It is easy being green

You may not be a nature lover or the next David Suzuki, but there are some everyday changes you can make to become more environmentally friendly. I spoke with Dr. Greg Thorn, the chair of Undergraduate Programs in Environmental Science at Western University, and Fanshawe's sustainability coordinator Mary-Lee Townsend to find out some easy steps students can take to make their green footprint on the earth.

Unplug the Unused
You may have heard that unplugging your electronics when they're not being used saves energy, but why?

“You may not see a huge difference on your energy bill, you'll see a little. If you and a hundred of your neighbours are all saving a per cent on your energy bill, it may not be a lot in your pocket, but it's a fair bit overall that the system doesn't have to provide. Gradually we can reduce our energy consumption by these incremental bits,” said Thorn. He added that by simply looking at a TV or DVD system, you can see how the energy is being used up. “If you look at it when it's plugged in but turned off and there are still lights glowing, that's a clue... They all draw a little bit of energy when they're plugged in, so if you're not using them, why bother?”

The Lowdown on Light Bulbs
Replace your regular old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) or light-emitting diode bulbs (LEDs). Wondering what the difference is?

Incandescent bulbs are the cheapest ($0.84), but only last around 1,000 hours. CFLs are more expensive ($2.50), and last for approximately 6,000 hours. LEDs can cost $25 but will last you up to 50,000 hours. “LED are certainly among the most efficient, but there are not all style of lights available in LED, so the technology is still improving,” said Thorn. “As the prices come down, LED would be one way to go, and in interim, the high-efficiency florescent bulbs are now coming down in price, so much that they are a very affordable alternative. (CFLs) are saving you about 75 per cent of the energy relative to what it would cost to have incandescent bulbs.”

According to Townsend, it's also important to look at the production of the bulbs. “Look at the numbers (to see the carbon dioxide emissions): 451 pounds per year from the LEDs, 1,000 from CFLs, and 4,500 from the incandescent bulbs. This means putting carbon dioxide into the environment through their manufacture.”

Remember that CFL bulbs contain mercury, so you must dispose of them properly.

Watch Your Water Use
Turning off your taps can make a big difference.

Everybody jokes about not running the water the whole time you're brushing your teeth, but those types of small measures can actually save quite a lot these days in sewerage fees. That means less water that's going down the drain through the river by way of pollution control plants. “The more we use our pollution control plants, the more it's going to cost,” Thorn said.

He suggested purchasing low-flow toilets, only flushing when necessary, and using a re-usable water bottle. He also stressed the importance of checking leaky faucets. “An awful lot of our water usage, perhaps up to 25 per cent, is due to waste, dripping taps and leaking taps, so those are really worth fixing.”

Halt the Heat
Don't turn up the heat when it's not needed. Turn the heat down a degree or two, particularly during the day. You can have the heat down when you're out. If you have programmable thermostats, that's very easy to do, so you have the house nice and warm when you wake up in the morning, and as soon as you go to work the temperature can go right back down again, and up again for dinner,” said Thorn.

Don't forget to check out where your vents, radiators and baseboard heaters are to make sure they're not obstructed by furniture.

Care About Composting
Thorn said composting can be one of the easiest ways to help the environment. “Keep a container by the sink and take it out to the composter.” But what about for those who live in apartment buildings or don't have a backyard? “There are also under-the-sink composting systems that you can set up with worms, so vermicomposting,” Thorn said. “It's quite successful and not smelly. That''s the key thing, most people shy away from it because they think it's going to smell up the kitchen, but it doesn't if it's working right.”

Clean Green
Save money and make your own environmentally friendly cleaning products!

“Grab baking soda and tea tree oil,” suggested Townsend. “You mix that up together and it's a great abrasive cleaner, because tea tree oil acts as a disinfectant and the baking soda acts as the abrasive cleaner. “Townsend recommended this recipe for a new window cleaner: “Vinegar and lemon juice would work well for Windex, and you save money because you don't have to go out and purchase it.”