The green endpoint Americas: It's easy being Green

05 February 2007 00:00  [Source: ICB Americas]


When our Editor, Joe Chang, gave me the assignment to go green for a week and write about my personal experiences for this issue, I had a hard time coming up with ways to go much greener than I feel I already am.

I consider myself an ardent, hard core environmentalist, and have already made most of the easy choices for reducing my footprint on the planet. I live by the tenets of the Tragedy of the Commons, an environmental essay written by Garrett Hardin and published in Science in 1968.

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Garrett explores the inherent conflict between individual interests and the common good, within the confines of finite resources. In a nutshell: if the village commons can sustainably support 100 cows, and there are 10 villagers with cows, each can have 10 cows. But if there is nothing artificial (such as a law) to stop a villager from getting an 11th cow, then it behooves him to do so.

While each farmer's cows' productivity might now decline by about 1% due to overgrazing, the farmer who now has 11 cows will still see productivity go up by nearly 10%. And once one farmer gets an extra cow, it behooves the rest to get an extra cow, too - or two, or three, and so on.


One thing I decided I could do was to recycle more fervently. Here in New York City, recycling is mandatory. Building managers are required to separate paper, plastics #1 and #2, metal and glass from the general trash. But our complex flouts the law. It recycles only paper. So I have endeavored to take the rest of my recycling to a neighboring building that does recycle. Total time and effort each day has been negligible. I simply carry a supermarket bag with a few items in it across the street, on my walk to the subway.


Another change I made for this assignment was something I've felt guilty about for many years: shaving in the shower. So now I have been shaving after my shower in order to save water (and the energy to pump it, and to heat it, and to recycle it in the sewage plant.) All I can say about shaving after my shower is The horror. The horror. The shower shave will remain a guilty pleasure for me.

I have also taken to calling catalog companies and asking that my name be dropped from their lists. In addition to the paper used to make catalogs, this saves the energy used to transport them to my home the ink the energy to print them and the energy to recycle them. Even for catalogs I like, it's easier to simply check their website.

These may not sound like a lot, but allow me to explain some of the planet-saving techniques I've employed for years.


I have always owned the smallest cars suitable for the job. For example, when I lived in what is Vermont's officially snowiest town, I bought a four-wheel-drive SUV. But it was a Geo Tracker, and over the 150,000 miles I drove it, it averaged 27 mpg. Now that I live in New York, I have no car at all.

I rarely dry-clean clothes, exceptions being when the alternative is not wearing the item anymore. This is not hypocritical. It is a conscious decision that it is probably better for the planet to consume a little bit of perchloroethylene than to replace a garment.

I wash most laundry in cold water, and hang-dry clothes on a wooden rack. Air-drying not only saves a lot of energy and heat pollution, but also causes clothes to wrinkle less (saving more time and energy on ironing) and to last longer.

I prefer dish towels, handkerchiefs and cloth napkins. I can't say that I've ever had to run an extra load of laundry because of these additions, so they create no discernable extra use of laundry resources.

I have purchased five air conditioners in three years. (Long story don't ask.) Even though apartments in our complex don't have individual electrical meters (this in itself is a huge waste because, just as Tragedy of the Commons shows, no one is encouraged to conserve energy when they don't get a separate bill) I bought both the most efficient models I could find, and the lowest BTU-rated models that would work for the designated spaces.

Smaller, more efficient models cycle on and off less (also saving energy and wear and tear) than big ones that cool a space down fast but don't have time to get rid of the humidity. They're also quieter. And again as Commons shows, I know that I really do eventually pay that electrical bill, even if I don't see it.

We have a fancy toaster oven that's large and powerful enough to roast a small chicken, bake a pie, meat loaf, etc. Though it obviously draws more power than a smaller toaster oven, the frequency with which we use it instead of the full-size oven, more than makes up for it. And we use a special counter-top model of dishwasher from Canadian firm Danby that will perfectly fit a full meal's worth of dishes of a family of four. Not only is it far more efficient than a full-size dishwasher (even if you were to measure the resources it uses per dish) but we are rarely ever tempted to run it only partially full.

When I use soap, shampoo and dish-washing liquid, I try to be conscious about using the minimal amount necessary to get the job done. If you normally use a quarter-sized dab of shampoo, try a nickel-sized dab. If that works just fine, try a penny-sized one the next day. If you get down to a dime, though, I hate to break it to you: you're bald!

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