Category Archives: Resources

Easy (and Free) Ways to Go Green and Save Green

Go Green and Save GreenDoing things that are good for the environment does not have to mean shelling out a lot of your hard-earned money. In fact, you can save a lot of your money by helping the environment—and you won’t even need to spend a dime. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Replace your expensive chemical cleaners with your own homemade mixture of baking soda and vinegar. You’ll not only save money, but you and your loved ones won’t have to breathe in all those toxic fumes. Clean drains, sinks, ovens, floors, and more. See http://www.natural-healthy-home-cleaning-tips.com/vinegar_baking_soda_cleaning_recipes.htm for some tips.
  • Reduce junk mail while conserving trees by visiting CatalogChoice.org to stop unwanted catalogs from reaching your mail box. Also, most junk mail you receive will have an 800-number listed. Call and simply request to be removed from the mailing list.
  • Save your old coffee grinds—you can mix them into the soils of both your indoor and outdoor plants to make a great fertilizer. Also, water your plants with leftover coffee from the coffeepot; the coffee provides your plants with much-needed nitrogen.
  • Get an energy audit done on your home to find out where you could save money and be more energy-efficient. Some utility companies provide energy audits for free or at a discounted rate. To find an energy rater near you, visit http://www.resnet.us/trade/find-raters-auditors. Also, browse the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency to find out what incentives and grants you could be qualified for to reduce your energy use. You can also perform an energy audit yourself—see http://www.thedailygreen.com/green-homes/latest/DIY-home-energy-audit.
  • Save an average of $90 a year on your electricity bills by shutting down your computer at night. If your computer takes a long time to start up and shut down, choosing the “Sleep” and “Hibernate” modes on your computer will save you time and are almost as good for your pocketbook as shutting down your computer entirely.
  • Use cold water when washing your clothes and linens to save $60-$100 a year on energy costs. 90% of the energy used by washing machines goes into heating, and most loads do not need hot water to clean effectively. In situations where hot water is necessary, for example, to kill dust mites in bedding or to clean heavily soiled items, you can still use cold water in the rinse cycle.

For more information:

http://www.squidoo.com/easy-green-tips

http://www.thedailygreen.com/going-green/latest/green-tips-10-easiest

http://planetgreen.discovery.com/home-garden/beat-the-heat-wash-in-cold.html

http://www.livescience.com/6082-energy-saving-tips.html

“Home Energy Checklist” from the U.S. Department of Energy: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/femp/services/energy_aware_hec.html

“Office Checklist” from the U.S. Department of Energy, for your small business: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/femp/services/energy_aware_oec.html

Image: Salvatore Vuono (http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=659)

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Rainwater 101

Rainwater 101

In the hot summer months, learn how to harvest the rainwater we are lucky to receive.  This will not only save you money, but will help to reduce water pollution in bodies of water and will aid in water conservation. 

Problem 1: You have probably noticed the puddles of water that form on sidewalks, roads, parking lots when it rains, or water rushing down streets during a heavy downpour.  Since impervious surfaces, or solid surfaces, prevent water from penetrating through the ground to groundwater, rain water has nowhere to go but down.  Rainwater washes down these impervious surfaces, carrying debris and pollutants (oil, salt in the winter, litter, cigarette butts, etc.), and ends up at the lowest point, usually a stream or river. This water also often flows into storm drains which drain into nearby bodies of water.

Problem 2: Rainwater often causes sewage overflows into streams and rivers.  This can happen because of two different phenomena.  First, many sewage pipes are old and cracked, and when it rains heavily, rainwater can leak into the pipes, overload them, and cause sewage overflows.  Another culprit of sewage overflows are combined sewer systems, where rainwater and sewage flow in the same pipes.  When it rains heavily, or these pipes are overwhelmed quickly (because of water rushing into them from impervious surfaces), they overflow sewage. 

Problem 3: As the effects of climate change are becoming more and more pronounced and the world population continues to grow, conserving our fresh water supply is becoming more important than ever.  Droughts are becoming more severe, and many of our fresh water sources stored in glaciers and ice caps are melting, reducing our supply of drinking water.  In addition, larger populations mean less water per capita.   Water conservation needs to become part of our everyday lifestyle.

The easiest way to begin using rainwater is by installing rain barrels.  Rain barrels attach directly to downspouts, diverting water from stormwater drains to your lawn or garden.  You can buy ready-to-use rain barrels (search online) or you can craft your own out of old food barrels (pickle barrels, etc.) You can save rainwater by closing the spigot until you need to water, or you can follow common practice and simply keep your spigot open all of the time, allowing water to freely drain onto greenspaces.  Check out some of these websites for helpful tips:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGFDlkJOdaM

http://www.rainbarrelguide.com/

http://www.aquabarrel.com/

http://www.ninemilerun.org/rain-barrel-initiative/

In addition to rain barrels (or even as a complement to rain barrels), you can plant a rain garden near a water source (gutter, runoff area in your yard, etc.) in order to keep rainwater out of your sewer system.  Rain gardens are usually a shallow basin garden planted with native plants and grasses that like wet feet.  Divert your overflow or your hose into your rain garden or simply disconnect your downspout and let rainwater flow into a rain garden. 

http://www.raingardennetwork.com/build.htm

Bioswales are another form of stormwater management which can either function as a more narrow, long rain garden, or a more complex filtration system which slows the flow of water into sewer systems.  Like rain gardens, they are planted with native plants and grasses that can handle a lot of water, but do not need to be watered often when during dry spells.

http://www.upperdesplainesriver.org/bioswales.htm

Some people get creative with their rainwater use, including those who use rainwater to flush their toilets!  Jump on the bandwagon and begin using your rainwater for good.

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Victory Gardens: Past & Present

Victory Gardens: Past and Present

Back in the 1940’s during World War II, Uncle Sam asked us to become more self-sufficient and produce our own fruits and veggies, as transportation to market was difficult during the war. Millions of people started Victory Gardens because of this need for self-sufficiency. Community members made a cooperative effort to help our nation in its time of need.

Today we have modern Victory Gardens.  Rather than a government plea to ration our food supply, these modern Victory Gardens are a grassroots movement to change our food system. Commercial agriculture has taken over America’s food supply and has nearly wiped out the small family farm. A significant cost to the commercial agriculture system is transportation and a larger shift to eating more locally and seasonally significantly reduces the transport costs.  Additionally, fresh produce from the garden is a great eating pleasure – everyone knows the sweetness of picking something and then having it on your dinner plate. If you want to read more about a modern victory garden then check out: http://www.modernvictorygarden.com/

With fresher produce in mind hopefully more Victory Gardens will be planted next year. Gardens come in many forms. Some people may enjoy the traditional row garden in the backyard but the sky is the limit when it comes to how creative you want to get with your Victory Garden. If you do not have the space in your yard for a garden, then container gardening may be for you. Flower gardeners may want to add some edible landscaping to next year’s beds. Some plants with edible elements and beautiful flowers to consider are Painted Lady Runner Beans, American Groundnut, Nasturtiums, and Pansies.  Families might want to do themed garden beds, such as the pizza bed (tomatoes, peppers, basil, or any of your favorite vegetable toppings), or perhaps the spaghetti bed (spaghetti squash, onions, garlic, and rosemary).  There is a garden for everyone to enjoy—so cook and can with this year’s harvest and start planning next year’s to include new varieties.

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Stay Sustainable in the Summer

The cold weather has finally given away to warm, if not hot days, and we are all aching to get out of the office to spend time outdoors!  Read on to find out how to make your summer more sustainable.

Sustainable Vacations

With gas prices up and the economy still down, plan a low impact, high quality summer vacation.  Vacation locally and save time, save gas money, and reduce carbon emissions.

  1. Spend the week on the Great Allegheny Passage, riding from Pittsburgh to Cumberland.  If you are adventurous, continue from Cumberland to D.C. on the C&O Canal Towpath.  Visit www.atatrail.org for trip planning suggestions.
  2. Spend a weekend or a week hiking and backpacking on the Laurel Highlands Trail.  This 70 mile trail runs from Ohiopyle State Park to near Johnstown.  Visit the Laurel Ridge State Park website for more information: http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/laurelridge.aspx.
  3. Explore Pennsylvania State Parks.  Camp or stay in cabins during the night and hike, swim, fish, and relax in beautiful Pennsylvania during the day.  http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/index.aspx

Whether you are spending a lot of time outside or you serve customers that are visiting our region to enjoy the natural wonders here, you can use these tips to promote sustainable lifestyles.

From a personal perspective:

  1. STAY HYDRATED THE SUSTAINABLE WAY Use refillable water bottles.  Bottled water costs about 2000 times as much as tap water.  Bottled water is not safer to drink than tap water.  The EPA strictly regulates tap water quality under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The FDA regulates bottled water, yet cannot require certified lab testing or violation reporting.  In addition companies are not forced to disclose where the water they bottle comes from.  http://storyofstuff.org/bottledwater
  2. BUY LOCAL Farmers’ markets are starting up for the summer.  Buy locally produced and grown foods this summer.  Local, fresh produce tastes amazing and is energy and resource efficient.  Most produce grown in the US is shipped an average of 1500 miles before being sold.  Produce grown in other countries is shipped even further.  Buying local will reduce the energy use attributed to shipping and will help build local economies.  If you live in Fayette County, get a Buy Local card and receive discounts at local stores.  You can also save $5 at Fayette County farmers’ markets if you are one of the first 20 people to arrive.  http://www.localharvest.org/buylocal.jsp                                 http://www.faypenn.org/economy.jsp?pageId=2161392210281306139485965
  3. WATER EARLY OR LATE  Water your plants in the early morning or the late afternoon to reduce the amount of water that evaporates on these hot summer days.

From a business perspective:

  1. Offer customers to fill up reusable water bottles in your sink.
  2. Encourage customers to buy/use reusable bags rather than just giving them a plastic bag.  Consider charging for bags like companies such as Aldi.
  3. Promote local farmers’ markets to customers.
  4. Invite customers to dispose of any packaging from purchases in your store so they are not tempted to litter.  Recycle what can be recycled.
  5. If you sell food, buy locally produced and grown food.  See above for advantages.
  6. WALK, BIKE, OR CARPOOL Enjoy the nice weather or the company of a co-worker, and use alternative transportation to get to work.  Reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help reduce tropospheric ozone pollution (formed when hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides from car exhaust interacts with sunlight).  http://instaar.colorado.edu/outreach/ozone-oceans/ozone.html

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A new resource for energy-efficient applicances

With energy costs pushing up these days, many consumers have been looking to find even small ways to save money on their gas and electricity bills. Appliances such as refrigerators, freezers, televisions, computers, and dishwashers all use a lot of energy, and older models tend to be less energy-efficient than newer ones.

If your appliances are outdated, unreliable, and in need of being replaced (appliances tend to have a life span between 6 to 12 years), TopTenUSA is a good website to find the most efficient new appliances on the market and save money on your long-term energy costs. Free web-based rankings of the ten most energy-efficient appliances in a variety of categories are available on the TopTen USA website, along with pricing, specifications, local and online retail options, and personalized rebate information.

According to the Bryn Baker of the World Wildlife Foundation, “TopTen helps consumers make informed decisions on household products that can help fight climate change by reducing energy consumption, while saving money on electricity and gas bills.”

Baker continues: “Even small shifts in the products that consumers buy and use every day can produce a considerable impact: just a 10 percent shift in current sales to the most energy-efficient products could eliminate the release of nearly 3.5 million metric tons of carbon-equivalent gases each year, which is like taking 600,000 cars off the road. If all products used in the U.S. were TopTen ranked, the country would save over 270 million metric tons of CO2 and more than $46 billion dollars in energy costs over the product lifetimes. That would be like taking all the automobiles off the road in California, Florida, New York and Texas.”

TopTen functions similarly to Consumer Reports, as a non-profit organization that is independent and does not accept product samples or payments from manufacturers. The key criterion for listing is energy efficiency but, depending on the type of product, may also include environmental, health and safety concerns.

Norman L. Dean, the president of TopTen USA, says: “We’re spurring an upward spiral toward efficiency—the more consumers demand it, the more emphasis manufacturers will place on efficiency. Rather than copying technology to meet a standard, manufacturers will be innovating to be the best.

“We make it easy for consumers to find the most energy- and money-saving models, which in turn encourages manufacturing innovations that will make products in the United States even more energy-efficient. …TopTen USA intends to transform the American market from the one of excessive energy use to one that actively sustains products with the highest practical energy-efficiency.

“By doing so, TopTen USA helps tackle important issues such as climate change, pollution of the environment, the national security threat from our dependence on foreign oil supplies and high energy bills.”

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Reuse with Freecycle

Checkout http://www.freecycle.org for an easy way to reuse! This nonprofit organization connects you with local freecycle groups, allowing you to easily post items you want to get rid of, but don’t want to trash or recycle. You can also browse online postings of items that people in your community are trying to get rid of. Get rid of stuff for free, get stuff for free – pretty sweet deal.

We strongly encourage companies to join freecycle at work, http://quickbase.intuit.com/freecycle as a way to enhance your company’s corporate social responsibility. Remember the triple bottom line ~ People, Planet, Profit.

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Monetary Incentives for Energy Efficiency

One common quip about switching to renewable energy and energy efficient appliances is the higher initial start-up costs. However, there are many, many opportunities to get money for implementing energy-saving changes to your business or home.

One website, the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, lists many of the possible incentives and grant opportunities that you can apply for from the state, federal government, and major utility companies.

Grants, incentives, and other financial aid exist for solar, wind, geothermal, and other types of renewable energy, as well as for general energy efficiency. Check out the long list of incentives for Pennsylvania business owners and residents: http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/index.cfm?re=1&ee=1&spv=0&st=0&srp=1&state=PA, as well as the equally long list for those in Maryland: http://www.dsireusa.org/incentives/index.cfm?re=1&ee=1&spv=0&st=0&srp=1&state=MD.

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