carbon footprint

Confessions of a Shoe-Aholic: How to Make Your Shoe Obsession Eco-Friendly

By Heidi Harrison

I am a girl who loves shoes. Flats, sandals, sneakers, and heels—I don’t discriminate. Recently I began to feel guilty for this un-environmentally friendly, consumerist obsession. I started to wonder—is there any way to be environmentally friendly and love shoes? The answer is yes, there are several ways to maintain your shoe addiction and minimize your carbon footprint. Here are the rules:

  1. Don’t buy shoes on a whim – if there is a pair you’ve been dreaming about take a while to see if you really need them. Impulse shopping is always a big environmental and financial no-no. You might find that a pair you already have will do the job just fine.
  2. Or, if they don’t, swap shoes with your friend for a month (given that you two have the same size feet). It’s just like getting those new shoes from the store, except the excitement won’t be tainted by guilt. You can even have a shoe trading party with all of your girlfriends (Yankee-swap, anyone?)
  3. Check out the thrift store shoe department before you hit the mall. You may find a pair you love for a fraction of the price—and carbon footprint. (Here’s a jingle to remind you: When it comes to shoes, always reuse!)
  4. When you have thought about it and still want that new pair make sure you’re looking in the right place. A month ago I bought a pair of Rainbow Sandals and I have worn them every day since. I bought them because the Rainbow company hand-makes their products using eco-friendly hemp and leather. Make sure that when you buy shoes, they have been made to last a long time—that way you won’t be needing new ones for years. By getting all of the use out of them that you can, you are decreasing your shoe-related carbon footprint.
  5. You may be thinking there are types of shoes you just can’t buy used, or made of eco-friendly materials because they will not be as functional as their non-eco-friendly prototypes. One example you may be thinking of is running shoes. I am an avid runner and so I can relate to this concern. As a runner, the important thing is to have the support and durability you need. However, there are ways to find “green shoes” that will last mile after mile. Running shoes with minimal environmental impact include those built with eco-friendly materials and fewer materials in general (such as “barefoot” running shoes, made with Vibram soles and environmentally-friendly materials).

I’m certainly not carbon footprint-less yet but I’m working on it. Who knew that my favorite apparel could also be an opportunity for me to get creative and kinder to the environment? And just so you know, I’m a size 9 ½ in case you want to invite me to your next shoe swap!

About the author: Heidi Harrison is a volunteer intern in the EPA’s Public Affairs Division. She is a rising senior at Bowdoin College in Maine, her home state. She is majoring in Government and Legal Studies as well as concentrates in Creative Writing (so she is very excited to contribute to this blog). She has also interned at the United States Attorney’s Office in Portland, Maine for the last two summers. Upon graduation she hopes to enter into politics, marketing, or public relations – largely dependent on where she can get a job.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How Big is Your Footprint?

Our teacher, Ms. Tilson , asked us how big our footprint was today. We started to take our shoes off and measure our feet, but she stopped us and asked if we knew the size of our Carbon Footprint.  The class looked around confused because we didn’t know that we had another footprint.

We leave footprints when we walk on the sand at the beach or when get our feet wet and track mud into the house. Our carbon footprint is a little different. We can’t see it, but it’s there and it impacts the earth by leaving a mark just like the ones in the sand and mud.

When we use fossil fuels like heating oil or coal to keep our homes warm in the winter and our cars running, that’s creating a carbon footprint.  These actions emit carbon dioxide, also called CO2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and makes up our carbon footprint.  The more CO2 that is created, the more carbon dioxide is released and the bigger our carbon footprint gets.  A big carbon footprint is not good for the earth. 

I know. I know. It’s easy to get picked up by our parents after school but doing so contributes to the carbon footprint. Instead, we should walk or bike to and from school or our friend’s homes. At the grocery store, check out where the fruits and vegetables come from. If they’re from another country, think about the amount of energy and gas it took just to reach the store.  That’s another big carbon footprint.

The best way to make your carbon footprint smaller is to use less electricity and less fossil fuels. Be sure to turn off your computer, television and lights when you’re not using them. Keep temperatures lower in your house during the winter even if you need to wear a sweater to stay warmer. Walk and bike whenever you can instead of using the car or bus. It’s great exercise too. I found out local farmers markets are a great way to get fresh fruit and vegetables. Buying from them reduces carbon footprints because it doesn’t take a lot of energy or gas to get them to us. Even though I still haven’t figured out how to get my favorite fruit, avocados, locally I’m going to try shrinking my carbon footprint.  

Lorenzo is a middle school student in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood.  He’s into spectrology, the TV show Ghost Hunters and watching the NHL.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Tourism Brings Green, But Can it Be Green?

By Kasia Broussalian

You know those I ♥ NY T-shirts? There’s a reason they are so popular. Though France has the Eiffel Tower, and Rome has St. Peter’s Basilica, New York City has no shortage of its own icons. First and foremost there’s the Statue of Liberty. But then there’s the Empire State Building. Don’t forget about Rockefeller Center, Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, and yes, even the Wall Street Bull. All these certainly make for quite a busy trip.

Of, course, there’s money involved, too. In 2010, 47.8 million tourists visited New York City from all over the world, spending a whopping $31 billion dollars that supported roughly 303,649 jobs here in the city. While that’s presumably great for our own economy (not to mention SoHo’s), all that traffic (foot and otherwise) placed quite a bit of strain on the city’s resources and sustainability goals. While many tourist destinations around the world have a designated season, thereby giving the ecology of the city a break in between; New York City does not. There are certainly spikes around Thanksgiving and Christmas; but otherwise, numbers of visitors remain fairly consistent. Which means the city really has to work at putting its green foot forward every day of the year. One way the city combats the strain from tourism is by placing portable drinking fountains near icon locations (stay tuned for next week’s post!). What are some areas the city needs to work on to efficiently keep up with the tourists’ pace?

Check out this slideshow from Life on how to blend in with the crowd. Hopefully it’ll give you quite a chuckle.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Upcoming Weekend Activities: Keep your Carbon Footprint Small and Enjoy a Staycation

Although it seems like the city empties out on summer weekends, there is still so much going on!

Take a look at our list of events where you can connect to nature without leaving the city. Yes, it’s possible! What are you doing this weekend? Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comment area.

Beekeeping Workshop – Experts share tips for starting an urban apiary. Sunday, July 10 at 2 p.m.

Biking on Governor’s Island – With free ferry service on the weekends and lots to explore, there’s no excuse to put off a trip to Governor’s Island for another week. Friday to Sunday, July 8-10.

Birding at Wave Hill – Explore the grounds of Wave Hill Gardens with a guided tour of avian ecology. Sunday, July 10 at 9:30 a.m.

Brooklyn Flea Market – Shopping can be sustainable at the Brooklyn Flea, where vendors offer goods from vegan to vintage. Saturday and Sunday, July 9-10 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bronx River Ramble – Learn about the river’s historical role as well as current environmental challenges. Saturday, July 9 at 10 a.m.

Composting Workshop – Want to keep your kitchen scraps out of the landfill? Learn how on Sunday, July 10 at 11 a.m. More

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Car Maintenance is a Must!

By Lina Younes

During last week’s blog on “do-it-yourselfers” and the environment, I mentioned how proper maintenance of cooling/heating equipment and household appliances will help you save money and protect the environment. Well, the same thing applies to cars. Taking care of your car means more than just filling it with gas or changing the oil from time to time. Treating your car well will extend the life of your vehicle, saving you money, and helping to keep the air clean.

Some of the useful tips on car maintenance include:

  • Keeping your tires inflated to the recommended level. When tires are not inflated properly they increase the wear-and-tear of the tire and fuel costs.
  • Getting regular tune-ups will go a long way to increasing fuel efficiency and improving the lifespan of your vehicle.
  • Changing the oil regularly will contribute to a cleaner engine and lower vehicle emissions.
  • Keeping your air filter clean will also protect the environment.

In addition to giving your car the proper maintenance, there are simple steps to contribute to pollution reduction. How can you keep emissions as low as possible? Here are some tips:

  • Don’t top off.  Don’t fill up the car with gas after you hear the click at the pump! Continuing to fill the gas tank after you hear the click is a total waste of money and actually sends harmful gasoline vapors into the air.
  • Whenever you can, combine errands in order to reduce unnecessary driving.
  • Don’t drive aggressively.
  • Avoid stop and go traffic. I know this is easier said than done, but with some planning you can avoid abrupt changes in speed which waste gas, generate emissions, and cause greater wear-and-tear on your car.

For those interested in adopting greener behaviors to reduce their carbon footprint even further, changing your means of transportation might be a good start. How about leaving the car at home at least one day a week for starters? Carpooling, using mass transportation, biking are greener transportation alternatives. And how about good old fashioned walking?

You know, I was actually writing this blog while I was waiting at the service station. These were just some of the green ideas I came up with. As always, I would like to hear your suggestions.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force.  Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Leave the Car!!!

bakeLast month, I challenged myself to lower my carbon footprint so I decided to work out my first big step: overcoming car dependency.  I live in the San Juan metropolitan area, where you have everything so near that sometimes using the car is ridiculous.  First of all, I tuned up my old bike and skateboard.  I started going almost everywhere with them:  grocery store, drugstore, university, concerts, and even on Friday nights hanging out with my friends.  I used my car only to go to work, because the distance between work and my apartment is significant.   But I realize that other options where available, like the bike/train program, which gave me the opportunity to use the train with my bike and cut a run of approximately 45 minutes to one of 10 minutes to work.   Unfortunately, it was no easy feat.  Here in Puerto Rico the infrastructure to support the use of bicycles is almost zero.  Even though, there are many recreational cyclists here, there is still a lot to be learned about promoting the use of the bicycle as transportation means.  While we have a local Cyclist Bill of Rights, it is not enforced all the time.  Cyclists, recreational or not, are a big group, and agencies need to provide the necessary infrastructure to guarantee our safety.

We all know that cars & trucks are among the largest sources of air pollution.  Vehicles emit about one-third of all volatile organic compounds and half of the nitrogen oxides and air toxics that contribute to poor air quality.  They release carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas and known contributor to climate change.

Our Agency has taken various steps to help employees reduce their impact on the environment. EPA offers its employees a Transit Subsidy which is an excellent way to promote the use of mass transportation.  Also programs like Flexiplace, Alternate Work Locations and Compressed Work Schedules give us the opportunity to limit or eliminate our commute days, thus lowering our carbon footprint.
For now, I am working towards becoming car independent.  I strive to lower my carbon footprint by making this and other changes in my daily routine.  While I am changing my life, I am improving my health and contributing to making Earth a better place.

About the author: Alex Rivera joined EPA in 2007.  He works as an environmental engineer in the Municipal Waters Division of the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Video Town Hall

An Inside Job

It wasn’t too long ago that I was working to improve human health and the environment from outside the government. Only a year ago, I was working with communities to redevelop properties at brownfield sites. When you’re outside the government, gaining access to the government officials who make decisions that affect your work can be a challenge. Now that I’m in the government, I have a chance to provide the access that’s so important to people and groups with environmental concerns. That’s why I’ve started a series of Video Town Hall discussions that will help me hear what you have to say.

Our first Video Town Hall was held in December, and I was very happy with the discussion that took place. The topic was the Superfund program, and we fielded questions from people and groups across the country. Our plan was to answer as many questions as time allowed, and I was pleased that we were able to answer every single question that we received.

Our next Video Town Hall will be held on February 23 from 1:30-3:00 PM Eastern Time. For this Town Hall, we plan to cover two topics.

First, we want to talk about how people and businesses can reduce their carbon footprint through reducing, reusing, and recycling. We all know that climate change is one of the great challenges facing our nation. Any effective strategy to fight climate change will require that we rethink the way that we buy new products and dispose of old products. I want to know how you’re fighting climate change through materials management, and what my office can do to help you reduce your carbon footprint.

The second topic is EPA’s upcoming environmental justice analysis of the Definition of Solid Waste Rule. We recently began seeking input on our draft plan, and we’d like to know what you think.

There are two ways to participate in the Town Hall: over the internet or by phone. You can send questions to townhallquestions@epa.gov before or during the discussion, and we’ll also take a few questions from the phone toward the end of the call. All the information you need to participate is available on our Video Town Hall page.

I know that people outside of the government have important things to say about the environment; they just need someone to listen. Now that I’m the guy on the inside, that’s what I intend to do.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: Do You Think Your Carbon Footprint Is Smaller Than Your Parents' or Grandparents'?

Things are much more energy efficient than they used to be, from our vehicles to our light bulbs, and most of us practice the three R’s of Reducing, Recycling and Reusing.  But now we have so much more…more vehicles, more technology, more everything…   At first thought this may seem like a pretty easy question, but think about it for a minute, and then share your thoughts.

Do you think your carbon footprint is smaller than your parents’ or grandparents’?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reducing the Federal Carbon Footprint

About the author: Viccy Salazar joined EPA in 1995. She works in our Seattle office on waste reduction, resource conservation and stewardship issues.

Recently, we launched a new program to help federal facilities reduce their carbon footprint called the Federal Green Challenge. It helps federal facilities meeting their Executive Order requirements to green up their operations by focusing on Energy, Transportation, Waste and Water. When given a framework to act, it is amazing how much the federal community wants to make an environmental difference. Facilities across Region 10, Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, have committed to reduce their carbon emissions by over 9 million pounds in 2009 alone. In addition, the program will be helping federal facilities during the year by hosting 12 webinars on topics including the four target areas – energy, transportation, waste and water and several others including green meetings, sustainability, and implementing you EMS. It is wonderful seeing the government begin to lead by example.

Even though the program is only open to federal facilities, all the information is public and hopefully, other organizations will use the information to measure their progress. On the website there are tips for making changes, tools for measuring your results, and examples of how others have done it. Let me know if the information is useful and what else would be useful.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Reducing our Carbon Footprint

About the author: Brenda Reyes Tomassini joined EPA in 2002. She is a public affairs specialist in the San Juan, Puerto Rico office and also handles community relations for the Caribbean Environmental Protection Division.

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Last year I was having a conversation with former Region 2 Deputy Administrator Kathleen C. Callahan about recycling. I told her about the many things we were doing in our household of six to reduce our carbon footprint and recycle as much as 60% of our waste. She encouraged me to share the experience. I forgot about her suggestion, until a few weeks ago when I had to prepare a presentation on the issue for an EPA outreach event.

For most people “carbon footprint” is still an unfamiliar term. During this specific presentation, I wanted to engage the public in seeking solutions. To explain things in laymen terms, I revisited my conversation with Kathy and incorporated many of the things we are already doing at home. Many of these are outlined in EPA’s Climate Change page.

For starters, we bought and remodeled an old house in Puerto Rico. We sought to take advantage of nature by installing windows and doors that let light and air in. Our garage door is perforated allowing cross ventilation and light inside the house while providing us with security and privacy. Thus, we rarely have to use compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) inside the house during the day. Also, all of our appliances acquired or replaced since 2003 are Energy Star. Since our weather is sunny most of the year, I have two clotheslines to air-dry our clothes. This is not an easy task, but the reduction in our greenhouse gases emissions and energy bill is worth the effort.

Around the house, strategic planting of native and tropical species reduce the amount of heat from direct sunlight and provides us with a lush backyard. A special insulating treatment in our concrete ceiling reduces the temperature during very hot days and ceiling fans keep the house cool even during 95F degree temperature. In our bathrooms, efficient showerheads help us save water thus reducing our carbon load.

Our shopping habits have changed dramatically in the last three years helping us recycle and compost more. We try to buy most of our fruits and vegetables from local farm stands and anything else has to come in a recyclable package.

Even though we still have a long way to go to further reduce our carbon load, please share with us the innovative and creative ways you have minimized your carbon footprint.

Reduciendo nuestra huella de carbono

Sobre la autor: Brenda Reyes Tomassini se unió a la EPA en el 2002. Labora como especialista de relaciones públicas en la oficina de EPA en San Juan, Puerto Rico donde también maneja asuntos comunitarios para la División de Protección Ambiental del Caribe.

El año pasado conversaba sobre reciclaje y reducción de desperdicios con Kathleen C. Callahan, ex sub-administradora de la Región 2, cuando me sugirió plasmar por escrito las medidas que tomábamos en nuestro hogar de 6 para reducir nuestra huella ecológica y reciclar hasta un 60%. Olvidé la recomendación de Kathy hasta hace semanas atrás cuando la agencia fue invitada a participar en un evento masivo y me asignaron una presentación sobre la huella de carbón para educar a los asistentes al evento sobre el tema.

Aunque para muchas personas el término “huella de carbón” es desconocido, tenía como meta hacer una presentación sencilla y en la que pudiese involucrar al público en la búsqueda de soluciones. Al preparar la presentación recordé todo lo discutido con Kathy e incorporé muchas de las cosas que hacemos en nuestro hogar. La mayoría de las medidas tomadas en nuestra casa están sugeridas en la página electrónica de la EPA sobre cambio climático.

Cuando comenzamos la búsqueda de una residencia decidimos que ésta fuese vieja para salvar el preciado espacio verde de nuestra isla. Remodelamos de acuerdo a la ventilación cruzada de la residencia y aprovechamos la abundante luz al instalar ventanas y puertas, incluyendo una puerta perforada de garaje, que permitieran el paso de la brisa y evitaran el encendido diurno de nuestras bombillas compactas fluorescentes. Además todos nuestros enseres adquiridos y/o reemplazados a partir del 2003 son Energy Star. Ya que nuestro clima tropical es soleado gran parte del año solemos tender la ropa al aire libre, lo cual no sólo ahorra energía, pero reduce las emisiones de gases de invernadero.

Alrededor de la casa, la siembra estratégica de árboles nativos y especies tropicales reduce la cantidad de sol directo que recibe esta además de brindarnos un patio fresco y verde. En cuanto al techo de cemento, éste fue insulado con un tratamiento especial que reduce la temperatura aún en el día más caluroso al igual que los ocho abanicos de techo instalados en los cuartos y áreas comunes de la casa. Adicionalmente, instalamos duchas eficientes en los baños para ayudarnos a ahorrar agua y reducir nuestra huella de carbón.

Por último, y no menos importante, hemos cambiado drásticamente nuestros hábitos de consumo en los últimos tres años. Tratamos de comprar menos alimentos enlatados y adquirir nuestras frutas y vegetales de vendedores independientes o que tengan empaque mínimo. El resto de nuestras compras tiene que estar empacadas en envases reciclables y no patrocinamos el uso de bolsas plásticas. Ahora reciclamos más y hacemos composta para abonar nuestras plantas con los desperdicios orgánicos.

Aunque todavía nos quedan muchas cosas por hacer para reducir nuestro impacto ecológico, ¿me encantaría conocer qué medidas creativas e innovadoras ha tomado usted para minimizar su huella de carbón?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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