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Make small changes for a big eco-impact

You don't have to make sweeping lifestyle adjustments to help save the planet. "Eco-Friendly Families" has  simple actions you can take to make a difference, from placing a brick in your toilet tank to becoming energy efficient, one light bulb at a time.
/ Source: TODAY

You don't have to make sweeping lifestyle adjustments to help save the planet. “Eco-Friendly Families” has simple actions you can take to make a difference, from placing a brick in your toilet tank to becoming energy efficient, one light bulb at a time.

Chapter two: Small changes, big results
“Get cash immediately!”

“Log on and find your soul mate today!”

“Quit your job and be your own boss now!”

Not a day goes by without our being bombarded with such sweeping statements. While the subject matter varies, the media’s intention is often the same: to convince consumers that big (often immediate) changes are needed to see results. But as we all learned from our friends the tortoise and the hare, slow and steady is usually the way to win a race. A flash-in-the-pan approach may make a big splash or attract a lot of attention, but without a solid plan and staying power, even the best-intended project inevitably goes by the wayside. I have fallen victim to the immediate gratification machine, only to fall short of the mark, and I suspect you have as well. It wasn’t until I changed my approach that I began to make real changes in my life.

On my quest to find a healthy diet that works best for my family, I was introduced to a nutritionist whose philosophy focused on organic, whole foods. She encouraged me to find natural alternatives to the processed foods I was used to eating. Instead of using Sweet & Low, I began using Stevia. Instead of cooking with vegetable oil, I discovered grapeseed oil; instead of white flour, almond flour. After initially stumbling to find complementary options, I found my groove, tapping into my health store’s personnel for suggestions, logging on to trustworthy websites, and seeking out likeminded families. I didn’t “clean house” and toss out my less desirable products; instead, I took some time to work through the products I had on hand while finding replacements that the whole family enjoyed.

I must confess, carob chips are no match for chocolate chips, veggie hot dogs weren’t welcomed with open arms (or mouths), and seaweed soup was just too far out there for all of us. But we have greatly changed our diets for the better, even if we do occasionally indulge in old favorites. Today most of those “alternative” choices have become mainstays.

The same correlation can be made with going green. We don’t have to give up electricity, or go out and spend money replacing light bulbs that are working; but replacing burned-out bulbs with more energy-efficient ones is an eco-friendly alternative that you can initiate in your home. Learning which alternatives are available, making a plan for phasing out less-than-ideal practices, and keeping a watchful eye on ways to better manage our current eco-affairs are all positive steps in creating a more energy-efficient household. Going green isn’t about giving up what you enjoy, but rather, enjoying things with more environmental awareness. We don’t have to stop giving holiday presents, but exchanging homemade gifts, reusing wrapping paper, or even making our own decorative wrap can become fun family traditions that are rooted in greener living.

After reading those examples, you may be wondering, “How big of a difference can these small changes really make?” After all, it makes sense to believe that an environmental crisis would call for extreme actions. But when we focus on what we can do, keeping our plan rooted in reality, we are much more likely to make an important difference in our environment. Actually doing several small somethings is much more beneficial than waiting (or hoping) for a chance to make one big change. It may feel like the eco-advantage of taking a shorter shower in hopes of saving water could result in only a drop in the bucket, but rest assured, those drops add up. In this chapter, we focus on a simple mathematical equation that adds up to greener living, review the three cardinal rules of environmentally friendly living that will help govern all of our eco-decisions, and begin to appreciate the benefits of simplifying our surroundings.

Fundamental + financial + functional = forward
Once we make the fundamental decision to take better care of our households — and, by extension, our planet — we do our bodies and our wallets a favor by choosing high-quality, sustainable products whose intention is to add beauty and purpose to our lives; this combination moves us forward toward greener living.

Consider the following statistics from the Earth Day Network ( in terms of the 4F formula.

Fundamental decision — Responsibly use resources to reduce greenhouse emissions and save energy. When we think of global warming and greenhouse emissions, we usually think cars, power plants, or other large-scale offenders. But making a small-scale change can raise a fixture’s efficiency by up to 30 percent.

Financial benefit — Energy Star models reduce your electric bill about $30 over the life of the compact fluorescent bulb. With an average home having anywhere from 50 to 100 light bulbs, the more bulbs you replace, the greater the savings. Having an extra $30 to put toward a night out may not seem like a lot, but having an extra $1,500 to put toward a family vacation is worth noting.

Functional advantage — The right light bulb will last 6 to 10 times longer than a standard one, meaning less time spent in the dark and less energy spent running to the store. Look for sales on energy-efficient light bulbs, and stock up so that when you need a new bulb, you have a green alternative ready and waiting.

Forward living — Bask in the warm light of your smart bulb decisions, knowing that you are using less energy and saving money. Now that you know the benefits of energy-efficient lighting, keep a few extra light bulbs on hand for a green housewarming gift or a hostess present. Next time a bulb burns out in your friend’s house, they will have an eco-friendly replacement at their fingertips. Passing along your eco-awareness helps keep everyone moving in a greener direction.

Stick to a program
About 42 percent of an average household’s energy costs go toward just two things: heating and cooling. Buy a programmable thermostat, which can regulate different temperatures at different times of the day. And if you have one, use it! These thermostats reduce energy use by 5 to 30 percent and save you $100 to $150 in energy costs each year.

Fundamental decision — Use resources responsibly, to save energy. In the cold of winter and the heat of summer, we are drawn to the thermostat, often adjusting the numbers for optimum comfort. But every time we turn up the heat or cool down the house, we are using precious resources. By making ourselves more responsible, either by putting on a sweater when we want to be warmer or closing the blinds to keep out the sun when we want to be cooler, we can be comfortable inside, no matter what the weather is like outside.

Financial benefit — When you are sleeping or out for the day, it isn’t necessary to heat or cool your house in the same manner as when you are home and awake. In the winter, layer blankets on your bed and turn the thermostat back 10 degrees for 10 hours. This could save 5 to 10 percent a year on heating prices; that’s about a 1 percent savings for every degree. In the summer, set the thermostat to cool only when you are home and awake, and enjoy further financial gains.

Functional advantage — Digital thermostats give you the most program options, meaning you can set your heating/cooling cycles to turn off and on throughout the day and night. Consider the sleeping and working patterns of your household, and set the times accordingly. Once your new system is in place, it requires little maintenance. If you need to make an unscheduled adjustment, most models offer override buttons that do not require resetting the whole system.

Forward living — If family members have a hard time adjusting to the new temperatures, check to make sure your thermostat is in a good location before demanding more energy from it. Drafts, open doors, bright skylights, and direct sunlight can prevent efficient readings. Set up your family for success, and chances are, your household will cool and heat smoothly.

New and improved light bulbs and thermostat monitoring are ideas that every family can get behind. Again, we are looking not to completely change our lifestyles, but to make adjustments within our homes to benefit the environment and improve our health. Without having to make drastic changes, we can still make an important difference. With an eco-friendly plan as simple as the 4F equation, it’s easy to see that small green-living changes really add up to big eco-results!

Five-minute makeovers
Today choose one of these five strategies and take an action step toward greener living. Set a goal to complete the remaining four activities by the end of the month. Small changes like these can set the stage for big eco-results.

The next time you flush the toilet, take the lid off the tank and watch as the water empties out. When the water level is low, place a brick inside the tank to help decrease the amount of water needed to refill the tank. Less water in the tank means less water being flushed down the drain.

Save 20 gallons of water a day by turning on your dishwasher only when there is a full load. Decrease the number of times you need to run your dishwasher by reusing the same drinking glass throughout the day instead of taking a new one for every drink of water.

Increase your fuel efficiency up to 40 percent by driving the speed limit and avoiding sudden braking or acceleration. Less wear and tear on your car also means less wear and tear on the environment.

Bring your own cloth bags when shopping and reduce pollution. Plastic bags are not biodegradable; when they break down, they pollute water and Earth.

Plug your TV, VCR, DVD, and stereo equipment into a single power cord, and turn it off when not in use, eliminating “standby” energy waste.

When we use natural resources more responsibly, we are making a fundamental decision to honor Earth and our place on it. Taking only what we need instead of always indulging in what we want helps ensure that there are enough resources for everyone. Financially speaking, going green can lessen the strain on your wallet. It is often assumed that environmental changes cost big dollars, a price many families cannot afford to pay, despite their good intentions. But by making small changes, financial “start-up” costs remain manageable and the long-term benefits quickly justify the expenditure. Once systems are in place, greener living can help make your household more functional. Greener living means more conscientious shopping. Taking inventory of what you have on hand, organizing what will stay and what will go, leads to less clutter. When there is a place for everything and everything is in its place, shopping routines become more systematic, making the most of your time and energy — and ultimately saving you money. It may be helpful to put these ideas into a useful equation.

Excerpted from “Eco-Friendly Families” by Helen Coronato. Copyright (c) 2008, reprinted with permission from Penguin Group.