August 4th, 2009
It’s been a long time in coming, but California is finally taking the steps necessary to make installing a graywater treatment system a reality for homeowners across the state. That’s good news for all of us, for California’s strict building codes often become templates for other locales across the country. The plans have been in the works for awhile and were originally supposed to take effect in January 2011, but due emergency conditions caused by an extended drought they’ll instead take effect today (August 4).
So, what’s so new and different about the standards? (more…)
Popularity: 6% [?]
July 3rd, 2009
We know we need to save water, no really we know, but sometimes we just need a little encouragement to get beyond the low hanging fruit. It is fairly easy to install low flow faucets and showerheads in the house, conserve more, and take shorter showers, but when it comes to saving water outdoors, that’s another story. In most backyards, sprinkler systems were installed well before saving water was a huge issue like it is now, so systems are inefficient and wasteful. With enough time, money and work you could fully replant your yard with drought tolerant plants, rip out your lawn and install a highly efficient irrigation system. If you don’t have the time for that, here are a couple backyard projects you can tackle soon, like this weekend or this month. (more…)
Popularity: 9% [?]
May 15th, 2009
Summer is just around the corner, and this is the time of year when we really ramp up our lawn activities– watering, fertilizing, mowing, etc. And all of these can have major negative environmental consequences. Did you know that over 50 million Americans mow their lawns each weekend, and that mowing contributes as much as 5% of the country’s air pollution? And it’s staggering to realize that the average American grassy lawn can use over 20,000 gallons of water each summer! So, a major part of any green home strategy should be to embrace eco-friendly lawn and garden care.
Here are 12 ways you can make sure you have an eco-friendly lawn this summer
1. Collect rain water and use it for your plants. Getting a rain barrel or two for your yard is a simple way to collect and reuse Mother Nature’s water. Just put it under your gutter’s down spout and you’ll be amazed how fast it fills up. Click here for rain barrels.
2. Make sure you’re not over-watering. Most of us over-water our lawns. Do you have moss growing on your driveway or sidewalk or in your garden? That’s a sign you’re watering too much. Do you have pools of standing water anywhere? Another sign. You can buy a very inexpensive lawn moisture meter that will tell you if you’re over-watering. You might also consider getting an intelligent irrigation control system that attunes your watering to the weather and your lawn’s needs.
3. Don’t hose down your sidewalks and driveway. That water is a valuable resource and the water you send into the gutter is carrying oil and a host of chemicals out as run-off that go on to pollute our rivers, lakes and oceans.
4. Get a push mower for your lawn. Traditional gas mowers are horrible for our air quality and contribute to global warming. They are major environmental offenders. A good-ole push mower is the eco-friendly solution. (Or if you can’t go all the way to push style, get a plug-in electric model– better than gas.) Find mowers here.
5. Say no to leaf-blowers! The gas-powered leaf blowers some people use are major carbon emissions culprits. Say yes to a broom! Your waist-line will thank you too.
6. And when you’re done mowing, leave your clippings on your yard. Those grass clippings make great mulch and will help you save water as well.
7. Be sure to compost your other yard waste. If your city doesn’t collect green waste for composting, please get a composter and do it yourself. It’s super easy and the composter will turn your waste into great mulch for use throughout your yard and garden. Find composters here.
8. Embrace native plants. Plants, flowers and grasses that are native to your region are the most atuned to soil, climate and water particularities. They are great water savers and will thrive with less care than tropical and other imported varieties. And they are gorgeous! Learn more about native landscaping here with our book collection. Or contact a green professional landscape designer or maintainance provider from our green services directory. We have eco-minded landscaping experts listed across the United States.
9. Are you addicted to the look of grass but live in a high-drought area? You may want to consider synthetic grass. It uses no water, lasts over ten years, and looks & feels surprisingly real. Learn more about synthetic grass here.
10. Why not start your own organic food garden? Nothing could be better for the planet or your health. Learn how to get started with organic gardening here.
11. Use non-toxic fertilizers and pest-control agents for your garden and lawn. Not only are these better for your plants (particularly any food you might eat), they reduce the amount of toxins that run-off into our waterways. Find safe alternatives here.
12. Use solar or LED lighting in your lawn. Solar lighting is obviously an energy-saver. If you don’t find solar lights bright enough, check out LED lights—they are very bright and use very little power. They will last 5-10 times as long as standard outdoor lights. Find energy-efficient lighting options here.
Popularity: 5% [?]
April 21st, 2009
Springtime is the perfect time to go green, so Low Impact Living is very happy to announce a new green home contest for the Midwest. If you live within 300 miles of the Windy City and you live in a green home or want to make your current home greener, you’re eligible to compete. Low Impact Living and the Hotel InterContinental Chicago challenge you to make your home as green as you can!
We’re going to reward the greenest home and homeowners with a luxurious 3-night stay at the LEED-certified, greenest hotel in the Second City, the Hotel InterContinental. In addition, the winner will be treated to an eco-friendly stay in Chicago which includes tasty local cheeses and bio-dynamic wine at the adjoining ENO restaurant, a $50 gift certificate to the green clothing boutique Pivot and a gift from Chicago’s greenest boutique, Green Heart. More on the hotel and the prizes in a minute!
Low Impact Living will identify the single family home (and its proud owners) that has the lowest Low Impact Living Index (calculated using our Environmental Impact Calculator), and we’re going to share with you what that family has done to get there. Don’t worry if you haven’t done big projects like installing solar panels or a wind turbine - as the calculator shows, many of the best green home projects are simple and inexpensive. We’ll show you how to identify projects to make your home more eco-friendly. The contest will close on June 15, 2009. So you have time to make green changes!
What you have to do to enter
1. Visit our Household Environmental Impact Calculator and calculate your base LILI (Low Impact Living Index). It will only take five-ten minutes to use the calculator and create an account.
2. Once you’ve entered all of your base inputs, move on to the “select projects” page of the calculator. Make sure you only check projects that you’ve finished (or will finish by June 15th) before you log out.
3. Make sure that you log out or save your profile before leaving — if you just move on to another web site without logging out, your inputs could be lost.
4. If you’ve already created an account through our calculator, then you need to return and, log in again. We’ve added some new features recently, and they won’t work unless you refresh your account.
5. We realize the calculator isn’t all-encompassing yet, so there may be projects that you’ve done that don’t show up. If this is true, send us an email at email@example.com describing what you’ve done. Low Impact Living staffers will review your efforts and award up to a 5% additional deduction for compelling projects.
How we’ll select the winner
The contest closes on June 15, 2009, and we will announce the winner on July 1. This will give us time to check with the finalists to make sure that they’ve completed all of their checked projects. (Past entrants to our green home contests are not eligible.)
If you are a finalist (in our top 10 lowest LILI scores), we may ask you to verify that your projects are actually completed, via photos or receipts / invoices for work performed. We’ll also ask for your address (not to be published!) so that we can verify entered information about your home. If you’re a winner, then you have to be willing to let us share your projects and process with everyone via our blog, and to provide us with the photos and project descriptions necessary to do that. You’ll become a green star overnight!
What you could win!
The greenest homeowner will receive three nights at the luxe Hotel InterContinental in Chicago (valid until May 2010). Chicago’s only Green Seal certified and Energy Star rated hotel, the InterContinental is partially housed in a historic tower built in 1929 and overhauled in 2009 with state-of-the-art, energy-saving appliances and fixtures (talk about recycling!) Located on the city’s Magnificent Mile, the hotel is within walking distance of Lake Michigan, stores, the Loop, and the Art Institute. The hotel’s historic, junior Olympic size pool is recognized as one of the best indoor pools in the U.S. and is included in Chicago’s major architectural tours.
The InterContinental is continuously improving its environmental performance through the development and sharing of best practices, training and recognition of excellence. In addition to utilizing innovative technology to conserve energy as well as reducing and recycling the waste it produces, the property is also committed to promoting effective environmental management to its key vendors and contractors. In addition, the hotel is mindful of purchasing local products and eco-friendly products to reduce carbon emissions.
ENO, the InterContinental’s chic wine, cheese and chocolate lounge, boasts organic and biodynamic wines and local cheeses and chocolates. The winner will experience the unique and artisan offerings of this Second City favorite, merely a few steps from your room.
The winner will also receive a $50 gift card from Pivot Boutique, which opened in September 2007 and is Chicago’s first boutique devoted to eco-fashion. The store’s designers use organic or sustainable materials and processes to create chic clothing, accessories and gifts.
Finally, the prize-winner will also receive a specially-selected gift from Green Heart Shop, Chicago’s only non-profit, eco friendly, fair trade store.
So, good luck, and get to greening, you Heartlanders!
Popularity: 7% [?]
April 6th, 2009
Until recently, the federal government wasn’t what we would consider a friend of the environment. Fortunately, some cities have spent the last few years (or decades!) looking forward, and have worked hard to implement sustainable practices and policies.
All of the cities discussed below have wide-reaching programs for improving their impact on the environment, including transportation, energy use, and water conservation. Here’s what a few of the forward-thinking cities in this great country of ours have been up to.
Long known as a mecca for green – both the leafy kind and the environmental kind – Portland reins supreme over many a list of America’s greenest cities Why? Because they do it all. As the first city in the country to adopt a plan to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions, Portland managed to reduce their emissions to 17% below 1990 levels by 2007 (when adjusted for population growth). With results like that, it’s hard to argue the City’s green cred.
But that achievement only fueled Portland’s fire to make further reductions. The City has set a goal for receiving 100% of the power used in municipal operations and facilities from renewable sources, and has retrofitted traffic signals with energy-sipping LEDs, saving 3% of emissions and $265,000 per year.
Portland also uses unique methods for implementing sustainable practices, including getting their citizens involved. For example, to eliminate the use of pesticides in parks, the City enlists volunteers to help staff with weeding. They have also implemented integrated pest management methods. After a successful three-year trial program at three parks, two additional parks have been added to the program. These simple changes, partnered with a little hard work, provide Portland’s citizens with tons of pesticide-free green space.
Chicago is working hard to green their city – their Climate Action Plan has set a goal for reducing carbon emissions to 25% below 1990 levels by 2020. Ambitious, considering the plan was just released last year.
To address the issue of energy use, the City is investing heavily in cogeneration, a method for creating electricity that also makes use of the heat generated in the process. Heat is a byproduct of electricity production that is usually just vented into the atmosphere. Cogeneration uses the heat from burning fuel to heat water, producing steam that in turn runs a turbine, producing additional electricity. Any additional heat can be used to heat the building housing the cogeneration system. This method is expected to supply 1.5 billion kilowatts of energy, enough for 25% of the increase in use in Chicago during 2000 – 2010.
In addition to addressing energy use, Chicago has launched many other initiatives, including a Green Office Challenge to motivate offices to reduce their eco-impact, and establishing drop off locations for expired or unused prescriptions. Oddly, many people flush their prescriptions, adversely affecting our water supply and wildlife
Like Chicago, the City of Boston has specific goals for reducing its carbon footprint, and is tackling energy use as a means to meet those goals. Plans are in the works for a methane-fed power source, based on the grass clippings of Boston residents. The City has also announced its new Boston Buying Initiative, a program that will combine the energy purchasing power of small businesses. The initiative will not only reduce costs for small businesses struggling to make ends meet in this difficult economy, but will provide access to tools and resources to cut energy use, saving even more money and reducing their impact on the environment. Other initiatives focus on improving buildings and structures, transportation, and land and water use.
The City of Austin, known mostly for its music scene and as the home of the University of Texas, also sports a reputation as the most progressive of Texas cities. In regards to the environment, Austin sets the standards for the state – an important role, considering three of the country’s largest cities are in Texas (Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas).
If you’re at all familiar with Austin, then you likely know about Barton Springs Pool – an oasis of natural beauty and abundance that only adds to Austin’s uniqueness. Under threat from commercial development, efforts to protect not just the springs but all of Austin’s water supply are seen in many aspects of Austin’s plans for sustainability. For example, the Green Building Program includes many water-related requirements, including protecting native plants, minimizing water used for landscaping, and educating contractors on water conservation.
Other programs include “Dillo Dirt,” (Texan translation: ‘dillo is short for armadillo) a compost made from residents’ landscaping trimmings and sewage sludge. A Heat Island Containment Policy provides incentives and requirements for reflective roofs and shade tree plantings, thus reducing the City’s heat island effect (Austin certainly doesn’t need to be any hotter in the summer!)
Though California as a whole enjoys a reputation of leadership when it comes to environmental progress, many early steps are first taken in San Francisco. For example, San Fran was the first city to ban single-use plastic bags, a move that many other cities are following.
Perhaps surprisingly, San Francisco has also jumped into solar energy production with both feet. Turns out, solar panels work just fine in the fog…who knew? After a successful installation at Moscone Convention Center generated enough electricity to fully power it during events, the City started installations at many different municipal facilities. Residents, too, are joining the bandwagon. Check out this cool solar map to see all of the installations! San Francisco also focuses on broader issues like environmental justice (clean food, water, and air for all!), zero waste, and toxics reduction.
We’re thankful for the local leadership that has paved the way towards sustainable cities. With a new president and a new focus on greening our country, expect to see even more initiatives coming soon to your city!
Popularity: 3% [?]