The Least Glamorous Ways to Make a Big Impact on The Environment

There are things you can do to help the environment that won’t go unnoticed, and things that are under the radar and far from glamorous. And one end of the spectrum is, say, driving a Tesla. At the other end of the spectrum from that in the transportation category would be not owning a car. Both are steps in the right direction. Some may not be realistic for people who are car-dependent for work and other reasons, and some are unrealistic due to up-front costs.

Below is a list of things I think are worth considering that aren’t high on the glamour end of the spectrum but can make a big difference.

1. Make shopping lists. We all need to shop, but we can be far more efficient at shopping if we make lists. People with long commutes tend to be better at this since forgetting one item is painful if you have a long trip back to Target or the closest hardware store. But, think about how many miles you can avoid driving if you get everything you need the first time? And, combining multiple stops into a single trip. When buying stuff online from stores like Amazon or Target, if you don’t need something right away just add it to your cart and let your cart accumulate a few more items before pulling the trigger on your order.

2. Buy more efficient appliances. There are a few things to consider here. First, not all appliances use a lot of energy so this applies most to appliances that use the most energy. Refrigerators, water heaters, AC, and space heating are the top-4. Buying a more efficient dishwasher isn’t going to change the world but it doesn’t hurt. The previous four make a big difference.

A good way to make better buying decisions is to pre-shop each of these so you know what you want when the unit you currently have dies. You have the benefit of time to properly research appropriately sized units for the size of your household, size of space that needs to be heated or cooled, and a local company that stocks and can install what you’re looking for.

This can save you a lot of money (and environmental impact) over time since products like this use a lot of energy. For example, water heaters can vary tremendously in their efficiency. The difference adds up to thousands of driving miles per year of pollution that you can avoid by making better choices.

3. Insulation. So not sexy. So effective. Now that’s it’s colder outside you may start to notice some leaks in your home. Snag a heat gun for a reality check. This one is easy to use and makes it obvious where you’re spewing heat through walls, windows, and doors. Start by sealing obvious cracks. This costs hardly anything and makes a big difference. Things like wall insulation or getting new windows or doors can obviously get expensive so it’s worth talking to someone about how to best address those issues.

4. Buying cleaner electricity. Your options will vary based on where you live, but if you have an option to buy solar, wind, or another form of renewable electricity rather than continuing to buy coal and gas, do it. It’s not uncommon for a household to create as much pollution from their electricity use as they’d create by driving a car 10,000-15,000 miles per year. Pollution from electricity use is a sleeper issue since we don’t see the pollution in our own homes. In Minnesota, we have a Community Solar program and the WindSource program that provide two ways for people to buy cleaner energy without having to buy anything upfront or put anything on their property. Putting panels on your own property is also an excellent option for people who have a suitable space and the cash or credit to do so.

5. Buy a great commuter bike. Bikes can get expensive, but even expensive bikes aren’t expensive compared to cheap cars. You’ll save money, get into better shape, get to know your neighbors better, be less likely to accidentally kill one of your neighbors, and typically be able to park closer to work, for free. Have a commute that’s slightly uncomfortable due to distance or hills? Consider an ebike. Not cheap, but way cheaper than a car.

6. Get an electric car. Here’s the coolest thing about electric cars. They create far less pollution than burning gas AND they automatically become even cleaner to drive as our energy grid becomes cleaner. An electric car doesn’t care if the electricity is generated by coal, gas, hydro, wind, or solar.

7. Electrify everything. Small gas engines tend to be surprisingly large generators of pollution. I’m referring to things like lawnmowers, snowblowers, and leaf blowers. I’m particularly happy with my electric lawnmower. It’s so much nicer than walking back and forth through a cloud of pollution. It’s also quieter. And it’s not exactly difficult to recharge the batteries before I need to use it again. Perhaps you could put the charger on a timer so it charges at a time of day/week when your local energy generation is typically greenest?

Regarding snow blowing, an investment in a quiver of top of the line shovels is cheaper than a snow blower and comes bundled with free workouts.

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