If I read one more ad touting Crate & Barrel's $1,899, eco-friendly sofa, with soy-based cushions, no less, I'm going to buy one and stir-fry it.
How typical of our mega-consumer society that even the notion of going green has to involve spending scads of money to buy . . . more things! The original point of conservation was to conserve our natural resources -- you know, reduce, reuse, recycle. Not to buy overpriced organic hemp pajamas or spend $20,000 on another car to make yourself feel better.
"You can go buy a hybrid car, and there is value in that," says Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist with Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "But what people don't realize is that you don't have to buy the reduction of your carbon footprint."
Now that's the kind of green message we love here at Women in Red headquarters.
You can't buy your way out of this oneThe most eye-opening description of what your carbon footprint really consists of can be found at National Geographic's Web site:
"When you eat an egg, you're not just eating an egg. You're eating the gas the truck used to deliver that egg, the coal used to generate electricity for its refrigeration, and the resources used to boil, poach or fry that yummy egg. And that's your human footprint -- how much of the world you use in your lifetime."
There are a number of "carbon footprint calculators" available on the Internet, but most of them estimate only how many tons of carbon dioxide your lifestyle habits (driving, traveling, electricity use, etc.) produce, rather than the whole, beginning to end.
There are many ways to try to undo the damage with money. Some will even try to sell you "carbon offsets" -- for example, planting trees in Kenya to balance out your car's exhaust or your latest airplane trip.
But it's much simpler and cheaper to simply not create the carbon in the first place.
You can do that, Rangan says, by focusing on what scientists refer to as cradle-to-grave issues: "What are the factors involved from the moment when we produce something, to our consumption or use of it, to when we dispose of it? What are the environmental costs?"
That soy-based sofa still has to be trucked to the mall, in other words.
You can connect the dots by tallying your consumption of common household items (eggs, milk, diapers, newspapers, etc.) at the Human Footprint project at the National Geographic Web site.
3 areas to use less, not buy moreIt doesn't have to cost a lot to scale back on items that are hard on the environment. Conservation often means using less or making smarter choices about what you do use -- moves that will help you save, not force you to spend.
Spare me the $45 bamboo cutting boards.
According to Rangan, consumers would do well to focus on just three areas. Following is his advice -- and the steps we've implemented in our household:
1) Reduce your reliance on fossil fuels. Don't dash out to buy a hybrid car or trade in your train pass for a $2,500 titanium wonder bike. Simply make whatever form of transportation you use, especially your car, as fuel-efficient as possible. Some tips:
- Inflate your tires properly. Check; we monitor our tires for safety reasons, too.
- Get regular tuneups and oil changes. Check.
- Consider getting by with one car (an inconvenience for some, not possible for many, but it can save you thousands a year in gas, insurance and maintenance). Check; we both work at home, so one car is doable.
- Use public transportation whenever possible. Check; I take the train for city business trips when I can, rather than drive three hours.
Another convert: "I started using the bus to commute to work last summer, when the lease on my husband's car ran out," says Debra O'Connor, a newspaper reporter at the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minn.
Rather than get another car, the couple decided to make do with one and have loved the result. "I'm saving all kinds of money on parking, gas and repairs," says O'Connor. "The best thing about the bus is that I can read both ways."
- Perhaps the most dramatic way to decrease your car's footprint: Drive a little more slowly. (Read a terrific breakdown of how much a slight slowdown increases fuel efficiency here.) Check; this article has inspired us to stick closer to 55 than 75.