Five Percent: Conserve Energy

Climate Change Is Important: Energy Conservation is the First Step

April 19, 2009

Life Cycle Assesment: Use Carefully

Category: Climate Change,Sustainability – Tom Harrison – 2:29 pm

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a method of evaluating the entire cost of a given product, from cradle to grave. It’s a very, very important aspect of understanding our consumer society and it’s impact on the earth. It’s also a very highly technical process and one that is susceptible to error; it’s quite easy to miss some subtleties and get the whole thing wrong. The New York Times printed an article about life cycle assessment today, and I think the authors may have done more harm than good.

To be fair, the article appears to be accurate. Its authors discuss the trade-off between a reusable stainless steel water bottle and a single-use plastic bottle. They explain, in a large graphic, how the process of making stainless steel impacts the environment and incurs costs in energy, transportation, toxins, and so on. One could read the article and conclude that a reusable cup is a bad choice, especially after reading statements like

One stainless steel bottle is obviously much worse than one plastic bottle.

This is a true statement, and is only qualified in a sort of vague way, namely that while there are costs, they are mitigated over time as the mug is re-used. They present this data as:

…if your stainless steel bottle takes the place of 50 plastic bottles, the climate is better off, and if it gets used 500 times, it beats plastic in all the environment-impact categories studied in a life cycle assessment.

Read this statement carefully. (more…)

December 7, 2008

Should I Really Replace My Holiday Lights with LED?

Category: Household,Little Things,Save Electricity,Tips – Tom Harrison – 3:11 pm



We’re putting up our Christmas tree today and thought about using LED lights this year — many eco sites recommend that you replace holiday lights with LEDs to save electricity, and this may be good advice … or not.

But before I get too complicated, I think it’s safe to say that if you don’t have working lights now, and are buying new ones for decoration, LED is definitely the best choice.

So go ahead and replace your lights, right? Not so fast. By “replace” do you mean get rid of the working ones you have now and buy ones? It’s a bit trickier in this case, but here are some facts that might help you decide. (more…)

November 21, 2008

Stop the Yellow Pages from Landing (thud) on your Doorstep

Category: Cool Sites,Household,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 12:26 pm

Pure Waste!

Pure Waste!

Our efforts to stop junk mail have been tremendously successful, thanks to GreenDimes. Our mailbox just has letters, a few local postcard and other things we want (almost no bills, because of paperless billing).

But every year, we get the “yellow pages” dropped on our doorstep. Actually we get a bunch of them. We never use them, so they make a direct line to our recycling bin.

One service that I didn’t know about, until I read my IdealBite email today, is a site called YellowPagesGoesGreen.Org, and which will send an opt-out request to yellow pages companies producing these books, for free. You can stop yellow pages and white pages here.

Kudos to YellowPagesGosGreen.Org (and for GreenDimes and other services like Catalog Choice)!

Some Facts about Yellow Pages and White Pages

The facts about these books, below, are not unexpected, I guess. But holy cow, it’s just such an incredible waste! (more…)

April 28, 2006

Keepin’ It Simple

Category: Companies,Editorial,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 9:00 am

My office is doing a recycling program. Here’s how it works:

  1. We bought some blue baskets for paper
  2. We bought some blue bins to put cans and bottles in
  3. One of us takes one or two bins home on recycling day

Our program has been running successfully for several months and cost about $20 in supplies to get started.

The office next to ours doesn’t have a recycling program yet. They are still working out how to get someone to run the program for them. One vendor will come take paper away, but you have to buy copy paper from them. They are not big enough to command a full-scale recycling program. In fact, they are waiting to buy the blue baskets until they have the first settled. Naturally, it’s not a priority so it might take a while. Or, they could just start simply. And fast.

April 19, 2006

Make Your Own Seltzer (and Soda / Pop / Coke)

Category: Conservation,Household,Tips – Tom Harrison – 10:22 pm

I am a fizzy-water drinker. I sometimes have my fizzy water with ice, with a lime, and frequently find it goes well with rum.

But then I noticed how many empty plastic bottles we were using each week — ten, or twelve or more. So we got a seltzer bottle, and now make our own. The price for a liter of water from the store is between $0.79 and $0.99. With a seltzer bottle, the only consumable is the charger, which cost $3.50 or so for a box of 10. (more…)

March 21, 2006

Reuse Your Bags and Containers

Category: Conservation,Cool Sites,Little Things,Technology – Tom Harrison – 8:49 pm

Paper of plastic? Well, of course the answer is “neither”. Without going on an environmental bent, the amount of resources needed to make, then dispose of paper or plastic are both tiny in the singular and huge in total. Some interesting data is here on a site devoted to making bags that we can use over again. Their focus is the environment, but mine, as always, is on the sheer waste. 100 billion plastic shopping bags and 10 billion paper bags in the US every year.

So, in my tiny way, I followed the lead of my environmentally minded boss, David. (more…)

January 27, 2006

Justifying a Laptop Computer

Category: Little Things,Technology – Tom Harrison – 5:04 pm

We’re enjoying the small but beautiful LCD widescreen TV I wrote about last fall. Amongst its many virtues is that is draws a lot less power than our old tube TV (which we were able to find a good home for through Now, I want a laptop and while there are possible a few other things that it might do for me, my true objective is, of course, saving energy. Really, I want the laptop to replace my desktop computer because it will save energy. No, really. (more…)

January 2, 2006

Stop Junk Mail (Ok, Slow It Down)

Category: Household,Take Actions,Tips – Tom Harrison – 10:54 pm

Credit again to Ideal Bite: stop junk mail! I am sure the statistics on junk mail are staggering — I know that after Thanksgiving our poor letter carrier (f.k.a “postman”) was staggering around delivering sometimes twenty or thirty catalogs to our door in a day … and down the street, and across town and over the entire country.

The horror of junk mail is far from limited to the holidays (f.k.a “Christmas”). Every day when I bring in the mail, I rifle through the scores of catalogs and flyers and cards, and letters and solicitations just to find the things I need. Easily 90% of every day’s mail goes directly into the recycle bag. (more…)

November 23, 2005

Cradle To Cradle: One Important Book on Sustainability

Category: 5%'s Top 10 List,Big Things,Conservation,Policy,Sustainability – Tom Harrison – 5:58 pm

I recently finished reading Cradle To Cradle, by William McDonough & Michael Braungart which raises some wonderful concepts of design and ways of thinking about how we do things that address really broad issues including:

  • Energy consumption
  • Waste and how we deal with it
  • Design in harmony with nature
  • Designs that model natural systems
  • Sustainability

The authors propose a really different way of thinking about things. (more…)

November 3, 2005

The Other Kind of Spam

Category: Conservation,Household,Tips – Tom Harrison – 11:18 pm

We probably get 5 or 10 catalogs every day in the mail, and several times a week an advertising newspaper. We get some magazines, most of which we actually read, but the junk is unbelievable. We make such a fuss about phone and email spam and have passed legislation in both cases to prevent it, yet both are nearly costless compared to postal spam!

I can add my phone number to the “do not call” list, and I can unsubscribe to most email spam (or at least filter it out pretty effectively). I would think it would be to everyone’s benefit to make it easy to cancel the catalogs. (more…)