Better Gifts for a Smaller Footprint

This post is reprinted from the Facing Climate Change blog.

presents

The holidays present a whole different set of circumstances compared to daily life, so they also come with a whole different set of sustainability challenges. Top among these after  travel and food (see my previous post) is gift-giving. Recycled wrapping paper or reusable gift bags are great, but be sure the gift in that wrapping takes sustainability into account too.

Here are some tips for carbon-smart gifting:

Start early!
Early planning alone can save both carbon and money. By giving ourselves time to work out good options in advanc, we can avoid unwanted or wasteful gifts as well as rush shipping and other flailing around. In this instance (and many others, as it turns out), organizing and planning make for more affordable, more sustainable presents.

Make sure your gift will be used
In measuring the emissions of a gift in proportion to how much happiness it brings, the biggest loser is a gift that isn’t used at all. We’ve all gotten (and given) them: whether a seemingly genius idea that didn’t pan out or a gift bought at the last minute in desparation, a present that isn’t used damages the climate without helping anyone. Even a returnable present often feels bad to the recipient while creating more travel and/or shipping, which has its own footprint.

Some ways to ensure a gift isn’t a duplicate or a misfire include discussing it with someone else close to the recipient, erring on the side of conservative gift-choosing (for instance, with gift certificates), or even involving the recipient in the gift choice. I know it’s traditional (and fun) for gifts to be surprises, but both as a gift giver and a gift getter, personally I’d be much happier about a gift that’s a hit but not a surprise than a gift that’s unexpected but a flop.

The driving gotcha
Think twice about gifts that involve much driving, whether it’s you getting the gift or the recipient using it. On top of the gift itself, the extra driving creates a bigger negative impact on carbon footprint that’s easy to miss or discount. Since travel is the number one source of emissions for individuals and households, it’s entirely possible to give a gift that has a much bigger impact in terms of driving than is embodied in the gift itself.

Of course, not all driving raises a gift’s impact. For example, if you pick up a gift while driving but are combining that errand with others, the extra driving attributable to that particular gift is lessened or eliminated. Similarly, if the gift-getter is already going to do the driving your gift would entail (for instance, you buy a ski pass for someone you know already plans to go skiing), driving again stops being an issue.

Types of presents
Some categories of gifts, such as electronics, tend to have a much worse impact than others. Even some seemingly-harmless gifts, like clothing and shoes, can come with a heavy climate toll. Here are some ways to approach more sustainable gift choices:

  • Favor gifts that will be used more. An item that is seldom used, even if it’s enjoyed when it is used, is contributing much less for its cost in carbon than something that’s used regularly.
  • Favor gifts of necessities over luxuries. A gift that solves a problem is not only welcome, but also does a much better job of justifying its climate impact.
  • Steer clear of upgraded replacements. For instance, a slightly newer, slightly better smart phone as a gift wastes much of the carbon cost of manufacturing the phone that’s already in use.
  • Prize quality. With so many things so easily replaceable these days, we tend to think of quality as an indulgence. In fact, a durable, high-quality item will often pay for itself much better over time than a cheap item that will wear out and need to be replaced.

Used = more delight for the recipient, less trouble for the climate
My son is interested in animation, and for his recent birthday we bought him a high-quality graphics tablet, the kind of device animators connect to computers and draw on to create their art. There’s no way we could have afforded it if we’d tried to get him a brand-new one, and the climate impact of electronic devices in general is often terrible. Buy buying him a used unit from a reputable seller, we not only got him a much bigger gift than we otherwise could have–one he’ll have a real use for–but we also avoided buying something that had to be manufactured just for him.

Buying used goods doesn’t usually make for a zero carbon footprint, even if we disregard shipping. It’s always possible that if we hadn’t bought that graphics tablet, someone else would have who instead decided to buy a brand-new one. At the same time, it’s also possible that by buying that graphics tablet, we contributed enough to the demand for used items like that that somebody somewhere took one out of the closet and dusted it off for resale rather than letting it sit unused. On average, the impact of buying a used item will be significantly less than that of buying a new item, just not zero.

It’s true that some people may be put off by getting or giving used gifts. We certainly tend to prize the new and shiny in our culture. However, I think we can consider this more reason to give used gifts, not less. If we want to reduce waste and therefore climate change damage in our culture, we need to get used to fixing things, reusing things, and sharing things rather than insisting that everything we have be the latest, private to us, and previously untouched by human hands. Buying used has its limitations, but by encouraging reuse, we help to change both our own and the gift recipient’s ways of approaching consumer goods … for the better.

Photo by Liz Brooks

Remaking Holidays for Sustainability: Ways to Improve Any Holiday

Reposted from FaceClimateChange.com

Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, the Fourth of July, and other holidays all have a few things in common: they tend to involve travel and special meals or feasts. For many extended families, like mine, these kinds of occasions are the only times during the year we all have a chance to see each other, yet travel and food are two of the four biggest ways individuals and households contribute to global warming*. So our choices are to give up on sustainability over the holidays, to give up on the holidays, or to find ways to the holidays more sustainable, starting now. These posts are focused on that last option.

The way I propose we look at cutting any emissions is “biggest impacts first.” We often look for the easiest, most obvious ways to act more sustainably, but the truth is that there are so many low-impact things we can do, we can easily spend all our time on those and never get to the good stuff, the major savings. That’s where the Big Four offer a starting point. With those in mind, here are some tips for the making the largest possible savings in emissions at the holidays.

Rethink air travel: Flying around the country and even the rest of the plant has become relatively inexpensive and easy, but unfortunately it’s one of the worst offenders in terms of emissions. Not only do planes burn a lot of fossil fuels, they push out their exhaust at altitudes where their bad effects are at least doubled compared to what they would be on the ground. It’s not up to me to tell you or your family members not to fly, but there are ways to fly less, for instance driving together in an efficient car, taking a bus or plane or boat, or making one longer visit instead of two shorter ones. For more information on flying, see “You Want Me to Stop Doing What?”

If the trip is very important to you and you can’t find any way to make it other than air travel, you can consider making a donation to offset the climate impact. For example, Cool Earth is a non-profit organization that does excellent work preserving forests, which is one of the best possible ways to help slow climate change (even better than planting new trees). Donations to organizations that make a smaller or less direct impact would have to be proportionately larger.

The cost of offsetting a flight depends very much on how long the flight is. For a transatlantic round trip, an offset donation to an organization like Cool Earth would be only $20.90. A short round trip, for instance between Niagara Falls and New York City, would be only about $2.50. (Source: How Bad Are Bananas by Mike Berners-Lee)

Not making the trip in the first place is certainly the ideal way to go, but offsetting is a decent alternative if you are having trouble finding away around flying.

Use food well: According to FeedingAmerica.org, between 25% and 40% of all food produced in the U.S. will never be eaten. Take a moment to reflect on that with me: At least a quarter of all our food, and possibly closer to half, goes completely to waste! Meanwhile, much of this food is produced with energy-intensive methods that burn many tons of fossil fuels; methane from ruminant livestock (cows, sheep, and goats) that is more than 20 times as potent in damaging the climate than carbon dioxide; and chemical fertilizers that release Nitrous Oxide (NO2), a greenhouse gas more than 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide. Careful attention to what and how much food we buy and how we serve and store it can cut our personal food waste to far below the usual amount.

Time permitting, I’ll be posting further ways to transform the holidays over the coming weeks. A happy and sustainable holiday season to all!

Photo courtesy of Emily Barney

* The other two are heat/hot water and electricity.

New Williston Smaller Footprint Group Will Reduce Carbon Footprints, Promote Resilience

Sustainable Williston’s new Smaller Footprint group offers a way to make big improvements in your individual, family, or small business carbon footprint and become more resilient to extreme weather events by working with other community members in a friendly, laid-back environment. Nobody can make every desirable change at once, so Smaller Footprint is geared to providing information, support, cameraderie, and problem-solving to help each member focus on one major new impact at a time while finding strategies that are cash-positive, free, or affordable and that handle time limitations and other common obstacles.

Sustainable Williston member Luc Reid will lead Smaller Footprint meetings and provide specific, actionable information about once every two weeks, starting Thursday, November 20th at 6:30 PM at his family’s home on Old Creamery Road. Get in touch if other days of the week are better for you and come when you can; there’s no need to attend meetings regularly to be involved. Smaller Footprint is free, and no preparation or previous steps are required to get started. If you’re working on your carbon footprint and also have specialized knowledge or experience about alternative energy, resilience, or other related topics, please come and share it!

RVSP any time to Luc through the contact page on this site. Even if you can’t make the first meeting but are interested in future ones, drop him a note!

Energy Co-op of Vermont Launches Heat Pump Leasing Program

Heat Pump

The Energy Co-op of Vermont, a northern Vermont heating fuel provider and energy efficiency Co-op, announces the launch of Co-op Heat Pumps, an innovative heat pump leasing program. The Co-op Heat Pump program offers homeowners a super-efficient Fujitsu heat pump for less than $40 a month on a ten-year lease, with an upfront payment of less than $300.

“Our core mission at the Energy Co-op is to help Vermonters make their homes comfortable, healthy and energy-efficient.” said John Quinney, General Manager. “The Co-op Heat Pump lease program does just that by providing immediate cost savings while reducing fossil fuel use by up to 80%.  It’s a win-win.”

The Co-op provides a turn-key application and installation service which begins with a sign-up form on the Co-op Heat Pumps website. Completing the sign-up form triggers a short survey that makes it easy for potential customers to determine if their home is suitable for a heat pump.  Homes with open floor plans that are heated with oil or propane are best suited for the Co-op Heat Pumps program.

According to Efficiency Vermont, for a typical Vermont home where a customer is able to shift 80% of their heating requirements away from heating oil or propane to a cold climate heat pump, the savings can be between $800 and $1,200 a year.

Current Co-op members and non-members are welcome to inquire. The Co-op’s Colchester offices are heated and cooled with a heat pump which is available for demonstration during regular business hours Monday through Friday9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

About the Energy Co-op of Vermont

Energy Co-op of Vermont is a member-owned, not-for-profit, fuel services and energy efficiency cooperative located in Colchester, Vermont. The Co-op opened for business in 2001 and serves over 2,000 members in Northwestern and Central Vermont with deliveries of heating oil, kerosene and made-in-Vermont wood pellets. The Co-op also offers maintenance, repair and installation of high-efficiency heating equipment such furnaces, boilers and heat pumps.

​For more information contact:  Suzie Quinn, Community Marketing Manager at suzie@ecvt.net

Post courtesy of BrighterVermont.org, a new Web site offering a wide range of information and resources for sustainable energy use.

Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables

French supermarket chain Intermarche launched this promotional campaign to help reduce food waste of “undesirable” fruits and vegetables. Rather than throw out ugly, deformed, or damaged produce, Intermarche instead sells them with a unique twist.

CSWD Seeking Citizen Advisory Committee Participants

From Clare Innes at Chittenden Solid Waste District:

The Chittenden Solid Waste District (CSWD) is forming a Citizen Advisory Committee to get public input on a proposal to change how trash and recycling is picked up from households in Chittenden County. CSWD has been examining a system called “consolidated collection,” whereby the County is divided into trash and recycling collection districts. Each district would be serviced by one hauler, who will be selected based on how they meet specific criteria.

CSWD is investigating introducing consolidated collection to Chittenden County because of its potential to reduce collection costs and the impact of excessive truck traffic on roads and the environment. Largely due to these economic and environmental efficiencies, consolidated collection is the most common form of residential service in the country. However, residents would no longer be able to choose their hauler.

For more information on consolidated collection, visit http://cswd.net/consolidated-collection.

The Committee of 12-15 members will meet four times, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on July 31, August 14 & 28, and September 11 at CSWD’s Administrative Office in Williston. A light meal will be provided.

If you are interested in serving on this committee, please email the following information by noon on July 16th to advisory@cswd.net (the information will be used to ensure a wide spectrum of participants):

Name:
City/Town/Village of residence:
E-mail address:
Phone number:
Age:
Gender:
Occupation:
Whether you rent or own your home:
Number of units in your building (e.g., single-family, duplex, 4 apartments, etc.):
Whether a hauler collects your trash curbside or you self-haul to a drop-off center:
Name of current hauler:
Have you heard of consolidated collection systems? If so, based on what you currently know, would you support or oppose this kind of system for Chittenden County?
Confirm availability on the 4 dates:

Vermont Organization Offers $500 Rebates on Electric Vehicles

The Federal government already offers tax credits of up to $7,500 on the purchase of a new, qualifying electric car. This isn’t just a deduction: a tax credit increases your refund or decreases your amount owed rather than just affecting your taxable income. Well, if that wasn’t enough to whet your wallet, now a Vermont organization called Drive Electric Vermont is offering an additional $500 incentive for each electric car.

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Electric vehicles are sometimes restricted in terms of range, though some (the Chevy Volt, for example) have backup gasoline engines, and others (e.g., Tesla models) have such a long driving range that it generally isn’t an issue. Regardless, owning an electric car means changing some habits, including getting used to charging the vehicle, sometimes over the course of hours, rather than filling gas in minutes.

Chevy Volt

Chevy Volt

However, electric vehicles are much less expensive to drive in terms of fuel than gasoline or diesel powered vehicles. Regardless of the source of the electricity, they’re also far better for the climate, though of course the most climate-friendly way to go is to charge your vehicle with a renewable energy source like wind or solar.

Many Vermont communities now offer rapid EV charging stations, sometimes for free. For example, my credit union (Vermont State Employees Credit Union) is adding a new charging station at its Montpelier location.

Nissan Leaf

Nissan Leaf

Electric vehicles do tend to be a good bit more expensive than gasoline-powered vehicles, but Federal rebates and this $500 incentive can help take some of the sting out of that.

Disclaimer: Sustainable Williston has no affiliation or direct experience with Drive Electric Vermont.

Shopping on Amazon? Use this link to benefit Williston schools

Williston Central School

Amazon has a program that allows people and organizations to earn money when people shop at Amazon through a link from that person or organization instead of just going straight to www.Amazon.com. Nothing changes for the shopper: there are no extra fees or limitations or anything, but purchases made after getting to the site through that link will each earn the referring person or organization a small advertising fee paid by Amazon.

Williston Families as Partners, the group that oversees fundraising for school events and helps involve the community in Williston’s schools, has started a smart fundraiser by getting their own Amazon link. The next time you have online purchases to make, please consider using this link: http://www.amazon.com/?_encoding=UTF8&tag=wsdvtorg-20 (suggestion: save it in your favorites, or else bookmark this page).

By the way, we’re not suggesting that you shop more online for this reason: there are a lot of benefits to getting things locally (though if you have to drive around too much to get them, you can wipe a lot of the environmental benefits out!). However, if you’re already getting something online, especially a large purchase, why not help out Williston schools while you’re at it?

Vermont LED Bulb Promotion Saves Money, Energy, and the Climate

ledbulbs

Efficiency Vermont has partnered with several electrical distributors to offer LED (Light Emitting Diode) light bulbs at a substantial discount. These lamps are the latest in lighting technology and offer efficiencies much better  than Compact Fluorescent and standard incandescent bulbs. Advantages of LED lamps include:

  • Efficiencies over conventional bulbs. For example, a 16 watt LED bulb will provide the same light as a 75 watt Halogen bulb.
  • These bulbs last and last – they are rated at 25000 hours of use. Conventional bulbs are usually rated to last around 1000 – 2000 hours, so these can nearly pay for themselves in bulb replacement costs alone!
  • Most of them can work with a dimmer and can be had in ‘warm white’ colors to match the light bulbs we now use.
  • There is no mercury pollution when disposing LED lamps as opposed to the compact fluorescent.

When buying LED bulbs you should keep the following in mind:

  • Replace bulbs with matched LED lamps so that they fit into the fixtures you have.  You may need to take in your existing bulbs for correct sizing.
  • Don’t try to save energy by using a ‘dim’ bulb.  A 5 watt LED bulb may look like the one you are replacing, but its light output won’t match the 60 watt bulb you now use.  Follow the guidelines that would tell you to use a 12 watt LED to match the light of your current 60 watt bulb.
  • The LED bulbs are rated at a color temperature, usually in degrees KELVIN .  A ‘warm white’ bulb is rated near 2700 degrees Kelvin.  4000 degree Kelvin and higher bulbs will have a ‘bluish’ light and are a bit harsh in my opinion.

The energy and cost savings are substantial. If you convert your light bulbs to LED, your electrical bill will go down. LED bulbs are most economical when replacing lights that are on most often. Closets aren’t the place to put these bulbs. I have converted 90% of the bulbs in my house to LED and my bill with Vermont Electric is usually less than $60 per month (I also have a propane stove, dryer, and water heater …)  The following is an example of the cost savings of these bulbs over their 25,000 hour life:

12 watt LED to replace a 60 watt conventional light bulb.

Savings:     1,200 KiloWatt Hours (kwhr)  at a cost of $0.17 per kwhr,  Savings =  $204

(and this doesn’t include the savings of replacing more than 10 regular bulbs!)

I have recently adopted Vermont Electric’s ‘Variable Rate Schedule’ which charges more for power at the peak times and substantially less for off peak times.  If most of my lighting happens in the evenings during the peak hours, the cost of electricity increases  to  $0.26 per kwhr and can increase to  nearly  $0.40 per kwhr…  This would result in savings of more than $300 to $480 per bulb over its life… Investing $100 in twenty LED bulbs will return from $4080 to nearly $9,600 over the bulbs’ lifetimes, and save 24,000 kilowatt hours of electricity.

So Efficiency Vermont and these local electrical supply houses are offering these bulbs from Phillips, Sylvania, etc at prices starting at $4.99 per bulb. This is a big savings – costs in the local hardware stores are more like $6 to $25 per bulb even for non name-brand bulbs.

Some of the stores where these bulbs are available are:

  • NorthEast Electrical, 340 Ave D, Williston
    open Mon – Fri, 6:45am – 5:00pm
  • Twin State Electric (behind Pet Food Warehouse on Williston road)
    open Mon – Fri, 6:00am – 4:00pm
  • Walsh Electric, Rt 7, Colchester.  (Just north of Costco)
    open Mon – Fri, 7:00am – 5:00pm

Most electrical supply houses aren’t open on weekends, but they do generally have early morning hours.

 

Deal for Vermonters: Compost Bin Plus Compost

Another tip passed on by the Chittenden Solid Waste District, this time a deal on compost bins and compost. Have you considered a compost bin as a Christmas present?

It’s beginning to look a lot like …. compost!

Check out this great compost bin offer — just in time for holiday gift-giving.

compost bin

There’s something really satisfying about having a compost bin in your backyard — even in the wintertime. Every bucket of food scraps you pour into it is transformed into rich, dark compost by your very own herd of hard-working microbes, all year ’round. Every bucket of food scraps you keep out of the landfill has the potential to help build your own soil’s resilience through the wild weather we have here in Vermont.

We want to share that satisfaction with as many Chittenden County residents as possible, so in addition to our Drop-Off Composting program, we offer  SoilSaver backyard composting bins, year-round, at a great discount. And just in time for the holidays, we’re offering a great deal for those who come to Green Mountain Compost to buy a bin.

THE DEAL (starts Monday, December 9): Buy a SoilSaver for $49 at Green Mountain Compost and you’ll receive a coupon for your choice of:
– 25% off up to 2 yards of compost, or
– 25% off one delivery in Chittenden County, or
– 25% off one bag-yer-own purchase (10-bag limit)

THE DETAILS: Coupons available with purchase of a SoilSaver compost bin from Green Mountain Compost beginning Monday, December 9, 2013, through April 30, 2014. Bulk compost will be available for sale at Green Mountain Compost by April 1, 2014. Coupon expiration date: December 31, 2014. Limit one coupon per visit. May not be combined with any other offers.