Image credit: Pixabay

Corporate Social Responsibility(CSR), Corporate Responsibility, Triple Bottom Line are all words used in business to reference how a business interacts with its customers, with the environment and what it does with its profits to benefit society.  I had heard these words and phrases many times, but I did not realize the value that this practice is adding to the fight for sustainability.

People are starting to recognize the need for sustainability. Businesses are starting to be held accountable. You will find that most businesses are starting to incorporate CSR policies.  You can find many of these policies on company websites. There are several sites such as CSRHub that rate companies by their CSR.  This provides insight into how companies operate.  This is a guide to find companies that you want to support.  How do your favorite companies rate?

We should always try to support companies that are putting sustainability first.  CSR is one tool that can be used to compare and evaluate companies for sustainability. There are many names for CSR and all companies do not fit a mold.  However, I think that you will find that most sustainable companies are transparent and even advertising their sustainable practices.

So how can we leverage CSR to support sustainable practices? DO THE RESEARCH. Remember, just because there is a policy in place doesn’t mean it is a good one, see how they rate against their competitors and find more sources than just their website. CSRWire is a website devoted to all things CSR. It has news, issues and hosts CSR press releases from thousands of companies. GreenBiz is another great site for sustainable business news. If you find that a company that you are loyal to does not have a CSR policy, ask them why. Send an email. Tell them that it is something that you value. Think about choosing an alternative company if that is an option.

Think about your workplace. Does your company have a CSR policy? Are they working to be more sustainable in the world? Are there things that the company could do that would be more sustainable? There are many sustainable practices that could actually save your company money. It might just take one person proposing the right idea.

The reality is we don’t have evidence that companies that have a CSR policy is increasing their bottom line. The way to encourage companies to keep their policies and keep improving is by rewarding them with our business. The more people that start to value CSR, the better and more robust it will become. As long as you are mindful, you may not always choose best, but you will choose better.

Have you ever used CSR to research a company? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Contact me here.

Stay Sustainably Cool as Temperatures Rise

green house

Image credit: Pixabay

Yesterday evening here in Northern Nevada was a warm one, not hot mind you, but warm enough to make the upper floor muggy.  My husband even asked, “Should we turn on the AC tonight?” Keep in mind, he would turn it on in March if he had his way.  He grew up in Las Vegas, AC is a way of life down there. For me, it means that it is time to start planning and trying to save money and keep our carbon footprint small.

 

Use your windows

The first steps I need to take are managing the windows. Thankfully, living in Northern Nevada means that while it gets pretty hot during the day, it still cools down at night. As soon as the day starts cooling off, the windows get opened. They can pretty much stay open until the next mid morning.  One downfall, is that my kids sometimes get chilly watching their cartoons in the morning, but that’s a good excuse for snuggling in a blanket.  Mid morning or early morning if you have to leave for work, the windows get shut as well as the blinds.  I hardly ever close our one North Facing window as it provides light into the toy room, but I make sure the East and West blinds are shut.

Stop using Hot Appliances

Next, it might be time to bake less. The upside is that there are some delicious fresh fruits at this time that can be substituted for baked desserts.  If you do bake, try to make it later at night or earlier in the morning. The oven will use energy and heat your house, a double loss. Try using a microwave (3x the energy savings) or a toaster oven.  Or EVEN BETTER, GRILL! When you cook outside, the heat stays outside, so it doesn’t cost extra energy to cool your house back down.  Who doesn’t love a grilled black bean burger with spinach and tomato?

In addition to the oven, the dryer can cause heat to your house when used. Dry your clothes at night, or maybe consider a clothesline.  I recently discovered a clothesline that was already installed in my backyard, and I am going to give it a go this year!

Ceiling Fans

Ceiling Fans are an efficient way to feel cool without cranking up the AC. Some people like my husband also love the white noise when they sleep. Just be sure to turn off your fans when you leave the room.

When you do use air conditioning…

Eventually, you will likely want to use your air conditioner. How can you do this sustainably?

  1. smart therm

    You can see that my Smart thermostat is making adjustments when I am away. So easy to save energy and money!

    Use a SMART thermostat.  In Northern Nevada, you can get one FREE from NV Energy and watch the energy and money savings pour in. We recently got one of these with our security system and it works wonders. I can adjust the thermostat anywhere with my phone, but it does it automatically throughout the day. During winter, when we set the alarm, it would drop the temperature because we were cozy in bed and didn’t need it.

  2. Set the thermostat at 78 degrees. This seems to be the recommended temperature to remain comfortable and still save energy and money. If that is just too hot for you, keep in mind that according to SmartEnergy, you can save up to 3% energy for every degree above 72 degrees.
  3. Get your AC tuned up before the season, so that it is running efficiently. We usually do this every other year, which means that we are due to schedule that appointment right now.

Remember, every time that you save money on your energy bill you are reducing your carbon footprint. In the United States, most electricity is still generated by burning coal or natural gas. So saving energy means less carbon in the air and less pollution.

Do you have a smart thermostat? Why or why not? What other ways do you save money in the summer? Let me know.

Coffee: An Everyday Opportunity for Sustainability

coffee

Image credit: Pixabay

According to Wikipedia, over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed around the world daily. In the United States alone, there are 130 million coffee drinkers. This is a spectacular number, though just looking around at my friends and community, it is not too surprising. We LOVE coffee! To me, it means that this is a great industry to target for sustainability. If more people start making sustainable choices for their coffee, and the idea starts to spread, this could have a huge impact on our planet.

Turns out, a lot of producers of coffee agree. Many companies have come together to take the Sustainable Coffee Challenge.  There are many large companies working to make coffee more sustainable at the source.  So how can you make a difference as an individual or company?

Don’t make more than you will drink

Running a coffee maker takes energy and water. Making coffee that you do not use is a waste of coffee, water and energy. Sometimes my husband and I will both drink 2 cups, sometimes we don’t.  We often set the coffee the night before so that it is ready in the morning. On days that we don’t finish what is in the pot, I like to add some creamer to the coffee and put it in the fridge.  Then, either the next day or that afternoon, you can have some delicious cold coffee.

If you really want to save energy, try some cold brew coffee. It is delicious and you don’t need any more power than your refrigerator is already providing.

Stop using coffee filters

Coffee filters are not necessary. You can find mesh coffee filters that can be rinsed and used 1000’s of times. Coffee filters are made out of paper and paper comes from trees, so any cutting back is great.

Stop using single serve coffee makers with added waste

ninja coffee

Love my Ninja! Photo credit: Ninja

Single serve coffee makers are creating a lot of waste. Keurig and other brands use materials in their cups that cannot be recycled in most places, and every cup of coffee requires that much waste.  But I said that you shouldn’t make more coffee than you will drink… Yes, there are many coffee makers out there that will make a single cup and tell you exactly how much coffee is needed. I love my Ninja. It has 6 different amounts that you can choose and comes with a nifty measuring spoon, so you know how much grounds to use.  Love your Keurig too much to part with it? Try using a reusable cup that you can fill with grounds instead of one that you have to throw out everyday.

Buy sustainable coffee

Look for labels that are organic and fair trade certified. Fair Trade means that the coffee is certified to meet standards for sustainability for the environment and for  farmers and growers.  Organic coffee is grown using sustainable techniques without chemicals that can hurt the soil and nature around the farms.  There are lists of sustainable coffee here and here.

Use Reusable mugs

Even if you get your coffee at work daily, use a reusable mugs. You can take a refillable mug to most coffee shops and they will refill it there as well. Coffee cups are coated to prevent leaks and are therefore not recyclable so they go straight to the landfill. Most to-go cups will even keep your coffee warmer or cooler for much longer than a paper cup so that is an added bonus.

Avoid Dairy Creamers

We know cows cause a lot of greenhouse gases. There are plenty of alternative creamers and milks out there.  Choose one that works best for you.

How do you get your daily cup of joe? What ways can you choose to make your coffee more sustainable? I’d love to hear from you.

 

5 Small Sustainable Steps for EARTH DAY

Earth day

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Happy Earth Day!  Earth Day was first celebrated April 22, 1970. People were starting to worry about smog, pollution and oil spills. If you’d like to learn more about the history this is a great site.  Earth Day and the movement to protect the environment led to great legislation such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. However, today we continue to take advantage of our Earth and its bounty. Earth Day is as or more important than it was in 1970.

Please watch this video by the American Museum of Natural History:

Today, I am going to use my lucky number, 5 and list and describe 5 easy yet effective ways of helping the planet that you can do right now:

1- Say NO to straws

Straws are plastic that cannot be recycled. Each time you use a straw you are dooming it to end up in a landfill or more likely the ocean. Straws are too small to be caught by recycling machines and so even when put in a recycle bin they end up as waste.  If you are feeling like there is no way you can go through life without a straw, try stainless steel straws that you can keep in your car and reuse. The hardest part about not using straws is thinking ahead. If you order a drink at a bar or from a fast food restaurant, you have to tell them while ordering that you don’t want a straw. The more that you practice, the easier it will get. You will become more mindful of opportunities to just say no to straws.

2-  Use Paperless Billing

This is a no-brainer. The majority of companies to today will send a bill to your email. In fact, most of my bills are sent right to my bank and I can access them all in one place. Paper billing is a waste of paper, ink and the carbon that is used to get it into your mailbox. Going to paperless billing takes less than 5 minutes. You can do it. I know you can.

3- Don’t Settle for the Trash Can (RECYCLE!)

Often times we are plagued by convenience. It is convenient to do what is easy and close. You are at work or in the car and have a coke can or a newspaper to clean up. You want to clean out your car or desk, so you just put it the closest trash can and forget about it. It’s your trash to recycle. How hard would it be to wait for the next opportunity to recycle. Take it home with you or encourage your workplace or car wash to start offering recycling.  Think before you do it.

4- Switch your light bulbs to LEDs

You don’t have to do this tomorrow. Even if you have working CFL or halogen bulbs already and are waiting to switch, the time is now, cradle to grave you will still save carbon by replacing CFLs with LEDs at the four year mark.  Yes, they cost a little more, but you will reap this savings on your electric bill and the planet will thank you. Almost all of mine are switched out and I am working on the rest.  (Some of the specialty little bulbs are hard to find, my hall light has been out for 3 weeks while I search.)

5- Plant a Tree

Do you have room for a tree in your yard?  Trees are natural carbon scrubbers. They are great for the planet and as it turns out, your home value. Mature trees in a landscaped yard can increase your home value from 7 to 19 percent according to HGTV.  A mature tree(over 15 years) can be worth $1000 to $10,000. Sure mature trees are expensive, but saplings are cheap. Planting one in your yard today and you will reap the benefits. Plus as trees get bigger and provide more shade, they can help to cool your home saving even more money. See the statistics on these benefits and even more benefits to planting trees here.

What did you do on Earth day? I hope you got to celebrate some outdoor time with your friends and family. Please share your Earth day stories with me by contacting me here.

 

Video credit: Youtube

Whole 30: Healthy AND Sustainable

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Weekend Whole 30 Breakfast: Mushroom/Avocado omelette with zucchini, potato and carrot hash and a side of marinara.

In January of this year I did my first Whole 30. It was a definite change for me. It was difficult at times but overall easier than I thought it might be. I also managed to lose around 7 pounds, but I never felt hungry. Mostly I felt very proud of myself and I had more energy, eating the right foods and drinking less alcohol will do that for you. My sister had already done it several times and my brother did it with me. It was very helpful to have support to get through and share recipes. I know I will do it again when I fall back into worse habits, but it really has changed my diet and outlook for the better.

What is Whole 30?

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Zoodles with mushrooms and artichoke hearts and basic marinara. I didn’t even miss the pasta!

Whole 30 is a 30-day reset for your diet, where you are not allowed to eat grains, legumes, carrageenan, MSG, fake sugar, alcohol or dairy for 30 days. Then you reintroduce those things back into your diet to see if there are some items that trigger you or make you feel worse than normal. Sometimes, though we are not allergic, certain foods can trigger a negative reaction in your body.  On Whole 30 the dietary restrictions forced me to eat healthier, many more salads, sandwiches with lettuce instead of bread, zoodles instead of spaghetti, roasted fish, etc. What I was not expecting, was how well Whole 30 would tie into sustainability.

Eating Organic

Whole 30 makes you mindful of all the ingredients in packaged or canned foods alike. Because I ran into issues with so many additives or added sugar in ketchup, barbecue sauce, and even some marinara, I began to make things myself or look for items that did not include restricted ingredients. When I found items that were Whole 30 compliant, they were often labeled Organic.

The USDA defines organic: “Organic is a labeling term for food or other agricultural products that have been produced using cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity in accordance with the USDA organic regulations. This means that organic operations must maintain or enhance soil and water quality, while also conserving wetlands, woodlands, and wildlife. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.”

Organic is basically food or any items that are produced with efforts to maintain sustainable farmlands, food and water. Whole 30 made me aware, that this also usually means less ingredients and additives whose names I can’t pronounce. Eating without additives led me to buying organic. This practice has continued long after Whole 30.  Whole 30 created a habit of reading labels and choosing products that have less items that I can’t pronounce. Not only has it made my diet healthier (I still indulge in non-compliant products), it has made my diet more sustainable.

Sustainable Tuna

wild planet

Image Credit: Wild Planet

Whole 30 led me to choose a sustainably caught tuna. I had no idea that most canned tuna in water also contains soybean oil! The compliant tuna that I found was Wild Planet. They sell it as Costco and it is pole and troll caught and contains no added water or oil. You take it out of the can and stir it, no draining required. It is sourced in appropriate places in the ocean and caught using the best practice methods advocated by the Monterrey Bay Aquarium Guide.

Packaging

During my Whole 30, I ate a ton of fruits and vegetables. Even after my Whole 30, I eat more fruit and vegetables than I did before.  Because I was eating more fruits and vegetables and using my mesh produce bags, I cut down packaging waste on my diet immensely.  Going back to basics, making my own mayo, ranch and using less ingredients, significantly reduced my plastic waste. Whole 30 proved to me that recipes with fewer ingredients, that required less packaging because the ingredients were fresh, are healthier and delicious.  I did not realize that making some of the products I buy would be as easy as it was. Guacamole? SO Easy and so good homemade! Eating fresh ingredients over packaged food with additives decreases the need for packaging waste. It really is a win-win.

Eliminating Dairy and Sugar

I had already cut down on dairy after becoming a pescatarian, but in Whole 30, you are not allowed to have it. Other than cheese, I didn’t miss it.  We know that products from livestock are unsustainable, that is why I had cut meat from my diet in the first place.

I never knew how much I could do without sugar. Whole 30 helped me realize that I really do love the taste of coffee. A little almond creamer or pea protein milk is all that I usually use now in my coffee. I never would have known or come to appreciate it without giving it up for a time. After Whole 30, everything tasted sweet. Even Ketchup tasted so sweet.  I began looking for items that were lower in sugar. Production of sugarcane has certainly led to a decrease in biodiversity, is a very thirsty crop, and is often responsible for polluting fresh water in many places where it has been grown. Practices are getting better, but I believe eating less sugar is more sustainable. The added benefits are less packaging and a healthier diet.

Whole 30 was a great diet to improve mindfulness and sustainability in my life. It wasn’t always easy, but many of the practices have stayed with me.  I highly recommend trying it, at least once. Have you tried Whole 30? Did it bring permanent changes to your life.  I’d love to hear about your experience.

References:

U.S. Department of Agriculture/ USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. (2016).The National Organic Program. Washington, DC: USDA accessed at https://www.ams.usda.gov/publications/content/about-national-organic-program on April 20, 2018.