Where to Start with Going Green

It’s easy to become overwhelmed while adopting a greener lifestyle. For one, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. And, two, it can feel like you need to change EVERYTHING about your life in order save the planet and your own health. It’s hard to know where to begin.

Here at Smart Green Tips, the focus is on saving the planet and saving money. Most importantly, when we do those things, we also save ourselves. Generally, what’s good for the planet is also good for us. But that philosophy uses a wide brush. I’d like to help you narrow it down, help you figure out which changes will have the most impact and which will be easiest to implement.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments, or by email, if you’d prefer. Where are you feeling overwhelmed? What questions do you have? What would make it easier for you?

Photo Credit: cmcgough

Staggering Plastic Statistics

The Sierra Club magazine has an article this month titled Beyond the Barrel: Can we really get off oil in 20 years? This article focuses on specific ways our country can break it’s “addiction” to “19.64 million barrels per day.” A staggering number, no?

There are some mouth-dropping statistics quoted throughout the article that I will highlight here, but I highly recommend you take a quick click over to the original article at the Sierra Club magazine’s site for the photos. This article features 3 different photographs taken by Chris Jordan. The first, called “Oil Barrels,” is a beautiful and disturbing photo of 28,000 42 gallon barrels of oil, which is the amount we consume in the United States every two minutes. The second photo is called “Plastic Bottles” and here, Jordan has captured 2 million plastic bottles — we, in the U.S., go through this many every five minutes and only 1 in 4 gets recycled. The third, and final, photo is called “Plastic Bags.” Jordan has photographed 60,000 plastic bags. Get ready to cringe — we go through these every five seconds.

Am I trying to shock you with these numbers? Yes!

I was shocked and am more committed than ever to finally remembering those reusable bags I’m always forgetting to take into the grocery store. This isn’t about guilt. It’s about being aware that oil dependency isn’t just about government policy and oil companies wanting to fatten their profits. It’s about the choices we make every day. Plastic comes from oil. So every time each one of us buys water in a plastic bottle, we become a part of that 1.5 million barrels of oil it takes to create the amount of bottled water this country consumes in a year.

Yes, we need better policies. Yes, the government could make it easier for green technology to succeed. But oil companies are rich beyond measure for a reason: someone’s buying their wares.

If you’re reading this blog, I’m assuming you’re at least somewhat knowledgeable about environmental issues. You’ve probably heard over and over again the standard tips: drive less, turn down your thermostat, reduce your consumption (of stuff, of plastic, of water). Sometimes we can hear things so much that we forget there are reasons why the old stand-bys exist. There are numbers behind them, and like words, numbers have consequences, too.

Tips are great and can be useful. But every now and then, it’s important to step back and look at why. Often, the reason is more staggering than we realized.

Photo Credit: elycefeliz

Greener Spaces: Your Home Office

Most of us have some type of home office space. You may run a business from your home or have a job that allows you to telecommute.  Or you may have an office-like space where you keep bill-paying supplies, incoming mail, papers, scissors, etc. But no matter what kind of office you have, you can probably make the space a little greener.

The goal is not only to make more environmentally responsible choices, but also to make things easier for you. If I’ve learned anything from setting yearly goals, it’s that if the particulars don’t work with your life as it is, then nothing’s going to change.

Try these ideas for a greener office space:

1. Pay your bills online and opt-out of paper statements wherever possible.

Not only does this prevent a lot of paper waste, it frees up space and clutter in your home. By setting up automatic payments, you can take care of most, if not all, of your monthly bills with little time and effort.

2. When you must buy paper, choose recycled.

There may be times when you need to do some printing or send something by snail mail. If possible, choose paper and envelopes made with recycled content. Recycled paper products have become much easier to find in mainstream stores.

3. Reuse when you can.

Do you really need to buy a dedicated (and likely plastic) trash can for your office space? Would something else work? For a while I was collecting old crocks and now I have a number of them around my house. I’ve used them for everything from small trash cans to receipt storage.

Will an old mug or jar suffice for a pen/pencil cup?

Rather than tossing old file folders, why not re-label and reuse the ones you have?

I’ve said before that leading a greener lifestyle is really about paying attention and thinking about your habits. The next time you use your home office space, pay attention as you go through your regular activities. Where can you reduce clutter and waste? What steps can you take to avoid buying more?

What things have you done to make your home office space and routines more green?

Photo Credit: Machine is Organic

Green Goal Setting

24/365 - So close... Niharb via Compfight

I gave up on resolutions a few years ago because they only frustrated me. I was horrible at keeping them and then I felt guilty. This year, though, I’m going to try to set some goals for the year. Some may argue that it’s merely semantics: goals, resolutions, what’s the difference? I supoose the same tactics could apply no matter what you choose to call them, but goals, by nature, are specific. They often involve steps. My resolutions were always broad, sweeping statements about what I was going to start doing or stop doing. “I’m going to exercise more this year.” “I’m going to be kinder and gentler.” “I’m going to stop getting so frustrated.”

See. I set myself up.

So, goals.

Chris Guillebeau takes on a large goal-defining project each year that he calls his Annual Review. I’m intrigued, but haven’t ever taken the time to do it the way he does. It seems to be working well for him, though. 🙂 Before he begins setting goals for the year ahead, Chris asks himself 2 questions: What went well in the past year? What didn’t go very well in the past year? He uses this reflection to shape and define some of his goals going forward.

Trent Hamm does a 5 year sketch. He suggests getting a picture, either in writing or collage form, of what you’d like your life to be like in 5 years. It should take a while to come up with details. Once you have your ideas, you can begin pulling out projects and tasks and create specific, actionable steps to get there.

This year, I’m going to focus on getting specific with my goals. I think I’ll set up categories for them like Chris Guillebeau does. One of those categories will be my “Green Goals.” I’ll share my own green goals in another post, but if you’re interested in some green goal setting, here’s some help as you get started. Remember, the key is to make your goals as specific as possible. Saying “I’m going to be more green this year” won’t accomplish anything. Think about how you can be greener and then make a plan.

Recycling:  If you don’t recycle now, where can you begin? Maybe you’ll find out about the options available to you in your area. The website for the county or city where you live is a good place to start. Then make a commit to put something in the recycling bin each week.

If you do recycle already, you could find out how to recycle something else that you usually don’t bother with. For example, I have a huge collection of dead batteries. I’ve been putting off doing the research to find out how to recycle them. Maybe that will be one of my goals for this year: figure out what to do with the batteries and then do it!

Driving less: Define what you mean. Will you make some trips on foot or by bike instead of driving? If that’s not possible, will you combine trips so you’re not driving back and forth to the same area all the time? Which trips will you substitute or combine?

Buy organic: Try just one thing. I’d start with milk — based on the research about hormones and antibiotics in milk products, you’ll get a lot of bang for your buck (especially if you have kids) with organic milk. If you already buy organic milk, maybe you’ll commit to adding one more thing to the list.

Grocery bags: Willing to try (again) to use those reusable bags you have? This time, figure out how to make them a habit. Maybe you’ll decide to leave them in the front seat of your car or hang a little ribbon from something on the dashboard to serve as a reminder. Get your kids to help if they go shopping with you. Put them in charge of remembering the bags.

There are lots of ways to go after a goal-setting project. What I’ve learned from past experience is that without solid goals and a specific plan to achieve them, nothing much gets done.

It would be great if you’d share some of your green goals in the comments.

School Daze

I’m back. It’s been a busy and often difficult summer, but here I am. My girls started kindergarten last week and it’s going well so far (their Name Bubbles and Planet Box lunch boxes are working out really well!). As the school year approached, my husband and I decided it would be a good idea to set up an area for the girls to do their school work. We don’t expect them to have a ton of homework this year, but we thought it best to start with good habits.

The girls share a room that’s plenty big for both of them and their furniture, but there isn’t room to add two separate desks. I know them well enough to know that they each need their own separate space, though. Lacking any other good spot in the house to set up their homework station, I tried to get creative.

Many of you know that my husband does woodworking in his “off” time. Fortunately for us, he’s equally good with furniture as he is with outdoor projects (like the garden arbor and fence). I can’t draw, but I did the best I could in sketching out the idea I had in mind. After some talking back and forth, he came up with and built this:

Each of my daughters has her own side, complete with cubbies for her supplies. The hooks on the front are for hanging their backpacks. We put locker-like bins on the front (one for each of them) so they can stash papers or other trinkets, and a magnetic dry erase board for drawing or hanging up their artwork.

The chairs were a Craigslist find. They are a little smaller than regular-sized kitchen chairs, so they were perfect. The rest of the homework station was made from wood my husband had in his garage — most of it left over from other projects — recycling at its best.

The girls love it and, as usual, I’m really proud of (and impressed by) my husband’s woodworking ability.

How do you keep homework organized?