Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Building Wealth by Going Green

You don't usually associate environmentalism with saving money. Solar panels and windmills aren't cheap, and after you install them, you have to cover legal fees to do battle with the zoning board and the subdivision's architectural committee. The premium you pay for a car with a hybrid engine is often greater than the savings in your gas budget. On a smaller scale, organic fruits and vegetables cost more than the ones grown with chemicals. And fair trade coffee isn't exactly easy to find in the big box discount stores.

There are ways, though, to go green while saving some money. Basically, lighten your footprint on the environment. Here are some suggestions:

1. Drink tap water. The New York Times reported on July 15, 2007 that the annual cost of drinking 8 glasses a day of tap water in New York City is 49 cents. You can have a year's supply of drinking water for less than the cost of a candy bar (and it's better for you). An equivalent amount of bottled water would cost around $1,400. That's the cost of a new desktop PC and a printer, with some money to spare. The plastic used to make the bottle comes from petroleum, the fuel used to transport the bottle to the store comes from petroleum, and the electricity used to keep the bottle cold comes from coal, petroleum or water power. (And if you think water power is benign, remember that the dams that generate electricity and the massive electrical grid system that transports it hundreds of miles mess up a lot of wildlife habitat.) Then, when you're done, many of those convenient bottles you throw away will wait patiently for centuries to be discovered by archeologists, who will be puzzled why the people of the twenty-first century worshiped the bottle. After all, only religious fervor could explain such vast accumulations of unnecessary containers.

2. Cook from scratch. When you cook from scratch, you'll have a freshly made and better tasting meal, which contains fewer chemicals. Do you put alpha tocopherol, disodium inosinate, or sodium nitrite in your home-cooked meals? If you do, don't worry, because they're safe--we hope. It's okay if you have no cooking experience. Just make sure you eat what you prepare and you'll move up the learning curve fast. Prepared foods impact the environment a number of ways: they are cooked twice (once at the factory and once more in your home), so they consume more energy; they are heavily packaged, which means more trees killed for cardboard and more petrochemical products like plastic wrappings; many of them need electricity to keep them frozen at all times (until consumed); and they create more waste (the containers and wrappings have to go somewhere). They also are likely to cost more per serving.

3. Make good use of plastic bags. Plastic bags are now everywhere. Hardly a store uses paper any more. And few make it easy to recycle their plastic bags. Re-use the plastic bags--they can carry your lunch, line waste baskets, hold used kitty litter, and pick up dog poop. Many trash collection services require that you bag trash in large plastic bags. Fill up the bags. They're bigger than you might think. If you fill them only three-quarters of the way up, you'll use 33% more bags per year. That costs money and adds to the pollution of the environment.

4. Re-use containers. Many cardboard, plastic and glass containers can be re-used. When you re-use something, you're running an at-home recycling operation. No need for you to bag stuff for other people to collect. Forget the mindset that everything has to be new and extravagantly wrapped. Clean water, breathable air and safe food have value, too.

5. Drive 65 or 70. One of the primary factors affecting your vehicle's mileage is speed. Greater speed increases the amount of wind resistance you encounter. That's why higher speeds reduce your mileage. We all know the reality of American highways. The few drivers going 55 have shortened life expectancies. But the ones that are driving 80 or 90 mph are both road hazards and environmental hazards. Keep your speed down, and save a little on your fuel costs.

6. Mind the thermostat. Those who lived through the OPEC oil boycotts of the 1970's can probably remember thermostats set at 78 in the summer and 68 in the winter. That was part of the malaise of the times, and no one wants a return to that. But if the house will be empty during the day, turn the thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter. No need to maintain a constant temperature for the furniture.

No one can be perfect. If you're stuck at an airport after your connection was inexplicably canceled, you'll probably have to resort to bottled water and prepared foods (especially if it's late and all the bars are closed). If you're working 50 or 60 hours a week, you won't have time to prepare many meals from scratch. If you live in a small apartment, it's hard to find space to store empty containers until you can use them. And if there's a big tractor trailer swaying all over the road right in front of you, it's understandable if you momentarily bump the speedometer above 80 to get past the danger. You don't have to be perfect. But try to step more lightly on the environment. You'll save some money, your wealth will grow, and you'll have a cleaner world to live in.

Crime News: pilot reportedly steals passenger's iPod. http://www.nbc4.com/news/13694007/detail.html. We've got crowded flights, narrow seats, no leg room, no food service, frequent cancellations, lost luggage, and lousy service. And now this?

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