Inside the Numbers: Going Green to Save Money and the Environment

By Vernon Trollinger, April 29, 2013, Energy Efficiency, Green, News, Save Money

First, what does “going green” actually mean? There’s a lot of semantic discussion about this concept, but the most common thread is that it involves you doing things in a way that has the least possible (or at least lesser) impact on Earth’s environment. Basically, this idea translates into conserving energy and resources in a sustainable way and thereby reducing or eliminating pollution. To some people, going green sounds like a “gi-normous” change in lifestyle fraught with wearing sweaters under dim lighting, dribbling cold showers, and ridiculously expensive-but-sincere organic food.

Go Green Dollar

The fact is that you can save yourself some green by going green, and it’s much easier than you might think. Let’s focus on the big areas for energy consumption.

Learn to be Energy Efficient at Home

Part of going green means becoming more energy efficient in order to conserve resources. It’s actually easier to do now than ever before because rising energy costs have added so much to consumer costs. Reducing and conserving energy consumption has played a major role in manufacturing everything from jet airliners to cell phones.

Consider that in the late 1980’s, the electrical transformer inside a VHS recorder was a mass of copper wire wrapped around a magnet weighing about one pound. In ten years, a semi-conductor chip weighing few grams replaced it. And ten years after that, who even remembers VHS when you’ve got an iPhone which does a whole lot more for only a fraction of the electricity? In other words, energy prices have made it too expensive for businesses NOT to become energy efficient in their operations and their products.

How has going green already affected your home? According to the DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) the average household in 2012 spent $1,945 (about 2.7% of income) on residential energy consumption for heating, cooling, appliances, electronics, and lighting. That’s down from the peak 4.3% in 1982. Homes in 2005 consumed on average of 95 million BTUs versus the 138 million Btu used per household in 1978.

Invest in Energy Efficiency Devices

Right now, there are more energy efficient technologies available for your home that let you reduce energy consumption and lower your electric bill than ever before. Many energy efficient products used to be notoriously expensive. However, because of the popularity of sustainable energy and eco-friendly products, more companies are out there competing and driving down the price of those devices. Consider that ten years ago, there really wasn’t affordable to purchase incandescent light bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) were available, but somewhat expensive on average and took time to warm up – but that has changed. Furthermore, LED bulbs use a fraction of the energy of incandescent light bulbs, and their price has dropped from 20 to 50% depending on the maker. Unlike incandescent light bulbs, LED lifespan is not measured in hours, but YEARS. The replacement costs of incandescent light bulbs show how truly wasteful they are.

There are also programmable thermostats and a host of Energy Star qualified appliances (such as washers, dishwashers, furnaces  water heaters, for example), that are more energy efficient than those sold 10 years ago. Newer homes tend to be better insulated and sealed and therefore have less energy consumption. If you live in an older home, resources for retrofitting are now more affordable, available, and effective, and it’s easy to complete once you know where to start.

All told, simple energy efficiency alone will lower your energy consumption and your energy bill.

Check Your Transportation Habits

Going green isn’t just about having an energy efficient house. It’s also about being conscious of the effects of your energy consumption and usage. Currently, the only activity that is more energy expensive than powering the average home is transportation. The US DOT says that in 2009, only 5.1% of US households relied on public transportation to commute to work.

The average American drives 240 miles/week in a car that gets 20 mpg , burning up about 12 gallons of gas total and making 228 pounds of CO2. For this week (April 14-20, 2013), the owner paid $3.542/gallon or a total of $42.50. Relying on public transportation instead cuts emissions (reducing some folks’ health costs), reduces wear on your vehicle, and can save you thousands of dollars annually depending where you live. Even carpooling or van-pooling reduces your energy consumption and impact on the environment.

Different Ways to Dispose of your Trash

Increasingly, the landfill isn’t the end of the line for our garbage. More and more waste enters the recycling system; 85 million tons in 2010. Recycled materials uses already refined materials and this reduces the energy consumption and costs for manufacturers who would otherwise pay extra for refined raw materials. About 14% of household waste is spoiled food or table scraps, about one third is yard debris, and another third is paper and packaging (plastic shrink wrap). Depending on where you live, your town may require you to hire your own residential garbage collection service (eg. Bethlehem, PA). Some haulers charge you a set monthly fee with some limitation on the number of containers and this can run between $20 to $30 per month. However, some are willing to charge under $5.00 per trash bag.

If you scrupulously recycle plastic, metal, and all paper plus compost all yard waste AND kitchen waste, it is possible for an average family to produce one 30 gallon bag of garbage/month. All that effort costs you $60/year versus the $240/year you’d pay to chuck it away.

Use Green Energy for your Home

One of the most important things you can do with your “gone-green” savings is to invest in sustainable energy generation such as wind energy, solar power, and even landfill gas. An easy way to get started is to sign up for a 100% green renewable energy plan with your energy provider.

Does all of this sound insanely hard to do? Start small then— replace your home’s incandescent light bulbs with CFLs or try some other way to improve your home’s energy efficiency. Going green requires us to take a small step out of our comfortable daily routines to do a little extra for our environment. But with a little thought and effort, you can develop green habits that can help you save money and help protect and conserve our environment for years to come.

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