Turning a cluttered closet into green-friendly wardrobe

It's easy for men and women alike to get carried away when shopping for clothes. As a result, they often find that their closets are filled to the brim with items that they don't wear anymore. But, rather than hanging onto those superhero shirts and six inch heels, it's easy to find new uses for them, and maybe even turn them into money that can be spent on environmentally friendly products.

Donate them. Bringing your old clothes to a local thrift store like Goodwill or Salvation Army is a great way to get rid of all those Christmas sweaters and corduroy shorts. You probably couldn't be paid a reasonable sum of money to wear them again, but someone else might be willing to buy it from a thrift store at a small cost. While you're technically donating your goods, you can receive a hefty tax deduction for the estimated value of the clothes.

Pass them on. For every person who frowns on the idea of hand-me-downs, there's another who realizes that it's silly to turn down free clothes. Chances are, there's someone you know that would be more than willing to take an old suit or prom dress off your hands, or even pay for the item.

Recycle them. Whether it be your collection of concert tees or 5K race shirts, it can be hard to part ways with some old t-shirts even though you have no intention of ever wearing them again. Instead of keeping them in a box in your closet, you can send them to one of the dozens of companies that will make you a custom quilt of your shirt collection, or you can do it yourself.

Sell them. Some things are just too unique or expensive to give to a friend or thrift store, but if they are that special, you can bet someone else wants it and will pay you almost what you originally paid (or sometimes even more) if you sell it online. 

Global investments in renewable energy up in 2011

The world is investing big money in clean energy sources, and for the first time since 2008, the United States has spent more money in renewable energy than China, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

The report says that global investment in renewable energy rose 5 percent to a record $260 billion in 2011. In particular, U.S. spending on clean energy rose 33 percent to $55.9 billion last year, which brought the country's total expenditure on this sector ahead of China's $47.4 billion in investments. By comparison, China's economic commitment to clean energy increased only 1 percent from the previous year.

Worldwide spending on solar energy totaled $136.6 billion during the 12-month span, up 36 percent from 2010, according to New Energy Finance, while wind power received just $74.9 billion of funding, a 17 percent drop. The big increase in solar energy investments was largely due to a 50 percent decrease in photovoltaic panel prices, according to Michael Liebreich, the chief executive of New Energy Finance.

"Remember that for every equipment company operating at thin or negative margins, there is an installer who is getting a good deal," Liebreich said in a statement. "Rumours of the death of clean energy have been greatly exaggerated."

Liebreich said that spending on renewable energy in the United States rose mostly because of the now expired federal loan guarantee and Treasury grant programs. The Production Tax Credit, the only remaining federal program that supports clean energy, will also end after 2012 if an extension isn't passed.

Recent reports have also indicated that the United States has a vested economic interest in helping the environment. For example, a Synapse Energy Economics study that analyzed Kentucky's proposed Clean Energy Opportunity Act, found that increasing the amount of renewable energy projects in the state could lead to more jobs. If passed, the study indicated that the regulation could help create 28,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

Dentists worldwide are trying to make oral hygiene greener

You might raise an eyebrow if someone told you that your dentist's practice was going green. But, what if it meant that you could get a crown while helping the environment? Since the Eco-Dentistry Association (EDA) was founded in 2008, dental offices in 45 states and 14 countries have come together with the common goal of making dentistry a green career by cutting back on waste and energy consumption, according to the organization's website.

The EDA estimates 100 million liters of clean drinking water are flushed down the drain daily in U.S. dental offices. Add in roughly 10,000 kilos of mercury-laden amalgam waste particles and all of those disposable plastics, and a dental practice can be more wasteful than you'd think. Some waste is unavoidable, but there are a lot of ways that dentists can make up for it by lessening their impact in other places.

And that's exactly what Dr. Nathan Swanson had in mind when he opened his own practice five years ago. Swanson told James West of nonprofit social justice news website Mother Jones that he wants to be New Hampshire's greenest dentist, and that he has practical, cost-effective and efficient ways to achieve his goal. From simple changes like offering patients biodegradable toothbrushes made from recycled yogurt cups to making his office completely paperless by digitalizing all patient records, he's garnered national attention for his efforts to use green energy-efficient products.

As the EDA's movement is spider-webbing through the industry, schools like Massachusetts' Tufts University School of Dental Medicine have been trying to make their learning environments eco-friendly as well. In the last four years, Tufts has added five floors to its dental school that qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver Certification for their sustainable design, efficient water usage, reduction of energy consumption, use of recycled building materials and improved indoor environment control. Tufts is continuing its efforts and aims to achieve LEED Gold Certification in the near future, according to the school's website.

To find a dentist that is a member of the EDA, visit: http://www.ecodentistry.org/Search/

What the government can do to help the economy and the environment

A hot debate topic among the prospective nominees for president has been climate change solutions, though some deny it exists altogether. Last Friday, interim president at the World Resources Institute, Manish Bapna, and director general for independent evaluation at the Asian Development Bank, Vinod Thomas, suggested that just preparing for climate change may actually create economic growth. 

The first idea they proposed suggests that phasing out fossil fuel subsidies could lead to a worldwide initiative to develop more clean energy. According to the Institute for Energy Research, energy expenditure in the United States was slightly more than 9 percent of the gross domestic product in 2008. At nearly 16 percent, only healthcare expenses constituted for a larger piece of the U.S. GDP than energy at that time. But, by reducing spending on fossil fuels domestically, Bapna and Thomas say that the government can spark economic growth in other areas or invest in low-carbon energy resources.

Bapna and Thomas' second proposal was to take advantage of the wooded lands that are still lush, and to restore degraded land that used to be forests. According to the World Resources Institute, up to 15 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from land use change and deforestation. In some places, land is worth more with trees than it is without. By preventing these areas from being uprooted, the two experts suggest that more money can be generated while reducing greenhouse gases. Bapna and Thomas recommended restoring baron areas that were formerly forests, which would increase food production and income for farmers by creating new markets.

Their final suggestion was that the U.S. government invest in cleaner public transportation. According to Bapna and Thomas, transportation is responsible for about 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the U.S. created more initiatives to increase public transportation, not only would the amount of greenhouse gases lesson, it would also create jobs. According to a report by Smart Growth America, U.S. stimulus money spent on public transportation led to 70 percent more job hours than that spent on highways.

U.S. consuming more energy from renewable sources than nuclear electricity

For the first time since 1997, the amount of U.S. energy consumed through renewable sources could be higher than the energy used through nuclear power. While the U.S. Energy Information Administration's latest issue of its Monthly Energy Review only has data updated through September 2011, the numbers show a significant difference between the use of each energy source.

In the first nine months of 2011, the U.S. consumed 6.878 quadrillion BTU of power from hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, wind and biomass power sources, all of which are renewable. In the same time frame, there was just 6.173 quadrillion BTU of power consumed from nuclear electric energy. And to put it all in perspective, fossil fuels accounted for 60.417 quadrillion BTU of U.S. energy consumption in that span.

The amount of energy consumed from renewable resources from January through September 2011 indicates a record pace. If the U.S. continued to consume renewable energy at the same rate, it would end the year with 9.171 quadrillion BTU from those sources, by far the most of any year included in the EIA's data.

So you may be wondering, how can you jump on the bandwagon if you haven't already? The EIA laid out a few simple ways to take advantage of renewable energy.
♦ Buy clean energy. The EIA says that at least 50 percent of electrical customers have the option to purchase renewable energy from their current supplier.
♦ Heat your home with wood or biobased pellets. Heating and cooling is directly responsible for 56 percent of your home's energy consumption, according to the EIA. Using a wood stove could cut your electric bill in half.
♦ Opt for products that were created from biomass. The same process used to make biofuels can be used to make plastics, antifreeze, glue and toothpaste.

Who’s greener – suburban or urban households? (Hint: It’s not what you think)

A study by Jonathon Rose Companies found that, believe it or not, suburban households in the U.S. consume almost twice as much energy than the average American urban household.

The study considered factors such as running lights and computers (household uses) and commuting to work (transportation uses). According to the data, the average 2,000 square foot suburban home consumes 240 million BTU (British thermal units) each year, while the average urban home consumes 143 MBTU annually.

The large discrepancy is solely thanks to the shorter and greener commute of those who live in the city. While both average suburban homes and average urban homes consume 115 MBTU of energy in their physical residence in a year, suburbans consume an extra of 97 MBTU in transportation on average. Even those suburban households that try to keep their homes environmentally friendly scored 21 MBTU higher than an average urban home.

The most efficient type of home, according to the data, is urban multifamily housing that combines resources while being environmentally conscious at just 62 MBTU per year.

Those looking for a home in suburbia should opt for a condo or apartment if possible, and do their best to live close to work or school to make their commute shorter, and therefore, more eco-friendly.

If you currently live in a suburban household and don't plan on going anywhere, here are some ways to cut back on your energy consumption:
♦ Buy a programmable thermostat that will automatically lower the temperature when you aren't home or are sleeping.
♦ Carpool to school/work. Less cars on the road equals less energy consumed.
♦ Replace old windows with better and more efficient models that keep heat in your home.
♦ Stop drafts from seeping in under your doors. There are lots of different products that you can slip beneath your doors that prevent cool air from sneaking in.
♦ Turn off electronics when you aren't using them.
♦ Upgrade your old appliances to ones that are Energy Star qualified.

Selecting a green New Year’s resolution for 2012: Stop being a vampire

Vampires are real, and even you could be one. We're not insinuating that you crave blood. But, you could be sucking up energy by leaving electronics turned on or plugged in when you're not using them. You don't need to worry about gathering cloves of garlic though. A New Year's resolution that keeps you mindful of unnecessary energy consumption will surely dispell your curse.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a research institution supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, has done extensive research on how common household electronics consume energy when not in use. Combining the figures from the Berkeley Lab's studies with the average national price of electricity from October 2011 (13 cents per kilowatt hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor), here are some common electronics that can cost you and the environment if you aren't careful.

Leaving on a laser printer constantly can cost you up to $563.82 per year. Inkjet printers are much more eco-friendly. Even if they're always left on, they won't add more than $26 to your yearly electric spending. Similarly, if your desktop computer is constantly idling, that could cost upwards of $211.57 on electricity yearly. Even when it's in sleep mode, your desktop can add up to $97.46 a year.

Laptops, however, can tack on nearly $60 to your bill annually when they're turned off. You should only plug them in if they're being used and the battery is drained. When a laptop is turned on, fully charged and plugged in, it can use more energy than when it's actually charging.

Additionally, video game consoles that are on and not being used can add $79.19 to your yearly electric bill, while unmonitored rear projection televisions can accumulate up to $217.73 in unnecessary annual costs.

You don't need to unplug everything that you aren't using, but taking the extra few seconds to turn off your devices can make a dramatic difference in your environmental impact this year. 

 

Selecting a green New Year’s resolution for 2012: An eco-friendly commute

While purchasing a fuel-efficient vehicle can be beneficial to the environment, making that kind of investment may be outside of many individuals' current budget. And while biking and utilizing public transportation is a greener alternative to driving, it's not always a practical solution for those who keep a busy schedule or have a long commute. But, there are a number of good driving tips from reliable sources like the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency that you can use to craft a New Year's resolution that cuts your car's energy consumption and helps the environment this year.

Buy a GPS or just ask for directions. Asking for directions is nearly taboo for men, and according to a survey conducted by insurance company Sheilas' Wheels, the average male drives 276 miles without knowing where he's going each year. Twenty-six percent of men said they drive around lost for at least 30 minutes before they stop and ask for directions, while 12 percent said they wouldn't stop at all. Green suggestion, keep your pride and buy a GPS. Those not ready to spend $100 on a new gadget can download navigation apps on their smartphones. Android devices come with a free Google Maps GPS app, and iPhone users can get the free Waze navigation app or download GPS apps from trusted names like Garmin and TomTom.

Buy new tires. Your car's tires are responsible for up to 30 percent of the vehicle's total amount of fuel consumption. As such, purchasing fuel-efficient tires can improve your fuel economy by up to 4 percent. It may not be without an upfront cost, but it will ultimately save you money on gas and cut your energy consumption significantly over time. Keeping your tires inflated to the correct PSI is also important, as your car's fuel economy decreases by 0.3 percent for each PSI drop in tire pressure.

Leave earlier and slow down. Accelerating and rapid braking can lower your gas mileage by as much as 33 percent on the highway, or in other words, about 99 cents per gallon of gas (assuming gasoline costs $3 a gallon). Your car's gas mileage progressively worsens once you top 60 miles per hour. For every five miles per hour over that threshold, your car becomes anywhere from 7 to 23 percent less efficient.

 

Selecting a green New Year’s resolution for 2012: Eating less red meat

While 2012 is already underway, Americans who have yet to come up with a New Year's resolution they feel confident in adhering to may want to consider making a pledge to decrease their carbon footprint this year. By taking this approach, green consumers can spread the word about their decision when friends and family ask them about what they have planned for 2012.

After all, while buying environmentally friendly products and investing in green housing upgrades can beneficial, creating lasting habits that can benefit not only yourself, but also the environment, may be the best long-term initiative green consumers can make. That's why one resolution these individuals may want to consider is going red meat free.

This approach can be a suitable resolution for those who don't want to forgo all types of meat and convert to vegetarianism or vegan-ism. Individuals who choose to make this resolution may find it a great alternative to other lifestyle choices, as they can still enjoy other meats such as chicken, fish and vegetables.

Another way for consumers to help reduce the carbon footprint from meat production without substantially changing their diet is for them to engage in popular practices such as Meatless Monday, a movement that encourages individuals to think about their meat consumption and its effects on the environment.

Recent studies have shown that cow carbon from food production is a major contributor to global warming, as carbon is emitted at nearly every stage of the milk and meat production process from the growing of crops for feed to the cows' ultimate retail distribution. As a result, by simply reducing their meat consumption even one day a week, green-minded individuals can ensure that their resolution helps enact change in 2012.