03/08/2012 10:07 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

5 Simple Ways to Live Greener

by guest blogger Julie Kerr Gines, environmental scientist and the author

The best way to become greener is to slowly incorporate green habits into your busy lifestyle. Here are 5 easy things you can start doing right now to make your life more sustainable and environmentally friendly:

1. Buy food at a local farmers market:

Eating locally has several benefits to both you and your community. The food at your local supermarket traveled very far to get to those shelves, but that isn't the biggest contributor to its carbon footprint. Factory farms are extremely dependent on fossil fuel (oil) but the biggest culprit for fossil fuel use on farms isn't from transportation, it's from the artificial fertilizers and pesticides. Forty percent of the energy used to produce food on a factory farm comes from producing chemical fertilizers and pesticides. And cultivating just one acre of factory-farmed land requires 5.5 gallons of fossil fuel. When you buy your produce at a local farmers market, you know where your food is coming from and you can find out if the produce is organic. Check out to find farmers markets near you.

2. Stop using disposable plastic bags:

It's amazing how fast those plastic bags stack up in the closet. You might be shocked to know that somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. Of those, millions end up outside of landfills. And while many are reused as trash can liners and for other useful tasks, millions of them only get used one time. Once in the environment, it takes months to hundreds of years for plastic bags to breakdown. As they decompose, tiny toxic bits seep into soils, lakes, rivers, and the oceans. The materials they're generally made from are derivatives of natural gas and petroleum. Switch to a reusable bag instead. Check out, or pick one up from your local grocery store. If you're super creative, you can make and decorate your own from fabric, old T-shirts, and other creative sources. Have some fun while you green it up! And they last a long time--I've been using some for nearly 20 years and they're still going strong!

3. Eliminate phantom power:

Phantom power, also known as standby, is responsible for an incredible amount of electricity consumption. And every kWh of electricity translates to 1.37 pounds CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. Practically every electronic device that you plug into a socket continues to consume electricity after you've switched the device off. Examples include phone chargers, notebook power adaptors, microwave ovens, game consoles, video and DVD players, CD players, computers, printers, fax machines, coffee makers, toasters, and on and on. If it has an LED light display--whether it's a clock or just a single bulb--it's using phantom electricity. And that's costing you money and draining the Earth of valuable resources. Phantom power can be responsible for 700 kWh of electricity a year per household. Take these 2 easy steps to reduce phantom power:
  • Unplug things when they aren't in use, especially chargers.
  • Use surge protectors because they shut off electricity consumption when they're turned off (These are great if you have multiple items to turn off--they can all be turned off with the flip of one switch.)
4. Improve your driving habits:

A great green addition to your lifestyle is to improve your everyday driving habits. Combine all your errands for the week into one trip, planning out a logical route so that you avoid backtracking.  Improve your car's fuel economy, which means less fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere, by driving slower and more efficiently.  A vehicle's gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds greater than 60 mph. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, each 5 mph a car is driven over 60 mph is equivalent to paying an additional $.30 per gallon for gas (a pretty penny when gas is over $4 a gallon). Aggressive driving--such as braking fast and accelerating fast from a standstill--also wastes fuel. In fact, it can lower gas mileage by 5 percent--and that also adds up!

5. Stop buying those plastic disposable water bottles!

The average American consumes 167 bottles of water a year! And the sad truth is that 80 percent of them are never recycled. Americans alone toss about 38 million plastic water bottles each year (not including soda bottles!). We go through a lot of these little plastic bottles and it takes 24 million gallons of oil to produce a billion of them. And think about this: Ten percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide winds up in the ocean. You'll help the environment out tremendously if you buy 1 sturdy reusable water bottle and just use that one. Spread the word!

Extra Credit: Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

A carbon footprint refers to the impact your activities have on the environment in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide. Gases that produce the greenhouse effect include carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, among others, which are released as a result of burning fossil fuels. Humans put about 10 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year--that's a huge carbon footprint! Each individual has their own carbon footprint, as well. Calculate yours by visiting the Environmental Protection Agency's Household Emissions Calculator. This tool calculates your current emissions at home, suggests ways to cut back, and estimates your savings as a result.

You'll find that if you add a few simple green habits to your lifestyle, you'll save money, be healthier, and help the environment all at the same time. For more green ideas, visit some of these helpful websites:
  • Going Green: This site is dedicated to finding solutions for the sustainability of the planet.
  • Green Guide: Sponsored by National Geographic, this site presents a great source on how to green up your life every day.

Julie Kerr Gines, Ph.D., is an environmental scientist and the author of the upcoming book THE SMART GUIDE TO GREEN LIVING. This fun and informative guide contains everything you need to know to empower yourself to pull up roots and successfully live on the green side--and cultivate it just to your style: from baby steps, to diving right in, or something in between.


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