Carbon Footprint: Defining A Green Lifestyle

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The ‘green movement’ is permeating mainstream crowds deeper every day. Five years ago, most people were not worried about recycling, organic food, energy use or the effect of plastic bags on the environment. Today, ‘green’ is a buzzword that almost everyone knows. Not everyone accepts it, but they hear it.

About 30 years ago, a nuclear power plant in my area was ready to go online. A local group was fighting it. My dad was a staunch, white-is-right, war-loving Republican with an eye on his portfolio. I mentioned to him that the plant had been successfully stalled it. His response?

‘Those goddamn environmentalists!’

Wow. That was me he was talking about!

Aside from not caring about the environment, of which we are a part, skeptics are afraid of change. They think saving our natural resources entails an austere lifestyle and a huge expenditure with no benefits.

Not so.

What my green lifestyle is really like

I live a completely normal lifestyle and have a very small carbon footprint. I could make it even smaller if I lived in town and walked or biked everywhere. I can’t change that right now. And I may never.

I leave recycled cloth bags in the car so it is easy to remember to bring into the supermarket.

I buy non-toxic cleaning supplies or use vinegar and baking soda.

I close lights in rooms we’re not using.

I carpooled with other parents when my kids were in school.

Most of my furniture is second hand.

Most of my clothes are second hand.

I don’t fly.

I dry my laundry on a clothesline outside or on racks in the house.

I work at home (writing for this wonderful blog that we just got an award for!).

I have replaced dead incandescent light bulbs with CFLs.

Small appliances and the tv are on power strips that get turned of when not in use.

I close curtains to keep heat in in winter and out in summer.

I don’t print often, but when I do, I use the backside of old paper.

I recycle paper, plastic, tin and aluminum. I find second uses for plastic containers and plastic bags.

I get my bills in my email and pay them online through my bank.

I purchase green power from my utility for $2.50 a month.

I keep my ceiling fan running all winter to move warm air around. In summer, I change the direction of the blades and bring in cool night air.

I grow some of my own vegetables, herbs and fruit – organically.

I don’t eat meat, and I buy very little processed food.

I eat seasonally, shop at the farmer’s market, and put food up for winter.

I use non-toxic paints.

Things I have done that cost more but have paid for themselves

I bought a front-loading washing machine.

I have low-flow faucets and toilets.

I added insulation to my attic space.

I have solar hot water, which requires no maintenance or thought.

I drive a hybrid car.

I attached a passive solar greenhouse to my south side. This provides food and warms the house. Remodeling is less energy intensive than building new.

I installed lots of windows for natural light, reducing the need for lights on during the day. They let in sun to heat the house in winter, too.

Does my life look any different than yours? Don’t you have light bulbs? Don’t you do laundry? Don’t you have windows? Don’t you have a bank account?

All of these things combined have cut my energy use by about 75%. My utility bills are less than $50 a month. My car fuel bill is about $60-80 a month.

Things I could do

Move into to town to walk and bike everywhere.

Buy a smaller house. Both kids will be in college this fall, and I’ll be swimming in 2000 square feet. My energy bills are so low, though, it may not pay off.

How to adapt your life for a green lifestyle

Here’s what you can do:

Find your carbon footprint. This is the best site I found to do so. It is easy to use, with clear questions. Follow the link with suggestions on how to reduce your energy use. Once you have followed through with them, check your carbon footprint again.

Some sites that calculate your footprint ask that you pay off your carbon use with a donation to them. Don’t pay anything! You cannot buy down your carbon use with ‘carbon offsets’! The only way you can reduce it is to cut back on your energy use. As I illustrated with my own lifestyle, this can be simple or complex. Do it gradually, so that you create good, new habits. I bet that you will find your lifestyle did not change so much, but that you have extra money in your pocket. I think saving energy and having some spending money is worth it.

What would my dad say?

I would love to ask my dad his thoughts on the environmental hoo-ha of today. He’s been dead ten years, and things in the environmental realm have changed drastically. I’m sure the conversation would go nowhere, and I’d end up frustrated. I’d get a lot of joy, though, from listening to him complain about the price of heating, cooling, food and gas while being so stubborn and right.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.