What Does Your CO2 Footprint Look Like?

by Abby Czeskleba

These days, it’s difficult to turn on the television without hearing a story about the adverse effects of global warming. Of course, newspapers are no exception. We read new studies and findings about global warming all the time. Meteorologists even use global warming to explain strange seasonal weather patterns. While there’s more than one theory about the cause of global warming, a majority will agree that it is caused by our carbon dioxide emissions. With the whole human race to blame, it’s hard to understand how we as individuals contribute to this problem on a daily basis. If we don’t understand our contribution to global warming, how are we ever going to change? Becoming more aware of the problem will help us all to cut down on the amount of carbon dioxide emissions and teach us how to conserve energy.

America: Leading the Way

Since 1980, residential housing nationwide has increased by 78.6 billion square feet or 2,820 square miles — an area almost three times the size of Rhode Island. A typical American house is an energy guzzler that produces a surprising amount of greenhouse gas. In the last 25 years, the average size of a single-family house — and consequently the amount of space that must be heated, cooled, and lit — has increased from 1,740 square feet to 2,330 square feet. As of 2005, the United States was the largest single emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide makes up more than 80 percent of greenhouse gases that cause global warming. The United States now adds 21 percent more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere annually than in 1990, almost all of it from fossil fuels. Additionally, TVs, computers, stereos, and other electronic devices account for roughly ten percent of all residential electricity in the United States. Sixty percent of that electricity is consumed while the devices are not in use. That amounts to more than 56 million tons of CO2 emitted annually.

You Do the Math

Generating a kilowatt-hour of electricity in the United States (about what an iron uses in an hour) produces 1.64 pounds of carbon dioxide. So the typical household uses enough electricity to add more than 2,000 pounds a month of CO2 to the atmosphere. Most household appliances, except for stoves and dryers, don’t have exhaust pipes. Power plants produce a steady stream of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For example, a standard refrigerator uses roughly 1,239 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. As a result, 2,032 pounds of carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere. Experts on greenhouse-gas emissions say that every time your car burns a gallon of gasoline, you are putting more than 25 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as well as a smaller amount of methane, nitrous oxide, and various other toxic gases. A single gallon of gasoline weighs only about 6 pounds. Additionally, a new SUV is typically driven 15,000 miles the first year, burns 882 gallons of gas, and produces 22,050 pounds of CO2; whereas a typical midsize car is driven 12,000 miles annually, burns 494 gallons of gas, and produces 12,350 pounds of CO2 .

Solutions for a Better Tomorrow

The good news is that roughly 33 percent of the American production of all greenhouse gases, or the equivalent of 17,422 pounds of CO2 per person, comes from sources under our direct control — for instance, our cars and houses. Cutting that number by half may not entail much pain or inconvenience because we have a tendency to be wasteful with our energy.

There are a number of simple steps we can take to decrease the amount of CO2 we use on a daily basis. The next time you have a barbecue, cook your burgers with propane gas — you’ll only use 5.6 pounds of CO2 per hour as opposed to 11 pounds of CO2 with charcoal briquettes. You can also ask your energy company about switching to a supplier that uses electricity from windmills, small hydroelectric plants, and methane landfills. This small step can remove close to 20,000 pounds of your family’s annual pollution. If you can’t switch your energy supplier, you can add insulation to your house to help cut down on heating and air conditioning bills.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions for the Average U.S. Household
Figures are based on national averages for a 2,000- to 2,500-square-foot house.
Space Heating:
• 54,900 ft3 of natural gas
• 6,643 lbs of CO2
Lighting and Appliances:
• 8,998 kilowatt-hours of electricity
• 14, 757 lbs of CO2
Air Conditioning:
• 2,785 kilowatt-hours of electricity
• 4,566 lbs of CO2
Water Heating:
• 19,700 ft3 of natural gas
• 2,384 lbs of CO2
Source: U. S. Department of Energy, 2001 Residential

Other fun ways to save energy include replacing parts of your lawn with ground cover to decrease the amount of mowing. While mowing the lawn is a great workout, lawn mowers (especially power mowers) produce more carbon dioxide per mile than any car. At work, you can decrease your energy use by using a flat-screen computer monitor. Flat-screens use 50 to 70 percent less energy than older models.

CO2 Emissions & Household Appliances (pounds of CO2 emitted per year):
Television: 196-525 (depending on size of TV)
Dishwasher: 840
Stove: 1,600
Washer: 197
Dryer: 1,770
Microwave: 343
Computer: 430
VCR/DVD player: 90-115
Cell phone: 15
Landline phone: 43
Ceiling fan: 82
Radio/CD player: 74

Perhaps one of the easiest solutions is to install a dozen compact fluorescent light bulbs around your house. This quick and easy step can eliminate 550 pounds of CO2 each year. Perhaps more importantly, the light bulbs would pay back their cost after using them for just three months. The government estimates that if every American home replaced just one light bulb with a florescent light bulb, we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars. As a means of encouraging people to use more energy efficient lighting, Energy Star is offering coupons for discounts on florescent light bulbs. For more information, visit www.energystar.gov and click on “Take the Energy Star Change a Light Pledge.”

Finally, you can help decrease the level of CO2 emissions by driving a hybrid or “green” car. Such environmentally friendly cars include the Honda: Insight, Civic Hybrid, Toyota: Prius, Scion XA, Echo, and VW Jetta Diesel. For more information about hybrid cars, visit www.greenercars.com for comparison information about different car models.

Regardless of whether you change one light bulb or buy a new car, the important part is that you are making a conscious decision to help the environment and shrink your CO2 footprint.

Local Lumber

by Paul Fischer

My Great Uncle Walter was an experienced woodworker, and the first to show me the magic of transforming a rough board with a planer: three razor knives spinning 10,000 rpms to reveal wood grain with fancy names like bird’s eye, blister, curl, dimple, fiddleback, flame, ghost, quilted, spalted, fleck, and ray.

Growing right here in west central Wisconsin are more than 20 species of Northwoods trees such as Maple, Red & White Oak, Ash, Cherry, Black Walnut, Butternut, and Red & White Pine. One could likely get the idea to make something with wood, whether you’re experienced like my great uncle or a novice just starting out. Whatever project you might dream up, acquiring the lumber from a local source can be an adventure, not to mention considerably more affordable.

You might be surprised at how many sawmills there are in the region. You can find them online, or ask the local lumberyards in smaller towns. For the last 12 years I have been using local lumber from multiple sawyers and sawmills. I have met a man who had built a portable sawmill on a 20” I-beam, complete with hydraulic controls. In another case, an older gentleman was sawing wood with a 100-year old iron circular saw mill. His small grey-haired wife quickly and easily threw the newly sawn boards in big piles. I know of a skilled and thoughtful sawyer who charges a very reasonable hourly rate to cut your timber into any dimensions you desire. He also cuts trees into beams and boards to make timber frame homes from local wood. As you tap into local resources, you, too, will surely make many unique and interesting discoveries.

Non-standard lumber cuts can be very artful indeed! I had the great fortune of making a long sideboard bookcase for a customer with Maple that had been horse-logged from their own land. When the boards were milled, some holes drilled for Maple syrup taps were present, and we used them creatively.

I mentioned the affordability of local lumber. Not long ago, after seeing an ad in a local classified, I purchased several 22’ Red Pine trees for $10 each. They were sawn into 6’ x 6’ beams, and I built a large porch with them. Red Pine trees grow pretty straight, and are available from landowners if you inquire.

A portable sawmill and sawyer can be hired. The equipment can be pulled to the site where some trees have been felled, and then sawn into boards. I know one sawyer who charges an hourly rate; but it seems that most bill per board foot. Once wood is milled into boards, it needs to dry to a favorable moisture content to ensure stability.

Using local lumber may require some new tools and the acquisition of new skills – things which should pay for themselves in short order. Knowing exactly where the boards for a project come from is akin to knowing where your food comes from, and goes a long way toward making you feel more connected with your environment and the people in it.

Paul Fischer is a Woodworker who designs Shaker, Arts & Crafts, and Scandinavian inspired projects of all types. He maintains a collection of reclaimed and local lumber in his shop, next door to the 1924 brick schoolhouse that he’s remodeling. Learn more at www.fallscitywoodwork.com

Could You Go A Whole Year Buying Nothing New?

November 26 and 27, 2010: Buy Nothing Day (BND) is an international day of protest against consumerism

Every Holiday season Karen Heimdahal used to love to join the throngs of people hitting the stores and sales for that perfect present. But a few years ago, a light bulb went off and she drastically changed her shopping habits. It happened when the financial counselor for Lutheran Social Services of MN saw an increasing number of clients at her job who were paying LARGE credit card bills, accruing lots of debt, and not seeing anything for it. So she turned the lens on her own life. “My first thought was ‘well, I don’t need to do that, I don’t buy much stuff anyway.’ But then I realized that was an excuse.”

So her and her husband, Andy, joined Compact, a growing social movement to buy nothing new for 1 or more years, and haven’t looked back yet. The Compact, named after revolutionaries who sailed the Mayflower, started in 2004 with a San Francisco dinner party that decided they were going to organize themselves and dedicate their lives to one year of living more simply. They pledged not to buy anything new (almost) for an entire year. The only new products allowed were food and bare necessities for health and safety (think toilet paper, medicine, brake fluid and underwear). That year, their idea made big waves. Publications from Yoga Times to Martha Stewart’s Body + Soul to the London Times picked up on the story, and even Oprah’s producers called. The media attention almost created a backlash against the movement, to which original Compactor Shawn Rosenmoss replied, “I think it upsets people because it seems like we’re making a value judgment about them, when we’re simply trying to bring less…into our house.” In one year, the group attracted 1,800 people to their Yahoo! group and spawned SubCompact cells operating across the country.

“The Compact” Yahoo Group lists these items as their aims:

  • To go beyond recycling in trying to counteract the negative lobal environmental and socioeconomic impacts of disposable consumer culture and to support local businesses, farms, etc. — a step that, we hope, inherits the revolutionary impulse of the Mayflower Compact. To reduce clutter and waste in our homes (as in trash Compact-er).

To simplify our lives (as in Calm-pact) the group follows two principles:

  1. Don’t buy new products of any kind (from stores, web sites, etc.).
  2. Borrow, barter, or buy used. Exceptions, such as medicine, utilitarian services, and underwear are detailed on The Compact’s blog.

“I wasn’t sure she was going to be able to follow through,” said Karen’s husband, Andy. “In this consumer-driven society it seemed like a nearly impossible task.” It hasn’t been easy, but Karen’s dedication has impressed her friends and family. Some have said because of Karen and Andy’s commitment, they themselves have changed the way they buy – like saying no to plastic bags or thinking twice before buying something they really wanted rather than needed. Karen also says it’s taught her more patience and how to slow down, which she likes.

Sure the patience and persistence of finding great gifts takes a little more planning and creativity, but it’s completely worth it. “New to you” shows your loved ones they really are worth the effort.

Today, the group’s blog has links for nearly every state in the country, where you can join a local Compact movement or start your own. “We didn’t do this to save the world. We did this to improve the quality of our own lives,” says John Perry, another original Compactor. And that spirit of less is more still lives on, quite heartily, too. Books, films, and blogs documenting a year of buying nothing new have sprung up like weeds in a spring garden all across the globe. Think you’re up for the challenge? You can check out the 2010 yahoo group and find out lots more. Most assuredly, another yahoo group will be created for 2011 Compactors. Wouldn’t that be quite the New Year’s Resolution?

Doing More with Less

Maybe you’re not quite ready to join the Compact, but how about making a few adjustments to reduce the commercial influence/reliance in your home? We found these simple living tips from the Country Lore department at Mother Earth News and just had to share them with you.

Mosquito Control
Have a puddle, rain barrel, pond, or stock tank where mosquitoes seem to breed year after year? Stock it with goldfish, which thrive on mosquitoes and their larvae. They’ll also help control algae levels in the water. In our climate, you might want to rescue your goldfish from the water before it freezes, give them an indoor tank for the winter, and then send them out again once bugs are back in season.

Winter Squash Life
Now that you’ve got that yummy squash down in your basement or cellar, you want it to last through the winter, right? To extend its life, dip the stem in melted beeswax or paraffin. If the stem is broken off (making the squash prone to early rot), apply wax to the scar to make the veggie less likely to spoil.

Signature Seasoning
This simple recipe for herbal seasoning can replace the expensive blends you buy at the store – and makes for a great grilling gift. Mix 5 tablespoons of salt with 2 teaspoons each of the following: onion powder, garlic powder, celery seed, parsley, basil, oregano, basil, thyme and marjoram. Mix together before putting into a shaker bottle with large holes.

Repurposed Dishwasher Racks
Here’s a great alternative to the often cheap or quick-to-rust dish-drying racks: use the old dish racks from discarded dishwashers. They’re big enough to hold pots and pans and are sturdier and more corrosion resistant than what you can normally get. Drying cutlery in the silverware basket from the dishwasher is also a clever step. Find old racks at a dump or recycling centers that accept appliances. Take end caps off the metal tracks, slide the rack out, remove the wheels and voilà.

Watch the Kitchen Waste
Studies from 2009 show most people waste about 15% of the food that goes through their kitchen. To minimize the waste, use leftovers by combining them into wraps, omelets, soups, and casseroles. Make smoothies from fruit and veggies that are almost overripe. Bananas can be frozen, apples can be turned to applesauce, spinach and cabbage can be cooked up, etc. Make your own broth from meat and veggie trimmings and freeze for future use. Freeze stale bread and hard crusts for future use in bread pudding, bread crumbs, or French bread. And clean the fridge once a week so you have a more active awareness of what’s really in there.

Resources to help you on your compact journey

Swap.com is where you can swap books, cds, movies and video games for free! Swapping saves you money and saves the planet (member swaps: 1.7 million | member savings: $11.1 million | reduced carbon footprint: 10.0 million lbs.)

This is the San Francisco Really Really Free Market website, but there are suggestions and ideas for starting your own in your community.

Quit throwing stuff away and give it to someone who can use it instead. The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 4,852 groups with 7,584,213 members across the globe. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns and thus keeping good stuff out of landfills. Membership is free, and everything posted must be FREE, legal and appropriate for all ages. There are all sorts of local yahoo freecycle groups. To find one nearest you, search your location on the main website (listed above) and follow the steps to joining your own local freecycle group.

Let your fingers do the thrifting!  A National Directory of charity-driven thrift stores by city, state and zip code. They have a wopping listing of 9589 stores so far and it’s growing.

This is a virtual mall of kids stuff.  From clothing to strollers to diapering it has loads to swap.  When you sign up you get zoints and you use these as your currency when you want to send off stuff to someone else who can use it. There is even a FedEx and UPS tool that lets you print prepaid and preaddressed labels.

Author and filmmaker Colin Beavan blogs about what we can do to “end our environmental crisis, make a better place to live for ourselves and everyone else, and hopefully come up with a happier way of life along the way.” And it’s not the kind of stuff that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and worthless.

Green E-Waste Options Abound

By Chris Solberg, One Source Imaging | Did you recently acquire a new computer, monitor, television, cell phone, mp3 player, printer, inkjet cartridge, toner cartridge? Is your old one sitting in the garage or cluttering up your closet?

With all this clutter, you may be tempted to simply throw it out with your garbage. However, there are many easy re-use and recycling options that keep this dangerous waste out of our landfills. And unlike several years ago, many times recycling is free – or even beneficial to others!
Electronic waste (commonly called e-waste) contains many materials that threaten our water supply and other natural resources when discarded improperly.

For instance, computers may contain lead in circuit board connections, beryllium in the mother board, lithium in on-board batteries, flame retardants in the case, chromium and cadmium in plating, PVC in the cabling, and PCBs in lubricants or coolants.

In addition, computers, cell phones, and other devices contain precious metals such as gold. This material can be reclaimed and re-used, preserving the resource and lowering the need for additional mining. For instance, the EPA states that reclaiming the gold in just one cell phone keeps 120 pounds of soil, sand, and rock from having to be moved, mined, and processed.

Let’s take a look at some re-use and recycling options for some commonly discarded types of electronic waste.

Cell Phones

According to INFORM, the average adult couple has about 5 cell phones, including retired phones that are collecting dust. About 130 million phones will be retired this year, which means that (using the EPA statistic above) recycling those phones would prevent the mining and processing of 15 billion pounds of soil, sand, and rock. That’s a huge collective difference!

Cell phones can be recycled for free at most cell phone providers. Even better, many organizations collect these items and receive a small amount of money for them.

Several local elementary schools collect cell phones and printer cartridges and recycle them through One Source Imaging’s fundraising programs. Another option for cell phones is to donate them to www.cellphonesforsoldiers.com, which is able to donate an hour of talk time to soldiers abroad for each cell phone collected. According to their site, in 2008 they provided 12 million minutes of prepaid calling cards to soldiers.

Computers & Monitors

Over 40 million used computers were discarded in 2007 (the latest year for which statistics are available), and another 107 million computers and monitors are still in storage. Of those computers disposed of, only 18% were recycled or re-used – the remainders were simply sent to the landfill.

If you upgrade frequently, call your favorite nonprofit organization and ask if they have a need for your newer or lightly used equipment. Many organizations rely on and are excited to receive these donations. If your equipment is too old to donate (like that 15-year-old hunk of junk stored in the garage), recycle it.

It used to cost a lot of money to recycle this old equipment. Now many places will accept computers and printers for free, and monitors for $10 or less. Regardless of whether you donate or recycle, it is wise to remove your personal information from the hard drive first.

Inkjet & Toner Cartridges

The most prevalent of all e-waste, these little cartridges have a huge collective impact when discarded. Over 300 million cartridges are purchased each year, and 85% are simply thrown in the garbage. Over 3-1/2 quarts of oil is needed to manufacture a laser cartridge – meaning that more oil is “thrown away” each year than the 10 million gallons the Exxon Valdez spilled in 1989!

Having your inkjet and toner cartridges refilled or remanufactured by a local provider is the friendliest option for the environment. Not only does reusing a cartridge conserve the oil otherwise needed to produce a new one, but working locally also ensures a more local recycling loop, reducing the carbon footprint of your recycling efforts.

When a used cartridge is returned to us, it is inspected for possible re-use. In general terms, if it passes the inspection, it is disassembled, cleaned, refurbished by replacing worn parts, filled with new ink or toner, and tested before being sold back to the customer. Cartridges that fail inspection can be separated into their separate components for recycling, and the plastic shell can be ground and used in other products such as park benches.

The Bottom Line

Remember, it is most effective to find new uses for your unwanted items, and then recycle them when they are no longer useful to anyone. With so many easy and inexpensive ways to reduce and re-use our e-waste, there is no need to send it to a landfill. By applying these same principles to all of our waste, together we can make a huge difference.

Chris Solberg is President of One Source Imaging, an Eau Claire business that specializes in eco-friendly re-manufactured laser and inkjet cartridges. One Source Imaging and its customers have saved 11,500 inkjet and 4,300 laser cartridges from landfills in the last 12 months. That’s 16,200 pounds of plastic and metal, and 6,500 gallons of oil conserved in just one year!

Shining the Light on Solar Energy

By Heather Rothbauer-Wanish | As summer heats up, more and more of us are soaking up the sunlight and enjoying the extra daylight hours. For those looking for alternative energy sources, solar energy may be a consideration for the future. Although solar energy may appear to be the wave of the future, the use of solar energy has been around for many years. Many ancient civilizations worshipped the sun as a source or cause for life. During the late 15th-century, Leonardo da Vinci utilized concave mirrors to heat water, thereby harnessing the power of the sun. It is this type of thinking that has encouraged entrepreneurs and business owners to offer solar energy as a product or service to customers today.

As the existence of fossil fuels becomes more and more of an issue, a renewable resource like solar energy becomes more popular. While renewable energy technology continues to develop, evolve and become less costly, the cost of fossil fuels continues to increase.

Joe Maurer, designer at Next Step Energy in Eau Claire, helps residents and businesses with their energy needs. “Our company has been in business for 28 years; we are a full-service renewable energy installer for residential, business, and institutional applications,” he said. “Solar Thermal and Solar Photovoltaic (PV) installations are our focus; however, we also install high efficiency heating systems including radiant floor heating,” Maurer continued. Solar thermal is typically used to heat homes and businesses, reducing the need for natural gas or electric heating systems. By contrast, solar photovoltaic systems are used to convert sunlight to direct current (DC) electricity. An inverter is then able to convert DC current into AC current, the standard electricity used in the United States.

According to Maurer, renewable energy is a growth industry that he wished to explore. “I could see the growing opportunity in renewable energy and wanted to get involved. My background is in design and I really see energy efficiency and usage as a design problem.” He explained. Because of the growth of the solar power industry, there is currently a shortage of skilled laborers in the field. Maurer is a part of a group which builds curriculum around the day-to-day activities of a solar installer. “It is encouraging to see higher education taking on renewable energy,” he said.

Steps to Getting Started with Renewable Energy from Focus on Energy

  1. Learn all about it.
  2. Schedule a site assessment.
  3. Call an installer; obtain estimates.
  4. Check zoning, utility requirements, insurance and other legalities.
  5. Secure financing.
  6. Learn how to maintain your system – safely.
  7. Enjoy saving money and energy.

Information source.

Even during the current economic downturn, many businesses that offer solar energy and alternative energy sources have not seen a sharp decline in business. “We are seeing a growing awareness of renewable energy due in part to excellent incentive programs available through Focus on Energy and other federal funding.” Explained Maurer. The focus on renewable energy sources expands beyond solar energy as well. “Wind is the most popular sought after technology, but solar electric is the most popular to install.” Maurer said. In fact, approximately 80 percent of first-time calls to Next Step Energy involve questions about wind generation systems. “We install wind generation systems; however, they are very site-specific and have a maintenance regime which makes them a very specialized technology.” Maurer said. Customers are encouraged to try Solar PV or Solar Hot Water as a competitive energy offset that requires less maintenance.

When reviewing the potential options for solar systems, a home or business owner must consider either an off-grid option or a grid-interconnected option. According to Next Step Energy, the off-grid system has no connection to the electric utility grid and uses batteries for power when the sun is not shining. This type of system is popular where there is no current electrical service provided. The other alternative, a grid interconnected system, does not use batteries and is easier to install. This system uses the utility grid to store energy when there is a power surplus. Depending upon your specific needs and goals, either a grid interconnected system or an off-grid option are both viable alternatives.

Advantages of Solar Electric Systems:

  1. Clean energy
  2. Totally nonpolluting
  3. Robust design
  4. Systems and components are made to last for decades
  5. Low maintenance
  6. Virtually indestructible and need only occasional rinsing

Disadvantages of Solar Electric Systems:

  1. Cloudy days
  2. Climates vary globally, solar is only part of the answer
  3. System cost
  4. Still more expensive than nonrenewable energy

Courtesy of Next Step Energy website.

So, how does a homeowner or business decide which type of renewable energy may be the best option? Next Step Energy conducts an on-site assessment to determine the client’s needs and energy usage. “We recommend getting a site assessment as a first step. We offer both solar PV and solar hot water site assessments. These are ‘big picture’ studies which detail the solar window, energy use per system performance, installation measures and available incentives.” Maurer said. Maurer first recommends checking with Focus on Energy to determine if you are eligible for incentive programs towards a renewable energy system. Secondly, if you own and operate a rural business or farm, you may be eligible for a USDA grant.

Depending upon the system installed, prices for renewable energy can vary greatly. However, if viewed in the long-term perspective, solar panels and energy are a resource that is renewable, clean, and efficient. The costs that are paid up-front may well pay for themselves many times over. Companies like Next Step Energy encourage customers to view all alternatives. “Renewable systems are a site-specific technology. We are not afraid to redirect customers to other energy saving measures if it is apparent a system would not work efficiently on their site.” Maurer said.

Ultimately, the choice for energy can come down to cost, timing, and personal preference. Everyone should be aware that there are many options available to them, in addition to the local electrical company. By investigating the alternatives, costs, and compatibility, customers can make informed decisions, and quite possibly, help “shine” a little light on solar energy.

Heather Rothbauer-Wanish is a local freelance writer and public speaker. She owns Feather Communications. Visit the website at: www.feather-communications.com. Heather also serves as the Business and Accounting Program Chair at Globe University in Eau Claire