Environment: Green is the new Black

by Sabine Ehgoetz

Over three years ago, Sabine moved from her home country, Germany, to Toronto, where she has been working as a journalist and translator ever since. Up to this day, she still lovers everything about Canada – apart from the winters.

These days you don’t have to belong to some religious sect to have a feeling of doom in regards to our life on this planet. If you have watched the movie “An Inconvenient Truth”, opened a newspaper once in a while, or simply looked around carefully, you may have noticed – we are in deep trouble! We are rapidlydepleting this planet we live on of its resources and no one has found yet a way to stop the process. The ozone layer is vanishing, polar ice is melting and if you find this is too far away to be concerned, just look in your front yard to see whether your trees are affected by disease or your flowers are ruined because of a plague of insects whose natural enemies are extinct.

As you realize that things aren’t the best around the globe, you have two options. You can continue the way you have been living and moan about resources running out, while you still take the car to the grocery store five minutes away, and hope that some ingenious scientist will come up with a solution that could save us all. Or you can start putting your own effort into saving the world. A task that sounds more suitable for a super hero than for simple, little you? I suppose we should remember that there wouldn’t be an ocean if it wasn’t for all the countless tiny drops of water it is made of.

Maybe you are already willing to contribute to a more sustainable lifestyle yet you simply don’t know how. Surely we can’t all go back to living in caves or mount a horse for the trip to work. Sorting your garbage into recycling and organics may not seem like much, but it’s a great start!

Saving energy in your home is something that is easily accomplished and will even save you a bunch of money.

Most of us aren’t even aware of the “energy vampires” in our houses: the TV on standby mode, a plugged in cell phone charger or your electrical toothbrush holder all constantly consume electrical power even when they are not in use.

A laptop can be turned off and still use up to 144.5 Kilowatt Hours on an annual basis when it’s connected to the outlet, which translates to roughly $22 if you calculate an average of 15 cents per KWH. Maybe not a huge sum, but still a waste if used for nothing at all. Energy is also often wasted because of draughty spots in your house, badly insulated windows or old and inefficient furnaces. Some home renovations to improve these areas may cost you a bit of money but save you in the long run.

Staying warm during the cold months in an eco ? friendly way may be one concern, getting around is another. You may look forward to driving a car in Canada, especially if you don’t live right downtown, to get to work, go shopping, take the kids to school or to make it out of the city during the weekends. If public transport simply isn’t an option, why not consider car-pooling with co-workers who live in your area or investing in a fuel-efficient car. Hybrid cars, run by a mixture of battery power and gas, are certainly the best choice for the environment, but they are also still fairly expensive compared to traditional fuelled vehicles. If you are thinking of buying a new car anyways, consider that its weight usually determines how much gas it is going to need. A 4-wheel-drive, for example, makes it a lot heavier, but is rarely needed for a city car. An SUV may be fashionable and roomy for your entire family, but you should keep in mind that it can use 30 percent more gas than other vehicles. A major factor for gas emissions is speed. If you can, take it easy on the road, because speeding isn’t only expensive when you get caught, when you drive 120 km/h compared to 100, you also consume 20 percent more gasoline.

Harmful emissions also occur in an area that you most likely associate with cleanliness. Laundry detergents contain chemicals that are not only bad for the environment but also for yourself. According to the David Suzuki Foundation you should avoid detergents that use nonyl phenoxy ethoxylate (NPE). Green Living Magazine explains that NPE is a non-biodegradable chemical which is added to some products for extra cleaning strength, is suspected to work as a mimic for hormones and has been linked to infertility causes and breast cancer. Not only for the health of the planet but also your own health, you should try to choose products that are plant-based rather than petroleum-based.

Unfortunately, these are usually a little bit more expensive. However, you can save by using less detergent and adding a bit of baking soda and vinegar to your load to double the cleaning power. If you use a traditional detergent, pick powder over liquid products as they require fewer manufacturing processes. Using cold water for your wash is also a way to save energy and has proven to get the laundry just as clean as warm or hot water.

Another important field where you can “go green” without much effort is your nutrition. Organic products at the grocery store tend to be a little pricier than most of us are able, or willing to pay, but that shouldn’t keep you from eating what is healthy, grown environmentally friendly and actually better tasting. How? If you own a garden or if you just have a balcony or a wider windowsill in your apartment, try to grow some of your own herbs and vegetables (see “Take a Nature Break” in CNMag #21 for more information on gardening). It doesn’t require a huge amount of skills to raise your very own tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers, chives or sage. Unless you live on a farm, you probably don’t have enough space to become completely self-sufficient in providing the food for your living, but remember that every little contribution you make for a better world counts. Plus, you will soon notice how great it feels and tastes when for the first time you try your pasta with homemade tomato sauce and self-grown basil and thyme. When you have to go shopping for fruits and vegetables or even meat, it’s worth it to check the label and buy locally produced goods instead of imported ones to support Canadian farmers and help reduce fuel-emissions of planes and ships used to transport food from other countries.

Surely, a more environmentally-conscious way of living requires some changes and a little bit of determination. From personal experience, I can say that it is not always easy, especially when we are used to doing things the “convenient” way. I’m not going to stop taking a plane even though its fuel consumption leaves a massive carbon footprint. It’s certainly easier to run the dryer than going outside to hang your laundry on a washing line. It can be hard to convince yourself to pick more natural looking, organic produce over shiny, flawless looking apples and carrots. And even harder to make your way to the bus station on a freezing cold and windy day when your cozy car with heated seats is sitting right there in the driveway. But in the end, doing something good will make you feel good and will make you want to feel even better by doing more. It’s like a reverse domino effect – you help build our world back up again rather than knocking it down. It may also help you to know that “eco-living” is actually the most fashionable thing to do right now – “green” is the new black and definitely won’t go out of style for years to come!