saving energy

Going Off The Grid

By Lina Younes

The other night, I was flipping channels when I stumbled upon a reality show that piqued my interest. It featured a family that had decided to go completely off the grid.

I was intrigued as to why people in the 21st century would purposely choose to live like the early pioneers. No electricity. No running water. Sewing their own clothes or buying second hand clothes at thrift shops, making their own candles and the like. The father basically made a living performing with his family at community events. They had no special equipment – just a guitar and their voices, of course.

Personally, I can’t imagine living without electric power and running water. I’ve seen how living without electricity for several hours during a blackout basically paralyzes a family. I’ve also seen how much adults and children have become too dependent on electronics. In my opinion, many times these gadgets interfere with our ability to simply step back, engage in outdoor activities and enjoy our natural surroundings. On a personal level, the show definitely made me think about this issue. I’m not advocating in any way to turn the clock back to the era of the pioneers. Nonetheless, shouldn’t we be more thoughtful and deliberate when buying things?

At EPA, we have several programs to encourage you to be more mindful of the use of natural resources, saving energy, conserving water and the like. Have you heard about EPA’s Energy Star program? Have you heard of our WaterSense Program that helps you to reduce your water use through water efficient products? And how about the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle?

By going green today, we can all work to have a more sustainable tomorrow. Have you taken a green action today? As always, we would love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. 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 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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Tackling the First R

By Lina Younes

I’ve always encouraged my family to abide by the 3 R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Personally, I’ve always made an effort to recycle while I’m at home, at work or on the road. If I don’t find a recycling bin readily available, I’ll hold on to the soda can or bottle and then discard it in the recycling bin I have at home. I’ll do the same with the free newspaper I read on the metro.

Frankly, recycling seems to be the easiest of the 3R principles to live by. In my opinion, the most difficult one to implement is the first one: reducing waste from the outset. It’s ironic that the most difficult principle to live by, reducing waste, is the one that has the greatest impact on the environment.

What are some of the benefits of reducing waste? Well, they include preventing pollution, saving energy and using fewer natural resources in the big scheme of things. But, one of the benefits that we can all understand at the personal level is that reducing waste actually saves us money!

How can you save money at home and have fewer things to throw in the trash? Well, buy products with less packaging. I know that individually wrapped items might seem practical, but how much paper or plastic wrapping will end up in the trash in the long run? Seems like an unnecessary waste to me. Another idea: choose reusable silverware, plates and cups at home and in the office.

Before you go grocery shopping, do you check your refrigerator and pantry to see what you really need? Are you sure that the vegetables in your refrigerator need to be thrown away? Can you, instead, make them into a casserole or freeze them so they won’t need to be thrown in the trash? Remember: we should feed people, not landfills.

With some planning, we all can work to make a difference in our environment. Do you have any tips to share with us? Have you done anything special lately to reduce your carbon footprint? We love to hear from you.

About the author:  Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Communications Liaison for EPA. She manages EPA’s social media efforts in Spanish. 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 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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Cutting Energy Waste from Commercial Buildings Just Got a Little Easier

Lauren Hodges Pitcher

Lauren Hodges Pitcher, EPA

By: Lauren Hodges Pitcher

Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that it’s hard to do without regularly stepping on the scale. That little instrument doesn’t lie—it tells us if we weigh more or less than we’d like to. It tells us whether our impressive showing at the gym last week was enough to counteract the effects of Saturday night’s four-course meal. And in some cases, a big drop or gain can indicate when something in our body is not working properly.

But did you know that every month, more than 300,000 commercial buildings also step on a scale to make sure that they are in good shape, energy-wise? Before you start picturing a scale the size of a football field, I’ll tell you that this is a virtual scale, available from ENERGY STAR through our online Portfolio Manager tool. Through Portfolio Manager, any building can measure and track its energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use in a secure online account–for free.

Nearly 40 percent of the commercial building space in the country is currently “stepping on the scale” every month through Portfolio Manager. That’s great news because although commercial buildings use about 18 percent of our nation’s energy, and contribute about 18 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, they don’t have to. On average, about 30 percent of this energy is wasted! And here’s more good news: A recent study of buildings that consistently used Portfolio Manager over a three-year period showed that they cut their energy use by an average of seven percent (or 2.4 percent per year)!

blog portfolio manager

So let’s get more buildings on the scale, and let’s do what we can to help them save energy and trim down their energy “waste”-lines! Here are a few things you can do to help:

  1. Approach leaders at your workplace, your children’s school, your congregation, your favorite stores, and any other buildings in your community. Suggest that they start stepping on the scale and managing their energy use with help from ENERGY STAR. Send them to energystar.gov/PortfolioManager to learn more.
  2. Bring your green to work! The same simple steps you take at home to save energy can make a big difference in buildings, too. Turn off lights in empty rooms, shut down your computer at the end of the day, and use blinds to block the hot summer sun. Find more tips, plus fun interactive games and quizzes here, on the ENERGY STAR website.
  3. Set a goal to encourage one building in your community to earn EPA’s ENERGY STAR certification. Yup, just like a refrigerator, buildings can also earn the ENERGY STAR if they are among the most energy efficient in the country! Learn more here.

And did we mention that we just launched a complete upgrade to Portfolio Manager? Now it’s easier than ever to use, with new wizards, reports, graphs, and sharing features. With President Obama calling for a 50 percent cut in the amount of energy that commercial buildings waste, there is no better time to encourage the buildings in your community to take Portfolio Manager for a test drive at energystar.gov/NewPortfolioManager. Who knows how much energy and money you may help them save?

Lauren Hodges Pitcher directs communications activities for the ENERGY STAR program for commercial buildings and industrial plants. She is proud to work in an ENERGY STAR certified office building, and her favorite stores all track their energy use in Portfolio Manager. 

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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Protecting the environment with Imelia Grace

student

Today I learned how easy it is to help protect the environment no matter how old you are.  I interviewed Imelia Grace, a first grader from Tennessee.  She told me one of her favorite places to play is a nature path near her house.  She has fun experiencing the outdoors by taking her puppy Rogy along with her to explore.  Imelia Grace was a previous winner of the U.S. EPA’s Team ENERGY STAR contest where she placed sticky notes on appliances that said “Unplug Me” reminding her to turn off appliances and light switches when they weren’t in use.  Her family also uses an outdoor clothes line to dry clothes instead of using an energy intensive dryer.  Even as a graduate student, I have learned from Imelia Grace how making small changes at home can make a big difference!

Shelby Egan is a student volunteer in the EPA’s Air and Radiation Division in Region 5, and is currently obtaining her Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  She has a passion for protecting natural resources, cities she’s never been to and cooking any recipe by The Pioneer Woman.

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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What New Projects Are You Planning For The New Year?

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Lina Younes

As 2012 comes to an end and 2013 is about to begin, I would like to share some thoughts with you for the new year. I don’t want to call them New Year Resolutions because those don’t seem to survive longer than the month of January.  So, how about talking about healthier choices,  or even green projects? Essentially, I’m thinking about actions that will lead to a healthier lifestyle on the personal level and for the Planet as a whole.

  • How about dedicating more time to the important things in life such as family and friends? We often get so tied up with work and rushing from place to place that we often forget to really value those who mean the most to us in our daily lives.
  • Let’s enjoy the great outdoors!  We don’t have to live in a wide open space to enjoy nature.  So, how about get away from those electronics that seem to dominate our lives for a moment? Take a walk, visit a local park or do some gardening.
  • Let’s take the clutter out of our life! Look around you. Do you really need to keep all those things at home or in the office that you never use?  We have a great website with useful tips as what you can do at home, on the go, in the office, or at school to practice the three R’s: Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling!
  • How about saving one of our most valuable resources—water? Simple steps like closing the faucet while you brush your teeth or taking shorter showers can go a long way to conserving water.
  • How about saving energy? It’s as easy as turning off the light when you leave the room. Simple steps will allow you to save money and protect the environment.
  • Want more suggestions on how you can protect our natural resources and engage others in environmental protection in your community? I recommend our Website www.epa.gov/pick5 that has numerous tips on how you can adopt a greener lifestyle today and everyday of the year.

As the saying goes, our actions speak louder than words. Let’s lead by example so that our children may also learn how to be healthier and better environmental stewards for years to come.  And finally I would like to wish you a happy New Year!

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves the Multilingual Outreach and Communications Liaison for EPA.

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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Future Environmentalists

The 4th grade class at Drummond Elementary recently became the environmentalists to look out for in the future.  With Lake Michigan within driving distance and city parks at their back door, these kids have seen the effects littering and pollution have taken on natural resources. They wanted to take action and make a difference.

And they did.

For Earth Month in April, these 4th graders created, designed , printed, and distributed a newsletter for the school’s community and network.  They call it their “Green Tips” sheet and it includes quick and easy ways to use less energy, promote pollution reduction and use the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle).   Their goal was to communicate how important it was to keep the world clean and green. As a bunch of 4th graders put it, “It’s our planet too!”

These are some savvy 4th graders.  Can’t wait to see what they do when they grow up.

Yvonne Gonzalez recently finished an internship with the Air and Radiation Division in Chicago.  She currently works at EPA in Washington, DC in the Chemicals Control 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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The Power of the Strip

Power Strip

By: Brittney Gordon

Ever since I got married people continually ask me, “How’s married life?” Lucky for me, the answer is always a quick and easy “great!” But, there are some things that I am still getting used to—and my husband’s use of energy is one of them.

In the short time that I have been with the EPA, I have become a bit of an energy-saving fanatic. I can’t help it—I spend my days educating people about this very topic, and something would be very wrong with me if the messages did not seep into my own brain. But my husband does not work for ENERGY STAR, and is not as educated on the issue of climate change. Therefore I have found myself becoming a bit of a nag. Every time he leaves on a light or the computer I am right behind him, flipping the switch with a stern reminder about wasting energy.

His “man room” is my biggest pet peeve. In it he has a TV, a cable box, a personal computer, a laptop, a printer, two lamps, and more than one gaming system. What irks me the most is that many of these items are plugged into a power strip—a power strip that is NEVER shut off. Every time I see the telltale indicator lights on these products glowing in the dark, it reminds me that they are still using power.

What my husband did not get was that using a power strip as a central turn off is a great way to save energy. Even when turned off, electronics often use a small amount of electricity. U.S. households spent about $100 per year to power devices while not in use, roughly 8 percent of household electricity costs. Using a power strip for your electronic equipment allows you to completely disconnect the power supply from the power source, eliminating standby power consumption. This is an easy way to protect the climate by saving energy.

I totally understand that there are some electronic devices that you may not want to unplug on a regular basis. For example, cable set top boxes and wireless routers may take a few minutes to reset, which is frustrating for some people. But almost any other non-networked device can be plugged into a power strip that is turned off when not in use. AV equipment and DVD players are a couple of examples. Now as more and more devices are brought into the “networked” world this may become harder to do, but power strip manufacturers are working on solutions. For your other electronic devices, like your computers and monitors, setting them to automatically switch to sleep mode is your next best option. You can find quick and easy instructions for activating the power management features for these items on ENERGY STAR’s website.

This weekend I plan to reconfigure my husband’s use of power strips in order to be able to shut down all of his non-networked devices while they’re not in use. As long as I do not shake things up too much, I think he will concede. Wish me luck.

Brittney Gordon is a communications team member for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. She has been happily married for 7 months.

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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Electronics

By Lina Younes

At home, recharging our mobile phones, MP3 players, portable game systems, and digital cameras seems to be part of our family daily ritual. We usually charge them right before going to bed. But when you come to think about it, these electronics stay in their respective chargers for hours after being fully charged. What a waste of energy.

Did you know that on average these portable electronics consume about 4 percent of the electricity in the home? When you add other household appliances, all these products account for more than 15 percent of household energy use. Did you know that these small electronics and other consumer appliances continue to use energy even when they are turned off? So, what are some simple ways to save energy in the home?

  • Well for starters, unplugging chargers while not in use can go a long way to saving energy!
  • If you are not going to be using your computer for over 20 minutes, turn it off.
  • Plug computers and other electronics to power strips. Switch the power strip off when not in use.

Becoming aware of these so called energy vampires is a good start to saving energy. So, what have you been doing to reduce energy consumption? We would like to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as Acting Associate Director for Environmental Education. 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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2010 Green Resolutions in Review

By Lina Younes

As the year comes to the end, many of us are starting to think about our New Year resolutions for 2011. However, I would like to do something different. I would like to see if I actually implemented some of the green goals that I set for myself in 2010.

I’ve been trying to incorporate green practices in my lifestyle for a long time. Recycling, saving energy, saving water, reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals, are some of these green habits. These have practically become second nature. As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, one of the most difficult green practices for me has been in the area of waste reduction. That’s why earlier in the year, I targeted disposable plastic bags in my daughter’s lunchbox. I have purchased reusable food containers to pack her lunch AND I have been using them daily. In fact, I went for almost 10 months without having any disposable food bags at home at all. I succumbed to buying some right before Thanksgiving and I’m still feeling guilty about it, but at least I still am using the reusable containers for her lunch. So, I’m proud that to say that specific resolution is one of the longest I’ve every kept ever!

So, as we are looking to the New Year, let’s consider going greener. There are simple things you can do every week for the environment. We have helpful tips.  They are easy and you can take action right now.

What am I going to do for 2011? Well, I am going to continue working on waste reduction, my biggest challenge. I’m also going to tackle saving water as well. Shorter showers will be a good first step. Encouraging my children to embrace green practices will be my goal. We’re all in this together now and for generations to come.

May you have a healthy New Year. We would love to hear about your green resolutions for 2011.

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.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.