So... RU Green? GREEN TIPS

Recycling is good. Conservation is great. But sometimes we need more than sayings and phrases, pithy and well-meaning though they may be. Times like these call for ACTION. The Sierra Club and other environmental groups offer myriad sources of information for living green and protecting the planet. Following are a few tips from the Sierra Club's Web site. For more, subscribe to their newsletters at


• Green Your Water Use: Toilets. Toilets are responsible for about 40 percent of total indoor water use. If you have an older toilet, use a water-displacement device to reduce the amount of flow per flush. A plastic bottle filled with sand makes an easy DIY toilet modification. If you're upgrading a bathroom, invest in a high-efficiency toilet. Read Sierra Club Green Home's toilet tips to determine which water-saving model is best for you.

• Green Your Finances: Charity. Each April 14 legions of tax-payers scramble to find as many tax write-offs as possible, an effort that becomes more difficult if they haven't donated to philanthropic causes. Giving money to 501(c)(3) organizations is an excellent way to reduce what you'll owe the IRS. Most charities' goals are noble but if your biggest concern is the environment, consider channeling your funds to groups, such as the Sierra Club Foundation, whose purpose it is to preserve the planet.

• Green Your Job: Bike to work. Riding your bike to work is a great way to stay fit while you go green. As an added bonus, bicycle commuters are eligible to receive a monthly $20 reimbursement from their employers under the new economic stimulus. Companies can deduct the expense from their federal taxes. The Bicycle Commuter Act went into effect on January 1, 2009, so let your employer know that you'd like to participate.

• Spring Cleaning: save paper towels, clean with reusable wipes and scrubbers. Spring cleaning doesn't have to result in a trash can full of used paper towels. Instead, try reusable scrub brushes or homemade cloth cleaning rags. Synthetic sponges are petroleum-derived and can contain triclosan. Greener options for natural sponges include those made of wood-pulp cellulose. Your best bet? Cultivate luffa (a.k.a. "loofah") in your garden and grow your own "sponge gourds."

• Green your garden: Be water-wise. Water is a precious resource, so when you're desigining a garden, consider options for collecting or reusing water that would normally be "wasted." Set up a rainwater collection system or reuse bathwater with a graywater recycling system. Once you've collected the water, remember that the best time to give plants a drink is in the morning, when less will be lost to evaporation.

• Green Your Community: Share Tools. Save money and reduce your consumption by pooling resources with your neighbors. Tool-lending libraries allow members to borrow supplies for gardening, repair, or construction projects. Wikipedia has a short list of tool libraries in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Your 'hood not on the list? Create your own library with a group of friends or make connections online.

• Green Your Date Night: Valentine's Day is essentially a collective date night, so if you keep these green-dating tips in mind while planning your outing on February 14, or on any other night, you'll make the planet smile just as much as your significant other. When going out to eat, choose a restaurant that uses local, seasonal, organic ingredients and has lots of vegetarian options. If you're planning a multi-day getaway, consider a staycation, camping, or a green hotel. Wherever you go, coordinate to take public transit -- or a bicycle homebuilt for two.

• Lazy Green: Work From Home. Got an internet connection and a comfortable workspace at home? Try conducting business sans commute. By cutting back on driving, you'll emit less carbon, feel more relaxed, and save money. Experts say the number of telecommuters is increasing, so ask your employer about participating in this trend. An added bonus: Working in your pajamas means less dry-cleaning!

• Eating Local in Winter: Grow your own herbs. A small indoor herb garden adds greenery to a home while providing fresh, flavorful accents for winter recipes. Basil, thyme, oregano, sage, and parsley are great herbs for beginning gardeners. Place your plants in a spot where they'll receive at least five hours of sunlight. A south-facing windowsill is ideal. Keep the soil moist and enjoy your locally grown herbs all winter. Find gardening tutorials here and here.

• Winterize Your Home: Program Your Thermostat. Install a programmable thermostat and never again forget when it's time to turn off the heat. Tell it just once and it'll always cut your usage when you're out of the house or asleep. Plus, you'll still be able to have the heat on when you want it.

• Green Fitness: Give Machines a Rest. The average treadmill produces about 2 pounds of CO2 over the course of a 30-minute workout. Shrink your fitness footprint by adding an outdoor run, walk, or bike ride to your routine. In urban areas, choose side streets to decrease your exposure to car exhaust. Still snowbound? Burn those calories by snowshoeing, skiing, or shoveling the driveway.

• Green Your New Year’s Resolution: Get Unplugged. Unplug any electrical appliance you’re not using to save more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide – and a good chunk of cash. "Energy vampires" that should be disconnected when not in use include phone chargers, computers, TVs, DVRs, hair dryers, and microwaves.

• Green Your Holiday Party: Reusable Glassware. One way to avoid the waste of disposable cups and plates is to use small, removable labels for glassware. Many hosts go through three or four times the number of disposable cups as they have guests, and this is a good way to not only conserve resources, but to inspire your guests to do the same.

• Choose Eco-friendly Gifts: Whether you're donating to a toy drive, playing Santa Claus, or simply spoiling a new grandchild, green gifts are your best bet. Support eco-minded businesses by opting for planet-friendly toys, which are often healthier for children. Organic Keiki offers both phthalate-free playthings and organic clothing.

Green DIY Gifts: Baking. For the cooking aficionado, cookies, brownies, and gingerbread houses are fun ways to send your friends and family a sweet gift. This year, many are skipping the Betty Crocker and making their delectables from locally produced and sustainable sources. If you do the same, you’ll save carbon emissions on the transit (unless you drive too far to get 'em), support local vendors, and get fresher ingredients. The result might even taste better too.

Green Beauty Products: Choose Better Make-Up. Cosmetics are often the most chemical-laden culprits in the beauty market, and they're applied directly to the face, one of the body's most sensitive and porous areas. And the chemicals aren't great for the environment, either. But sifting through labels can be daunting. To find make-up that doesn't do harm to your skin or the earth, go to the Spirit Beauty Lounge website; it's dedicated to locating beauty products with natural ingredients.


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