How to Go Green: Back To Basics
The future is green, and you just found it. These days you probably feel flooded by dire-sounding environmental news ("the Earth is set to deflate by 2011") and endless suggestions for greener living ("algae cold-fusion reactors for your shoes"). But fret not. We're here to help sort things out and get your eco show on the road. Here, we bring it back to basics and break it down into bite sized chunks of simple, everyday ways to live a greener, healthier, more ethical (and ultimately more fun) life. So read on. And remember, if you have a friend, relative, or colleague who needs a little help on the green front, send them this way.
|Top Back to Basics Tips||Further Reading on Getting Back to Basics|
|Back to Basics: By the Numbers||Back to Basics: Getting Techie|
|Where to Get the Basics for Green||How to Go Green: Index|
|Back to Basics: From the Archives|
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Top Back to Basics Tips
- Educate yourself
How can you solve the problem if you don't know what the problem is? Luckily, fun, accessible information on green thinking, environmentalism and sustainable living is everywhere these days. Why not start with online sources like our very own guide for How to Go Green. Other websites like Grist, Ideal Bite or Worldchanging also offer great advice and different perspectives. If you prefer the print media, check out magazines like Plenty, Good, or UTNE http://www.utne.com/. And if you're not much of a reader, documentaries like An Inconvenient Truth, Who Killed the Electric Car?, or the BBC's Planet Earth are also a good place to start.
Having got a little reading under your belt, you're probably itching to get started. One of the biggest impacts we have on the planet is a direct result of the way we move ourselves around. Fortunately, for many of us, this is also easy to do something about. You might consider walking, biking or using mass transit, at least a few days a week. Maybe you can convince your boss to let you work from home? Maybe you can carpool with a friend? If nothing else, you should certainly consider fuel consumption as a major factor in your choice of next vehicle. And when it comes to longer trips, flying is notoriously carbon intensive - so let the train take the strain wherever possible. Find a greener route from A to B with How to Green Your Car, and our Cars and Transportation section.
With all the talk of solar panels, fuel cells, building-integrated wind turbines, and flux capacitors, it can be easy to think you need a million bucks to go green at home. Not so. Many of the most effective ways to cut carbon emissions are also the cheapest. Turn lights off when you go out, install energy efficient bulbs and appliances, insulate your home, and keep an eye on consumption. Once you've done all that, why not investigate if you can buy green energy from your local utility? Check out our guides on How to Green Your Heating and How to Green Your Electricity for a more detailed plunge.
This is where the folks in Seattle or the UK start switching off, but stay with us, please! Even if you live in areas of abundant rainfall, water is still a major ecological issue. Clean, drinkable water is precious and needs to be used most efficiently. Every drop of tap water we use also requires energy to filter, purify and transport, and that means fossil fuel emissions. And for those of you in dryer areas, you know only too well that water is becoming an ever-scarcer resource. Fortunately it's pretty easy to do something about--install water-saving shower heads and aerators, turn the tap off when you're brushing your teeth, switch to more efficient appliances, or collect rainwater for use in the garden. All this and more can be found in our guide, How to Green Your Water. For those wanting to go a little more hardcore, the Navy Shower, or the "selective flush" are worth a try--if the comments on these posts are anything to go by, you'll be in good company!
We've all got to eat, and most of us do it every day. It stands to reason that our collective food choices have a huge impact on the planet, and with the global food industry shipping products further and further around the world, and with farming becoming ever more intensive, this impact is only getting bigger. Fortunately, there is a resistance underway. More and more people are getting interested in sustainable food systems. To bring it back to basics, there are four principles that can help guide you to greener meals: eat local, eat seasonal, eat organic, and finally, eat less meat. For a comprehensive guide to a more sustainable diet, check out How to Green Your Meals and the Food and Health category.
Not so many years ago, waste was THE environmental issue. If you recycled, you were green. If you didn't, you weren't. With so many topics on the environmental agenda these days, things aren't so simple. But waste is still a big deal. Every item thrown away has taken energy and resources to manufacture and transport, and it will take even more energy and resources to process and dispose of, whether through landfill or recycling. So the old adage still rings true: reduce, reuse, recycle. And don't forget to compost! Of course we have a guide on How to Green Your Recycling, and you can find it here. Online resources like Freecycle or Ebay can also help you find a happy home your unwanted goods.
Most folks understand that food, energy, water, and transport are major environmental factors, but what about clothing? Even consumers who always eat organic may happily be wearing garments that were liberally sprayed with noxious chemicals. Cotton is, in fact, one of the most heavily sprayed crops on the planet, so it stands to reason that our choice of clothing can have a major ecological impact. Fortunately, solutions are out there. Organic cotton, and other alternative fabrics like hemp, flax or bamboo are becoming increasingly common, as are high-end fashion items from recycled materials. And then, of course, there are the trusty vintage and thrift stores so beloved by students everywhere--style never goes out of fashion. More digging through the racks can be found in our Fashion and Beauty and How to Green Your Wardrobe.
- Personal care
Ever since The Body Shop first hit the high street in the Eighties, there's been an increased awareness about the impacts of personal care products on both the environment and on our health. Fortunately, there has also been a huge increase in the number of companies providing more sustainable alternatives. Check out our guide to women's personal care and the Fashion and Beauty section, and stay tuned for a guide for the fellas. But remember, less is almost always more when it comes to green living--that hemp-based, yak's milk lip blusher may be the greenest product of its kind on the market, but going 'au natural' takes you one step further!
- Furniture & décor
Many of us spend staggering amounts of money on furniture during our lifetime. Now most TreeHugger's will be aware that buying tropical hardwoods from Amazonian clear-cuts is a poor way to look after our natural heritage, but what are the alternatives? Fortunately, the industry is responding to concerns about its sourcing practices, and stylish furniture from certified, sustainably harvested and/or recycled and salvaged materials is becoming increasingly common. More details can be found in our furniture guide and in the Design and Architecture category.
- Keep it clean
Now you've spent all this time putting your house in order with organic clothing and chemical-free furniture, why douse it in chemicals to keep it clean? Many everyday cleaning products are made up of pretty nasty constituents, yet there are natural alternatives that work just as well. Take a look at our How to Green Your Cleaning.
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Back to Basics: By the Numbers
- Five: Number of planets we would need if everyone lived like the average North American. If everyone lived like the average European, we'd need three. Unfortunately, we only have one.
- 500 billion to 1 trillion: Plastic bags used by shoppers each year. This translates to about 150 bags a year for every person on earth. Remember to bring your own!
- 83 percent: Percentage of Americans who now say global warming is a "serious" problem. This is up from 70 percent in 2004.
- 941 and 1,023: Pounds of greenhouse gases added each year from one person eating three burgers per week.
- 2.5 to 1:The ecological footprint of the average American, compared to that of the average Italian.
Sources: World Wildlife Fund, Algalita, WebWire, Footprint Network
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Back to Basics: Getting Techie
What is "sustainability"?
Sustainability has many definitions, but it is most commonly described as "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs," according to Wikipedia.
is an acronym for Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, a term used to describe the market segment interested in green and natural living products, organics, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and socially responsible investing. According to Wikipedia, it is a market worth $227 billion in the United States alone.
For those wanting more in-depth reading on environmentalism and/or the emerging technologies and industries that are taking us towards sustainability, check out the works of eco-icons like William McDonough and Michael Braungart, Amory Lovins, Hunter Lovins, and Paul Hawken, to name but a few. The Worldchanging book: A User's Guide to the 21st Century is also an excellent source of inspiration.
If the "hot glacier on glacier action" in An Inconvenient whet your appetite for the complicated, often confusing world of climate science, there can be no better place to start than Real Climate--it's much more stimulating than you might think.
Equally, if you want to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in thin-film solar, hydrogen fuel cells, wind energy, heat pumps, or any other techie wizardry, look no further than our friends at Renewable Energy Access.
Where to Get the Basics for Green
- Fast Company
- Green Car Journal
- Permaculture Magazine
- Permaculture Activist
Energy Efficient Bulbs
- The Bulb
- Or find a bulb or supplier that's right for you using Environmental Defence's web search.
Cleaning and Household Products
- Seventh Generation
- Diva Cup
- The Keeper
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Back to Basics: From the Archives
Dig deeper into these articles on getting back to basics from the TreeHugger and Planet Green archives.
Learn all you want to know (and more) about going green from the guides for How to Go Green.
For those not ready or able to install solar in their homes, we help pick out some solar chargers that can help you get at least a little juice from the sun.
TreeHugger reveals why swapping is the new shopping.
And as you reading this screen, you should probably start thinking of ways to reduce your computer's energy use. We'll help. While you're at it, take a look at our advice on energy efficient televisions too.
Not sure you can free yourself from car culture? If these folks can do it in LA, we can all take steps in the right direction at least. Even if you don't feel you can go cold turkey, take a look at our guide on how to green your car for easy steps in the right direction.
And for those who still think eco is all about nuts and berries,take a look at our legendary and very naughty guide to greening your sex life.
And when you reach the end of your long, green life, TreeHugger helps you go out as you lived-in green style. Check out our top tips for eco-friendly burials.
Further Reading on Getting Back to Basics
Get even more info on getting back to basics from these other worthwhile sources.
How to Go Green offers accessible daily posts, hints and advice on how to green your life. You'd also do well to check out the drilldown in TreeHugger Picks.
Similarly, Ideal Bite is known for good, green info that's easy to assimilate.
For a more philosophical angle, check out Tao of Change. [Full disclosure: This TreeHugger also works with, and occasionally posts on, the Tao of Change].
National Geographic's Green Guide offers useful hints and advice for simple eco-actions - particularly family oriented stuff.
Health.com offers a list of resources for starting out on the road to green living--no mention of TreeHugger though! Oh well, we can't be everywhere...
The Solar Living Institute offers practical environmental education on all aspects of sustainability.
Check out the spread of energy efficient light bulbs in your area via 18seconds.org
Green Car Congress provides up-to-date information on moves towards a more sustainable automotive industry, and for more consumer oriented reports, check out ACEEE's GreenerCars.com
Natural Resources Defense Council offers up a selection of articles on green living, from cloth diapers, through fighting global warming, to greening your business.