Special Report

30 Ways to Make Your Life More Environmentally Friendly

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16. Unplug electronics

Even when not in use, many electronic devices, including televisions, microwaves, scanners, and printers, use standby power to save warm-up time. In the United States, the total electricity consumed by idle electronics — sometimes referred to as vampire or phantom electricity — equals the annual output of 12 power plants, according to the Office of Sustainability at Harvard University. Use power strips for these devices to simplify plugging and unplugging.

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17. Turn off your computer

It is true that your computer uses a surge of electricity when it starts up, but it’s a small surge. The Department of Energy suggests that you turn off your monitor if you aren’t going to use your PC for more than 20 minutes, and turn off your CPU and monitor if you’re not going to use your PC for more than 2 hours.

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18. Rein in heating and cooling

Combined, heating and cooling accounts for nearly half of household energy consumption. You can reduce energy consumption and save money by using a programmable thermostat. For every degree you reduce the temperature in the winter or raise it in the summer you are saving up to 1% in energy costs for each 8-hour period, according to the Department of Energy. Lowering your heating setting or raising your air conditioning settings by 10 degrees for eight hours a day could save you 10% on your energy bill — and reduce your carbon footprint.

There is added efficiency in doing this, in that lower interior temperatures in winter will slow the flow of heat to the outdoors, and higher interior temperatures in summer will slow the flow of heat into the house.

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19. Eat healthier

You will reduce your carbon footprint if you limit the amount of meat and dairy you consume. Animal-derived food production has a much higher greenhouse gas output than grain and vegetable production because of the highly inefficient transfer of plant energy to animal energy. Depending on how it’s measured, animal-based agriculture is responsible for about 15% of all worldwide GHG emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

You don’t need to become a vegetarian or a vegan to reduce your foodprint. By eating chicken instead of beef for one year, you will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 882 pounds, and by having just one vegetarian meal a week you could save the GHG equivalent of driving 1,160 miles, according to the Center of Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan.

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20. Choose local and organic

Growing organic food is labor intensive but requires 30%-50% less energy to produce.

Eating locally-grown food also saves energy because of the lower transportation costs. Eating all locally-grown food for one year could save the GHG equivalent of driving 1,000 miles, according to the Center of Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan.